Top Ten Most Underrated Synths

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Do vintage synth bargains still exist? Most people would say no, but we disagree. Some of the best keyboards and modules of all time are still surprisingly affordable. We choose our ten most underrated classics and explain why you should buy them before everyone else realises just how good they are.

As the prices of most vintage synths continue to rise, we regularly kick ourselves when we realise the bargains we’ve missed. Those apocryphal tales of people throwing away ‘outdated’ TB-303s and TR-909s in the early 90s have become an ingrained part of dance music folklore.

But the remaining bargains continue to disappear. Minimoogs which seemed overpriced at £500 just a few years ago now fetch £2,000. Korg MS20s would have been a a safer investment than the stock market over the last few years, rising in value exponentially. Even the global financial crisis hasn’t halted the appreciation of these vintage analogue legends.

It’s hard to deny that the chance to find serious bargains has passed. Savvy producers snapped up all the £50 303s and rescued all the abandoned 808s from skips long ago. Gone are the days when Roland Jupiter 8s and Yamaha CS-80s regularly changed hands for under £500, but that doesn’t mean all the bargains have disappeared. Even in the age of the eBay bidding war, there are still good deals to be had.

In absolutely any field you’ll find unsung heroes. They might have minor flaws, live in the shadow of more highly regarded rivals or simply fly under the radar of most buyers. In this list we’ll reveal what we believe to be the top ten most underrated hardware synths in the world right now. Not just the rarest, not just the most expensive, but the ones which simply don’t get the credit they deserve.

Most of the synths on this list are easily available, many for little more than the price of a couple of plugins. There are no mega rarities here. You can probably find all of them for sale within a few minutes searching eBay or scanning classified adverts. Keep your eyes open for a few months and you won’t have much trouble picking them up for bargain prices. But, just like those Minimoogs and 303s which we never believed would get much more expensive, the prices of these underrated gems will inevitably rise as producers cotton on to the fact that they’re seriously, seriously undervalued. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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  • Date: 19th September 2012
  • Matthew Wrote:

    Enjoyed this. informative and fun article.

  • David Wrote:

    This was a good read. I would like to see another article on sampled based instruments, another on workstations and one on drum machines. IE (The good, the bad and the undervalued)

  • David Felton Wrote:

    David –

    Drum machines here: http://www.attackmagazine.com/features/top-ten-classic-drum-machines/

    Dave @ Attack

  • roisto Wrote:

    classic era mini and maxi family are the real underrated korg synths, not he ms

  • Michael Wrote:

    I would have included the Akai AX-60 on there as a relatively lesser known and underrated synth rivaling the Juno 106.

  • Slapdasher Wrote:

    Alpha Juno 2 and JX-3P are very much deserved on this list. Both super cheap and both sound great. I’d have added the Yamaha SY77 (or TG77) too, that thing is a powerhouse and totally over-looked and goes sometimes for less than a DX7 (heck even a DX-100) I’ve had all those inc DX-100 and many differetn DX7s and I can tell you none of them are value/under-rated like the SY77 is. It’s a total monster and can do almost anything from analog style bass, leads to the most complex evolving beautiful ‘alive’ pads (only use FM mode though – the samples should be ignored and partly why this is misunderstood synth) you essentially have 2 DX7 IIs under the hood but with far more ability, I swear you could use an SY/TG77 for 20 years and never max it out it’s that potent. One of them and A 3P or Juno 2 and you have an amazing set up that runs rings around far more expensive rigs.

    I’ve tried many many under-rated synths (sub $1000) and my top 3 choices would be SY77, Juno 2, JX-3p – for value AND ability but above all SOUND!

  • Sjoerd Wrote:

    Roland Juno 2 is a very capable and underrated synth.
    I love the way Drexciya used this synth in several productions,in my opinion the best way this synth is used.

    Greetings,Sjoerd.

  • double hitler Wrote:

    a couple of others: yamaha pss 480, akai ax-80, casio cz-1, realistic mg-1

  • Milan Wrote:

    I think you’d be quite lucky to find them at these prices. Enjoyed the article but it will probably bring the prices up even higher.

  • Nelio Wrote:

    I’d add the Korg Dw8000/ex8000, with a fabulous filter , versatile fx and easy programmation. I agree too about the juno 2 that I love, but for the atc 1 and pulse that I owned, the only bad thing is of course not the sound but the programmation matrix…. Why not add the superbass station?

  • Thomas Strauß Wrote:

    I was owner of the moog prodigy in 1981. The filter is a moog ladder filter. My favourite sound: 2 X triangular wave at the filter input.

  • djoremi Wrote:

    I always look up the synths mentioned in these articles and the prices are always far higher. Where are you guys finding these?!? Let me in, I need something tactile!

  • Attack Wrote:

    djoremi –

    Prices have probably risen since we published the article but we’re still confident all these synths could be picked up within the price ranges we’ve listed here.

    First off, eBay is now one of the most expensive places to buy second-hand gear, so you need to expand your horizons if that’s where you’re looking. Try forums, tell all your friends what you’re looking for, visit local second-hand dealers, go to auction houses, keep your ear to the ground for house clearances and yard sales…

    If you are shopping on eBay, look out for auctions listed for collection only. They’ll usually go for much less than if the seller was willing to ship them.

    There are still plenty of bargains out there. Good luck with your search!

  • Jujumen Wrote:

    Mostly agree with your list of bargain heroes here, with a few additions and alternatives:
    – For the Ensoniq ESQ: consider the Korg DW6000 and DW8000 instead of the DSS as alternative: both digital (sampled) oscillators with analog filters, while the DSS adds a sampling facility that is rather unusable these days. Another great alternative is the Kawai K3 that adheres to the same concept and is definitely a bargain.
    – For the JX3p consider the Roland MKS30 module as an alternative: virtually the same except the keyboard and with velocity and mush better midi-specs.

    Now that you’ve got me started: Kawai SX210 and 240 (both analog poly), K4r (digital), all the Casio CZ and VL-synths (great alternatives for the Yamaha DX-range), Korg DS8 and 707, Sequential Sixtrak…

  • kayvon Wrote:

    Might want to check the date of production for the ATC-1 there…

    I think someone was asleep when they wrote that.

  • Living in Hole Wrote:

    I don’t know what the author is talking about. Most those synths listed are not underrated. Those are like all extremely expensive vintage synths that are hard to find.

  • nerdface Wrote:

    WTF is this list – all these synths are expensive.. he just pulled the prices out his @ss because he’s a limey nerd trying to appear relevant

  • Syn-Fi Wrote:

    no place for a Crumar or Elka?

  • SixtyNine Wrote:

    JX3P SY77 & SY99 Happily sitting in my studio ! Oh not forgetting my Matrix 6

  • soulray Wrote:

    I totally agree with Juno 2 (or MKS 50, same thing in a rack), including PG 300 controller (hard to get though). The prices here are not 100% realistic, as some of the gear is gong for more already. I’d add the Roland Super JD (or JD 990) here.

  • Juno6 Wrote:

    Casio HT & HZ family are the most underated of all. HT6000 is an 8 voice analog polysynth with 4 DCO, 1 VCF, 1 ring mod, 3 Env, noise, independent velocity response for each DCO, 64 waveforms, LFO with S&H, etc per voice, plus analog chorus. HT3000 and 700 are 8 voice paraphonics with 1 DCO per voice, plus 1 VCF and analog chorus.

  • Zmart Wrote:

    hoping you just do a great synths one of these article ,rather than just under-rated
    love to see to what you rate not just for sound but programmability and versatility

  • Mark Pigott Wrote:

    When he speaks of the IR3109, he is talking aobut the JX-3P and not the JX-8p, as the 8P has a IR3105. The JX-3P and 8P are cousins, not brothers and sisters…..

  • Mortfish Wrote:

    Great selection, but I dont think these ones are kind of underrated

  • Jonson Jon Wrote:

    I found my ESQ-1 and juno-1 within the prices listed here. The trick is you have to be patient and keep looking around ( obviously you gotta avoid ebay) Prices go up and down on the used market for various things.

  • Eric Wrote:

    Micromoog should be on the list, it regularly gets hated on because of its single oscillator and relatively straight forward modulation section.

  • Patrick the vaguely great Wrote:

    Like the selection but the prices need some updating because they have become hilariously expensive, that’s especially true for Ebay. For example I used to be able to find, say a Kawai SX210 or 240 for less than $300 and now I see them go for $800+. I’d also like to suggest some additions to the list:

    Akai AX series
    Casio HT & CZ series (Ex: CZ230S and HT-700/3000/6000 are programmable synthesizer home keyboards.
    Korg DS-8
    Paia 2720
    Seiko DS101, 202 & 250 with DS310 programmer
    Anything Siel and Crumar

  • MD Wrote:

    Don’t know why the Rogue gets a bad rap. I’ve had both a Prodigy and a first generation Rogue for years now and they’re both great. The Rogue has a lot of sweet tricks up it’s sleeve and is much more diverse than credited for. I can vouch for this. I’ve done some fantastic recordings with it. Love the arp type options and hold switch too.

  • Miya Wrote:

    I have an ensonic ESQ1 with stand that I am looking to sell. If anyone is interested please let me know! It’s been in the garage since my mom bought it for me. I think she was hoping to see me become a pianist as well as a singer but it just didn’t click with me. Thanks!

  • Gilles Wrote:

    Hello! Is the ESQ1 still available? if so, where is it? I agree with the list of synths given here. by the way. Well done.

  • Steve Wrote:

    The ESQ1 is great if your want to make music or sounds from the 80’s. So im not surprised it didnt click with being a singer and a pianist.