Mixdown's 2018 Christmas Gift Guide: Keys & Synths

Deck the Halls

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The nights are getting warmer, Michael Buble is hitting the charts, and musicians are bracing themselves for a month of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ covers. With Christmas almost upon us, it’s time to start searching stores for the ultimate present to give, which isn’t always an easy task. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with our Christmas Gift Guide to help you find the perfect gift for the musicians in your life.

Moog Drummer From Another Mother (DFAM)


 

Distributed by: Innovative Music
Expect to Pay: $999

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the ideal addition to any synth setup where drums are often left out and the perfect gift for your techno-loving loved one.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

There really is no doubting the sound of any instrument produced by Moog. You know from the outset it is going to sound full and rich, and these drum tones are no different. The analogue grittiness and classic Moog filtering creates lively percussion sounds with plenty of dynamic range.

 

USABILITY:  

This may not be the best idea for a beginner in the synth world, but it is a great tool to learn on once you delve into it. The semi-modular design allows you to let your creativity go and push the boundaries of what a drum machine is supposed to achieve. This also makes it ideal for integration with other analogue instruments too.

 

CONSTRUCTION:  

It’s a Moog, so you know it’s going to be built to an amazing standard. Sturdy switches and rugged pots are all housed in a solid chassis, with classic wooden end blocks holding it all together.

 

OVERALL:

The Drummer From Another Mother is possibly the coolest drum machine released in the past decade. There is not a single electronic musician out there that wouldn’t love to find this under the tree at Christmas.

 

Moog Grandmother Synth

Distributed by: Innovative Music
Expect to Pay: $1599

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

If you’re a synth buff, you need this in your collection. If you’re a bass player, you’ll want this for versatility. If you play anything else, you won't want to be left out from having the coolest synth of 2018.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Built on the sound engine of the Moog Mother, the Grandmother offers a compact keyboard version with all the retro chic you’d expect from these guys. The two oscillators, all-analogue sound is classic Moog, while those inimitable filters and spring reverb deliver an organic feel to the sound.

 

USABILITY:

It’s a simple layout, with everything just where you’d expect it to be. If simple isn’t your game, you can patch in and out of just about every function and twist the sound to your liking, thanks to the semi-modular design.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The Grandmother has classically large knobs on sturdy pots that feel like they'll respond accurately for decades. The switches all have a nice stiff snap to them, and the casing is plenty tough, just as you’d expect.

 

OVERALL:

Tough. Compact. Colourful. Moog. This topped my list of must-have synths this year and looks to remain the leader going into 2019. The Grandmother oozes cool and backs it up with a sound to match.

 

Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900

Distributed by: Innovative Music
Expect to Pay: $1049

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

If you’re looking for a new flavour to spice up your synth arsenal, this might just be it. For serious synth-nerds out there, the Microvolt 3900 offers a different approach to creating a sound.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

With a special focus on how the VCA behaves, the Microvolt 3900 offers rich and totally organic sounds. This brings a new level of liveliness to the synth engine and achieves a vibrant response from the control source.

 

USABILITY:

This isn’t really a beginners’ synth in many ways, being a fairly advanced design and build. Yet it does have a fluid and tactile control surface that encourages experimenting, so it doesn’t take long for even a beginner to have fun with this synth.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

There’s no question about the quality. The Microvolt 3900 is built really well. The compact faders slide into position with joy and the 39-point modular patch bay is beautifully crafted, with a hand-built feel to the construction.

 

OVERALL:

I really like the way this synth uses additive and subtractive synthesis together for a new twist on sound design. It’s a great addition to any modular setup too, as you can jump in and out of the patch bay for even broader results.

 

Teenage Engineering OP-Z


 

Distributed by: Innovative Music
Expect to Pay: $999

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

The perfect expansion to any retro collector’s synth bundle, with a modern twist. This is ideal for anyone looking for fun music creation, funky synthesis and recording in a portable hardware device.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

This instrument has so much going on, it would be hard not to find a sound you liked. There’s plenty of vintage gaming sounds, modern synth pads and percussion. It’s got the lot, with a sequencer to tie it all together.

 

USABILITY:

It will take most users a little while to grasp the concept and get used to the very different hardware interface proposed by the OP-Z, but when it makes sense, you can work quickly and efficiently to create your music. The introduction of an iOS app allows for the addition of a large screen, making managing workflow even easier.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

While it may look a little like a toy, the OP-Z is built really well. The unit is housed in an injection moulded glass fibre casing, with specially designed components to remain slim and sleek.

 

OVERALL:

The OP-Z is cool. Let’s face it, it may be a little gimmicky, but it’s still  sounds incredible. If you heard it first before seeing the hardware, you would be very surprised. Even now, I am still surprised with what it can deliver.

 

Teenage Engineering PO-35 Speak


 

Distributed by: Innovative Music
Expect to Pay: $149

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This funky little device is the perfect gift for the musician who has everything. It’s also ideal for anyone who just wants to have fun with their voice and make some cool music in the process.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Like all other units in the Pocket Operator series, the PO-35 is a real surprise package. The built-in microphone allows you to record your voice and start manipulating it with eight different voice characters and effect.

 

USABILITY:

With the all-in-one approach that is so often applied in Teenage Engineering products, you can have fun and create cool music with just this one simple device. It can, of course, be chained up with other Pocket Operators for an even bigger sound.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

There’s a certain retro-chic thing going on with the unfinished circuit boards delivered with your Pocket Operator. They are a little fragile, but remain very well constructed for something that comes without an outer casing.

 

OVERALL:

This little device is a whole lot of fun, and yet it still manages to deliver a really big sound when you run the headphone output into a PA system. Don’t be fooled just because it looks like a broken calculator; these things are the real deal.

 

IK Multimedia UNO Synth


 

Distributed by: Sound & Music
Expect to Pay: $389

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is a really cool addition to any electronic music setup. Plus, it makes an ideal travel companion for the synth nerd who needs to make music while on the road.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Don’t let the device's size or simple looks fool you. The UNO Synth is capable of generating some really massive tones. It’s a true analogue synth, with a front panel more akin to some of the digital synths of the ‘90s.

 

USABILITY:

There’s plenty going on with this synth and while it doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of control, there is more than meets the eye. You just have to dig a little deeper into the limited controls to make the most of its capabilities.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

For such a compact, lightweight synthesiser, the UNO Synth is still housed in a sturdy box that feels really solid. IK Multimedia always ensures their devices are well constructed.

 

OVERALL:

I love it. Packing a built-in sequencer and keyboard for use on its own along with plenty of rich, classic and modern sounds, the UNO Synth will challenge the way you think about analogue synthesisers from here on out.

 

Nektar Impact GX49 MIDI Keyboard


 

Distributed by: Sound & Music
Expect to Pay: $169

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

The simple solution for anyone needing a MIDI keyboard for use in a home studio or in a live setup when space is at a premium. The Nektar GX49 is the perfect first keyboard for anyone wanting to start producing electronic music.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Despite not offering any sound of its own, the GX49 can deliver any sound your software has on offer. The 49 keys give you plenty of range for the size, but can also be shifted up and down to reach the missing notes if needed.

 

USABILITY:

A simple design with pitch bend and modulation wheels, complemented by a selection of transport controls, makes this unit really easy to use. Setup is complete in a moment, with USB bus power coming from the computer along with all MIDI data.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

With built-in plastic housing to keep cost and weight down, these keyboards still have a fully closed key design that feels nice to play. The keyboard might be simple, but it's not a toy either.

 

OVERALL:

This is a great keyboard option for anyone starting out in computer music. You don’t need a separate power source; MIDI data is transferred via the USB cable, while setup is really easy.

 

Yamaha PSR-E363 Keyboard

Distributed by: Yamaha Music Australia
Expect to Pay: $319.99

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the ideal keyboard for beginners who are looking for an improved sound, touch responsive keys, and that great Yamaha piano sound along with plenty of other voices, styles and songs.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Being the latest in this range of PSR keyboards from Yamaha, with the regular updates they get, you can be certain the sounds are up to date and the best they have available. With a new version released every few years, the sounds just continue to get better.

 

USABILITY:

With plenty of sounds and options, this is still a very easy keyboard to navigate. The built-in teaching function shows which notes are to be played for each song on the screen and can even hold off playback until the correct note is played, making it an ideal learning tool when a teacher is not present.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

There is never a need to be concerned with Yamaha build quality. It is always exceptional and from my experience with these keyboards, there simply aren’t any issues. I still own a fully operating PSR keyboard from about thirty years ago.

 

OVERALL:

The PSR keyboards, especially the PSR-E363, represent great value for both the beginner and intermediate keyboard player. With plenty of functions, including app-based extensions and USB connectivity, this is the best way to get someone started in the keyboard world.

 

Mixdown's Christmas Gift Guide 

Amps

Assorted Gear

Drums 

Guitars 

Headphones

Microphones

Pedals

Studio Gear

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