“This Week in Synths” by Matrix is on a short holiday; in the meantime, you can page through the archived stories. In its place, it’s worth considering two “top xx lists” for synths. Sonic State has done a Top 20 Greatest Synths List, featuring a quite nice video and rather high-end production values. The list itself is perhaps better read as a Top 20 Most Popular Synths, though, so you’ll be gratified to know our friend Matrixsynth responded with a list of the Most Underrated Synths.
Top 20 Greatest Synths at Sonic State, complete with extensive information, links, top-notch videos … good stuff.
Most Underrated Synths at Matrixsynth, complete with more of the obscure instruments we love.
As terrific as the list at Sonic State is, presumably because it’s based on voting, it skews in a certain direction. The omission of modular Moog and Buchlas, the lack of important moments in synthesis (like Yamaha first commercializing physical modeling), and the general emphasis on ROMplers tilts the list in a certain direction. There’s a decent argument for the keyboards that made the list, but I am curious what CDMers would compile.
Hard to argue with the #1 spot, though. See what you think:
1. Moog Minimoog. (Warning: pronunciation in the video rhymes with the sound cows make, instead of properly rhyming with “brogue.”)
2. ARP Odyssey
3. Sequential Circuits Prophet 5
4. Yamaha DX7
5. Korg M1
6. Roland D50
7. Korg MS20
8. Roland JV-1080
9. Access Virus
10. ARP 2600. (Interesting bit of trivia: Sonic State’s readers are right that there’s an ARP 2500, not 2600, in Close Encounters, though the 2600 is often erroneously connected to the film. But something I didn’t know — Wikipedia says in the entry on the film that “Phil Dodds, a tech from ARP Instruments Inc., is the man playing the keyboard.”)
11. Oberheim OB8
12. Roland Juno 60
13. Mellotron (Hey, do tapes count?)
14. Yamaha CS-80
15. Roland Jupiter 8
16. E-MU PROteus 1
17. Clavia Nord Lead
19. Roland SH-101
20. ARP Solina
Of course, part of the reason lists have become so popular online is because they’re easy to argue with. And this list illustrates, as much as ‘boards like the Minimoog get love, how other synths just never do.
So for those unloved synths, here are Matrix’s picks (in no particular order):
1. Oberheim Matrix-6
2. Rhodes/ARP Chroma
3. Elka Synthex
4. Korg Mono/Poly
5. Crumar Performer
6. Roland JX-3P
7. Sequential Circuits MAX
8. Casio HT-700
9. Yamaha FS1R
10. Akai vx600
11. EML 101
12. Kawai SX-240
13. Alesis Andromeda
14. Sequential Six-Trak
15. Akai AX-60
16. Korg M-500 Micropreset
17. Waldorf Microwave 1
18. Yamaha VL70m
19. Korg DS8
20. Ensoniq EPS16+
21. SCI Multitrack
22. Korg DSS-1 and Technics WSA-1
You’ll have to go actually read up just to remember which these are, huh?
I’m happy Matrix included the Yamaha VL70m, for introducing physical modeling to a mass-market. While not much of a success at the time, it did win some critical acclaim for pushing synths in a different direction. And now, years later, we’ve seen the success of Korg’s OASYS-PCI system and more recent OASYS synth flagship, Apple’s Sculpture, the whole product line from Applied Acoustics, and various other waveguide modeling implementations (some commercial, some DIY). I think it’s a synthesis technique we’ll see more of in the future.
Maybe modulars aren’t supposed to be included, but my #1 Underrated Synth of All Time is the legendary Buchla 100. It has suffered from the assumption that Moog’s modular was the superior design. I think the real reason, aside from Moog’s well-deserved reputation in design, is that Moog managed to sell to more popular artists — and went on to innovate in keyboards. Now that the history of synthesis in the 60s has been written with Moog as the hero, it’s too easy to overlook the various design innovations in the Buchla. In fact, put the two side by side, and you’re struck by the fact that nothing that the Moog does is necessarily self-evident — you realize that every design feature we now take for granted was up for grabs, and each design winds up looking more ingenious. The fact that Don Buchla and Bob Moog were each developing modular systems in relative isolation is all the more impressive. All due respect for the new Buchla 200e, though, the day I have money and room for a modular, I’d like a Buchla 100 series.
Also, UK readers are surely unhappy about the fact that EMS isn’t on the list, right?
Anyway, I list these here partly because I’d love your nominations for greatest synths of all time.
And this being a software site, I certainly wouldn’t exclude software. Which soft synths deserve to stand alongside some of the greatest hardware of all time? Reaktor? Sculpture? Reaon’s MalstrÃ¶m? Koblo?