Analog Synths – The Second Golden Age?

Ok, here’s my lemma:

The best time in world history to be buying a new and affordable analog synthesizer is now.
Why? Because today, you really get the most bang for your buck.


In 1970, Moog released the Minimoog for a price of $1495, which, in today’s dollars, would be roughly $9100.
Today, you can get a Moog Voyager for roughly $3000. It has the same general architecture as the old Minimoog (and is described as being based on the Minimoog D by Moog himself), but throws in great modulation options, playability, patch storage, without neglecting the original sound character. All that for one third of the price.
Another example is the Korg MS-20 (for $750 in 1978), which converts to about $2715 in today’s dollars – or can be bought as the MS20mini for $600.
Mind you, both are not so-called virtual analog thingies; those are synthesizers with a pure analog signal path, based on original architectures and, in the case of the Korg, even on original circuit design – and in comparison they’re cheaper.
And the fun does not end here. Korg have more tricks up their sleeve: After having done the MS20mini, and with a reissue of the coveted ARP Odyssey on the horizon, they pass the time with quite some things in the truly low-cost sector: while the monotron is a very basic and simple device, this is not the case for the volca series: for around $150 each, you can get either an analoge drum machine, or, in the case of the bass and keys variants, a true three-oscillator synth that even offers tricky kinda-paraphonic modes. Nice!
With DSI, we have another kinda-vintage company, led by Dave Smith of SCI fame: he has the Mopho (purely analog, monophonic), the Tetra (practically a four-voice/four part Mopho), up to the Prophet 08 (which, you guessed it, has eight voices of polyphonic power). While all of them are beautiful offerings, if I had to pick one (and chances are I might just do that), it would be the Tetra – simply for giving you four analog voices (and four parts) in a small package, and all that for roughly $850.
There’s Doepfer, who not only offer the truly might A-100 modular system, but also a monophonic semi-patchable truly “non-patch-storable” module called Dark Energy. There’s a similar offering from MFB called Nanozwerg, as well as their much more powerful Kraftzwerg. Analogue Solutions offers more tricky (and expensive) analogue synths, and finally, Waldorf have done a v2 of their Pulse 3-osc mono synth, improved in many ways over the original design. Let’s give their design a view as well, although their fame mostly comes from wavetable-based synthesis (but that’s a background they in part share with Korg and DSI).
Finally, let’s not forget Arturia, who started with software instruments, but have received nothing but praise for their MiniBrute and MicroBrute analog monosynths.
And the nice thing: those synths typically offer all of the things we love them old analog things for, but get rid of a lot of the disadvantages. Practically all of the aforementioned designs offer MIDI control and some even USB, but on ther other hand, you often get CV thrown in.
True, you might say, this is not the best time to be buying analog synths second-hand; that must have been the time roughly in between the DX7 and the arrival of Acid House and Techno (incidentally, that’s when I bought a like-new Korg K-4 for around $40).
And let’s be honest: those new analog synths are not really innovative when it comes to their synthesis approach, they pretty much copy the designs  we’ve known (and loved) since the 70s.
But then: is that a problem?

I repeat:

The best time in world history to be buying a new and affordable analog synthesizer is now.

Annex: A special focus on some companies

In the article above, there’s two companies that get mentioned, which in my opinion deserve further mention within the scope of this article, as they bear some relevance to what happens in the synth world in addition to having released some very interesting products recently.

Let’s start with Korg: their analog fame is seemingly mainly centered around the rereleased MS-20, and even though the Polysix and MonoPoly were used a lot during their time, they seemingly weren’t as cool. I already mentioned that Korg is clearly leading the current analog synth revival, both with reissues and with new designs (although the latter more targeted at the low-cost market).

There’s a few more reasons why Korg deserve a further mention here: firstly, they were part of the triad that defined the end of the original analog synth era with the release of their M1 synthesizer. Secondly, they preceded the 90s wave of “virtual analog” which extends still until today, namely with their Prophecy synth, released in 1995, which (apart from not being really analog) gave you everything you’d want from a traditional subtractive keyboard synth. Thirdly, they released their legacy edition, a set of high-quality VST instruments, which you could get as an add-on for a cheap USB keyboard for practically nothing, and which did not only include models of the aforementioned MS20, Polysix, MonoPoly and M1, but also of the Wavestation.

The Wavestation, finally, brings us to Dave Smith of Dave Smith Instruments. He was the architect behind the Korg Wavestation after SCI had folded and before he founded DSI, But, and that’s more important here, he also was one of the brains behind MIDI, and MIDI is one of the reasons why a reissue like the Korg MS20 and of course a contemporary analog synth like the Pulse2 or Tetra can be integrated in a modern DAW setup so easily.

Korg and Dave Smith – maybe those are the most important names behind that new golden age?


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