Top 12 Semi-Modular Synths 2022 (On Any Budget)

Top 12 Semi-Modular Analog Synths | integraudio.com

Hello and welcome to today’s installment on the best semi-modular analog synthesizers!

We’ll look at 12 options for synthesizers that bridge the gap between analog and modular synthesis. And while not fully analog, we’ve included Roland’s System-1M, an analog modeling, semi-modular synth. If you’d like to learn more about the differences between analog and modular synthesizers, you can find Tri Angles‘ article on the topic here

As mentioned, semi-modular synthesizers marry the traditional with the modular synth. What this means is that you will have a synthesizer that is both pre-wired and offers the room to rewire the signal using a built-in patch bay or a selection of separate patch points.

In addition to being able to rewire the signal path, you can use external devices or modules to expand upon a semi-modular synth. E.g., you love the oscillator’s sound in your current synth, but you wish to use the filters from another. With a semi-modular synth, you could use a patch cable to divert the signal to an external filter and route that processed signal back into the original synth.

Overall, they offer the expandability and creativity of a modular setup and the convenience of a traditional hardwired device. And semi-modular synths can be a great way to learn and get comfortable with modular synthesizers at a fraction of the cost of a fully modular system.

Top 12 Semi-Modular Analog Hardware Synths 2022

1. Moog Matriarch

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The Matriarch is the fourth installment in Moog’s line of semi-modular synthesizers. Following the Grandmother, the Matriarch adds more functionality, keeps the colorful, pastel paint job, and provides the staple Moog tone many have come to love.

Moog’s Matriarch is a 4-note paraphonic, semi-modular synthesizer with Eurorack support. It offers four VCOs, Moog’s ladder filter, two EGs, a stereo delay, an arpeggiator, and a powerful sequencer. Additionally, you can seamlessly modulate various parameters using the synth’s 90 patch points.

Key Features:

  • Four Oscillators
    Up to 4 oscillators create a rich and diverse range of sounds. Each oscillator can be set to play within 4-octave ranges. To design your sound, you can switch between four waveforms for each oscillator: triangle, sawtooth, square, or a narrow pulse wave. In addition, you can set the synth to play monophonically, duophonically, or paraphonically.
  • Classic Moog Filter
    The filter is based on the classic Moog 904A module. However, it offers more than just pure low-pass filtering like its inspiration. There are three selectable filters: series LP/HP, Stereo LP/LP, and Parallel HP/LP. The first creates a band-pass filter, the second a stereo signal path, and the third a notch filter.
  • Two ADSR Envelope Generators
    You are offered full envelope customization of the filter and the amplitude through the two envelope generators. The EGs can control the attack, decay, sustain, and release to sculpt your sounds exactly how you want.
  • Stereo Delay
    You can use a built-in stereo or ping-pong delay to add vibrancy and depth to your synthesized tones. The stereo delay module is based on the Moog 500 Series Analog Delay but offers shorter delay times ranging from 35 msec to 780 msec. However, if synced with a clock, you can use the time dial to alter the delay times within divisions or multiplications of the tempo to create ambiently trippy arrangements.
  • Sequencer
    The Matriarch’s arpeggiator is precisely the same as the Moog Grandmother’s. However, the sequencer has been expanded upon. You will be able to store up to 12 sequences. Each sequence can contain 256 steps or 1024 notes (Each step comprises four notes).
Moog MATRIARCH: Review, full tutorial and patch ideas

Character & Sound:

Overall, the interface is highly intuitive, and you will have an ocean of deep, warm, and smooth sounds to lose yourself. The analog tones are exquisite and don’t require much external modulation to shine. However, once you use the patch bay to connect external modules, the tonal options increase exponentially. If you want to hear some of the possible sounds created by a Moog, you can find sound samples here on Moog’s Soundcloud page. 

Pros:

The optional oscillator sync function can thicken the sound substantially to create a sonic bulldozer that can stand up well in a mix. Couple the sync function with the option to switch to two or four-note paraphony, and you have a versatile synth that can excel in many situations. Moog does offer a dark version with an all-black paint job if you aren’t a fan of the pastel-colored interface.

Cons: 

Much like the DFAM, you will be unable to save presets. The only workaround at the moment would be to take photos of the parameters and refer back to them when you need to recreate a sound. Otherwise, Moog has printable blank patch sheets you can use to record any setups you’ve come up with. One of the more annoying cons you will come across is an issue with the internal clock swaying out of time when syncing the delay to the arpeggiator/sequencer. 

Choose If:

If you already have semi-modular Moog synthesizers, then the Matriarch can be a great addition to the collection since they partner up well with their predecessors. Otherwise, if you want to dip your tones in the modular world without fully letting go of the familiar analog universe or are looking for an addition to your Eurorack setup, Moog’s Matriarch is highly recommended.

2. Arturia MiniBrute 2S Noir

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A very well done follow-up to the MiniBrute 2, the MiniBrute 2S offers many of the same features with a few changes that help them stand out from the pack. You can expect an outstanding balance between analog convenience and modular control.

Arturia’s MiniBrute 2S is a semi-modular synthesizer that is inherently monophonic but can become paraphonic or even polyphonic through MIDI or creative patching. It offers all you need to start creating right out of the box! And the 2S Noir edition features a sleek-looking all-black casing.

Key Features:

  • Two Oscillators
    Two oscillators are at your fingertips when shaping and modulating voltages to create your sonic palette. VCO 1 offers complete control over the oscillator’s functions, while VCO 2 has a barebones approach. If you’re familiar with Arturia synths, then you’ll know they offer an onboard mixer that allows you to shape the waveform for the VCO through faders dedicated to each wave shape. I.e., you won’t be selecting which waveform you want to play; instead, you will shape it yourself. 
  • Steiner-Parker Multimode Filter
    The Steiner-Parker Multimode filter has four filtering modes available: high-pass, low-pass, band-pass, and notch. Each mode will filter frequencies by 12dB per octave. In addition, the filter section has controls for frequency modulation and resonance modulation. Overall you will have access to a versatile filter that is relatively smooth at low gain settings but becomes progressively more aggressive as the signal is overdriven.
  • AD & ADSR Envelope Generator
    Two envelope generators shape how the S2’s sounds unfold over time. You will be able to control each parameter using faders. The ADSR envelope is hardwired to shape the filter, and the AD envelope shapes the amplitude’s output. However, you can rewire what each filter effects using the patch bay. 
  • Brute Factor™ Overdrive Effect
    The Brute Factor™ effect dramatically alters the synth’s tone by enriching the wave’s harmonic content. By overdriving the signal, you can create highly aggressive tones. 
  • 64-Step Sequencer
    The 64-step sequencer can create and store up to 64 sequences. The sequencer offers up to eight modifiers for each step. Of the eight, the four main modifiers are pitch, gate, velocity, and pressure. And each main modifier has a secondary parameter. You will be able to record patterns step-by-step or through live recording. Moreover, live recording has an optional metronome playback.
  • Arpeggiator & Looper
    The arpeggiator adds to the functionality of the sequencer by allowing you to lay arpeggios over your patterns/sequences. You can play arpeggios based on the sequence of keys you play, or you can use the secondary function to hold notes and loop the sequence while you add notes to the arpeggio and filter/modulate parameters. Once you are happy with what you hear, you will be able to record and save the sequence created.
Arturia MiniBrute 2S Noir and DrumBrute Impact Noir jam

Character & Sound:

As mentioned above, you can adjust the volume of each waveform outputted by the VCO, and being able to shape the sound by mixing in various waveforms can create a unique and complex selection of sounds. Overall, the tones lean more to the aggressive or crisp side, especially when you add the modifiers available for each waveform. 

Pros:

The 48-point patch bay is labeled and neatly sectioned off, making patching highly intuitive. In addition, the patch bay is quite extensive, so you’ll have a great degree of control over how and where your signal is being processed. 

Cons:

It doesn’t have much in the way of cons. The patch bay doesn’t have any multiples or CV mixers for more complex patching, and the filter may not attenuate frequencies as steeply as you’d prefer.

Choose If:

The Minibrute 2S is highly recommended for any looking for a great sequencer with modular capabilities. Otherwise, it can be a great entry point into synthesis by bridging the analog and modular worlds.

3. Behringer NEUTRON

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Since Behringer’s track record for original synths is slim, the Neutron raised more than a few eyebrows upon release. But has shown Behringer has a place in the synth market. 

The Behringer Neutron is a Eurorack-mountable monophonic, semi-modular synthesizer that offers a switchable paraphonic mode. Alongside the paraphonic feature, you will have access to an LFO, a filter, two ADSR generators, an overdrive and a delay effect, a sample and hold function, and a slew rate limiter and two attenuators.

Key Features:

  • Two Oscillators with Paraphonic Switch
    The two VCOs can be set to act in tandem or individually if the paraphonic button is engaged and two or more MIDI notes are being played. You can shape the sound using five waveforms: tonal modulation, square/pulse, sawtooth, triangle, and sine.
  • Multi-Mode Filter
    You can set the filter to remove frequencies using a high-pass, band-pass, or low-pass filter. In addition, you can use the patch bay to wire in a second filter. Outside of the usual resonance control, you will have access to an optional keyboard tracking feature that will adjust the filtering according to the note being played. Moreover, the filter can output an additional self-oscillating sine wave if the resonance control is at the maximum and keyboard tracking is activated.
  • Bucket Brigade Delay
    The BBD offers 24 to 640 milliseconds of delay. The delay unit offers three parameters: time, repeats, and mix. Depending on how the delay unit is set up and whether you have an LFO modulating any parameters, you can create various effects ranging from dub delay to chorus to flanger and beyond.
  • Slew Rate Limiters
    If you want to add glide or portamento into your playing, then the built-in slew rate limiter can help achieve that. The limiter smoothens the signal at a rate between 1ms to 3s so you can achieve creamy lines that slide into one another. Otherwise, you can use it to smoothen the peak and trough of a triangle wave to morph it into a sine-esque waveform.
Behringer Neutron EXPLAINED

Character & Sound:

The tone of the Neutron varies wildly and can cover many bases. Depending on the base waveforms selected and how/whether each oscillator is mixed, the sound waves can vary from thick and smooth to warped and metallic or spaciously ambient. The sonic possibilities are vast and may not be apparent at face value, especially when the patch bay is thrown in the mix.

Pros:

The frequency range of the dual oscillators can be tuned low enough to become LFOs which you can patch to external gear if you use a modular setup. The software included adds an extra level of control over the synth’s parameters and can be a great companion for those looking to tinker with their sounds at a deeper level.

Cons: 

The overall level of the synth is relatively high and is a hair away from saturating at all times. Also, it doesn’t have a built-in sequencer or keyboard, so you will need to connect it to external gear or a controller/keyboard. And lastly, it doesn’t have a hard sync feature for the VCOs, and since the tuning knobs are extremely sensitive, you may find it difficult to sync them perfectly.

Choose If:

Suppose you have the external gear to connect it to. In that case, Behringer’s Neutron can be an excellent addition for anyone looking for a synth that could cover various areas and offer a tremendous degree of control.

4. Moog Grandmother

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The Grandmother has received more than a few remarks because of its name and color scheme. However, Moog offers a great vintage-Moog-inspired sound with tremendous functionality and a rewarding experimental experience.

Moog’s Grandmother is a monophonic, semi-modular synthesizer with a built-in keyboard, sequencer, and arpeggiator. It offers all you need for a standalone synth and can easily integrate into a Eurorack system.

Key Features:

  • Two Oscillators
    You can use two oscillators to sculpt your tones, and each oscillator can output one of four standard synth waveforms: a triangle, sawtooth, square, or pulse wave. In addition, you can adjust the pitch of each oscillator within a four-octave range.
  • Classic Moog Filter
    The Grandmother uses Moog’s 24dB/oct ladder filter to remove frequencies above the cutoff point. In addition, you can use keyboard tracking to adjust the cutoff point automatically based on the note being played.
  • ADSR Envelope Generator
    You will have complete control over how your sound unfolds. The envelope generator can independently adjust the sound’s attack, decay, sustain, and release times. In addition, the envelope generator has three patch points available for you to modulate the envelope of your sound.
  • Adjustable LFO
    The modulation section houses a low-frequency oscillator to provide adjustable modulation to three areas. You can adjust the modulation depth for the oscillator’s pitch, the filter’s cutoff frequency, and the pulse width for each oscillator’s square or pulse wave. Also, the LFO can output as a sine, sawtooth, ramp, or square wave.
  • Arpeggiator
    Using the arpeggiator, you can loop melodic lines by playing on the 32-note keyboard. You can adjust the tempo of these lines to play within a range of 20 to 280 bpm. In addition, you will be able to set the arp to play arpeggios in the order the notes were played, forward then backward, or at random.
  • Sequencer
    The sequencer can store up to 256 steps per sequence. In addition, each step is made up of four notes. Aside from the number of steps, you can store three separate sequences to recall later. Like the arpeggiator, you can control the order the sequence is played back in.
  • Built-In Spring Reverb Tank
    They feature a spring reverb effect created by a tank built into the synth. Unlike most built-in effects, which merely emulate the sound, you will be able to mix in an authentic spring reverb tone to add depth and space to your designed sounds.
Unlocking Grandmother's Secrets: Review, ideas and tips for Moog's latest semi modular synth

Character & Sound:

Moog’s Grandmother excels at capturing a vintage analog synthesizer tone that you can use to create smooth, biting, or funky lead tones, thick, growling bass grooves, driving kicks, and immersive ambient sounds.

Pros:

You’ll get a synth with a lot of character, a durable build, and great functionality, both with or without an accompanying modular setup. If you dislike the pastel-colored interface, Moog does offer an all-black alternative.

Cons: 

You won’t be able to save presets of the brilliant sounds you’ve sculpted, which is unfortunate considering the wide range of tones you can create. And the power connector, located at the back of the device, is flimsy enough to disconnect accidentally with the slightest touch.

Choose If:

If you are looking for a vintage-inspired synthesizer with a lot of character, you may have found your match! Otherwise, the Grandmother is a welcome addition if you want a semi-modular synth to head your modular setup.

5. Roland System-1m

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The System-1M continues Roland’s AIRA line of analog modeling synthesizers, following the System-1 synthesizer. However, it foregoes several features—a keyboard, arpeggiator, and a scatter effect—to offer more patch points for modular exploration.

With a Eurorack, rackmount, and desktop-friendly design, the System-1M offers more than just oscillators, a filter, and envelope generators. It supports Roland’s plug-out feature, an AIRA Link connection to the MX-1 Mix Performer, and can function as an audio and MIDI interface with a bit depth and sample rate of 24 bit/ 96 kHz. In addition, you will have a few built-in effects, a noise generator, and various patch points to shape your sounds.

Key Features:

  • Plug-Out Technology
    The plug-out technology featured in the System-1M allows you to swap out synth sounds for those of classic Roland synthesizers. And once a plug-out synth has been loaded onto your 1M, you can alternate between the original synth architecture and the emulated synth; to avoid confusion, any parameters not available for a patch will have their outline LEDs greyed out on the interface.
  • Two Oscillators
    The two VCOs can output up to 6 waveforms out-the-box. The three primary waveforms are the standard sawtooth, square, and triangle waves, but you can select a doubled-up version of each waveform for thicker tones. A color control adds to the tone of each waveform by subtly altering the sawtooth wave’s phase, adjusting the square wave’s pulse width, adding harmonics to the triangle wave, and detuning the double-tracked waves.
  • Sub Oscillator & Noise Generator
    You can enrich your tones further using a select-able 1 to 2-octave sub-oscillator and a white or pink noise generator. Both features are selected using individual buttons in the mixer section and have dedicated pods to control their level.
  • AD and 2 ADSR Envelope Generators
    The pitch, filter, and amplitude sections have their envelope controls. The pitch section features faders for adjusting the attack and decay, while the filter and amplitude have faders for each envelope stage.
  • Built-In Effects
    The System-1M offers three built-in effects: a crusher, reverb, and delay. The crusher effect reduces the bit-depth and sampling rate of the waveform to distort the tone, the reverb effect is a stereo hall reverb that only has a volume control, and the delay effect offers clean delays with volume and delay time controls.
AIRA Start – SYSTEM-1m (a short tutorial)

Character & Sound:

Unlike the other synths in today’s article, Roland’s System-1M uses a digital audio engine, so the sounds produced will have a colder feel. But despite their slight robotic nature, the sounds conjured from this rack-mountable device are fantastic and will have you donning your tin hat and looking towards the sky saying, “Beam me up, Scotty!”. It’s great for emulating various tones and is a welcome addition to any sound designer’s trove of faux-effect producing instruments.

Pros:

The synth comes with a copy of Ableton Live Lite and can act as a MIDI or audio interface—24bit/96kHz. In addition, it’s are compatible with the AIRA Link terminal on Roland’s MX1-Mix Performer.

Cons: 

Because of limited space and access to modules, some plug-outs require the use of a computer for you to appreciate them fully. And unfortunately, the backlighting that surrounds the control can’t be adjusted, so you will have to make do with the blindingly bright green display.

Choose If:

It offers the most functionality when used within a modular or MIDI environment. And to make use of the plug-out functionality, you will need to work through a computer. So if you work or tinker in the box, have a modular setup, or are starting one, the System-1M is an excellent choice to pioneer your system.

6. Korg Volca Modular

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Korg has opted away from traditional synthesis for their eighth installment in the Volca line. Instead, their Volca Modular uses the West Coast synthesis style to create sounds, so don’t expect the usual VCO, filter, and amp combo. 

Korg’s Volca Modular offers a dual VCO that partners to create FM-based tones. You can expect to use wave folding, a low-pass gate that reaches the depths of your bass range for carving away at frequencies, a woggle effect, an AHR envelope generator, a slope generator, a reverb effect, a 16-step sequencer, and a variety of patch points to experiment with.

Key Features:

  • 16-Step Sequencer
    The sequencer records using either a live-record mode or a step-record mode. You can record and store up to sixteen sequences; each stored sequence can be played back individually or arranged sequentially.
  • Scale Selection
    The touch-sensitive 16-note keyboard has the option of being set to a specified scale. Scale selection mode is mapped to the first key of the keyboard, and when activated, you will be able to map up to 14 different scales to the keyboard.
  • Two Triangle Wave VCOs
    The oscillators are set to produce triangle waves. The Volca Modular uses Frequency Modulation to create its tones. The first oscillator acts as a carrier modulated by the second waveform, the modulator. After that, the output is sent through a wave folder to vary the harmonic content of the wave to shape various tones.
  • Dual Low Pass Gate
    The LPG acts as a combined low pass filter and voltage-controlled amplifier, so the overall level of the sound source dictates what the resulting output tone will be. The low pass gate mimics the natural tone of sounds and how they fluctuate with volume. The filter will output a bright and loud tone if you pass a high-level sound. As the volume decays, the higher frequencies are rolled off, and a duller quieter tone is output. The filter will output a darker, quieter tone if you pass a low-level sound.
Korg Volca Modular In-Depth Review

Character & Sound:

Since the Volca Modular uses the West Coast synthesis style, you will use frequency modulation to create your tonal palette. The sounds range from deep and dark to aggressive and metallic since the modular relies on adding harmonic content instead of the East Coast style of removing it. It rewards experimentation; you won’t find more than a few plain tones if you don’t use the patch points. You can find examples on Korg’s SoundCloud page here.

Pros:

They can easily fit into any desktop space and make great travel companions since they have a compact design. The buttons extend slightly out of the casing but aren’t too obstructive. The CV inputs are abundant so you will have plenty of modulation options.

Cons: 

The patching isn’t as intuitive as other synthesizers, but once you’ve tinkered with each patch point and read through the manual a couple of times (maybe even watched a tutorial or two), you can have a good sense of what does what and where.

Choose If:

Korg’s Volca Modular is not the synth for you if you are looking for a Moog-Esque tone or anything similar. However, if you are looking for a compact synth that can create wildly eccentric sounds and you love to experiment, it is for you!

7. Moog DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother)

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The Drummer From Another Mother follows on from the Mother-32 and compliments its predecessor wondrously! And adds to their list of eccentric product names.

The DFAM is a monophonic, semi-modular synthesizer specializing in percussive and rhythmic tones. It integrates seamlessly with other synthesizers and support installation into a Eurorack system.

Key Features:

  • Two VCOs, A Noise Generator, & An External Audio Input
    You will have access to four different sound sources for creating your percussive soundscapes: two voltage-controlled oscillators, a white noise generator, and an external audio source. Each voltage-controlled oscillator can output either a harmonically rich square wave or a biting triangle wave, and you can adjust the octave for each oscillator within a ten-octave range.
  • Two-Way VCF
    The VCF can filter the sound by 24dB per octave using either a high-pass or a low-pass filter that attenuates the sound. Also, the resonance control will allow you to emphasize the filter’s cutoff point to create punchy bass tones to sharp percussive tones that cut like a hot knife through butter. The timber of the filtering is controlled using a single dial. The Filter EG dial lets you control how dynamic and aggressive vs. how tame and dull the envelope modulation sounds.
  • 8-Step Sequencer
    The percussive and rhythmic sounds can be arranged using a basic 8-step sequencer. The sequencer offers six controls, two of which are step specific: Tempo, run/stop, trigger, advance, pitch, and velocity. The overall tempo can be adjusted using the tempo dial; otherwise, if the pitch/velocity output is patched to the tempo input, you can adjust the timing of each step individually. And lastly, you will be able to manipulate the individual steps using the pitch and velocity dials.
  • Modular Patch Bay: 15 Inputs & 9 Outputs
    You can expand on the sounds and features using the 24 patch points available. All parameters of the DFAM can be routed for external modulation or to modulate various parameters within the synth. And it does support integration into a Eurorack setup.
A love letter to the Moog DFAM (that also explains it)

Character & Sound:

The various sounds available are tailored to percussive and rhythmic sounds but can also be shaped to play drawn-out atmospheric tones. If you are curious about the tones available, you can find recorded sound samples on Moog’s SoundCloud page here.

Pros:

The interface is painless to navigate since the controls are clearly marked and flow intuitively across the face of the synth. The patch bay may not offer a wide variety of options, but it does expand upon the already great tone exponentially. 

Cons: 

Unfortunately, the Drummer From Another Mother does not allow you to save sequences or presets for recall later, but Moog does have printable patch sheets that you can download from their website should you want to make a record of any sounds you discover.

Choose If:

The DFAM encourages hands-on use. Treat this like any musician would their instrument, and you will have a fantastic tool to create music. It is not for you if you’re looking for something that will allow you to set it and forget it. However, if you have Moog’s Mother-32, the DFAM is a must-have addition since it harmonizes like an A note with an E.

8. Behringer Crave

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Following the Neutron, it marks the third synth in Behringer’s line of original synthesizers. However, those familiar with Moog’s Mother-32 find Behringer’s Crave somewhat reminiscent.

The Crave is a monophonic, semi-modular synthesizer that supports up to 16-note polyphony by connecting extra synthesizers. It offers everything you need in a standalone synth and enough to be the control interface for a modular/Eurorack setup. 

Key Features:

  • A 3340 VCO
    The 3340 oscillator has two selectable waveforms to choose from pulse with pulse width control and sawtooth. In addition, you can patch an external OSC CV and mix the internal and external oscillators to create an amalgamation of the two sounds. Or you can mix a noise generator in to add some color. The internal oscillator has a wide 8-octave range.
  • 24dB/Octave Ladder Filter
    The Moog style ladder filter has high and low pass filter modes. The filter offers the usual resonance control and includes a modulation dial with adjustable mod source and polarity. The filter’s mod source can be set to either the envelope generator or the LFO. And the polarity can be set to positive for typical filtering characteristics or negative to create the opposite mod characteristic.
  • An ADS Envelope Generator
    As well as being a source for modulation for the filter, the envelope generator sets the attack, decay, and sustain time of notes played on the 13-note keyboard. The release time is linked to decay. And as for sustain, you can choose to have notes sustained for as long as the key is pressed or to move through the rest of the envelope cycle as soon as the attack portion is complete.
  • Arpeggiator
    The built-in arpeggiator can play sequences as the notes are played, or you can set it to hold the notes played and loop them indefinitely. Once you have set a sequence of notes to be arpeggiated, you can set the order in which the notes are played in various ways, from the standard upward or downward, to random, to multi-octave movements.
  • 32-Step Sequencer
    Crave’s sequencer can store up to 64 sequences of up to 32 steps each. Unfortunately (or fortunately, considering the small pads used for the steps), you cannot record sequences live; you have to record them step-by-step. You can manipulate up to 5 features for each step: the gate length (note length), glide and ratchets, accents, and rests. And the sequencer can transpose sequences.
Introducing the CRAVE Synthesizer

Character & Sound:

The single oscillator, filter, envelop, and LFO limit your range of available tones, but once the 32-point patch bay comes into play, you will have a broader range of sound possibilities, from soft synth backings to noisy and rich leads, sharp percussion, and other-worldly atmospheres.

Pros:

They are a veritable steal considering the high-quality sound, build, and range of options you are given. You are also given companion software to use alternate functions without a shift+function combination onboard the synth. In addition, the companion software allows you to access polychaining when connecting to multiple synths.

Cons: 

The Crave doesn’t have much in the way of cons. However, it is worth noting that it offers only one VCO, VCF, and EG, so if that is something you find too limiting, it is not for you. In addition, you won’t be able to save any presets, so if you find a sequence or sound you like, you will need to document the parameters.

Choose If:

They are highly recommended for beginner sound designers or keyboardists since they offer everything you need to start learning synthesis. But one can have a place in a more extensive setup if the Crave sparks your fancy.

9. Moog Subharmonicon

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Moog has stepped into the arcane world of complex rhythms with the Subharmonicon. These rhythm-focused synthesizers reward exploration and provide plenty of inspiration along the way. Read on if you are looking for a unique chord or percussion-focused synth.

Moog’s Subharmonicon delivers spellbinding polyrhythmic and subharmonic tones all within a compact, Moog vertical tiered rack and Eurorack compatible casing. In addition, it offers a healthy amount of modular patch points and a tremendous amount of character that is great for accompanying a variety of synthesis setups.

Key Features:

  • Six Oscillators
    Up to six oscillators build the tones generated. Two oscillators form the basis of the tones, while up to four sub-oscillators add depth and harmony. The main oscillators have a four-octave range—from middle C to C at the 8th octave—and are accompanied by two sub-oscillators each. Lastly, you will be able to set each oscillator to output one of three waveforms: a square wave, a sawtooth wave, and a pulse wave accompanied by sawtooth waves.
  • Interval Quantization
    The oscillators share a quantization control. You can use the quantization parameter to automatically set the frequency of the oscillators to the intervals of a scale. The four quantization settings are Chromatic Equal TemperamentDiatonic Equal TemperamentChromatic Just Intonation, and Diatonic Just Intonation. Chromatic quantization limits the interval to eight steps, and chromatic limits the interval to twelve steps.
  • Two 4-Step Sequencers
  • Each core oscillator is hardwired to its own four-step sequencer, i.e., oscillator one is connected to sequencer one and vice versa, and provides the basis for which you can create your rhythms. The dial for each step controls the pitch of the step. You can set the octave range for each pitch control to within a range of 5, 2, or 1 octave above and below the initial pitch.
  • Four Polyrhythm Controls
    The polyrhythm features take the set tempo and divide it by a specified value between 1 and 16. Then, the rhythm generator layers the divided rhythm over the chosen sequencer to create a complex polyrhythm. You will be able to lay four separate rhythms over either sequences 1, 2, or both.
Moog SUBHARMONICON Full Tutorial with 9 patch ideas and pairings // New version reviewed

Character & Sound:

Since Moog makes them, you can expect the iconic smooth Moog tone, but they also offer snappy percussive sound, atmospheric soundscapes, and punchy rhythm arrangements. You can find short recordings of the Subharmonicon in action on Moog’s Soundcloud page.

Pros:

Since they use an analog audio engine, the sequences sway and drift organically with each cycle. As a result, no two playthroughs will sound the same, which gives the Subharmonicon an authentic characteristic. In addition, the clock generator can receive and output a clock signal to sync external hardware.

Cons: 

They do come with a steep learning curve, so you will need to take the time to view tutorials and flip through the manual a few times before you can summon the mystifying rhythms contained within. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to save presets, so if you come across any fantastic tones while exploring, you will either need to use Moog’s Patch Sheets or take a photo of the interface for future reference.

Choose If:

If you are curious and determined enough to make it past the learning curve and try something new that could give you hours of untapped possibilities, then you have found the synth for you. Unfortunately, adding to the learning curve, the Harmonicon can be challenging to operate if you are new to synthesis.

10. Behringer 2600

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2600 is a model synonymous with the first semi-modular synthesizer created. And Behringer has created a well-made and updated replica of the classic synth. 

Behringer’s 2600 is a large, powerful, monophonic/duophonic, semi-modular synthesizer supporting Eurorack integration. You will have access to various oscillators with variable waveforms, the ability to switch each for an LFO, and a handful of FM modulation sources.

Key Features:

  • Three VCOs
    You can use up to 3 VCOs, each with various FM modulators hardwired within the signal path. Alongside the hardwired connections, you can patch all aspects of each VCO to various points on the synth, giving you complete control over the sound.
  • Low-Frequency Oscillators
    Each oscillator has an LFO switch, allowing you to use each VCO as a standard or low-frequency oscillator. A dedicated LFO is also included, so you could use the 2600 to patch out up to 4 LFOs for modulating external gear.
  • Switchable 4012 & 4072 Filter
    You can switch between using two filters modeled after the VCFs found in the ARP 2600. They share the same controls. All possible sound sources are hardwired to output to the filter, and the filter outputs to the VCA by default. The default configuration means you will need to slide the fader for each point in the connection to hear any sound source.
  • Sample & Hold Module
    The sample and hold module is hardwired to various sections of the synth and has an internal clock generator, so you do not need to connect a clock source, but there is a jack should you wish to. The sample and hold feature allows you to seamlessly create a stepped output of whatever audio is fed into it. All oscillators and envelope generators have a hardwired S/H control, but you can patch the feature wherever you want to use it.
Behringer 2600 First Demos and Overview

Character & Sound:

The interface can be intimidating and confusing to navigate at first because of the extensive controls and faders offered, but every section is marked, and the signal flow within each section is indicated, so once you are comfortable navigating the interface, it becomes highly intuitive. In terms of sound, you will have a versatile mixture of deep and warm tones to metallic and fuzz that is very similar to what you would find in the original ARP 2600.

Pros:

The degree of control over the signal is astounding, and anyone that enjoys modular synthesis will enjoy Behringer’s 2600 immensely. You will have access to 83 patch points to control the flow of your sound and how each component interacts with it.

Cons:

The unit is large, so if you have limited desktop space and prefer not to use rackmounts, this won’t be for you. In addition, it is important to note (if you didn’t know) that you will require a MIDI controller to use the 2600.

Choose If:

Behringer’s 2600 is highly recommended for anyone looking to add a powerful addition to their modular setup. Otherwise, if you are looking to upgrade your current setup and want a standalone sound source that you can connect to your MIDI controller, then this is the one for you.

11. Moog Mother-32

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The well-known Mother-32 started Moog’s line of semi-modular synthesizers. The pint-sized synth is not only an awesome standalone analog synth but offers versatile modulation options and Eurorack support, making them a small-yet-mighty addition to anyone’s arsenal.

Moog’s Mother-32 is a monophonic desktop semi-modular synthesizer. It offers one VCO, a bipolar filter, two modulation sources, an AD envelope with sustain switch, and a 32-patch point patch bay.

Key Features:

  • A Voltage Controlled Oscillator
    The oscillator has a one-octave frequency range that can emit a sawtooth or a pulse wave. The pulse wave does have a dedicated pulse width dial. In addition to the internal oscillator tone, you can mix a white noise generator or external audio source with the VCO’s tone.
  • Hi-Pass & Low-Pass Filter
    The Mother-32 has a standard Moog high-pass and low-pass ladder filter that attenuates frequencies by 24dB per octave. The filter includes resonance control that self oscillates at high settings creating a sine wave. In addition, filter parameters can be modulated using the LFO to create a trippy wobble effect. Otherwise, the EG can modulate the filter to create a one-shot warping effect.
  • AD Envelope Generator
    The envelope generator controls the attack and decay of the amplitude by default but, as mentioned, can be patched to modulate the filter. A sustain switch accompanies the attack and delay dials. The switch controls whether the envelope will pass through each stage as soon as the attack segment has passed or if the note will sustain while a key or keys are pressed.  
  • 32-Step Sequencer
    A 1 octave/13-note keyboard is used to create sequences. Despite only being 1 octave, you can transpose the octave within a range of 8 octaves. In addition to transposing octaves, you can transpose sequences to a different root note while retaining the interval relationship. And lastly, you can make your sequences more musical using a swing parameter and input accents.
Moog Mother-32 Semi-Modular Synthesizer | Reverb Demo Video

Character & Sound:

Despite the seemingly limited tonal options available, based on the controls offered, the tones you will be able to create can be rich and complex, sharp enough to cut through a mix, and deep and smooth enough to lay a bed for the rest of your music to lie on.  

Pros:

They offer an exceptional tone and many features for semi-modular synths at this price point. Despite only having one oscillator, the range and depth of tones you can create make up for it. In addition, since they are semi-modular, if you want another oscillator, you can purchase an external module and connect it to the M-32 using the patch bay.

Cons: 

The small interface is cluttered with dials, making it fiddly when adjusting parameters. Adding to the interface woes, there is a slight learning curve with navigating it, so you should flip through the manual and familiarize yourself with all the controls and sections.

Choose If:

They are great for anyone wanting to start using analog synthesis to create music, and are brilliant for slowly creeping into the modular side of synthesis. 

12. Behringer K-2

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Behringer has an extensive product library filled with re-interpretations/remakes of renowned synths from an age gone by. Adding to this selection, the K-2 is a rehash of Korg’s MS-20, offering a piece of history for everyone.

For those familiar with the MS-20, the K-2 offers much of the same with a few changes here and there. For those unfamiliar, the K-2 is a monophonic, semi-modular synthesizer that offers dual VCOs, dual VCFs with two filter settings (based on a new and old MS-20 filter), various modulation controls, glide, an LFO, two EGs, an external signal processor, and a large patch bay that shows the signal flow throughout the synth. 

Key Features:

  • Two VCOs with Individual Controls
    VCO one and two have four selectable waveforms each. The only common shapes are pulse and reverse sawtooth. VCO 1 can output a triangle, reverse sawtooth, pulse wave, or noise, VCO 2 can output a reverse sawtooth, square, narrow pulse wave, or ring modulation with VCO 1, and both have four selectable octave ranges and share a portamento and master tune control.  
  • Dual High & Low Pass Filters
    The dual filters remove frequencies at 12dB/Octave. Unlike the standard design where a single filter switches between filter types, both K-2’s filters are active simultaneously, with the high pass feeding its output directly into the low pass before continuing its journey through the rest of the circuit. A notable characteristic of both filters is their screaming resonance control. If the resonance is high enough, your signal will aggressively scream. 
  • ADR & ADSR Envelope Generators
    The ADSR EG is hardwired to the VCA and both filters, so you will be able to manipulate how the waveform and the cutoff frequency’s modulation unfolds over time. In addition to the ADSR dials, you have a hold time control that will sustain the tone for a set period, while the sustain dial controls the volume of the sustain. The ADR envelope is hardwired to the VCO’s pitch modulation. 
  • Patchable Interface
    Behringer’s K-2 offers 34 patch points to manipulate the synthesizer’s signal flow. And it’s important to note that your external gear will need to support the Hz/V and S-trig systems to use with the patch bay.
BEHRINGER K-2 Tutorial & Review, with 18 patch ideas (that also apply to KORG's MS-20)

Character & Sound:

They offer a very similar tone to the MS-20. Without using the patch bay, you can expect basic smooth to filtered to fuzzy lead and bass tones or even screaming lead tones. However, once you can decipher the cryptic patch bay, you will have much control over how and where your tones are shaped. 

Pros:

The K-2 can be an excellent introduction to modular synthesis while retaining analog’s predictability. It has MIDI support so that you can use them as an interface for MIDI to CV. Also, they are cheaper than Korg’s remakes of their MS-20.

Cons:

Unlike Korg’s new releases of the MS-20, you don’t have access to a built-in keyboard, and since Behringer opted to remain faithful to the original Hz/V and S-Trigger systems, an external controller/keyboard will need to support the two less common systems.  

Choose If:

If you are looking for a synth to create fat, sharp, or smooth tones, then the K-2 is a great choice! Otherwise, it is a superb choice if you are looking for a stepping stone into the world of modular synthesis.

Bonus

SOMA Pulsar-23 (Semi-Modular Drum Machine)

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SOMA Labs has created a wonderfully eccentric and complex drum machine with their Pulsar-23. It offers an organic and potentially unpredictable sound that perfectly fits the live performance scene.

The Pulsar-23 is a semi-modular drum machine fitted into a casing filled with dials, poles, and pressure-sensitive plates. It rewards exploration, self-expression, and creativity. You will have access to four separate drum modules, four envelope generators, a loop recorder, a range of unique effects, and CV points to modulate to your heart’s content.

Key Features:

  • Four Channels Dedicated to Drums
    You can use up to four separate modules to create your grooves, each dedicated to a drum and rhythm section: bass drum, bass/percussion, snare drum, and cymbals/hi-hat. And each module has its own set of controls with dedicated patch pins. 
  • Looper-Recorder (LR)
    Instead of a conventional step sequencer, you will use an ADD and DEL pressure plate to record or remove notes within a loop. The LR includes a three-way switch for selecting its current state: record, mute, or play. Each position changes how the ADD and DEL plates interact with the loop.
  • Master Clock Generator
    As the hub of Pulsar, the Master Clock Generator controls any pattern’s tempo and the LR’s length. By default, the LR’s length is four measures long, or one hundred and twenty-eight 32nd notes. However, using seven different dividers, you can use various clock divider pins to alter the loop length.
  • Three Built-In Master Effects
    You can use up to three built-in effects types to add character or ambiance to your loops: distortion, delay, and reverb. The distortion effect uses a parallel distortion chain within its module to allow you to mix in a distorted tone. The reverb and delay are contained within their module. You can use a 1-tap, 2-tap, and 1-tap with pitch shifting and varying classic hall reverb. 
Review: PULSAR 23 by SOMA // 10 Patch ideas, tips, and full tutorial

Character & Sound:

The Pulsar-32 focuses on organic sound creation and performance. As opposed to conventional patch points, it uses pins and alligator clips to connect various modules. The pins offer a unique feature of using your body’s electrical charge to alter sounds by holding a pin or pins. As a result, the tones vary from deep to sharp and bouncy bass drums, warm and gritty bass, grainy to metallic percussion, snappy and filtered snares and claps, sizzling hi-hats, and shakers.

Pros:

The most significant positive would be the extensive tone-shaping possibilities. For example, you can interconnect all modules and parameters to create unique and chaotic tones. In addition, each module’s LR can be clock synced separately to create complex polyrhythmic arrangements.

Cons: 

The results can become unpredictable, and when you couple this with how complex the device is, you may wish for some predictable results. Not having an adjustable step sequencer will be a negative for some, but that feature goes against the synth’s very nature, so if its lack of step sequencer irks you, this isn’t for you.

Choose If:

If you are looking for a drum machine that is as organic and responsive as an acoustic drumkit but with the tonal options of a modular synth, then SOMA’s Pulsar-23 is for you! In addition, it is built for live performance, so if you are looking for a drum machine that allows the freedom to express yourself, you may want to buy one.

Conclusion

Overall, the prices for today’s list vary pretty widely. We have synths that sell for $220 brand-new, to one that can be yours for a pricey $2250. There is a synth for someone here. The question is, which one is the right one for you and your budget?

Behringer, Korg, and Arturia have released semi-modular synths that fall into the more affordable end of the spectrum of up to $500:

Synthesizer
Key Features
Price
Arturia Minibrute 2S
  • Monophonic, Paraphonic, or Polyphonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 12 dB/Octave Multimode Filter
  • 2 EGs
  • VCA with BruteFactor™ Distortion
  • 2 Octave Keyboard
  • 64-Step Sequencer
  • Arpeggiator
  • 48-Point Patch Bay
$ 500
Behringer K2
  • Monophonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • Dual High & Low Pass Filters
  • 2 EGs
  • 34 Patch Points
$ 330
Behringer Neutron
  • Monophonic & Paraphonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 12 dB/Octave Multimode Filter
  • 2 EGs
  • 1 LFO
  • Bucket-Brigade Delay & Overdrive Effects
  • Sample & Hold 
$ 330
Korg Volca Modular
  • Monophonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 1 Low Pass Gate
  • 2 EGs
  • Reverb
  • Wave Folding
  • 16-Step Sequencer
  • Scale Select
  • 50 Patch Points
  • West Coast (Additive) Synthesis
$ 230
Behringer Crave
  • Monophonic
  • 1 VCO
  • 24 dB/Octave High & Low Pass Filter
  • 1 EG
  • 1 LFO
  • Glide
  • 32-Step Sequencer
  • Arpeggiator
$ 220

Each of the five synthesizers above offers you a good amount of functionality and sonic options. Whether one is for you would come down to preference since, sonically and workflow-wise, they are pretty different.

The Volca Modular is portable and sits in its area of synthesis. The Crave and Minibrute 2S each offer a sequencer and arpeggiator but are different sonically. And the K2 and Neutron are similar in that they lean more to the modular side.

Behringer, Moog, and Roland follow on with their slightly less budget-friendly semi-modular synthesizers that are below $1000:

Synthesizer
Key Features
Price
Moog DFAM
  • Monophonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 24 dB/Octave High & Low Pass Filter
  • 3 EGs
  • 8 Step Sequencer
  • 24-Point Patch Bay
$ 700
Moog Subharmonicon
  • Monophonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 24 dB/Octave Low Pass Filter
  • 2 EGs
  • Dual 4-Step Sequencers
  • Polyrhythmic Controls
  • Clock Generator
  • 32-Point Patch Bay
$ 700
Moog Mother-32
  • Monophonic
  • 1 VCO
  • 24 dB/Octave High & Low Pass Filter
  • 1 EG
  • 32-Step Sequencer
  • 32-Point Patch Bay
$ 700
Behringer 2600
  • Monophonic or Duophonic
  • 3 VCOs
  • 1 Multimode VCF
  • 2 EGs
  • 2 LFOs + Each VCO has an LFO option for up to 5 LFOs
  • Attenuator, Inverter, Sample & Hold, & Slew Rate Limiter
  • Digital Spring Reverb Effect
  • 4-Way Multiple Patch Point
  • 83 Patch Points
$ 660
Roland System-1M
  • Monophonic or Paraphonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 1 Sub-Oscillator
  • 12/24 dB/Octave Low Pass Filter
  • 1 High Pass Filter
  • 3 EGs
  • Crusher, Reverb, & Delay Effects
  • 1 Noise Generator
  • Supports Roland’s PlugOut Technology
  • 19 Patch Points 
$ 650

The following five synthesizers are each unique in their way and cater to separate areas and tastes. Also, you can operate only three of the five without an external controller.

The Moog family works well together and as standalone devices. The DFAM and Subharmonicon are designed to fit into the rhythm creation department, with the Subharmonicon catering to creating complex rhythms. If you are looking for a semi-modular synth that focuses on rhythm but isn’t quite a drum machine, the DFAM is the ideal choice. If you are looking for a complex rhythm companion, the Subharmonicon is your pal!

The Behringer 2600 and Roland System-1M fit into two very different molds but have their similarities in that they both require an external keyboard or controller. If you were to look at them purely from a “what is offered” perspective, the Behringer offers more hardwired functionality than the Roland, but they are too dissimilar to compare at their core.

And now for today’s post’s three most expensive semi-modular synthesizers: SOMA’s Pulsar-23 and Moog’s Grandmother and Matriarch.

Synthesizer
Key Features
Price
SOMA Pulsar-23
  • Polyphonic
  • 4 VCOs
  • 4 VCFs
  • 4 EGs
  • Clock Generator
  • 2 LFOs
  • Delay, Reverb, & Distortion
  • Pseudo-Random Generator 
  • 2 Inverters
  • 4 Attenuators
  • +100 Patch Pins
$2 250
Moog Matriarch
  • Monophonic, duophonic, or paraphonic
  • 4 VCOs
  • 24 dB/Octave High & Low Pass Filter
  • 2 EGs
  • Arpeggiator
  • Sequencer
  • 49-Note Keyboard
  • Stereo Delay
  • 90 Patch Points
$2 200
Moog Grandmother
  • Monophonic
  • 2 VCOs
  • 24 dB/Octave Low Pass Filter
  • Static 6 dB/Octave High Pass Filter
  • 1 EG
  • Arpeggiator
  • Sequencer
  • 32-Note Keyboard
  • Spring Reverb Effect
  • Attenuator 
  • 4-Way Multiple Patch Point
  • 41 Patch Points
$1 150

The SOMA Pulsar-32 is within a category of its own. The advanced and enigmatic drum machine has a high price, but the degree of control, versatility, and possibility warrants it, especially when you add in its support for CV and MIDI connections.

The Matriarch and Grandmother are fundamentally similar. However, the Matriarch focuses on modular patching. Compared to the Grandmother, it offers more than double the patch points. And more oscillators for sound sculpting, which adds to their versatility. However, these features come with a much higher price tag.

 

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