Your Top Ten Synthesizers of ALL TIME

Started by Rhcole, July 01, 2018, 09:40:20 PM

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Quote from: arkieboy on October 26, 2021, 04:04:48 PM
.... I'd like a pair of Yamaha FS1Rs to get 6 part multitimbrality - someone has made a hardware programmer for the FS1R, I'd have to have one of those of course. ....
Probably the most extensive FM controller
Hardware controller for Yamaha FS1R
Hardware controller for Yamaha FS1R

It was a few weeks ago that Robert Skerjanc, who has been our FM sound synthesis specialist for years, gave me a detailed test of the new Korg opsix FM synthesizer. While editing the article (pictures, SEO, etc.), a synthesizer that was completely unknown to me caught my eye in the background. As it turned out when I asked Robert, it was not a sound generator, but a specially made controller for the Yamaha FS1R FM synthesizer. My curiosity was aroused and Robert was immediately available for questions and answers.

Have fun


#26 says about the FS1R

"These days, more people have discovered what this synth is capable of and it has seen a resurgence in popularity and has reached an almost cult-like status. It is rare to find one for sale these days, and when you do, the prices seem to be climbing.

If you have a short attention span and no patience, this may not be the synth for you. If you're someone who doesn't mind programming a synth to get the most out of it and you're looking for some of the most amazing and unique sounds ever produced by an FM synthesizer, the FS1R is a must have"

Basically the FS1R is like having a TX816 + a TX812, with filters, formants, 8 operators (but still full DX7 compatibility).  With one of those programmers Admin linked to its going to be an absolute beast, and it has me salivating ...
Barden Hexacaster and Brian Moore i2.13 controllers
Boss SY1000/Roland GR-33/Axon AX100 MkII/Line 6 Helix LT
Vox AC30S1
Laney LFR112
Marshall JMP1
Marshall EL84/20-20
TC GMajor
Marshall 1912 (x2)
Apple Mainstage/Emu E5K/Novation Supernova II/Roland JV880/Oberheim Matrix 6R


In my way of thinking (keyboard guy) that device is an outboard MIDI controller that has been mapped to the FS1R's CC#'s. Very cool, totally useful, and of course you can tweak parameters with it then save your results in the user bank, so it can be called a programmer in that regard.

I use an Alesis Photon X25 (has knobs, keys, and an IR X/Y/Z positional controller) to tweak my FS1R. It's a bit smaller.

This is a great resource for anyone who has the FS1R


New England Digital Synclavier especially on John Mclaughlin Music spoken here and Al Di Meola Soaring Through a Dream.
Rolloq 8)


So for me besides my above statements:

-RMI Keyboard Computer II (the sound of Todd Rundgren's 'Initiation', Terje Rypdal's 'Waves' and Roger Powell's 'Air Pocket').   WAY ahead of its time.
-PPG Wave Series (340/380, Wave Computer, Wave 2.2/2.3, Realizer, HDR, PRK, Waveterm, etc)
-Synclavier II
-Fairlight CMI
-Oberheim 8-Voice/OBXA

This would be nice:

Oh, also the VG-99.   Still.    Similar to the FSR1 in its inscrutability but what a feature set inside!   Impressive homebrew project but can you imagine one for the VG-99?  It would be 10 feet wide!
My music projects online at

GK Devices:  Roland VG-99, Boss GP-10, Boss SY-1000.


I've been into electronic music since the 70s. I've owned and sold more guitars that synths, for sure, but once I got my Moog Modular, I became - in my mind - more of an electronic musician that a guitarist. The top 10 list below reflects a combo of instruments that were highly important and those that just blew me away (and which I might still own), so I wanted to disclose that fact first. Additionally, the East Coast/West Coast distinction is relevant, but I am mostly an East Coast guy, so while the Buchla/Serge modulars may not make my list, they most certainly deserve honorable mention.

That being said, in no particular order:

Moog Modular - (3C/55, but applicable to Models 10, 12, 15, 35, 55, IC, IIC, IIIC, IP, IIP, IIIP and all the custom variations). The synths that started it all. Carlos, Tomita, Kraftwork, Tangerine Dream and ELP to name just a few. I consider the 3C/55 as my favorites, with the 3C (with the original 901 series oscillators) having a more organic sound and the 55 (with the newer 921 series oscillators) having far better tracking and stability. I own a vintage IIP (2 portable cases with 2 sets of 901a/3x901b) and you will have to pry it from my cold dead hands...

MiniMoog Model D. - The synth that made synths a practical performance instrument for most keyboard players. Sure there were a few brave souls who used modulars live (Keith Emerson being the most well known), but trust me, using a modular live was a real PITA. (I tried!) I owned 3 MiniMoogs back in the day and sold them all when I got out of the music biz in the 80s. Bought a reissue the day they were announced because I've hated myself for selling the originals. Nothing plays like one or (really) sounds like one. Never selling this one!

Yamaha DX7 - The reason so many people sold their analog synths. Hard to wrap you head around the programming if you came from subtractive synthesis, but it had a purity of tone that had not really been heard at the time, other than from a Synclavier which cost more than a house. I bought one and still own it, although it mostly gets passed over in my recording process because the VST based version from NI (the FM8) is so close and so much easier to program.

Arp 2600 - The first of the "semi-modulars" that saw wide acceptance. I never owned one, although I borrowed several for extended periods and confess I have a love/hate relationship with them. I was never sold on the ARP filters to be honest, but they sounded different enough from the Moogs that they had a place in some of my early productions. I would NOT suggest touring with one. I had the responsibility of keeping Allan Zavod's (keyboard player for Jean-Luc Ponty) working on the 79 tour and lost many nights of sleep keeping it (and the Arp String Ensemble) working. Honestly, Arps were not the most reliable synths, but they were important to many performers, were pretty versatile and had their own distinctive sound. I think of Joe Zawinul as the penultimate 2600 player.

Oberheim Four/Eight Voice (FVF1/EVS1) - The first "real" poly synth. Still one of my favorite sounding synths of all time. I owned an early (modularized) FVS1 before the programmer modules were added. I still own one of the vintage SEMs (build into a custom modularized panel) which I will also never sell. Even with the programmer, they were a bitch to tune and program properly, but with enough time, you could get some really amazing sounds out of them. They were also surprisingly tour-worthy, despite their being rather large and heavy. Rush, Gino Vannelli and Supertramp used them extensively.
Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 -  The first real "programmable" poly. The Oberheim programmers didn't control all the parameters, but when Sequential figured out they could use a Z80 to control all the parameters, it was a game changer. And the thing had range! It could sound soft or harsh, and the oscillator sync sweep sound is legendary. They were in pretty much every keyboard players' arsenal in the early 80s. I had one for a time, but sold it to finance a MemoryMoog that - to my severe consternation now - I ended up not buying. The reissues are great and I will very likely get a P5 Desktop this year.

Fairlight CMI - Cost more than a house in the day, but there's no denying it was one of the most influential instruments ever. Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder and Larry Fast did some amazing things with one. The first really workable sampler synth and the father of all samplers to follow. The Artutria VSTI version is surprisingly good!

Yamaha CS80 - Too big, too heavy, too unstable, but a really beautiful sounding and expressive synth. Vangelis and Eddie Jobson were CS80 wizards. (I loved what Jobson did with one on the UK records, with Alaska (first song, second side of U.K.) being the penultimate CS80 infused song. The modern recreation - the Dekard's Dream - is an interesting option of you need that sound, but don't want to lug a 200+lb synth around with you that needs hours of calibration every time you need to pull it out of the flight case.

Moog One 16 Voice - I got mine when they were first released about 3 years ago, mostly because my wife insisted and because I'd never really forgiven myself for not buying the MemoryMoog. It has not been trouble free, and there are still some bugs to work out and some features that are not fully operable yet, but even with all its flaws, it a real beast. Probably my desert island synth today. The UI is the best I've ever seen and the way the mod-matrix works is spectacular once you wrap your head around it. The sound is just so rich and luscious. A firmware update has been promised for some time, and I hope one comes to address some of the issues it still has (e.g. the CV controls don't really work yet, the midi control hangs occasionally and the vocoder is pretty much useless) but I'm keeping it even if there are no further updates just because of the UI and the way it sounds. (No, it's NOT a MemoryMoog which also deserves an honorable mention for sounding glorious!)

Omnisphere - I wanted to throw in a VST and Omnisphere is - in my humble opinion - the best one ever. Sounds amazing, deep but intuitive UI, and multitimbral in such a way that it makes what I believe to be the best guitar synth option when driven in Midi Mono mode from a guitar to midi interface. I've owned a ton of VSTIs since getting back into music in 2000 and Omnisphere is still my go-to virtual synth.

Honorable Mention - Schmidt 8 Voice, PPG Wave, Korg Kronos, SynthiAKS/VCS3, Alesis Andromeda, Roland D50, NI Massive, Arturia MMV, Cherry Audio Memorymode (surprisingly good!). 
Hexstainocaster, Fender Strat and Electric XII, Godin ACS, Axon AX50 - Moog One, IIP and Mini, SEM, Dot.Com/Moon/STG/FSFX 110, Cubase Pro, 2xMR816, HR824, NS10M, Komplete, Omnisphere/RMX/Trilian, Z3ta+, Analog Lab, Slate MTi2, ML1 and Everything Bundle, Social Entropy Engine, ESQ1, DX7, Lavalamp.


Jack Bruce Automatic Fairlight CMI very good.