Buying a new hardware synth.

Hi everyone!

I’m currently in the process of buying a new hardware synth and thought this might be the best place to ask, seeing as I use Cubase 5 as my music production platform.

Thus far I have been using software stuff, VSTs etc. with a midi keyboard, but now going to get my first proper hardware one.

I would like ask your opinions which one should I get?

My budget is about £450-460, so bearing that in mind.

I have been looking into few synths already.
One of which is M-Audio Venom, another one Novation UltraNova, I’ve also checked Roland Gaia and Casio XW-P1. Of these 4, my favorites at the moment, are Venom and UltraNova.

Waldorf Blofeld (with or without the keyboard) was in the “list” as well, but I don’t think I’d get that, not now anyway.

Just few things I’m looking for in a synth.
Integration, I’d like it to work with Cubase without any (extra) hassle (I think UltraNova does this, as it has its own sort of VST thingie that can be used directly within Cubase, not completely sure about the other ones yet),

“trance sounding”, genre-wise that is my genre of music, so sort of important that I get something that I can utilise properly (judging from all the videos etc. I’ve seen and read, again UltraNova and also Venom seem to be doing quite a good job),

a lot of possibilities to edit and modify the sound.

Just to name a few things that came into mind.

Edit/add: It would also be good if there was a possibility to add new sounds into the synth, downloadable etc., I think with UltraNova you can do this, possibly with Venom as well, but not quite sure.

If someone could give their opinions, I would appreciate it. Same goes also if there are any other products I should know of and/or check out.

in this day and age i cant imagine spending money on a hardware synth? why would you when software is better

  1. Hardware synth doesn’t use your CPU.
  2. User interface: you’ll have real knobs instead of your bloody mouse.
  3. You can plug it directly into your mixing console without consuming your valuable I/O channels between DAW and console.
  4. It’s future-proof: No matter what hardware/OS your DAW will be running in the future, your hardware unit works just like it always had.
    There must be more points, but only these came into my mind while reading your comment/writing this response.

To OP: I’m afraid I can’t help you. I have no experience on the synths you mentioned or genres your going to use them for. Came here to explain why it’s sometimes smart to have some hardware instead of software.

Hi Jarno,

That’s quite alright. No need to explain your reasons for posting :slight_smile:

My reasons for getting a hardware one contain some of the ones you mentioned, and then some extra ones.
Also, I can always use my current software with the new hardware anyway, so it’s not a problem.

Shame you have no experience of these, thanks for the reply anyway.

I guess I need to continue searching through the internet to find the answers, seeing as there are so many options available.

I did the same research roughly a year ago and went with the Waldorf Blofeld.
The Venom is a nice piece of kit, but to me it seems its strength lies with aggressive sounds, not something I think you are looking for in a trance song. As far as I know it doesn’t let you upload stuff, but I could be wrong.
I don’t know about the Novations unfortunately.
The Blofeld (no keys) I have sounds really good. It’s the most versatile of the synths you mentioned, and in my opinion it does all kinds of sounds very well. There are a few reservations: Build quality of the knobs is not the best. They are really nice to use, but their contacts usually wear after a few months of use. Waldorf can replace them for you and you can also fix them yourself rather easily, but it’s obviously not ideal. There is no official VST Editor, but I used a user made one (free) that works great as long as you’re in 32-bit Cubase. The Blofeld manual also comes with a very complete midi chart, so you can do all the automation quite easily from Cubase. The keyboard version lets you upload samples to the blofeld, the desktop version also has the sample memory, but to use it you have to buy an additional license first (License SL) which is another €50,- or so.

Thanks for the reply Strophoid.

I do find myself in a difficult spot here, ideally I’d like more than one, hell, all of them, alas not within my budget (even though I have found that you can actually get venom for less than £300, nearly 250 in fact, I think it was).

I have also discovered that Gaia seems to be a bit limited in few ways, I have tried to do as much research as possible, watching videos (YouTube for hour and hours anyone? lol), reading articles and comparisons etc., but… I’m still largely undecided.

I’ve been to M-Audio’s forums and what is a bit worrying is that in their Venom section, the last Firmware update was made last year. Now, there is two options there, a) the latest Firmware update was perfect and doesn’t need anything done anymore, or, b) the support is very limited at this point.

Honestly though, don’t know what to think, but it raises questions. Other than that, what I have discovered is that Venom (even with its’ rather technical and probably cumbersome editor) is capable of producing a large variety of sounds especially with the editor etc., so that’s always a plus. And apparently you can download other sounds as well (not 100% sure about this).

Back to Gaia, one of the things that bugs me is the lack of a computer editor. Whereas UltraNova and Venom come with one, if you want it with Gaia you have to pay extra ($100, hmm £75?), which sounds a bit much to me, when the other two come with free editors. I’m also still a bit unsure whether Gaia can even function properly with Cubase. Midi mapping isn’t done automatically, like with UltraNova for example, and whereas I’ve seen UltraNova work with Cubase and it even has sort of a VST component in it, I have no idea what Gaia would do, if anything. Then again I’m a bit puzzled when it comes to Venom as well.

As for Blofeld, I did have a good read what it has and so on. Also listened to the sounds etc. Problem I have, well if you can call it one, is the fact that I don’t want a separate unit like Blofeld without keyboard is and with keyboard it is over the budget really. Way I see it and feel about, I’d like to have a “complete” unit.

Personally I’m still drawn towards UltraNova. Specs-wise it seems most versatile of them all, but still in my budget. From the demos it seems to sound good as well (like the arps and pads for example), and editing and modding different sounds seems to be a very easy task. And like said, I have seen it working with Cubase and it has that VST thingie (not quite sure if you can call it VST as such, but still…) and you can download new sound packs for it for free.

I would also like to mention Casio still seeing as I went through the other ones. I have no idea how it would actually work with pc setup, it does seem to have good functions, like the different oscs and whatnot, but still, no idea about functionality Cubase-wise or so.

Do you guys have a word on compatibility issues of the models and brands you have mentioned when are set to work with our new Cubase 6? I am on the buying of a MIDI Controller and in my region (South America) most of the products available come from M-Audio. Do you have any comment on the M-Audios´s Oxigen49 or 25 (depends on the number of keys)?. This model seems to be a very good option base don price.
Thanks in advance

They should be fine compatibility wise. Dunno if the actual keyboards are any good, never used them.

I have never used MIDI controller. Do you currently use any of these devices?

The Gaia, I think, was made for “performance”, i.e. to play with, hands-on. If you want integration, maybe a keyboard controller would be the thing, cheaper and you could by a matching software synthesizer. A friend of mine has one of these, and after trying it a couple of times, I am somewhat impressed. It is very neat and Rolands experience in making synthesizers with sliders and dials certainly shows. It is very easy to make new sounds with Gaia, and it does sound good! Please keep in mind that I have little experience with this synthesizer apart from a performance aspect.

I have no experience with this particular synthesizer, but I do own a SuperNova II by Novation, and the sounds are delicious. :slight_smile: I merely chimed in to vouch for previous track record of the company in regards to synthesizers and sounds, whether this is still the case, I cannot say.

I have always used full keyboards as master keyboards for Cubase, not midi controllers.
Currently I use a Yamaha MO6. I find it much more space efficient to buy a keyboard that can actually do a bit more than just send midi :slight_smile:

+1 for Yamaha synths, since integration was something you mentioned. Maybe you can buy a used one in your price range.