Top 5 Iconic Synthesizers
Before you could open a plugin on your DAW and pick from a myriad of designed sounds, you had to get a hold of an actual synthesizer. You needed to make the right choice, because the instrument you choose informs the kind of music you’ll end up with.
This has come full circle, as a lot of modern producers are trying to get their hands on vintage synth hardware to give their songs a more organic, vintage feel. I’m sure the producers of years past would have killed to be able to have a bank of sounds to scroll through until they find the right one.
Over those years, certain synth instruments have stood out amongst the rest, becoming cornerstones of various genres. The DX7 doesn’t sound like the 80s, the 80s sounds like the DX7.
What better way to start. Let’s go from there.
Yamaha manufactured the DX7 from 1983 to 1989. It was amongst the first digital synthesizers released, and is considered to be one of the most popular in history.
The early 80’s synth market was dominated by analog synthesizers. With the continuing rise in popularity of disco and house music, producers were seeking out ways to create brighter, more obviously digital sounds.
During this time, John Chowing of Stanford University was developing FM synthesis, a means of generating new sounds by modulating the frequencies of an original sound. This created brighter, shinier sounds that were an answer to what producers of the time were missing.
Yamaha licensed this technology and used it to create the DX7. It’s presets became staples of 1980s pop music, widely used by artists such as Phil Collins, Whitney Houston and Billy Ocean.
Roland originally manufactured the Jupiter-6 as a less expensive alternative to the high level Jupiter-8. However, because the JP6 featured some capabilities that weren’t available on the JP8, it quickly became its successor.
Considered to be one of the analog synths, Roland were praised for combining reliability and ease of use with sophisticated programming capability and customisation options.
The Jupiter-6 is known for its atmospheric and textured sounds, with a lot of drone pads and synth leads being emulated in modern plugins to this day.
Moog Music are widely known as one of the dons of electronic hardware manufacturers. Between synths galore all the way to vocoders, they’ve firmly planted their flag on the proverbial moon that is music hardware.
The Minimoog is an analog synthesizer first manufactured in 1970, through to 1981. At the time of its inception, synths were large, expensive
The Minimoog is a staple, as much now as it was then. Right now, there is probably a Minimoog sitting on the back seat of somebody’s car as they arrive at a studio location. It’s like a fine wine, it only seems to get better with age. Or at least, it holds up with age.
In 2016, Moog Music released a new version of the original Minimoog. If you see one in the flesh at some point, ask its owner what year it’s from. You might even be staring at an original.
Manufactured by Sequential Circuits between 1978 and 1984, the Prophet-5 was the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer.
Polyphony refers to an instrument being able to play multiple independent melodic lines simultaneously. This is
It was also the first synthesizer produced with a microprocessor, demonstrating the quick advancement that was happening with synth technology in the late 1970s. It is one of the most widely emulated instruments that are displayed throughout hundreds of different synth plugins.
We owe a lot to the Prophet-5 for what we now know and understand about arpeggiators and constructing lead lines. It can be heard throughout the music of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Dr. Dre, just to name a few.
Korg’s Wavestation was first produced in the early 1990s as a vector synthesizer, and later produced as a software synthesizer in 2004.
What set the Wavestation apart was Wave Sequencing: a method of multi-timbral sound generation in which different waveform data are played successively, resulting in continuously evolving sounds.
It was designed purely as a synthesizer, rather than a ‘music workstation’. It lacked an on-board song sequencer, but unlike any synth prior to its release, it was capable of generating complex rhythmic sequences by pressing only one key.
Keyboard Magazine gave the Korg Wavestation the ‘Hardware Innovation of the Year’ award in 1995. In that same year, it was listed as one of the ‘20 instruments that shook the world’.