6 Reasons to Avoid a New Synthesizer Keyboard Today

So you want to start creating electronic music? Awesome! Before dropping a bundle on a fancy new hardware synthesizer, let‘s carefully weigh the pros and cons so your hard-earned money goes as far as possible.

As we‘ll discover below, while hardware synthesizers can be incredibly fun and enable creativity in the studio, they also come with significant financial and workflow limitations – especially for someone just getting into production.

You may find far more music-making value starting out by keeping things software-based as you hone your craft. This allows focusing time and funds on online courses, sample packs, and powerful yet affordable digital instruments.

Together, we‘ll explore 6 key reasons why grabbing a brand new hardware synthesizer now could actually hinder your growth if you‘re newer to writing electronic music. Then we‘ll uncover some accessible alternatives to get started without overspending.

Let‘s get to it!

Overview: 6 Reasons to Avoid a Synthesizer Today

Here is a quick overview of the 6 main reasons covered in this guide advising against buying an expensive new synthesizer when you are just now getting into music production:

  1. The Cost: Hardware synthesizers get very costly very fast and are a luxury item. Beginner-friendly software and apps offer far more value per dollar spent.
  2. The Limitations: Even expensive hardware synths can only pack so many features and innovation into physical products. Versatile software provides near limitless creative options in comparison at a fraction of the price.
  3. The Setup: Connecting hardware synths into an audio production workflow adds layers of complication. Software and apps bypass nearly all of these integration headaches.
  4. Diminishing Returns: There is little correlation between expensive gear and song quality. You would see far greater creative returns out of production courses and sample packs at this stage.
  5. Marginal Gains: While hardware may sound fantastic, most listeners would have a tremendously hard time distinguishing them from well-produced software synth mixes. Is the marginal difference worth 10X the price?
  6. Maintenance: Hardware synths breaks down over time and require maintenance for analog components. Software requires no physical upkeep outside of hitting an occasional update button.

Now let‘s explore each of these reasons to avoid dropping big bucks on a shiny new hardware synth when you are just getting started with electronic music production.

Reason 1: The Prohibitive Cost of Hardware Synthesizers

The single biggest barrier stopping most beginners from purchasing a hardware synthesizer is undoubtedly the cost. Prices start relatively affordable in the $200 to $500 range, then quickly skyrocket from there…

Synth ModelTypePrice
Korg Volca KeysAnalog$180
Arturia MicroFreakHybrid Digital$300
Dave Smith Mopho x4Analog/Subtractive$849
Moog Sub 37 CVAnalog/Paraphonic$1,599
Dave Smith Prophet Rev2Analog/Polyphonic$1,999

As seen above, an entry-level analog mono-synth like the Korg Volca Keys retails for about $180 USD. This nets you a fun, tabletop unit with decent sound but extremely limited polyphony at just 3 notes simultaneously.

Want to play chords? You‘ll need to start looking at more advanced architectures like paraphonic or polyphonic synths, which scale in price exponentially. Something like the legendary Dave Smith Prophet Rev2 will produce heavenly sounds, but costs two grand.

Meanwhile, you can instantly access hundreds of top-tier software synthesizers for under $100 each to run on your existing laptop without spending thousands to play chords.

Ultimately, hardware synthesizers are luxury items and status symbols as much as they are creative tools. The costs stem from research, niche components, analog circuitry, endless testing, and precision manufacturing at scale.

Software leverages the raw power of digital, bypassing nearly all of those major recurring sunk costs faced by hardware developers.

This is why when balancing your available budget as an aspiring music producer, software synthesizers categorically provide far more sheer capability per dollar versus physical counterparts.

No small difference when starting out!

Reason 2: Features and Innovation Favor Software

Hardware synthesizers inevitably carry limitations based on available physical components and practical engineering at a chosen price point. Manufacturers must make constant trade-offs deciding which features to include and which to exclude in any given product.

Software synthesizers running on commoditized computing hardware face far fewer restrictions. Developers leverage incremental improvements in processing speeds, storage, memory capacity, and display resolutions to remove ceilings on capability.

Let‘s analyze the synthesizer functionality gap:

PolyphonyLimited by part costsUnlimited
OscillatorsMaybe 2-3 per voiceUp to 4+ per voice
ModulationRestricted matrix routingEndless matrix options + MPE
EffectsBasic effects availablePro-grade effects chains
InnovationSlow product dev cyclesRapid feature iteration

Here we clearly observe software‘s near limitless potential afforded by the flexibility of code contrasted against the inherent physical constraints of hardware.

More polyphony for lusher chords? No problem for software, but exponentially costlier on a hardware synth. Extra oscillators for thicker timbres? Cheap CPU cycles provide plenty, while packing additional analog circuitry proves expensive fast.

The comparative limitations span deeper modulation tools, richer effects chains, and overall innovation velocity favoring agile software over rigid hardware locked into a fixed architecture.

This gap only looks to expand exponentially going forward as computers gain speed while chips/transistors plateau.

What about sound quality you ask? We tackle this next…

Reason 3: Diminishing Sonic Returns

One historic advantage wielded by hardware synthesizers has been the coveted warmth and saturated flavors intrinsic to analog circuitry paired with premium components. This appealing sonic personality has justified higher prices for some buyers.

However software has virtually erased any practical fidelity deltas in just the past decade:

YearHardware vs Software Sound Quality
1990sClear hardware advantages
2000-2010Hardware still superior
2020Indistinguishable to most listeners
2025?Software matches or exceeds hardware

Through brute force computation, clever digital modeling techniques, and advances in psychoacoustics, software now easily captures coveted analog qualities once unique to hardware:

  • Rich harmonics and organic drift
  • Vintage oscillator warmth and character
  • Intricate filter nuance and topology modes
  • Noise, hiss, and circuit-level artifacts

Today‘s best software synthesizers like U-He Diva or Native Instrument‘s plugins use sophisticated component-level modeling to essentially become digital hardware emulations.

Some examples like Pigments 3 even combine virtual analog with other synthesis methods like wavetable and sampling for incredibly diverse tonal options.

But can average listeners actually discern these subtle sound quality differences seen in charts and scopes?

Reason 4: Listeners Can???t Tell Hardware vs Software Synths Apart

If we put sound quality perceptions under the microscope, a fascinating trend emerges:

Listener GroupCan Distinguish Hardware vs Software
Expert ProducersSometimes
Casual ListenersNo

The fact is that only deeply trained audio pros actively analyzing arrangements have much hope of reliably determining whether a synth sound originated from hardware or software.

Why? Because complex song production introduces dozens of variables muddling the source signal before reaching the audience‘s ears:

  • Genre conventions and instrumentation
  • Mixing and effects chains
  • Mastering compression/limiting
  • Playback speakers/gear

When you consider that the majority of music consumers today listen casually on phone speakers, subtle synthesizer tone nuances get washed out by everything else going on in the full production.

As you progress in your musical journey, resist getting distracted chasing hypothetical incremental hardware advantages exceeding human perception.

Rather, double down on creativity enabled by limitless software. Write better hooks. Develop more emotive chord changes through music theory. Master advanced sound design techniques. The tools matter far less than the person wielding them.

Which brings us to our next point…

Reason 5: Gear Acquisition Syndrome Distracts from Developing True Skills

Picture a home studio overcrowded with synthesizers, outboard gear, and racks of blinking lights. An aspiring producer scrolls through forums obsessing over oscillator drift stats and filter topology papers.

Another $3,000 hardware beauty catches their eye as the missing piece to finally make the perfect synth bass patch communicated from their dreams…

This exaggeration demonstrates an extreme case of a common pitfall called Gear Acquisition Syndrome – the constant lusting after new equipment in hopes it unlocks new creative dimensions.

Synthesizers heavily market based on aspirational feelings because they transfer poorly over ecommerce photography. We imagine how they might facilitate more inspired compositions. If only we had that REAL analog experience…

Here is the reality check:

ActivityImpact on Music Quality
Purchasing New HardwareLow
Learning Music TheoryExtremely High
Sound Design CoursesHigh
Composition EducationHigh
Critical ListeningHigh
  • Tools have minimal correlation to creative output. Skills do.

Rather than expend money and energy endlessly accumulating more gear, focus on measurable skill building through online courses, music theory training, and deliberate practice.

That is where tangible improvements in songwriting originate – not moderately better distortion algorithms or extra filter modes you‘ll barely use. Chase mastery, not marketing.

Reason 6: Ongoing Maintenance of Analog Hardware

In acquiring analog hardware synthesizers, recognize that you are essentially purchasing an ongoing maintenance commitment as much as a creative tool.

Unlike software with perfect stability and abundantly available backup copies, hardware synthesizers consist of delicate electronic components subject to deterioration:

Hardware MaintenanceDetails
Capacitor ReplacementCapacitors decay, eventually altering tuning over time
Potentiometer CleaningPotentiometers gather debris and intermittent signal cutouts
Oxidation PreventionOxidation causes subtle tonal drift from component corrosion
Firmware UpdatesRequires manual installation via MIDI SysEx dumps

While modern synths are far more reliable than decades past, they still degrade meaningfully over 5-10 years. Upkeep grows more frequent as instruments age.

This practically mandates paying for periodic professional tuning, component replacement, and calibrations to keep hardware synthesizers performing their absolute best. An added recurring expense easily forgotten during initial GAS impulses!

Compare this to loading up a software synthesizer, hitting a single button to download newest patches/firmware, and enjoying confident stability until you decide to upgrade years down the road. No physical decay in sight.

Friendly Alternatives to Get You Started

By this point, you may feel thoroughly overwhelmed navigating countless hardware options riddled with substantial trade-offs. Fantastic! That uncertainty means your budget is better directed toward more accessible and immediate creative outlets as you refine your personal style and learn core production skills.

Here are three beginner-friendly alternatives I highly recommend considering first before diving into costly hardware commitments:

1. iPad + Accessories

While an unlikely production toolbox on the surface, the ubiquity and flexibility of Apple‘s iPad ecosystem has birthed a thriving hub of music apps tailored precisely for beginners.

For less than $400, you can snag an iPad Mini 6 + accessories:

iPad Mini 6$399
Synth OneFree

This neat little rig delivers a lush Retina display, Apple‘s beloved GarageBand for quick loops/beats, the pro-grade Synth One virtual analog synth, and the Audiobus routing protocol for sending synth sounds into GarageBand.

Add any dirt cheap MIDI controller like the Akai LPK25 for playing keys, throw in some headphones, and voila! A capable portable production suite for less than many used hardware synthesizers.

I personally use this exact iPad rig when traveling and have written entire tracks on planes faster than setting up my desktop workspace. Don‘t underestimate its power alongside extreme beginner-accessibility.

2. Used Hardware Synthesizers

What if after considering the pros/cons, you still lust after the tangible experience of quality hardware? I get it. Buttons. Knobs. Patch cables. It‘s romantic in a way software can‘t fully replace!

Rather than paying premium retail pricing, consider checking the used market first. Sites like Reverb.com provide transparency into fair value based on instrument condition. Leverage depreciation in your favor.

For example, here is a classic hardware synth scaled at respective new vs used asking prices:

SynthNew PriceUsed PriceSavings
Dave Smith Mopho x4$849$60029%

Snagging a prior owner‘s Mopho x4 could net nearly 30% cost savings after depreciation while retaining identical core functionality to the factory fresh alternative.

This allows securing legit hardware at discounted rates. Pair it with software like Diva forsupplementary capability and now we‘re cooking!

3. All-in-One Production Software

While individual plugins provide immense flexibility, new producers often benefit most from consolidated all-in-one production suites.

FL Studio Producer Edition delivers a near endless toolkit for $220:

DAW FeaturesPiano roll, audio editing, arrangement, scoring tools
Synth PluginsHarmor, Sytrus, Sawer, more
Effects PluginsCompressors, delays, reverb, distortion, more
Loops/Samples1000+ bass loops, percussion one-shots, more
InstrumentsElectric guitar/bass emulations, orchestra library

This singular $220 software purchase eliminates any need for additional synthesizer expenditures. Learn basics of writing/arranging full productions entirely in the box, then re-evaluate hardware later as skills progress.

Phew, quite a journey! Let‘s recap key takeaways…

In Closing: Start With Skills Over Gear

The core principles we uncovered:

  • Capability vs cost heavily favors software for beginners
  • Hardware involves notable compromises to physical limitations
  • Listeners can???t differentiate hardware from today‘s high-quality software
  • Skills over tools should remain the priority

Does this mean hardware synthesizers have no place? Of course not! Once your productions gain momentum, adding select hardware can facilitate creative tangents.

But much like learning guitar, don‘t worry about exotic wood tones when struggling through basic open chords. Master fundamentals first on easily accessible tools. Then diverge into more advanced instruments as genuine needs arise.

The sheer depth of software options offer beginners all the sonic territory ever needed. Wring every drop of creative potential from Fruity Loops Studio or Ableton Live Intro before contemplating upgrading instruments. Technical proficiency and music theory represent infinitely wiser investments of energy.

Eventually down the road, revisiting hardware synthesizers from a more educated perspective better informs weighing luxury indulgences against actual creative return on investment.

For now though, flick on that laptop, load up your favorite software instruments, and start honing your craft one step at a time! The only gear that matters is the gray matter between your ears.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

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