While virtual or digital synths have come a long way over the past few decades, offering both power and quality without sky-high prices, there’s still nothing like the tactile experience you get from a hardware synth.
Back in the day, of course, getting your hands on a hardware synth was a substantial investment. For example, when the first Minimoog was introduced in 1970, it was around $1,195. which is just over $5,000 today when adjusted for inflation.
Luckily, new manufacturing and development technology have allowed synth companies to reduce costs while retaining quality. The result? Cheap synthesizers that sound great!
From Korg to Behringer to Roland and beyond, you can now get your hands on compact, modern versions of classic analog synths and new, innovative equipment that’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard or used before. Here's our list of the best cheap synthesizers on the market today!
1. Behringer Model D
The Behringer Model D was one of the first cheap synthesizers to pay 'homage' to classic analog synthesizers. It emerged as a way for the new wave of synth nerds to get their hands on the timeless sounds of the Minimoog without paying top dollar.
Better yet, this cheap synthesizer comes with tons of unique features that aren’t found in the original version.
This three-oscillator synth uses a diverse range of waveforms, basic modulation features, and a 24dB ladder filter, offering a delightful amalgamation of style and versatility. The synth is just as adept at producing thick bass sounds as it is producing 80's-style synth pads. No matter how you’re looking to experiment, the Model D is a solid choice.
One of the most advantageous things about the Model D, however, is its adaptability. You can easily detach it from its casing and seamlessly integrate it into a Eurorack modular setup, all thanks to the patch points sitting along the top portion of the unit.
With a wide range of connectivity options, such as MIDI thru and in, as well as a standard USB for transmitting MIDI note data, it’s wildly versatile.
Overall, the Model D provides a lot to appreciate with a plethora of features and a price point that’s easy to swallow.
- Incredibly powerful synth engine
- Great for Eurorack integration
- Pays a great homage to the original Minimoog Model D
- Not compatible with most sequencer or arpeggiators due to a strange note triggering quirk
2. IK Multimedia UNO Synth
The way that UNO looks may spark a bit of debate surrounding aesthetics, as the push-button control panel and slanted profile have a retro charm that looks more like an old desktop computer than a vintage analog synth.
The lower section of the push-button interface features a 27-note 'keyboard' that works equally well for inputting notes for the arpeggiator or onboard sequencer as it does playing live.
Even though it has an unconventional design, it’s one of the most versatile and exceptional-sounding analog mono-synths on the market today, giving you plenty of bang for your buck.
The onboard presets give you access to a plethora of highly usable sounds, and over the past few months of using it, it has become one of my go-to synths for classic leads and bass sounds.
The sequencer and arpeggiator are incredibly valuable for sparking creative ideas, while the addition of the software editor makes it all the more appealing in a hybrid setup. If you can deal with some of the weird quirks, UNO delivers an excellent source of classic, punchy analog sounds without having to pay a lot.
- Uses an analog synth engine rather than digital signal processing
- Tons of usable presets
- Flexible sequencer and arpeggiator
- The hardware design is a bit lackluster
3. Korg Volca Modular
Korg's compact range of Volca synths offers tons of cool products, each of which offers remarkably unique sounds and features that defy their price tags. Though there are plenty of great options in the entire range, the Volca Modular is one of my absolute favorites and one of the most unique sounding.
The patchable analog synthesizer takes its inspiration from a few Serge and Buchla synths, which made up the classic line of 'West Coast' synthesizers back in the day.
The unique thing about these synths is that they don’t utilize 'traditional' subtractive synthesis. Instead, they embrace more esoteric elements of synthesis, such as oscillators based on random modulators and audio-rate modulation.
As a result, the Korg Volca Modular is one of the quirkiest and most specialized pieces of gear in the Volca lineup, perfect for those who want to crank out unconventional effects and experimental sounds.
It’s definitely not a synth that will appeal to everyone, though if you want something distinctive to augment your arsenal, the Volca Modular is a solid option.
- Comes with a decent set of sequencing capabilities
- Plenty of unique experimental sounds
- Affordable west-coast synthesis
- Some of the sounds can be difficult to reign in
4. Moog Werkstatt-01
Though the Moog Werkstatt-01 was initially created as a 2014 Moog event giveaway, it garnered such incredible popularity that the team at Moog decided to release it as a relatively cheap synthesizer.
The beauty of this public release was that it gave analog synth enthusiasts the opportunity to incorporate a genuine Moog hardware synth into their setup without spending tons of money.
Essentially, you get a pure analog monophonic synthesizer that utilizes a classic Moog filter, a mini patch bay, and modulation capabilities, giving you the ability to dive head-first into experimenting with modular synthesis or connect to the larger Eurorack Werkstatt system.
While there are plenty of other hardware synth options that offer a more robust set of features and functionality, the Moog Werkstatt-01 is one of the most exciting and innovative for exploring modular synthesis at an excellent value.
Plus, you get the unique experience of building the Werkstatt from scratch when you receive it.
- Offers the sounds of Moog at a reasonable price
- You learn a lot from the building process
- Can be integrated into larger Eurorack setups
- The 13-button keyboard is a bit limiting
5. Behringer Wasp
One of the most standout synths in the recent Behringer lineup is the Wasp, which draws inspiration from the quintessential British EDM Wasp Deluxe synth, which came into the world in 1979.
Not only is this a shameless replication of the original but it also makes use of the logo and design. The old Wasp was celebrated for its uniquely digitally controlled oscillators and gritty filters. The fact that it isn’t as well-behaved as some other synthesizers is what makes it so cool.
The Wasp features two digital oscillators that can switch between square, pulse, and ramp waveforms. The first oscillator uses pulse width modulation, while the second oscillator offers detuning. You’ll also find a multimode analog filter, offering high-pass, low-pass, band-pass, and notch options, all of which pair with a delightfully sweepable resonance.
Beyond the excellent synthesis capabilities, the layout is clear and well-organized. However, it’s important to note that you won’t find a sequencer or arpeggiator, meaning you’ll need an external connection for that kind of functionality.
- Gritty and unpredictable nature
- Great-sounding analog filters
- Well-organized interface
- Does not have any sequencing capabilities
6. Korg Volca FM2
The Korg Volca FM2 is a portable six-voice FM digital synth that emulates the sounds of the classic Yamaha DX7. You can even load original DX7 sounds into the synth using an online interface.
What’s different about the FM2 is that it also has a 16-step sequencer, giving you the ability to input notes, apply randomization, use warp functionality, and rearrange steps, giving you near-endless possibilities for creativity.
The Motion Sequence feature records step modifications, parameter changes, and knob movements, making for an ultra-dynamic synth experience. Even though the controls are somewhat limited, the Volca FM2 skillfully orchestrates the essential components for an enjoyable FM journey, sparing you from dealing with complex programming.
Overall, it offers impressive sound quality, a nice tactile feel, seamless MIDI integration, and built-in effects, all of which contribute to a uniquely satisfying hardware synth experience.
- Expansive MIDI capabilities
- Quality-sounding reverb
- FM synthesis without the complex programming
- Does not come with MIDI adapters
7. Meeblip Anode
The ultra-compact Meeblip Anode synthesizer seamlessly blends all of the best elements of analog and digital, aiming to deliver a diverse array of powerful bass synth tones, perfect for when you need to dish out a bit of extra low-end.
It incorporates unique digital oscillators, both raw and PWM wavetables, dual variable pulse options, and an innovative analog filter. The front panel was designed for streamlined use, and you’ll only find controls for tuning, pulse width, envelope, and modulation. If you have the right cables, you can even use MIDI input from an external iOS device.
Do note that Meeblip operates with open-source hardware and firmware, meaning you have the ability to explore and modify both the circuitry and the code for greater customization, essentially creating an entirely new instrument if you please.
- A compact and affordable monophonic synth
- Modifiable software and hardware
- External MIDI control
- Not the most diverse range of tones
8. Behringer JT-4000
The JT-4000 is a miniature concept emulation of the Roland JP-8000, which became famous as a pioneering virtual analog synth, blending the benefits of digital control with the richness of analog synthesis. Better yet, they shrank it down to pocket size and put it on the market for the cost of what you might pay for an average new video game.
The four-voice synth comes equipped with dual oscillators capable of running six modeled waveforms - including triangle, square, sawtooth, noise, and supersaw. It even has an analog lowpass filter, which gives it that lush analog quality.
Add a pair of LFOs for modulation, two ADSR envelopes, and an easy-to-use arpeggiator, and you have a seriously versatile piece of equipment for the size and price. It even has the capacity to store up to 32 presets.
While the keyboard may not give you the same tactile experience of a traditional keyboard, and the overall control count on the interface is quite small, the JT-4000 is still remarkable for its compact size.
- Warm and natural synth engine
- Bright OLED display
- Wide range of quality sounds
- The keyboard does not provide the best tactile feel
9. Behringer Crave
Behringer has plenty of classic synth emulations in the same format as the Crave synth, including miniature iterations of the Korg MS-20 and MiniMoog.
The Crave is cool if you’re looking for a synth that pays homage to the modern classic — the Moog Mother-32. Behringer distilled the Mother-32 architecture into a simplified yet sonically rich piece of equipment with the Crave, and though you won’t find the same aesthetic charm as the original, it faithfully captures the playability and sound, giving you a synth that is loads of fun to play without the exorbitant cost.
The synth uses a semi-modular design, meaning you can manipulate knobs right out of the box to start creating sounds. If you want to take it even further, there’s an 18 x 14 patch matrix for custom cable arrangements.
Equipped with a dual-waveshape single analog oscillator and a noise generator, you’ll find a resonant 24dB filter on the Crave that behaves similarly to the original Moog. The modulation section is also pretty familiar, using a simple envelope and a single LFO.
As you dive into patching with the 32-step sequencer and an arpeggiator, you open yourself up to endless fine-tuning possibilities, delivering the traditional synthesis experience. It’s a super groovy piece of equipment and a great introduction to those who are new to synths.
- Gives you the ability to create complex sounds with the semi-modular design
- Built-in sequencer
- Great sound quality
- Does not come with a keyboard
10. Bastl Instruments Kastle ARP
Bastl Instruments has always been one of those companies that walk to the beat of their own drums. The developers take a distinctive approach when crafting their synthesizers, creating true pieces of art with quality electronics and creative designs.
Rather than adhering to the familiar and conventional synthesizer architecture that we all know and love, they focus more heavily on experimentation.
The Kastle ARP is a relatively cheap synthesizer that separates itself from all the other synths on our list in that it’s a singular modular melody generator. It uses basic sine waves and a distortion module to give them character. For a bit more excitement, you also get the ability to reverse your sounds using digital waveshapers, quantize to a chosen BPM, create notes and chords, and inject unexpected variations into your sounds.
Best of all, it fits in the palm of your hand and uses USB power, making it a great choice for producers on the go.
Though it’s capable of producing noise independently, you can also use the Kastle ARP with a few strategically placed patch wires to add character to other synths and sounds.
I can best describe the overall sounds as having a ‘chip-tune’ quality, and what I love about it most is that no matter how much you think you know how to use it, it never fully submits to your control, perfect for those who enjoy unpredictability.
- Pocket-sized, battery-power design
- Capable of some seriously complex and experimental tones
- You can easily extend the synth's capabilities with patching
- Can be a bit confusing for new user due to a lack of traditional controls
11. Roland Aira Compact S-1
The S-1 hails from Roland's unexpectedly brilliant series of compact synths, and while it was no doubt made to emulate the SH-101, its distinct array of features gives it a sound all of its own.
It uses an ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) emulation of the classic SH-101 mono synth, giving you all of the playful character and tone you’d expect from a versatile analogue synth. However, there are up to four voices without the restriction of regular analog oscillators, so it essentially functions as a polysynth.
Some of the other familiar features include the filter, the mixing functions, and the waveforms, all of which are conveniently accessible on the miniature front panel. I really love the way the filter sounds, and the controls are super intuitive, making it a great choice for beginners.
Where the S-1 truly diverges, however, is the waveform drawing function, which allows you to craft your own custom waveforms. You can steer your sounds in entirely new directions, and use the robust effects engine, which includes reverb, delay, and chorus, to impart a more cinematic quality to the output.
Top that all off with a wildly versatile 64-step sequencer, and you get a true hands-on experience that allows you to manipulate parameters in real-time.
Even with its compact form factor, the S-1 still delivers an abundance of features and fun, giving you much more than you might expect from a significantly higher-priced synth.
- User-friendly interface
- Ultra-compact design
- Custom waveform drawing functionality
- Limited set of controls
12. Behringer TD-3-MO
Behringer revolutionized the affordable synth when it began resurrecting classic synths that were once prohibitively expensive. Now, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars or scour the second-hand market to get your hands on a Roland TB-303, as the TD-3 gives you all the same sounds and functionality at a low price point.
Not only is the TD-3 one of the most impressive-looking synths in the Roland emulation lineup, but it also delivers outstanding sound quality, faithfully retaining all the functionality of the original 303 monosynth.
All of those squelchy melodies you remember from the 1990s can be effortlessly produced and tweaked, thanks to the onboard filter and sequencer.
One thing to note is that the sequencer may require some getting used to, though if you’ve ever used the original 303, you know that it was authentically difficult to use anyway.
In terms of enhancements over the original 303, Behringer incorporated a Boss DT-1-inspired distortion effect, allowing you to add a bit of grit and grime to the output.
You’ll also find USB and MIDI connectivity, allowing you to sequence the parameters and sounds of the synth from your DAW if you’d like.
Overall, the TD-3 beautifully captures the essence of the 303 and stands out in the lineup of cheap synthesizers. Plus, you’ll find it in a wide range of colors to suit your aesthetic preferences.
- Faithfully reproduces the original Roland TB-303
- Beautiful three-octave sub bass
- Loads of exciting additional onboard features
- Overwhelming interface for new synth users
13. Waldorf Rocket
Though Waldorf is best known for crafting premium hardware instruments, the company recently introduced an exceptionally portable and affordable synthesizer that extends its distinctive sounds to a broader audience.
This monophonic synth, which comes equipped with MIDI I/O, USB, and an external input for filters, uses two oscillators with pulse width modulation and variable waveshaping. The Unison mode allows you to generate up to eight voices at once, offering the flexibility of playing chords or detuning.
Beyond that, you’ll find a built-in LFO and an arpeggiator, which can work in tandem to add movement to your sound. While it might look like a toy, it’s a truly customizable piece of hardware that delivers an impressive and substantial range of sounds.
- Versatile MIDI control section
- Powerful hybrid of analog multi-mode VCF and digital oscillators
- Can process external audio signals with the overdrive and filter
- Knobs aren't very high-quality
14. Modal Skulpt SE
If you’re looking to get your feet wet in the great, wide world of virtual analog hardware synths, the Modal Electronics Skulpt SE is a solid choice. Not only is it one of the most portable budget synthesizers around, but it also boasts substantial power.
You’ll find four polyphonic voices, each of which has eight oscillators for a total of 32 voices in all. Beyond that, you get a rich array of custom synthesis possibilities, including a modulation matrix, three envelopes, and two LFOs. Best of all, if you’re someone who likes the hybridized virtual setup, you’ll love the fact that this beginner synth comes with a dedicated app for easy editing from your laptop or computer.
- Top-tier virtual analogue sounds
- Streamlined digital app
- Comes with a wealth of sound design tools
- The build quality feels a bit cheap
15. Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1
The Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is a uniquely user-friendly DIY synth that you assemble at home, on your own, without having to solder anything. This potent synth offers a multi-effects engine and a highly portable design for a surprisingly deep array of sonic possibilities.
This budget synth is fully compatible with Korg's Logue SDK, giving you sounds similar to the Prologue or Minilogue XD, and you’ll also find a multi-scale and multi-range arpeggiator with dedicated reverb, delay, and modulation sections.
The NTS-1’s main oscillator can produce a variety of waveforms with different filters, and with the combination of a ribbon controller and an intuitive interface, it’s super enjoyable to play around with. You get an oddly deep level of parameter control for its compact size, and you can even control the synth using external sequencers or a MIDI controller.
- Remarkably versatile effects engine
- Multi-engine custom oscillators and effects
- Solid arpeggiator
- Slightly flimsy build quality
Final Thoughts - Are Cheap Synthesizers Worth It?
Budget-friendly synths have come quite a long way over the past decade, and for just $300 or less, you can get your hands on an unprecedented level of quality. The synths above offer fantastic versatility and control at reasonable prices, and many of them are made by some of the most reputable brands in the industry, such as Korg, Behringer, and Moog.
If you’re thinking of dipping your toes in the world of synthesis, or if you’re just looking for a budget-friendly new toy to add to your arsenal, make sure to take a deeper look at some of the synths above.