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Harware Synthsizers VS Software Synthesizers : Which One Is For You?

When synths first emerged on the music world, they were large, extravagant instruments that produced sounds that were unheard of before. It cost a fair fortune to get this. But once more, technological advancements have completely opened up the market; there are now more readily available, reasonably priced synthesizers as well as their software equivalents, also known as soft synths. So what's the use of hardware if you can obtain a good synth sound with a computer plugin?

What advantages and disadvantages do a hardware synthesizers have over a software synthesizers or a VST, and when would you pick one over the other? Let's find out!

Hardware Synthesizers

All-in-one versions and modular synths are the two (at least!) main types of hardware synths. The former typically (but not always) includes a keyboard and all the necessary noise-making equipment, such as oscillators, filters, amplifiers, and so forth. They frequently have preset sounds as well as extra tools like arpeggios, effects, on-board sequencing, and a variety of direct controls for modifying the sound.

Roland Fantom 06, 07 and 08 workstation keyboards allow you to model and create sounds with its onboard effects, LFO and sampling ability, access different sounds such as the piano and organs as well as the semi-weighted piano keys for a solid and precise playing.

Then there is Eurorack or modular. With this captivating approach, you can build entirely custom hardware synth systems comprised of modules that reproduce each step of pretty much every synthesis process. The concept is that you may design something distinctive—and unique sounding—and that systems can grow or evolve as your preferences and requirements do.

 

Designed for content creators and livestreaming, TC-Helicon's GoXLR Mini is the small-format mixer you need. This mini mixer makes juggling multiple sources, including a microphone, and headset, a gaming console feed, and audio from your computer a breeze. Each of the four channels has its own fader and programmable mute button. The GoXLR Mini also manage to kept from the full-sized GoXLR is the GoXLR Mini's !@#$?* expletive censorship button, which lets you keep it PG (and be generally goofy). Finish it off with a dedicated mic mute button and flexible onboard DSP that's easy to program, and you'll get a ton of mileage out of your GoXLR Mini.


Software Synthesizers

Software synths (also known as a VST, a VSTi for VST instrument, or simply a soft synth) are computer programmes that function as synthesizers . They have been around for more than 20 years and are available for nothing to very costly prices. With these, you are only constrained by the power of your computer and not by any electronic components, so you may create any sound you like.

You would need a MIDI controller to be able to play and control the parameters of software synths. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol MIDI controllers are pre-mapped to work with every plugin that is included in the Komplete 13 software bundle.

You will need a USB MIDI controller (or MIDI keyboard) that can play music and transmit MIDI data to the software synthesizers in order to programme one.


Differences Between Hardware & Software Synths

1. Sounds

Hardware Synthesizers

As with valve vs. solid state amps, many will contend that the sound of a hardware synthesizers will always be greater. With analog synths, the sonic difference is frequently the most audible. The waveforms have a varied shape by nature, which produces an audible difference. Digital hardware synths are far more difficult to distinguish from soft synths since, once you get the ideal sound, it can be very difficult to replicate. Regardless, many people believe that hardware does sound better. True analogue synthesizers are built using Voltage Controlled Operators, or “VCO’s”, to generate the instrument’s sound. As there are minor fluctuations, which impacts its interactions with other filters or modulators in the signal path, this results in very small imperfections that give an iconic sound. A software synth, however, will not have these small imperfections as the sounds are generated based on binary measurements, so these minor imperfections are not present, which can result in the synth. Additionally, workstation synthesizers such as KORG Nautilus or Krome, Roland Fantom and Yamaha YC or Montage keyboards offer thousands of sounds in every conceivable category from piano to strings to organs to drums and so on, in one single device.

Native Instruments Super 8 is an eight-voice, modern take on warm, vintage polysynth sounds (notably Sequential Prophet series synthesizers and Roland). This synth plugin is available in Native Instruments' Komplete 13, Komplete 13 Ultimate, and Komplete 13 Ultimate Collectors Edition software bundle.

Software Synthesizers

There is a heck of a lot of variety in soft synths offered by various companies such as Roland Cloud, Arturia's V Collection 9, synthesiser plugins from Image-Line (the company that makes FL Studio DAW software), Native Instruments' Komplete 13 and many more. You'll have a tonne of presets right away, whether it's sampled recreation of vintage hardware or a wholly synthetic wavetable-style synth. Every single classic hardware synth, including the iconic Yamaha DX-7, KORG MS-20, Roland Juno, and many more, has also been emulated in software. Anything's safe to assume that if it exists in hardware, it also exists in software - and a lot more besides - not the other way around. However, you'll need more software synths if you want to have a wider variety of sounds.


2. Learning Curve

Hardware Synthesizers

One of the most noticeable characteristics of a hardware synthesiser is the numerous dials and knobs that are used to modify the synth's sound and tone. One of the most enjoyable aspects of synthesis is being able to physically manipulate these dials and alter your sound in real time. Additionally, there is a degree of unpredictability; if you change that control or patch one link to another, what would happen? It’s all part of the fun, and it makes a world of difference in this writer’s opinion. Using the sequencers and song recorders that are built into some hardware synths is an added extra features which makes hardware synths highly desirable by players who wants the ability to capture musical ideas spontaneously.

KORG Minilogue XD is a prime example of a synth that lets you have a tactile, hands-on, and immediate experience when shaping the sound, which will surely give you tonnes of pleasure when you are playing with the instrument.

Software Synthesizers

Whether it`s sampled emulations of classic hardware or a totally artificial wavetable-style synth, you`ll have tons of presets from the get-go. Then you`ve got your parameters to tweak, most likely including all the stuff you`ll find on hardware; cutoff, resonance, waveform, ADSR. But sadly, everything is only displayed on screen. While designers frequently arrange their plugins to resemble real synth interfaces, you must still click, drag, or enter a number to change your settings. It just doesn't compare to using your hands to push actual buttons and waiting for an audible response! It's important to keep in mind that many MIDI controllers may be configured (some even come pre-mapped) to let you change certain parameters instantly; but, if you want this compromise, you'll need to account for the extra expense and you'll often waste a lot of time mapping the visible controls on your MIDI controllers to the parameters in your software. Additionally, with hundreds of VST synths with thousands of patches, it's easy to become bewildered and overwhelmed and this may heavily affects your creative process.


3. Practicality

Hardware Synthesizers

Hardware synths require more physical space than software does (obviously). Space may be limited if you work from a small studio or a setup at home. Hardware has its limitations, especially when it comes to analogue equipment. You'll need gear to connect your hardware synthesiser to a computer if you want to record a song or session with it. Typically, this takes the form of an audio interface or mixer, both of which costs additional money. Some modern synths, like the Sequential Prophet X, come with integrated digital USB audio interfaces that enable you connect the synth to your recording equipment.

Although most hardware synthesizers are known to be massive and bulky, a lot of companies have created smaller and more portable synths yet retain their massive and iconic sounds, such as shown here by Yamaha with their Reface series keyboards that faithfully recreate its legendary CS-80, DX-7, CP-80, and YC-45D synthesizers, piano, and organ.

Software Synthesizers

Software synthesizers can be programmed to produce a broad variety of sounds and have a tonne of features at a fraction of the cost of their hardware counterparts because the circuitry does not need to be made of real materials. MIDI instructions are used by software synths to determine which notes should be played, when, and for how long. Compared to hardware, this makes it easier to record with because the MIDI notes can be modified and manipulated with a few button clicks. This implies that you can just write a difficult melody in MIDI rather than spending time playing it. Soft synths don't need to take up any space because they are loaded onto your laptop or PC and are not physical objects. Being able to compose music from anyplace without having to lug along heavy instruments is advantageous if portability is essential to you.


4. Value

Hardware Synthesizers

Hardware synthesizers costs range widely. Having said that, there are currently a lot more cost-effective solutions available. There are several excellent low-cost choices available from companies like Behringer, Korg, Yamaha, and others. Then there is the middle ground, which consists of digital and hybrid workstations made by companies like Roland, KORG, Yamaha, and so forth. The top of the line, more expensive range premium analogue or hybrid polysynths, such as the Roland Fantom, Sequential Prophet X, Yamaha YC, KORG Kronos, and many others, offer a huge variety and jaw-dropping sounds. Hardware synths also have the tendency to maintain their value. Many vintage items—even those from as recently as the early 2000s—sell for more than their initial price. So if you one day decide to sell your hardware on, you won’t lose much money on it – you might even make a little profit!

The Roland Jupiter 8 from 1981–1985 was extensively used by ABBA in the "Midnight Love" album by Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album. If you were to buy one today in pristine condition, it would cost a whopping RM 163,836!!!

Software Synthesizers

Software synthesizers are typically far less expensive than hardware synthesizers. Essentially, this is the major benefit of software synthesizers in whatever form. To give you an idea, if you were to purchase ten different hardware synths, the cost would likely go into the thousands. However, 10 soft synths cost a tiny fraction of that. You may also utilise thousands of fantastic new synths and plugins to make music without spending a dime. In terms of investment, you can resell your hardware synths for some cash, but it is virtually impossible to resell software due to the very complex authorization procedures.


Conclusion

We like to think that we have included the important things to consider. All of these questions have no right or wrong answers, but there are undoubtedly many factors to take into account. So in short, software synthesizers :

Pros :

  • More practical because they leave no physical trace
  • They tend to offer more options and versatility for the money
  • Comes with tonnes of presets

Cons :

  • You need (or must!) use a MIDI controller to play one
  • You'll spend more time mapping the virtual controls with parameters on your MIDI controllers
  • Virtually impossible to resell

Meanwhile, hardware synthesizers :

Pros :

  • Produce excellent sounds
  • Are more tactile and hands-on than software synths
  • Have a quicker learning curve
  • Are fun to use
  • Have a high resale value

Cons :

  • More expensive
  • Take up huge physical space in room or studio

Check out our collection of hardware synthesizers!

Roland FANTOM 06

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Yamaha YC88

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KORG Nautilus 61

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Sequential Prophet X

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Behringer Monopoly

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KORG Minilogue XD

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Roland JD-Xi (Red)

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Yamaha Reface CP

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KORG microKORG S

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KORG Krome EX 88

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Roland JU-06

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Behringer Model D

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There’s never been a better time to get all the tools you need for total creative freedom. Save big with Native Instruments industry-standard production suite Komplete 13!

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32

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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2

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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2

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Native Instruments Maschine Mk3

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Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Mk3

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