Russell is a sound producer and songwriter. He deals with digital pianos and MIDI controllers on a regular basis so no wonder he knows everything about them.
Last updated: September 02, 2022
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When you’re trying to create hip hop with the same punch and quality you hear from your favorite artists, getting a great synth is nothing short of essential. It can shape your whole sound.
In this guide, we examined some of the very best instruments available to find out which is the best synth for hip hop sounds. We also explored how easy the instrument is to use and the sort of features you will want from your synth, such as presets and the ability to customize all of the sounds to your needs. Let’s dive into those reviews.
Other features: 7 effects; 256 presets; Pitchbend, Mod Wheel; arpeggiator
Novation MiniNova 37-key Synthesizer is a small but powerful synth for hip hop producers (and other musicians, of course) and it also has a lot of connectivity with other audio devices and your laptop.
This is a compact version of the UltraNova synth, a powerful synthesizer made by the same manufacturer, and while this is smaller without as much range it is great for taking out and about with you and even has the same synth engine so you don’t have to do without any of the sounds.
What stands out?
As well as having some fantastic inbuilt presets and sounds, we really liked the fact that this comes with effects, too, which opens up a near limitless world of opportunities when it comes to creating your own tailored sounds. Distortion, reverb, compression, EQ, chorus/phase, delay, and even a Novation “Gator” effect all come included and ready to use to customize your sound.
What cons did we manage to find?
Though the presets that are included sound great for hip hop, there aren’t that many of them, so some people would prefer a synth with a huge library of presets. This is especially true if you aren't really comfortable making your own sounds totally from scratch using sound waves and modulation.
Keys: 37, semi-weighted, full size, velocity-sensitive, aftertouch
Polyphony: monophonic, 3-voice paraphonic
I/O: MIDI In/Out/Thru/USB; 1x XLR, 1x 1/4″ (audio In); USB type B; 1x 1/4″ (sustain), 1x 1/4″ (expression) pedal; 4x CV in, 4x CV out, 1x Gate out
Dimensions: 3.5” x 26.5” x 13”
Weight: 24 lbs.
Other features: hybrid, 3 oscillators, 4 envelopes, 512 user and factory programs, 7 effects, arpeggiator, 16-track sequencer
If you’ve got the money to spend, this synthesizer could be a superb option due to the fact that it opens up so many different types of sound. You really can’t underestimate just how powerful it is!
This is a synth that is a hybrid of other filters and sounds from some classic synthesizers, so while it costs a lot to get your hands on, it has a lot more to offer than some of the competition. It’s got 3 oscillators and 4 envelopes so you can access new and exciting sounds that you didn’t think were possible and take hip hop production to the next level.
What are its best features?
We love that this gives you so much control, as well as being able to blend sounds from three oscillators and use the analog filters from the Prophet-6, OB-6, and a ladder filter to emulate some of the best classic synths of all time, it also has effects and knobs to change the sound. There’s some distortion and ADSR envelopes that provide the analog sound so many hip hop producers are looking for. There are also 512 presets.
What could be improved?
While this is such a beefy synth, and it is likely to last you a very long time and help you to create endless hip hop sounds, it is also a very expensive model. If you’re serious about your production and want the very best equipment, by all means go for it, but some people are put off by the fact that they can get a whole small studio setup for the same price as just this synth.
I/O: MIDI In/Out/Thru/USB; 1x 1/4″ TS (line out); 1x 1/4″ TRS; USB Type B; Trigger In/Out, CV In/Out, Arpeggio Clock In; 1 x 1/4″ TS (portamento on/off), 1 x 1/4″ TS (VCO), 1 x 1/4″ TS (VCF) pedals
Dimensions: 3.5” x 25.5” x 14.2”
Weight: 22.7 lbs.
Other features: 4 VCOs, VCF, 2 LFOs, 2 envelopes, sync and cross modulation, full-featured arpeggiator
Behringer is a brand that divides opinion, but some of their recent synthesizer clones have really knocked it out of the park. The MonoPoly is one of the best examples.
This product is a clone of the Korg Mono/Poly and is made using the same circuitry. One of the original Korg products might set you back thousands, but this is not the case with the MonoPoly. It’s great for basslines and simple synth melodies, and has a lot of positive features for the modern hip hop producer.
What are its best features?
The option to get an analog synth with the quality of the Korg model without splashing out too much cash (the originals go for thousands) is great. We also love the fact that this model has some extra, modern tech features making it easier to record and link to your computer. There’s a full arpeggiator and loads of options for what you can do with the sound, whether you want a hip hop lead sound or a bass line.
What could be improved?
There are only a couple of things we really thought could be improved with this product, but the main downside for a lot of new producers is the lack of presets. This is not a problem if you want to create your own synth sounds totally from scratch, but if you are new to synthesis this can take some learning, and it can be slower to get started with your hip hop sounds.
Polyphony: monophonic, paraphonic mode (up to 4 voices)
I/O: MIDI 2x 1/8″ TRS Type B (In, Out); 1x 1/4″ (master out);
1x 1/8″ headphones; USB Type B; CV out, Gate out, Pressure out, Clock in/out
Dimensions: 2.2” x 12.5” x 9.2”
Weight: 2.5 lbs.
Other features: wavetable and digital oscillators, analog filter, arpeggiator and sequencer, 160 factory presets and 256 total preset slots
A wise person once said “it’s not the size, it’s how you use it” and we would tend to agree. Arturia is one of the best brands out there when it comes to pushing the boundaries of technology and sound, and this tiny synth does a good job.
Consider the fact that it is so compact and easy to take to gigs or practice sessions, and it weighs just 5lbs, and you’ll see why this is an option for so many musicians. It’s perfect for those who are short of space, but still want the analog sound from a real hardware synth.
Why are we impressed?
The 160 inbuilt factory presets are very good and are a great way to get started for hip hop producers. We were also really impressed by the arpeggiator and sequencer, and all of this was made simpler to use by the fact that there is a screen for control and access to all of those cool features. 11 digital oscillators also open up a world of different sounds.
What negatives must you be aware of?
In truth, this is a little bit “clunky” to use in some respects. It’s very clever that Arturia have managed to pack everything into such a small synth but this means that they keys can be a little hard to use, and some of the controls can take some getting used to as there is quite a bit of shifting around to access all of the features. We also would’ve liked some more analog “bite” to the sound, but this is being fussy.
I/O: MIDI In/Out/USB; 1x XLR, 1x 1/4″(audio In), 2 x 1/4″ (audio Out); 1x 1/4″ headphones, USB type B
Dimensions: 3.37” x 22.68” x 9.68”
Weight: 4.85 lbs.
Other features: analog/digital crossover sound engine, 19 effects, 4-track sequencer
You can usually rely on Roland to create an impressive piece of audio equipment and this is no different with the Roland JD-Xi Analog/Digital Synthesizer with Vocoder which can do a bit of everything. A cool description we saw was a ‘desert island synth’ as it could keep you going even if you had no other synths to use.
This is a great model for the beginner and as a first step into analog synths, it’s lightweight but also has so many different features and the capacity to make loads of different sounds.
What do we love it for?
We like that this synth has both analog and digital options for creating sounds, and it also includes a gooseneck mic for access to Vocoder, AutoPitch, and other effects, if you want to mess with your vocals then this could be ideal. It includes a 4-track pattern sequencer which can help you to make some drum loops and start to build a song rather than just use the odd sound, and all of this is available at a pretty reasonable price.
What were we disappointed with?
There is a steep learning curve with this synth, and some of the parameters you might need to change are situated within menus rather than having convenient knobs and sliders. Of course, this is because of the fact that the synth is so compact and there isn’t room for a huge level of control, but it is still worth noting if you will find this frustrating.
Things to Consider
How do you choose the best synth for hip hop? Let’s dive into our buying guide now to help you to understand some of the main considerations when you want to get a synthesizer that can chuck out those gnarly sounds.
How to Choose the Best Synth for Hip Hop
What do you need to think about when choosing a synth for hip hop? Let’s explain some of the features of synthesizers and which might be the best option for you. Of course, it comes down to you to make the ultimate decision.
Keys and Sensitivity
The number of keys impacts the size of the instrument and how expressive it is
The number of keys is one of the crucial considerations. Obviously, this has a huge impact on the size of the synth itself, but it also impacts how expressive the instrument is, whether you can play complex melodies, and in the case of the sensitivity of the keys it also makes a difference when it comes to subtle and nuanced playing. If you just want a big bassline this might not matter so much.
The best definition from Yamaha
Trusted SourceWhat is polyphony and why is it important? - Yamaha - United StatesPolyphony refers to the maximum number of notes that a keyboard or sound module can produce at one time. For instance, if you were to play a 3-note chord with a 1-note melody, you’d need at a keyboard capable of at least 4-note polyphony.
is that “Polyphony refers to the maximum number of notes that a keyboard or sound module can produce at one time”. If your synth is monophonic then you can only play one note at a time, rather than complex chords and melodies.
What does the synthesizer use to generate the sound? This is usually in the form of either an analog or digital oscillator, and this sound is then fed through filters to generate the finished product and ideal hip hop sounds.
Effects add more dimensions to the sound, things like delay and reverb which can alter the sound’s characteristics and make it more interesting to listen to, and let you tailor the tone to exactly what you want. Though you can feed the audio signal through effects in post-production, it definitely helps to have a wide selection of effects.
Other features to consider for a synth for hip hop include the presets.
If you’re not used to synthesis and making your sounds from scratch then you might need some presets to work with and to open up a world of sounds for you to experiment with.
Some of the products don’t have any presets which can leave you to create your own sounds totally from nothing, whereas some on this list have over 500 different presets for endless playing.
Modern synths feature a great connectivity: they can easily be connected to your laptop, audio interface and even piano pedals
In modern music, being able to connect to other devices is key. You might want a synth that you can easily connect to your laptop or to an audio interface, and many modern synthesizers can accommodate this. Some even have outputs for piano pedals
Trusted SourcePiano pedals: what do they do exactly?The piano pedals are a great tool to add to your piano performance repertoire. Learn the mysteries of the piano pedals in this informative post.
Dimension and Weight
If you want a small or portable synth then you might be in luck, there are more small models on the market today than ever before, and for instance, the Roland JD-Xi weighs under 5 lbs, so it is easy enough to put in a bag and take to your practice sessions or even to perform at a gig.
How much do you want to spend on your synth? If you look at some of the vintage synthesizers available on the market today you will see that it is not hard to spend thousands. If you went into Dr. Dre’s studio, you’d see tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Fortunately, in the modern age you can get more affordable synths, with some available for under $500. Behringer MonoPoly is an example of a classic synth that has been made affordable.
Many of the models on this list come with a warranty. It’s not unusual to see a 2-3 year warranty on products like this. The Novation MiniNova is an example of one that has a long warranty at the three year mark.
In virtually every situation, we recommend going for a hardware synthesizer if you can afford to. VSTi instruments are so good for beginners to get started and give a lot of flexibility with relatively low expense, but ask any producer or musician and they will tell you that nothing really beats the analog sound. This can only really be achieved if you are able to use a hardware synth. More expensive, yes, but worth it for many musicians.
There are a few considerations when it comes to vintage synthesizers. If you spend a fortune on a vintage synth you are probably doing so with an eye on its resale value and the fact that it is likely to be a collectors item for years to come. If you just want a synth because of the sounds it can create then it may not be worth it. As the Behringer MonoPoly proves, there are plenty of options that don’t cost the earth but still create those rich analog sounds.
We love the Novation MiniNova 37-key synthesizer for its excellent presets and the fact that it is easy to customize a variety of different sounds, and connect to other devices, we’ve given this a rating of 9.9/10 and it is easy to see why.
The Sequential Pro 3 multi-filter mono synth is our premium pick with a rating of 9.8, and the only real downside is the price. We love the fact that this is like getting multiple synths bundled into one, and strongly recommend it as one of the best synths for hip hop if you are a really serious musician with pro aspirations.
Next up is the Behringer MonoPoly 4-voice analog synthesizer with a 9.7 rating. This is a clone of a classic Korg synth and for real equipment geeks it is bound to get the heart pumping. It’s a fantastic option if you want to create your own analog sounds.
What is polyphony and why is it important? - Yamaha - United States
Polyphony refers to the maximum number of notes that a keyboard or sound module can produce at one time. For instance, if you were to play a 3-note chord with a 1-note melody, you’d need at a keyboard capable of at least 4-note polyphony.