2020 has put all of us through the ringer — many musicians have had to completely re-jigger their practice, and find new ways to engage with the composition process. The silver lining, of course, is that many of us have found new and exciting ways to collaborate and create.
Part of this explosion of creativity is of course due to the increasingly affordable gear market. In the past, if you wanted that acid squelch, the feel of really programming 808 drums, or the sound of a real Moog filter, you were looking at shelling out thousands of dollars; but now, these sounds are much more attainable! And plentiful!
So, if you’re looking for the perfect way to spark some creativity in that special someone this holiday season, even if it’s yourself, here are some surefire gifting options. And obviously if you’re interested in learning more about synths, and how to patch your own sounds and soundscapes, you’re going to love Soundfly’s Advanced Synths and Patch Design for Producers course. Check it out!
Korg Volca Series ($149 each)
Coming in at just $149 each, Korg truly broke down all price barriers with this surprisingly varied series of small boxes, perfect to add to any desk-turned-home-studio. With sound that far surpasses their price, it’s hard to go wrong, but some personal favorites include:
- The Beats – With an oft-belittled snare drum that has nevertheless found its way onto some of your favorite indie records in the past few years.
- The FM – An impressively capable introduction to FM synthesis that has depths to explore as users become more comfortable with the underlying concept.
- The NuBass – Which packs an actual vacuum tube into the enclosure, revving up the analog quotient significantly.
- The Sample – A surprisingly robust sampling engine that’s equally as useful on stage as in the studio.
If you want to really treat someone this holiday season, there are bundles on offer as well, including the Volca Mixer, that will make for a complete range of outboard kit, an amazing solution for any producer searching for an edge.
Arturia MicroFreak ($299)
Clocking in at $299 new (they can be found for cheaper used), the MicroFreak is a great starter synth or a fun addition to any experienced producer’s rig. Sporting very in-vogue digital, multi-mode oscillators (a port of the now-infamous Mutable Instruments Braids among the options) and analog filters and overdrive, in addition to its touch keyboard and various sequencing options, this makes for a deceptively deep synth that surprises more than you’d expect.
Elektron Model: Series ($299)
Building on their success with higher-end smash hits the Digitone and Digitakt, Elektron, with an eye towards budget conscious producers looking to expand their sonic palette, went ahead with their Model Series this year. It’s scaled back in many ways: less tracks, fewer routing and assignment options, less FX — however, many argue that this simplicity is just what makes these machines great. The Model:Samples is a highly capable distillation of the Digitakt, while the Model:Cycles takes the percussive side of the Digitone and turns it into your new favorite glitchy FM drum machine. Priced well at $299, this is be a great introduction to the Elektron universe.
Patchulator 8000 ($120)
An underrated but savvy gift would be the Patchulator 8000, a patchbay in pedal form that works for synths, guitar pedals, and more. For someone who already has a few effects pedals or modules, combining them in new ways is an indispensable experience to discovering new sonic territory. This pedal is a very fun way of doing just that, and it might be an unexpected gift that goes a long way! It makes an affordable stocking stuffer for sure.
Ottobit Jr. ($299)
Though this is supposed to be a guide for synths, you could easily consider this pedal a synth in its own right. And, if not, the Ottobit Jr. can turn any synth, guitar, or voice into digital rhythmic fun. It’s easy to use, and at $299 is a cushy stocking stuffer that will be at home in any rig.
Chase Bliss Blooper ($499)
While we’re on pedals, an honorable mention has to go to the Blooper, one of the boutique pedal hits of the year. In brief, the Chase Bliss Blooper is a “bottomless looper” that, much like the Ottobit, will unlock vast sonic worlds impossible to reach by synths alone. It’s a fun happy accident machine that encourages exploration into unfamiliar sonics. Though it’s a little pricer at $499, it’s hard to imagine a longer-living staple than this one.
Roland TR-8s ($699)
Building on the shoulders of giants, the Roland TR-8s is the most up to date and expansive drum synth in the Roland line. It features on live stages and in clubs around the world, and for good reason: the analog circuit modeling is spot on, the controls are very hands on (and easy to see in a dark room), and the machine can be as deep as you want it to be with extra features that are readily programmable. If you want to gift the sound of the Roland classics, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better alternative.
Elektron Digitakt ($799)
Though the natural competition to the TR-8s in price, in form factor, sonics, and usability, it could not be more different. The Digitakt is a true sampler — it will not make sound without samples — yet it rewards deep exploration into its many sub-menus. Plus with co-signs from everyone from Thom Yorke to Sylvan Esso, Elektron have clearly done something right with this box, a true sampling playground.
Sequential Prophet 5 (It may vary, but around $3,600)
The “Hail Mary” gift. Never hurts to ask?
If you really want to floor someone and score a touchdown this year, this is the way to do it. Recently, Sequential announced the re-release of this stone cold classic, with a variety of modern features to boot. There’s not much to say about this that hasn’t been written already, other than it’s featured on more classic records since its inception than almost any other synth on the market. This is a “buy-for-life” kind of purchase, but know that it’s priced that way as well.
Give the Gift of Synthesis Expertise
If there’s one thing that will never need rewiring, circuit soldering, or version updates, it’s your knowledge of how synths work and how to build the best patches and sounds.
Give the gift of a Soundfly all-access course subscription either to yourself or a loved one, and with it comes access to our new and exciting Advanced Synths and Patch Design for Producers course — where you can learn how to move beyond presets and create a wide array of scintillating synth sounds for your productions, as well as the various types of sound synthesis available to you.
Plus, if you sign up before the end of December, you can take 20% off either the monthly or annual price of your subscription with promo code: HOLIDAY2020 (all caps.)
*For gifting options, and to request a printable “Soundfly gift certificate” pdf, email us at [email protected].