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Buying a Synthesizer or Workstation?

Buying a Synthesizer or Workstation?

Is it really worth it?

Do you plan on buying a synthesizer / keyboard workstation? Take a minute to read through this article before you make a purchase, and you might end up saving yourself a lot of money and dissapointment. This is not so much about buying a workstation as it is why you should take the money you were going to use to buy a synthesizer or workstation, and use it more efficiently. Let me give you a quick comparison:

Here’s a popular workstation and the price tag attached to it at the time of this guide:

Korg Kronos X 88 Digital Synthesizer / Workstation

Korg Kronos

Korg Kronos X 88 Keyboard Workstation (88 Key) – Approximately $4,000 depending on where you buy it. (at the time of writing this article)

Here’s a more complete setup that costs half the price:

Keep in mind that the specific equipment and software in this comparison is not the important part of the argument  The main concept is that there are so many options for a versatile recording setup when you have the kind of budget to work with that can consider a high end workstation.

  • Korg Legacy Plugins – A huge selection of sounds that come straight from the Korg workstations. – $200 for the complete set, or $50 a piece for individual plugins right now. These aren’t the best synth plugins in the world but they’re a good starting point.
  • Presonus AudioBox 1818VSL Audio Interface – An excellent audio interface with a huge range of I/O. – Around $500 currently.
  • M-Audio Axiom Pro 61 Midi Keyboard – One of the most inclusive midi controller / keyboards out there – About $500 currently.
  • Avid Pro Tools 10 – One of the most popular DAW programs on the market, I’m sure you’re familiar with the name – Currently $700 new.
  • Rode NT1 Condensor Microphone – One of the most popular condenser microphones for budget studios (It is often found in professional studios as well, but it’s a favorite among the home recording scene) – ~$200 each.
  • Izotope Ozone Mastering Plugin – Mastering plugin made by Izotope. One of the best ways I can think of to spend $200.

Now consider the comparison I’ve just laid out. $4,000 to buy a synthesizer or keyboard workstation compared to about $2,500 for a midi keyboard with a similiar amount of controls, a bigger sound library, an audio interface with decent preamps, audio editing software with numerous stock plugins, a condensor microphone, and mastering software. You could accomplish significantly more tasks in your home studio with the 2nd setup and still have $1,500 left over, which could go to some nice studio monitors or anything else to complement your project studio setup. I’m not trying to say Workstations are a waste of money if you have that type of bread to just throw out, but you can build a complete setup for less money and be able to do just as much, and more, as you could have with the workstation. I also want to point out that the actual gear in my comparison is irrelevant and could be replaced with whatever you like, but the principle is what I was trying to get at. If you disagree with this suggestion, or would recommend buying a synthesized workstation, please leave a valid argument in a post on this page.

Korg-legacy-plugins

The Korg Legacy Plugins feature numerous sounds from their flagship synthesizers and workstations.

Presonus-Audiobox-1818-vsl

The Presonus Audiobox 1818 VSL provides you with more than enough I/O, quality preamps, and live processing so even during practice sessions you can have preset processing and effects on your sound.

rode-nt1a

Rode NT1A Condensor Microphone

Note: A synthesizer or workstation can essentially be replaced with a cheap Midi Keyboard, a computer, and a collection of instrument plugins/vsts. All the sequencing can be done just as easily on DAW software, if not easier. Even the cheap synthesizers aren’t as cost effective and typically have a very minimal soundbank / library. If you do decide to buy a synthesizer or buy a workstation, don’t buy a brand new one. There are plenty of used synthesizers for sale that are significantly cheaper than buying a brand new workstation or digital synthesizer.

 

January 20, 2013 Music Production Gear And Software 8 Comments

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8 Comments

  1. J S January 31, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    But you’re not obligated to take 88 notes synth, a 61 keys can do the trick. and the Kronos has a keyboard, and a quality of construction that I haven’t met in any m audio keyboard, even if they are great.

    Furthermore a workstation can almost “do it all”, that was especially true at the time of the triton and motifs with their synthesis cards, but it is very true with the kronos and its 9 synth engines. In your list you forgot to mention the price of a computer that can handle brutal sessions of vsti use. A hardware synth of workstation can be controlled/edited by an editor on the pc without using so much cpu power as , let’s say, Diva would do. Even in one instance, Diva, Ace, Zebra or Tyrell (all from U-he) can use A LOT of cpu power from a reasonnably powered computer.

    I personnaly use hardware( mox, motif and 01/w and triton mainly) synths (some in rack format) and some softwares, they are complementary and I think this is not the easiest solution to go 100% software, as you are dependant to much more gear to achieve your sound. My yahama mox can be used as the center of my studio . why ? because it is connected to my pc, because an editor and cubase are included with the mox, and because the mox can act as a soundcard and as a midi interface at the same time.

    if I had to keep things to the cheaper level, I’d take a mox or a mx (sound quality, not using much cpu power) on a mid perfomance computer.

    I’m not trying to sell my rig, not at all, just to show different views :)

    AH, and to finish, remember that the korg legacy collection are what it is : old school synths put in a software version. Don’t expect to make a supersaw with an M1 unless you know how to make a good combi, if you see what I mean (without saying that even if their polyphony has been upped, the synths from the legacy collection sound cleaner than the original ones).

    Musical salutations,

    Js

    • ayr0n January 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

      @J S
      Hey JS, thanks for replying to the article. You have a very valid point about the construction and quality of most m-audio keyboards vs the newer workstations (even the old ones to be honest). And I definately had thought about the computer factor as a cost but even new low end PC’s now seem to be adequate for music production with an audio interface thrown in the mix. Maybe not all but even the garbage at walmart seems to have better specs than what I used to work with when I was starting out you know? Your post is exactly what I was hoping for, to see the other side of the arguement.

  2. Robert February 17, 2013 at 6:39 am

    I just purchased a Korg Kaossiltor pro. The sounds were pretty nice. I came to the realization that samples on my computer(Ableton, Reason, sound packs) couldn’t compare to the Korg with a synth/sample engine. That’s why I will be getting a Korg Krome or Kronos and abandoning my computer for the most part.

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  4. Mr. Hoffman December 31, 2013 at 12:56 am

    I suppose Soft Synths. do have their place, but for those of us who been using hard keys forever we like our Timbres contained in one apparatus…I do understand that with modern Synth. Workstations there is a form of Binarism as in Soft Synths., However if one is to have a complete appreciation of musical theory then one must understand the dynamic that the Artist/Musician has with his or her instrument..We all know what a MIDI controller is, as far as it truly being an existencial part of an Artist/Musician is debatable..When a keyboardist wants to sit down and lay down some Pianissimo, or fortissimo as a means to learn, express, or preform music the instrument to want to to it with is always going to a real self contain Axe..The only Symbiotic device involved with a real keyboardist will tolerate is his or her’s Out rig..Long live the Hard Synthesizer..

  5. INSUB February 15, 2014 at 4:02 am

    +1 for J S.
    You did not factor the cost of the PC itself. And, more importantly, you did not factor in the headache and time involved in getting all that said home studio equipment to play nice together. You did not mention the learning curve either. A workstation is a single machine engineered to be used by musicians. Yes, it has a high learning curve, but not so much as a DAW, an ASIO interface, the drivers and how they work (or don’t) with your OS, the effect plugins, and the softsynths, which by themselves may be as hard to learn as the workstation. Then there’s programming your MIDI controller to your softsynth and DAW.

    I have a Motif ES8. I have been using Cubase since SX2 and now have 7. I have struggled through every technical mishap with DAWs, interface, and USB MIDI there are (practically), and I must say that once you learn a workstation you will get straight to making music within moments of turning it on. But, when a computer is involved there is always some kind of hiccup that puts you in tech mode. Not every musician is super tech-savvy and some are still older like me who are more comfortable using gear. And, finally, one last point against PC-centric producing: LATENCY.

    • Ayron Thelen March 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      You bring up some really valid points. Computers can be very counter-productive and take you out of the creative mindset and in to “tech-mode” as you said, which can be a big draw back on your workflow. There’s definitely no “on size fits all” when it comes to producing / making music, but I guess the point of the article is that there are alternatives to the traditional approach. Thanks for your feedback.

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