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I have been looking into hardware synthesizers a lot, but have no where NEAR enough money to buy the MIDI to CV (already have a MIDI keyboard I got a while back ago), VCO, VCF/VCA, and then stuff for my own effects (like mixers, delay, reverb, echo, sequencers, etc.). Can someone give me (and I don't mean as an opinion, I want minimal or better to make SOME sound but cheaply) some pointers to cheap, functional synth modules I can purchase?

Also, I would be glad if someone commented some links to schematics for DIY synths (already found some VERY minimal oscillators online, but nothing more) as I am into electronics and would be glad to do it myself, also.

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    Anything against softsynths? They can be had as cheaply as possible, i.e., for free, if you take a bit of time with something like PureData or CSound. (I'm leaving aside VSTs and just talking about programmes with which you can muck about at a fairly low level without having to code oscillators, etc.) Then all you need is a MIDI port for your system (if you haven't already got one), and those are cheaper than any DIY analogue synth. If that doesn't suit, what is your budget? – user16935 Feb 2 '15 at 6:01
  • Can you re-word this so it's more on-topic? If you can take out asking for specific products and perhaps ask where to look to get started in hardware synthesizers? – Todd Wilcox Jul 7 '16 at 13:47
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Don't think of it as "I already have the keyboard", because you'll be reducing your options. The big majority of synths come with keyboard, and few have a keyboardless model. I'll include keyboardless models here, but don't get too fixated, you might find another option to be better.

First note that you don't need a MIDI to CV module to control hardware synths, since most are MIDI compatible. Only specific modular systems need MIDI to CV conversion, but if you don't have the money for a MIDI to CV module chances are that you don't have the money for the full modular system. The Portable-11 from synthesizers.com, for example, is at 1,700 USD, and I think it's the cheapest good quality modular you can get (it includes the MIDI to CV convertor). The MIDI to CV alone is around 260 USD.

But you don't have to go modular. There are many non-modular analog synthesizers out there that are MIDI compatible. We can look at some quality budget models like:

Polyphony is not common in analog synths, and when found it is very limited and probably expensive. The timbre wolf above has 4 voice polyphony, the other are monophonic.

If you want more polyphony, and other extras, you want to check virtual analog synths, which are digital and emulate the analog quality. The cheapest quality options are:

Virtual analog synths often include extras like effects, sequencers, vocoder, more oscillators, more modulators and modulation capabilities, more polyphony and voices, etc. They might not be able to perfectly emulate some analog dynamics though (filters can sound very different). So, if you are going for a very specific analog sound, make sure that specific model of virtual analog synth can produce it before buying it.

In general, it's a good idea to test and listen to the synth and make sure you love its sound before buying it.

And regarding schematics, if you want to go the DIY route, you should take a look at this book:

It is very accessible and easy to follow, teaches you to build a basic subtractive synth: LFO, VCA, VCF, VCO, LFO, etc. It should be the less expensive option, if you can get a good price for the components, but it's also the less flexible model. The experience of building one is more than worth it if you are into this kind of stuff.

You might also want to consider going software synth. There are many excellent software synths and synthesis environments, including virtual analog software synths, many of which are free. Can't get cheaper than that!

You already have a MIDI keyboard, you already have a computer, so you are already good to go. You can buy a MIDI control surface to control the synth, if mouse and keyboard is not your thing.

There are countless software synths out there, this should be a good starting point:

  • I do like software to make music, but my nerdy, electronic-tinkering-loving self loves hardware and has decided to build his own. It is WAY cheaper, and I learn more and have some fun while building them. – Cello Coder Feb 3 '15 at 23:43
  • @CelloCoder It's a very good idea, you'll learn a lot about synthesis, in a depth that is not possible in other way. Who knows, maybe you become the next Moog! – ByBw Feb 4 '15 at 0:44
  • I think I will buy that Make book soon, and your answer told me the most and helped me with different options. Thanks! – Cello Coder Feb 10 '15 at 3:18
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It's probably hard to get anything cheaper than the Korg Monotron series. The Korg Monotribe is a bit more expensive, but is more full featured. Does not come store equipped with MIDI, but is prepared internally and can be modded for MIDI.

  • What I mean, though, is I already have a MIDI keyboard but I want to find cheap yet functional modules that I can patch together. I want to at least be able to build a basic patch that makes some noise when I press a key...even if it is monophonic (as long as I don't spend so much I wish I would have made it polyphonic). I am thinking about just building my own synths from scratch with electronics. – Cello Coder Feb 3 '15 at 3:06
  • @CelloCoder: For this setting, your option from my answer is modding the Monotribe. – Meaningful Username Feb 3 '15 at 8:01
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Try searching for CGS Synth (Ken Stone's modular synthesizer), Music From Outer Space (Ray Wilson) and general searches like "Modular Synth DIY" for schematics.

Note, I think a MIDI to CV unit might be quite a difficult project - though note I've never built one.

  • I was thinking the same of the MIDI to CV. I already saw CGS Synth, and am getting ready to order the parts I don't already have (Like certain chips, certain capacitors I may not have, PCBs, etc.). I may have to buy a MIDI to CV, though. – Cello Coder Feb 3 '15 at 23:41
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Another neat little option if you already have the midi controller is the MeeBlip anode. It is open source hardware, too, so you could (in theory) just get the schematics and build it yourself. It's monophonic and super basic, but is tiny and fun.

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Here you can find some from my collection of modules schematics: https://ru.pinterest.com/deliandiver/all-about-modular-synth-schematics/

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