I am looking for a good digital synthesizer but I am getting lost with all the choices available. However the more I learn about how a synthesizer work I don't get what is the difference between one or another ?

If I understand correctly, the controls of a synthesizer are the number of envelopes you create, and then you can modify the parameters of each envelope, i.e. attack, decay, sustain and release. There are probably more parameters but it's the core of it.

From that, is there any real difference in the sound from 2 different synthesizers if you configured them with the same parameters ? In the analog and digital cases.

  • 5
    It's a bit like trying to explain the difference between different cars - they all have 3 [or 2] pedals, so what makes them all so different? If you press the accelerator the same on two cars, do they produce the same result? Well, yes; both go faster, but the 3L v6 is going to do it a whole lot differently from the 1.2L straight 4.
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:34
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    What we all had to do in the old days every time a new synth came out - we had to go to the local music shop & try it out. The delivery vector may be different these days, but I'm sure the very act of "trying it out" hasn't changed.
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:36
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    First read at least one introductory tutorial about synthesizers, then spend at least one day creating sounds with at least one synthesizer. A very simple synth is good for you at this point, when you don't know anything yet. Something extremely simple with an Oscillator, a Filter and an Envelope. No presets and ready-made sounds. Mar 5, 2021 at 10:50
  • Are you asking about self-contained hardware or about synth plugins that can be used by a DAW? If you have a DAW, you almost certainly already have access to a bunch of tools that you can use for synthesis. If you start experimenting with those, you'll start to get a feel for how many different ways there are to synthesize sound. This approach also only requires a simple cheap MIDI keyboard to play around with (technically you could also use the keyboard-based MIDI entry or draw on the piano roll directly, but it's a lot easier with a keyboard.)
    – Dan Bryant
    Mar 5, 2021 at 18:42

4 Answers 4


It may be true that every synth is "just some oscillators, filters and envelopes", but like @Tetsujuin said in the comments, that's the same thing with cars, they each have 2 or 3 pedals. So what is different in different synths produced by different companies? The answer is simple: they have different approaches and/or different capabilities.

If you google "digital synths" you can find many articles that show you the latest (and best) digital synths you can buy right now, comparing them and explaining what is different in each one.

Some things that you can see on various digital synths might be unique or at least not found in each one. Some differences that you can see:

  • Different types of oscillators. Not all synths have the same kind of oscillators and with modern technology you can find all types of weird stuff.
  • Different types of keyboards (or a synth with no keyboard at all). Most synths use the typical keys (or mini keys), but synths like Arturia's Microfreak have a touch keyboard, or it is not uncommon for the synth to not have a keyboard at all!
  • Different types of effects. Modern digital synths commonly have various effects you can use. For instance, Korg's Minilogue XD has Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Flanger, Ensemble, Phaser
  • Different types of sizes. Not all synths are the same size. You can find some really small ones, like Korg's Volca FM and some pretty big ones like Waldorf Quantum.
  • Different types of Polyphony. Not all synths are polyphonic, and those that are, are not the same. There are two voices polyphonic, 4 voices, 8 voices, 16 voices.
  • Sequencers. Not all synths have sequencers, and those that do have different types of sequencers. From 8 to 64 steps are the most common ones.
  • Different connectivity. Most synths have line/audio out and headphone out, but many others have more advanced stuff that will help you connect your synth to other synths and/or your computer.Like analogue clock in and out, CV, gate and aux CV outputs, MIDI in/out/thu

And last but not least, the price range. Not everyone can afford a 3.5k $ synth like Dave Smith Instruments' Prophet series. There are more affordable synths, like for instance Arturia's Microfreak is less than 300$ (and a personal favorite).


There are hundreds of models of digital piano, and thousands of models of guitars. Their differences are sometimes subtle, sometimes not, and some differences are more about how you use it than how it sounds. Like a digital piano may have more physical buttons, or rely more on menu diving or obscure sequences of key presses to change parameters, that's a matter of usability. It may or may not have line or MIDI out, which doesn't affect the sound but affects how you can connect it to other things.

Synth models have those differences, but they can also have quite a large difference in sound. See this question, which shows that even something basic like a square wave can be very different from one synth to the next. (Presumably more so with analog synths, but there's nothing stopping a digital synth from doing the same, either to get a distinct sound or to replicate an analog model.) Plus differences of monophonic vs polyphonic (one or several notes at the same time, if several how many) and monotimbral vs multitimbral (one or multiple sounds simultaneously).

The parameters of different synths are rarely the same. Filters are different. Modulation sources and targets are at least as important and can vary a lot, semi- and fully modular synths generally have more options to change the sound by routing signals differently. There are different synthesis mechanisms, subtractive/additive/FM/wavetable/whatnot, they differ in what types of sounds you can make and how easy it is to understand how to get the sound you want.

But it may be true that if you are looking at say two digital subtractive synths in the same price range, there may not be a whole lot of difference in they types of sound they can make, so the decision may hinge on other factors. Try them out in person if possible, or at least check reviews and sound samples on Youtube or similar.


I'll give a very simple answer relating to hardwired (non-modular) analogue and analogue-style synthesizers (which sounds like what you are describing in your question), and focusing on the fundamentals of the synthesizer.

An analogue-style synthesizer usually has oscillators, modulation sources (LFOs and envelopes), and filters.

A more flexible analogue-style synthesizer has

  • more oscillators
  • more types of oscillators
  • more filters
  • more types of filters
  • more LFOs and envelopes
  • more types of LFOs and envelopes
  • more signal routing options
  • more modulation routing options

Having more options mean that you can set up sounds that just aren't possible on a simpler synth.

Is there any real difference in the sound from 2 different synthesizers if you configured them with the same parameters ?

Yes and no. If two synthesizers both have enough features to create a patch, then it should be possible to get it sounding similar on two different synths. But oscillators, filters, LFOs, and envelopes in different synthesizers work differently/sound different, so all synths will sound a little bit different.

If you want to understand deeply how the facilities on a synth relate to the sounds it can make, I highly recommend reading https://www.soundonsound.com/series/synth-secrets/


Almost every synth has been marketed with some version of 'The only limit is your imagination!' and the implication that any musical instrument could be perfectly imitated. They were all lying.

If you were looking for an ANALOGUE synth, the classic Mini-Moog architecture of two oscillators, a filter, ADSR etc. (or a digital imitation of such) yes, they'll all sound broadly the same. In the same way as a grand piano, a honky-tonk upright and a harpsichord all sound broadly the same.

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