Despite the huge number of software synths available, there is still a massive market for more expensive hardware synths. This is in part due to the gratification of instant feedback when tweaking knobs and sliders, along with circuitry and operating systems that have been optimised for a single job. It ’s much easier to get lost while sound-designing using a piece of hardware, as you’re not so easily distracted by other effects and plug-ins, and touching controls directly feels much more intuitive than using a mouse to fine-tune parameters. You may also be buying a hardware synth for its analogue circuitry – something that can’t quite be matched by software – or simply to integrate a quality keyboard into your studio and live setup.

This is one of the first things you need to consider when choosing a hardware synth: do you already have a controller keyboard that you intend to use with your new synth module, or do you require a built-in keyboard? Many synths come in both rackmount and keyboard formats, and although you may not think you need keys, having a self-contained unit can make things much easier when performing live. It also means you don’t have to go via a computer to use the synth if your controller has only a USB connection. That said, many of the keyboard-less units have a small footprint, so if space is an issue, this may be the way to go. The other thing to consider is whether you want a polyphonic workstation or just a stripped-back, monophonic analogue monster. And you might consider building your own modular system from individual units, but don’t blame us if you have to eat rice for a year to afford it! Finally, you’ll note the lack of a Nord Lead in our top 10. This is because the 3 has recently been superseded by the 4, which we’ll be reviewing next issue.


MiniNova is designed for use both in the studio and on stage, with the sound engine of the Ultranova but in a smaller, lighter form. The 37 keys are bit too small for chord work, but there are plenty of controls for tweaking, plus an arpeggiator and a Chord mode. Other features include the ability to route external audio through the effects section, a mic input for use with the synth’s vocoder and VocalTune functions, and an excellent Animate mode in which snapshots of a preset can be triggered by hitting one of the eight pads. The MiniNova is a superb-sounding synth that has the bonus of coming with a software editor that can run inside your DAW. Also worth noting is that MiniNova and Ultranova owners can currently download a Supernova sound pack for free.

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