Moog Voyager 10th anniversary

The most expensive synth in production

Retail price: €15,000

Vintage classics might dominate the discussion in this feature, but there are still a few modern products which can hold their own. There’s one clear winner when it comes to the most lavish synth on the market: the 24-karat gold-plated 10th anniversary Moog Voyager is an icon of completely unnecessary but utterly brilliant extravagance. At just under £11,000, the 10th anniversary edition makes Moog’s next most expensive synth, the £4,549 Voyager XL, seem a bargain in comparison.

Sure, even without going crazy with a Buchla 200e order form it’s possible to spend staggering sums of money on new synthesisers in 2013, but it’s worth remembering that modern synths represent incredibly good value in comparison to their vintage counterparts. As synth design icon Dave Smith acknowledged in our recent interview, you get more bang for your buck now than ever before. Smith’s flagship Prophet 12, for example, is firmly placed in the top tier of synths on the market. It retails at $3,299 in the US (£2,275 in the UK). In comparison, the Prophet-5, the flagship synth manufactured in the late 1970s by Smith’s former company, Sequential Circuits, retailed at $4,495 (£3,395 in the UK) in 1978, which equates to around $16,000 or £16,500 today, taking inflation into account.

And just because a synth was originally expensive doesn’t mean it’ll retain its price. The ultra-rare Yamaha FX1 cost £36,000 in 1986. Adjusting for inflation, that’d work out to around £90,000 today, but if you were lucky enough to afford one in the mid 80s you’re probably regretting it now; one sold on eBay for $3,499 (a little under £2,200) a few months ago. Why? Firstly, it’s not very well known. Secondly, very few famous artists used it.

An association with a particular artist, a specific track or an entire musical movement isn’t a guarantee of value, but it usually helps. So what if you could buy the actual synth which was used by your favourite artist? After all, provenance is the reason why your average ’68 Stratocaster is only worth about £5k, but the Olympic White ’68 Strat which Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock last changed hands for $2m. Peter Forrest acknowledges that provenance can be important, but warns that it’s still not a guarantee of future value: “Brian Eno’s EMS Synthi AKS wouldn’t have gone for £17K years ago if it hadn’t been used on classic records like [David Bowie’s] Low – but often enough provenance doesn’t make that much difference because there are two separate sorts of people wanting something – the collector and the musician – and they don’t often fight over the same thing.”

Eno’s Synthi represents growing interest in 1970s rock from serious collectors, and it’s probably inevitable that interest will eventually shift to more modern forms of electronic music (although we wouldn’t be surprised if hip hop memorabilia appreciates quicker than house and techno items), but perhaps there’s a more important lesson to take from all of this?

Despite the high asking prices for classics like CS-80s and Minimoogs, very few synths or drum machines have actually appreciated in real terms since they first went on sale. If you were lucky enough to stock up on analogue gear before prices began to rise in the 90s, you’re one of the lucky few. For the rest of us, electronic music gear represents a misguided financial investment at best. All of which places the emphasis back on a much more important point: investing in classic synths and drum machines probably isn’t going to make you rich. The solution? Don’t buy gear in an attempt to make money; buy it in order to make music.

Author Greg Scarth
30th September, 2013

Comments

  • Fantastically thorough look into the value behind mouth-watering gearporn. Now time to start saving… ;-(

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  • Didn’t herbie hancock demo that Fairlight sampler on Sesame Street

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  • He certainly did, alongside a young Tatyana Ali (Ashley from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKoisNv1ftw

    This video of him showing it off to Quincy Jones is also excellent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6QsusDS_8A

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  • no Waldorf Wave?!

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  • The Wave’s definitely right up there with the best of them.

    It’d be great to hear all your thoughts on this from a practical perspective too. As amazing as, say, a CS-80 is, would it necessarily be at the top of your shopping list if you won the lottery? We’ve got a feeling a lot of producers are probably more interested in slightly more affordable classics when it comes to actually making music…

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  • What about the GX1?

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  • I enjoyed this article as I continue to with Attack’s interviews and insightful cultural articles..

    In addition to the vintage/analogue gear, I’d add some modern controllers to the list which have huge expressive capabilities not available on the mass market, such as polyphonic pitchbend and sensing on multiple axes. For example, the Haken Continuum is US$5,290 (without its case or stand). The newly-introduced ROLI Seaboard Grand is US$8,888.88. Those are the prices of decent used cars.

    The CS-80 is an curious example of how performance controllers have regressed in some ways in the decades to come. How it takes something like an Arturia Origin (itself US$3,000) to include all those kinds of controllers. Not as much of a price delta change as you’d expect, given progress with home computers.

    While some contemporary tech like touchscreens thrive (tablet market demand, thanks iPads!) and the DJ market has seen interesting plays (Maschine’s rise despite doubters re: the Akai dynasty), more specialized-to-music stuff languishes or is still available at very high prices. I figure there needs to be more popular education for new instruments to resolve part of this chicken-and-egg Gordian knot — otherwise most people, clinging onto the familiar piano form, are too scared to transition to it, keeping prices high.

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  • Great point, Torley. Things like the Continuum and Seaboard are very niche products, but to a certain type of performer or musician they’re truly desirable – partly because there aren’t many alternatives at any price point.

    But you also hit on another interesting point. The touchscreen revolution led by the iPad virtually destroyed another product – JazzMutant’s Lemur controller, which eventually returned, slightly ironically, as an iOS app. And that trend for premium products to be replaced by cheaper alternatives is definitely mirrored in other markets – Maschine undercutting the MPCs, Moog introducing the Sub Phatty and dropping the Little Phatty, and so on (that’s without mentioning software, of course).

    There really aren’t actually many super high-end synths around any more. There are products like the Prophet 12, SE CODE, Voyager XL, etc, but while the market for budget (<£500) and mid-range (£500-1000) synths seems to be thriving, anything larger is a much riskier proposition for any company.

    Dave Smith acknowledged in our interview that the numbers today are much smaller, and that's despite the fact that synths are much cheaper in real terms than they were back in the 70s. Even with today's advances, the question of whether the market for a truly expressive, powerful performance-based synth in the vein of the CS-80 would still exist is open to debate.

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  • No GXs? No paper face Serge or Music Easel ? No Wave? No Fenix? And no Synthi 100?

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  • EMS?

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  • Wow! My CS-80’s “Slave to the Bass” video is posted here. (Blushes). It is a magnificent instrument. I used to sit in front of PBS Cosmos with Carl Sagan for a mind melding experience in the early 80’s after school. Our console TV had a good 6×9 speaker. Never expected to find a CS-80 of my own. I do not believe 2000 were ever made. So far, all functional CS-80’s are between serial numbers 1000-1800. It is believed that less than 800 were made. Cost prohibitive. There are 45 circuit boards, stuffed to the gills. Over 1200 internal trim pots to calibrate.

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