Help me choose a synth

Hi all,

I'm really enjoying Tidal at the moment and it's definitely reignited my enthusiasm making music on a computer. However, I'm looking for a lil extra something to spark some creativity. For what i'm hoping to eventually use Tidal for (creating finished songs/music) I still find the built in Superdirt synths somewhat limited so I'm wondering if anyone has had any luck using Tidal to control hardware synths (particularly in a live set up). Likewise if you have developed a habit of hoarding never ending amounts of musical equipment then you might be able to help.

The combination of the lockdown and the fact that i've been lucky enough to continue doing my job remotely means I actually have some disposable income for the first time in a while. As a caveat, i'm a guitarist principally, though I own a midi keyboard and know enough theory to use pianos as a compositional tool. Anyway, with the budget I have I've narrowed down my first synth/gear purchase to the following:

  1. Teenage Engineering OP-Z
    Pros: it's tiny. Sounds good from what i've heard, works as a standalone unit
    Cons: requires extra $$$s for the module which allows midi-connectivity

  2. Korg Minilogue XD
    Pros: huge sounding analogue-polysynth, midi compatible
    Cons: top of my price range

  3. Empress Effects Zoia
    Pros: totally unique effects/synth creating gadget, could add it to my pedal board, midi compatible, community of patch creators, also very small
    Cons: it's not strictly a synth, patch creation takes time

  4. Modal Electronics Argon 8
    Pros: impressive sounding wavetable digital polysynth, midi compatible,
    Cons: slightly more money than the XD (though i see one on eBay for less)

  5. Polyend Tracker
    Pros: everything in a box, unique workflow environment, midi compatible,
    Cons: Would have to wait 8 weeks till it ships, not sure if/how it could work with Tidal even with midi

Have also considered Arturia Minibrute 2 and 2s but i think that's enough navel gazing for now. If anyone owns/has experience with any of the above please let me know.

Thanks! :love_you_gesture:


Go for a synth that you love the sheer tone of. No matter the technology used.

I've decided to stay in the box as far as I'm concerned, and some softsynths nowadays sound just as fantastic as hardware IMO. My fav ones are Razor, Bazille and Hive 2, and they all work wonders with Tidal.


I use Tidal to sequence hardware synths over MIDI all the time, both live and also when just having fun at home.

My biggest piece of advice would be to read the owner's manuals ahead of time for the synths you are considering, and make sure they have some decent MIDI CC mappings so that you can control synth features externally. At least that's what I would look for.

Given that the Minilogue XD might be your price range, you might be able to find a used Elektron Analog Four (Mark 1) at a similar price.

And if you're considering the Argon 8, maybe also take a look at the ASM Hydrasynth.

Otherwise I have no hands-on experience with any of the synths in your list.

I would also consider software synths like VCV Rack or DAW synths like some of the Native Instruments stuff, but your goal is to use synths live, then your mileage may vary depending on your computer.



I have a Modal Argon 8 and it's absolutely wonderful.
But sinds we are here in a open source community, you could also consider these projects :

Both are very cheap, but as good as any expensive digital synth I've touched...
I have two Preen FM 2's and a couple of Axoloti's ..

Thanks guys. I've used DAW synths and some plugins before but to be honest I wanted to get away from those and actually have some physical knobs to tweak. My aim is also to finally get my head around how synths work properly as well so i can build my own patches and not just slightly altering presets.

I think the Analog Four and Hydrasynth are just out of my price range to be honest but I did also consider the Elektron Digitone (second hand) but again i feel like that comes with its own workflow and eccentricities..

Wow, thanks these look crazy although i have no experience with kit building and there's someone in my building who was soldering and it set the fire alarm off, everyone had to evacuate and wait for the fire brigade to turn up, so I wouldn't want to be that guy. Can you 3-d print the cases for the Preen?

How does the Argon 8 compare to other synths you own? is it easy to use?

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You can order the Preen FM's fully assembled :

It's possible to use the Axoloti without any soldering...The board is complete as is.

The Argon 8 is very easy to use. Modal has made a very nice editor for it. It's the only wavetable synth I own, so it is unique in my setup.

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The school I teach at has a Minilogue (not XD), and it sounds good yet way too "vanilla" to my likings. It needs to have such a chameleon of a tone, otherwise it wouldn't be that versatile. The Elektron boxes I've had (A4 and Digitone) fall in the same category IMO, and that's why I've never regretted selling them. I'm still pondering getting a Rytm though.

You've mentioned you want to invest sound-design and to create your own patches, right ? Then I'd strongly advice going for awesome sonic flavor(s) rather than impressive feature-set : a synth with an inviting raw tone (even if technically limited) is usually much more rewarding in the end (in my experience anyway).

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Interesting. I know what you mean, and if you were talking about guitars i'd be like, ah yeah, so i should go for something with humbuckers, if i can draw that analogue. but my ear is so not in tune to the "tone" of individual synths. Like to me the Elektron Digitone, for example, sounds pretty amazing, so you saying you don't regret selling it makes me think, shit maybe i really don't know anything about synths :sweat_smile: I guess my approach to buying equipment has always been to go for "bang-for-your-buck" and whatever takes up the least space.

So what synths have a good "raw tone"?

It's really personal preference. I didn't say it before, but I dislike most hardware synths that I've purchased and used. Granted, I've made some fun music with them, but I've learned over time that they do not do much for me. I prefer extreme digital qualities that can really only be achieved through software and plugins.

I borrowed a friend's Digitone, thinking it would be amazing after seeing so many videos about it, only to feel that it was quite boring and flat. It is really an individual choice and it's about how each user bonds with their synth. Sounds corny but I think it's true.

So what is "raw tone"? Hard to explain. My Dreadbox Erebus synth had it. A plain saw wave sounded HUGE on it. More low end? Gritty overtones? Who knows. I think the Minilogue sounds very metallic by comparison. The Volca Keys sounds "bigger" than the Minilogue, despite its size. I also had a Roland System-1M that sounded extremely thin. Also had a Behringer Neutron that had some great low end but I thought it sounded very flat. Eurorack modules tend to have that "big sound" to my ear. Despite their sound, I really disliked using most of these devices on their own. It's all about the digital processing for me.


Oh it's highly subjective of course ! I mean, the Digitone could totally work for you (after all, I first bought it for a reason, right ?), it's not always easy to figure out via online demos. Ideally, you'd better give them a try IRL before purchasing.
If referring to classic synths, Minimoog, SH-101, MS-20, DX-7 etc... have all distinctive characters (and tempers). Now I'm not nostalgic at all, but they each have strong sonic personalities. You might prefer one or another, or none, it's totally up to you.
For instance, just because of what I've heard, if I ever go modular I'll certainly go for a Serge system, which has a distinctive tone. If budget wasn't an issue, I'd buy a Buchla... because nothing else sounds like it.
You've mentioned guitars. I suppose there are some brands that sound better to your ears, straight out of the box than others. It's a gut feeling, not something rational :wink:
+1 to everything Kindohm said. I much prefer unapologetically digital synths.

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Not really answering the question, but just a though hoping I'm not going off topic... I have no desire at the moment to buy a hardware synth, but I must admit I'd love having some hands-on control to play with...

Now this makes me think that I have an Ableton Push 2 which is mostly collecting dust, and if I could use tidal to control Ableton's synths (Operator, Wavetable etc.) that would be an excellent way of getting the experience of a hardware synth (Push 2 is very well integrated with Ableton's builtin synths, no config needed) but fully in the box...
This could work with other DAWs and MIDI controllers of course.

Has anybody tried controlling Ableton or other DAW with tidal (with or without MIDI controller)? Is there any guideline I can look at?

I have used Tidal with the following synths:
Rare Waves Hydronium (great fun synth for 303 sounds and more)
Arturia Microbrute
Eurorack stuff (money sink of the first order, but I do love some of the oscillators available)

Waldorf Pulse 2 (definitely a beast of an analog poly if you can get it cheap enough, but the matrix digital controls don't feel as immediate)
Waldorf Blofeld (digital poly, has some great sounds, but complex)
Arturia Microbrute (takes a free engine from the mutable instruments braids and 4x's the voices and makes it easier to understand)
ploytec pl2 (super cheap, weird noisy gnarly synth, I kinda love it)

computer (not free):
Aalto (I just love this synth)
Arturia (all of there analog lab stuff is nice, when you need sound X, you can probably get it from them for a price)

computer (free):
VCV rack

Bang for your buck wise the last 4 will show you all you need to know, you can experience most of the basics of synthesis (modular and not) for free. With a knobby controller and MIDI mapping you can get very similar hands on control as well. Also the setup is easier to maintain in my experience, since the wires are virtual. Sometimes with USB midi -> hardware synth you can create ground loops that are horrible. A true midi cable will save you from that, but it's less convenient. The other solution I've found is buying the iFi AUDIO iDefender3.0 USB Ground Loop Isolator. Otherwise using a usbMIDI cable, cheap sometimes don't send "system exclusive aka sysex" messages which some synths use for various things like patch management, or the older MidiMan boxes both work.


aaah, so much to think about now. @Dan I actually already have Ableton and Push (1), but never really got into Ableton's built-in synths beyond using presets and tweaking a bit. I did experiment with controlling them using FoxDot a while ago though which almost worked.

I think I'm leaning towards the Argon 8 at this point, tbh. Seems very versatile and for wont of tone appreciation i'm probably gonna be sold by the features, but also price point and build quality.

Definitely gonna give VCV rack and some of the other free things a try. I currently have 2 different audio interfaces + a USB-midi hub and my work computer so i'm hopefully sorted for ins and outs for the time being.

i remain impressionable and open to persuasion

If you use Live and hardware synths, use its External Instrument device... otherwise latency and all sorts of quirks will drive you mad.


Oh, and yes, you can 3-D print the cases for the Preen and for Axoloti

I have and OP-Z and some other synths.
The OP-Z is a REALLY good standalone sequencer with bluetooth connectivity, easy to use and portable. However, as a synth it lacks in sound quality. The synth engines doesn't have too much parameters to play with, and you cant sound shape a synth preset from scratch.

I've been using Tidal literally four days ago so I haven't the opportunity to connect any of my synths, but I got plans about using Tidal with my Digitone. For me is a good FM Synth, voice polyphony, 4 tracks, very complex in sound shaping, LFO and filters, but also compact and with a good sequencer. You have also a lot of presets if you dont want to get complicated. However, their FM Sound maybe is not for everyone tastes, maybe you prefer a classic subtractive synth.

Another option I could recommend you if you are looking for a small standalone workstation is a Novation Circuit. Is cheap, very easy to use and you have 4 tracks (2 for synths with a decent engine, and 2 for drums/samples). It could be a great match, since you can combine tidal with beats and two synths allowing to manipulate and sequence all directly on the device.

Hope it helps!

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Serum is my fav

The zoia looks like a sexy peice of kit, you should also consider the Organelle M by critter and guitari it is completley open source meaning you can make your own patches using pure data and there are already tons of amazing user created patches including ORAC which basically allows up to 9 patches to b played at a time, the only downside is the keys are tiny but if you have a midi keyboard its no problem

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nermergerrd, the Organelle looks insane. I'd heard about them but had no idea they could do all that. Looks like i'm priced out of the M version but there's a original version on Reverb that I could afford. the still worth it?