The 7 Best 37-Key Hardware Synths 2023
JD-Xi is an analog/digital crossover synthesizer with a vocoder.
It has a 4-track pattern sequencer, auto-pitch, USB for audio/MIDI connectivity, and more. In addition, you get 128 voices of polyphony, 19 effects, professional drum kits, and plenty of ready-to-play patterns and sounds. Overall, it’s a small and lightweight instrument with a versatile sonic palette, punchy drum kit, and a real analog flavor.
- SuperNATURAL synth engine
There’s no doubt that the synth has a versatile and deep-sounding analog synth engine with digital controls, which give you the best of both worlds: great sound and on-hand control.
- Sound Engine
To get started, there are 256 digital presets, 64 analog presets, and 32 drum kits. Then, you get an oscillator and a sub-oscillator, and options like brass, strings/pad, lead, etc., as the main sound source, beyond which you can apply a filter, envelope, LFO, and multiple effects like distortion, delay, reverb, compressor, bitcrusher, etc.
- Easy workflow
The signal path is straightforward and streamlined, and you can easily navigate it. In addition, the workflow is simple; for example, tapping the tempo is incredibly easy, and you have an easy XLR mic and USB/MIDI connectivity.
Character & Sound:
The bass sounds are warm and fat, and the lead sounds are upfront, with incredible pads, strings, brass, and more. It has a decent-quality gooseneck mic with an auto-pitch attached to it. The synth tones are great & natural, with up to 128 voices of polyphony. Vocoder Presets like VP330 and Robot is great! You can also download and load additional sounds into the synth.
The USB for DAW connection is a huge pro, making the synth act like a 16-bit/44kHz 2in/2out USB Audio/MIDI interface. It has a good build, sturdy knob, great onboard parameters, and translucent rubber backlit selector buttons. Auto-pitch is another great tool to correct wrongly sung notes.
The mic doesn’t have a gain control and no battery power option. The digital parts can’t easily be routed through the analog filters. Further, the keys are small and may cause resistance while playing.
Behringer Vocoder VC340
The VC340 is an analog string machine and Vocoder.
It has 37 semi-weighted full-size keys with velocity sensitivity, original analog circuitry, and signals path, ensuring inspiring synth sounds and vocoders. It has flexible sound shaping options and a distinct vintage flavor, especially in its string sounds. It is known for its hybrid stringy synth and choir-based sounds.
- Aesthetically pleasing
The design seems to be inspired by the MK2, as it has organic color on some switches and faders. It has a vintage aesthetic, a wooden cover, and a solid overall build. It’s small with only three octaves of keys, making it portable and looking good.
- Completely Analogue
The VC340 by Behringer is very reminiscent of the string machine era due to its design. Its purely analog circuitry ensures full polyphony and preservation of the warm vintage sound.
- Synthe Engine
You can select a gender in the human voice section and add ensemble effects that widen your sounds and open up their stereo imaging. Further, you can also add and control movements using LFO. Overall, it offers a nice thick texture, which sounds big and classy.
Character & Sound:
It’s great for modern vocal-synth effects and for emulating sounds of Daft Punk, Georgio Moroder, Zedd, etc. The high-quality sonic characteristics also support modern electronic music genres like house, techno, dubstep, future bass, bass house, etc. It sounds royally retro and analog and is great for creating rich choral effects and silky smooth strings.
The biggest pro of the VC340 is its simplified workflow yet great sonic possibilities. Another great thing about it is its honest & faithful design & synth architecture, as it stays true to its roots and gives you exactly what you expect from it, nothing more and nothing less. Lastly, it’s heavy and quite durable.
Thirty-seven keys may not be enough, especially for keyboard players who are also performing musicians. Secondly, the synth is good for strings and vocals but is not a versatile synthesizer and comes under niche uses. Finally, the human voices don’t sound realistic without the ensemble effect, and their usability is limited.
Mininova is a three-octave mini synthesizer with a powerful sound engine of the UltraNova.
It has 37 velocity-sensitive keys, a pitch and modulation wheel, a filter knob, four performance knobs, and a switch for adding effects.
- Animate effects
You have eight pads that you can use to arpeggiate and animate your sounds. Using this, you can add cool articulations and effects to your sounds, using custom animations and activating multiple animations simultaneously. You can also save the patches you like by using the Favorite button.
There’s a tempo knob you get under the Arp section in which you can sync the arpeggiator’s timings to the tempo. A latch button lets you keep hearing the sound without having to hold on to the keys. Finally, you get a switch by which you can flip the pads from being animated to being arpeggiated.
- Sound Engine
You get 14 types of highly-responsive and smooth filters, including high pass, low pass, and band pass, with different variations of slopes and resonances. There are six envelopes, out of which four can be applied to any parameter. These envelopes are snappy and responsive, so you can sculpt your sound however you want.
- Attractive Price Point
At a $399 price point, the features you get on the portable and highly-functional MiniNova are insane at the time of writing this article. It has the sound engine of the UltraNova so you can load its patches into the instrument.
Character & Sound:
There are 256 pre-loaded presets in the synth that you could go through and 128 available slots to save your patches. You can browse through the sounds using a data knob and select categories of type (bass, keyboard, pads, etc.) and genre (dubstep, house, rock, pop., etc.).
You can also load external sound packs from online sources or the Novation website. Overall, it has a versatile range of sounds, given its analog-style oscillators with a wide frequency range and immense punch, combined with oscillators, envelopes, and other modulators and effects for sonic shaping.
It’s well-built and one of the most affordable yet feature-heavy sound design tools. Its portability makes it great for touring and instant music production during inspiration. In addition, it has a great aesthetic, simple workflow, and dials & knobs that let you scroll through the options quite easily.
The biggest con of the synth is that it’s mono-timbral. Apart from that, the Vocoder is a bit disappointing in terms of clarity, and the reverb and other effects could have been better. There’s no battery power, and the keys are also very small for live-performing keyboard/synth players.
You want a portable sound design machine that is reasonably priced and that is optimized for electronic music production. In addition, the Vocoder and mic increase its usability and scope and make it more versatile.
MicroKorg is an analog-style portable synthesizer with an 8-band vocoder and microphone.
It features dual-oscillator digital signal processing, analog modeling, and a huge range of waveforms on the oscillator. You can run external instruments using its audio input jacks. It has 37 velocity-sensitive keys and four voices of polyphony. Plus, there are four filter modes and three types of modulation effects (chorus/flanger, phaser, and ensemble).
- Powerful Synthesis
It functions on 6 AA batteries, and you can play the synthesizer in both polyphonic and true monophonic modes. There are effects like portamento, vibrato, waveforms like saw, square, triangle, sine, vox, DWGS (more in a moment), and noise types. You also have the option to have pulse width and cross-modulation between the oscillators present in the synth.
- Advanced Filters
The filters have 12 dB/octave and 24 dB/octave slopes with low-, high- and bandpass variants, with basic cutoff and resonance controls. You can also add an ADSR envelope and key-tracking modulations to the filters.
- 8-band Vocoder
The Vocoder in the synthesizer has some interesting features, such as you can freeze the sound formats and then play it across the keyboard without speaking into the mic repeatedly. You can also shift the formats to change the gender and age of the voice. On top of that, you can add modulations, filters, and effects to your sounds.
Also, you can get creative with the Vocoder by using different voices and instruments as the carrier and modulator signals, as there are no restrictions.
- Other features
On your sounds, you can have onboard effects like flanger, chorus, ensemble, delay of various kinds, two-band eq, etc. onboard effects like flanger, chorus, ensemble, delay of various kinds, and two-band eq.
Plus, there’s also an arpeggiator on which you can have six variations of movements of notes and a trigger option for staccato of the arpeggiated notes. Further, the global settings allow great flexibility for editing & shaping the sounds.
Character & Sound:
MicroKorg has 128 presets to get started with, which include sounds of varying electronic genres, ranges, and musical styles. In addition, the modulation effects like delays, phaser, EQ, etc., line/mic input, and 6-types arpeggiator give you great flexibility over your sounds. The 128 programs are categorized into techno, trance, electronica, DnB, Hip-hop/Vintage, etc.
It has a great analog-based circuitry that produces warm, fat, and punchy sounds and has the same sound engine as the MS2000. It’s great for anything from creating funky leads to atmospheric pads to vintage strings fat & thumpy bass sounds, and more.
It’s an extremely versatile tool for sound design purposes and creating different genres of EDM, pop & hip-hop, and its low-end sounds great because of its analog framework. The workflow and signal path is simplified and easy and its also easy to carry due to their compact and light physical nature.
It has a steep learning curve, and it may take some time to develop muscle memory and an overall workflow around it; hence editing it can be a task. Lastly, since it is battery-powered, you don’t get that complete analog flow and texture in the sound, although there’s a touch.
KORG microKORG XL+
Microkorg XL+ is 37 keys, eight-voice synthesizer with a sixteen-band vocoder.
It resembles a typical digital piano with an LCD screen, USB connection, and varying effects algorithms. It features the classic Radius sound engine, giving it its analog warmth and texture. It also makes it versatile, as it can create fat bass sounds to punchy leads to thick pads.
- Sound selection knobs
The knobs let you browse the sounds by genre and instrument categories, so you can easily find the sound you’re looking for. In addition, you can layer sounds, split them, and layer them with an external source to expand your sonic horizon.
- Flexibility of use
Its battery-charged option enables you to play it in a car, park, or studio, anywhere you like. It can also be used as a USB/MIDI controller and can work with phones. It doesn’t necessarily require a laptop/computer. On top of that, it’s compact and easy to use.
- In-build Vocoder
You can use its detachable gooseneck microphone to perform vocals with vocoding effects in real time. The Vocoder has 16 bands, and you can use the external source(s) of sounds.
Character & Sound:
Apart from the 128 onboard sounds, you can load 640 more free sounds on the device by running its editor/librarian software on your computer. Sonically, it has great vintage sounds, including the KORG’s SGproX stage piano, the M1, and the VOX organ. On top of it, you can add two master effects from Kaoss, delays, 17 different effects algorithms, and more effects.
You can find program categories like Poly Synth, Bass, Lead, Arp/Motion, Pad/Strings, Keyboard/Bell, Sound Effect/Hit, and Vocoder/Audio In on the synth.
It has a small size and an optional battery power mode. The oscillators are voltage-controlled, and the filters are multi-mode, contributing to its great sonic abilities and feature-rich sound engine. The effects: Delay, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Vocoder with 16-band Filter, and 2-band EQ are also huge pros.
The build quality is not high-end, so it may not be rugged enough to carry around for touring musicians.
Korg Opsix is often compared with the well-known and industry favorite Yamaha DX7, and it’s even claimed that the Opsix is a recreation of the DX7. However, if we look beyond that, this machine has many more capabilities. Primarily, it is a 37 keys FM synthesizer with six operators.
It has five internal sound engines: Subtractive/Filter, FM with forty different algorithms, Filter FM, RM, and Wave (21 waveforms including white noise) folder, which can do expansive digital synthesis. It has six oscillators that can work in any of these synthesis engines. The subtractive mode has extensive filter types like the MS-20 and Poly-6.
Forty algorithms organize each of the six operators in different structures, giving you feedback loops and interactions you could work around. As an FM synth, this allows us to set any operator as the carrier or the modulator waveform.
- Futuristic approach to FM Synthesis
We get a decent number of hardware controls on the Korg Opsix, which gives us a good hands-on approach to sound synthesis. By using the screen, we can also see the envelopes, parameter values, algorithms, and presets we are choosing. Each operator has its slider and a dedicated envelope generator. We can select a waveform, out of 21 different waveforms, for each operator and set algorithms in which these operators modulate each other. We can easily do data entry using the rotary encoders.
- Extensive sound engines and programming capabilities
The five different synth algorithms give us the option to shape our sound to create tonal variations from the operators feeding from and into each other. There are three envelope generators for modulations, 3 LFOs with 23 LFO waveforms, 12 virtual automation patches, and one multimode filter. The arpeggiator comes with seven different patterns, and there are 30 effect types that you can apply to your sounds.
Character & Sound:
The Opsix is great for creating gritty and glitchy percussive sounds for the cyberpunk music era. It’s also great for creating lush and soothing ambient sounds that sound full and can easily fill up any space. The digital characteristic is at the core of the sound. This synth is versatile due to an intuitive hands-on interface being like an upgraded version of the DX7, just with more capabilities.
The biggest pro of this instrument is that it makes FM easier and offers immense flexibility and control. Due to the control it offers, along with a room of randomness, it gives us a scope to innovate and create & discover new sounds.
Five hundred in-built patches and an interactive interface make it easily usable and programmable. With a lightweight of fewer than three kilograms, it’s easy to carry around and is one of the best synths to design 80s sounds.
The sequencer has up to 16-tracks only, within which one has to stay limited to 16 steps and hence 16 lanes of automation. It responds to aftertouch only as a MIDI device and not otherwise, and the keys are narrow, making it hard to play.
Yamaha Reface DX FM Synthesizer
The Reface DX is part of Yamaha’s series of portable mini-keyboards, each uniquely different from the next. It offers FM synth nostalgia with a hint of modern tone in a rather compact and slim case.
Yamaha’s Reface DX is a polyphonic, analog FM synthesizer with a user-friendly interface for operator tweaking. Like the rest of the Reface series, it has built-in speakers, can run off six AA batteries, supports USB and MIDI connectivity, and uses a 37-note mini keyboard.
- Four Adjustable Oscillators
Since the DX uses FM synthesis to create its range of sounds, you will have access to four oscillators that can each be set to act as either a carrier or a modulator. You will have access to up to twelve combinations for sculpting your FM tones.
- Four Adjustable Envelope Generators
Each operator has a dedicated ADSR envelope generator. For each EG, you can adjust each envelope stage’s level and length.
By default, the operators output a sine wave, but you can use feedback control to morph an operator’s waveform to form either a sawtooth, a square wave, or a combination of the standard sine wave and either of the two additional waves to create your interesting waveforms.
- Built-In Effects
The Reface DC has seven built-in effects for you to use. You will have access to distortion, touch wah, chorus, flanger, phaser, delay, and reverb. In addition, each effect has two parameters for adjusting the qualities of the effect.
- Phrase Looper
You will be able to record and playback passages with the phrase looper. It can record up to 2000 notes or 10 minutes at a BPM of 120. In addition, you can overdub phrases to create multi-layered loops, transpose loops, and edit patches seamlessly.
Character & Sound:
Yamaha’s Reface DX supports up to 8-notes polyphonically and has a mono mode. The sounds vary from pads, brass, bells, and percussion to bass, electric piano, and synthetic lead tones.
The sounds can be smooth and groove well, or they can be loud and in your face. Overall, the Reface DX offers a wide variety of tone options.
The interface for modifying sounds is very user-friendly and easy to use, which makes sculpting your sounds easier than with other FM synthesizers.
In addition, with built-in speakers, a headphone jack, and the ability to operate off battery power for up to five hours, you can use them on the go comfortably.
Unfortunately, any loops created are lost once the synthesizer is turned off, and there are no ways to save them, so if you come up with chart-topping loops, you will need to record them. Adding to the woes, some may find the mini-keys uncomfortable.
However, the keys are slightly longer than the standard. And lastly, since the polyphony only supports up to 8 notes, some may find the voicings limited.
Yamaha’s Reface DX is a powerful, portable synth that makes FM synthesis more enjoyable and less painful. They are a welcome addition to anyone’s rig, especially if you are new to FM synthesis.
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Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.