Top 10 Desktop Hardware Synths For Trance Producers

If you've been feeling like VSTs aren't quite cutting it for achieving the sounds you want for your Trance productions, or just want a slightly different sound than everyone else, here's a list of the 10 best desktop synths for the genre. This list contains mixed Virtual Analog, Digital, and Analog synths. The ranking is in no particular order, but you can listen to the soundset samples of each by various 3rd party studios, to decide which sound suits your tracks the best.

 

1. Roland JP8080

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The original Trance synth (along with its sibling, the JP8000). Made famous for its signature SuperSaw sound, it first came to prominence following the release of Rank 1’s iconic classic “Airwave”. Subsequently used by nearly every major Trance artist for pads, leads, and occasionally, basses. Nearly all the controls are laid out on the front panel, making this a very easy to use, friendly synth for the novice hardware user.

Polyphony - 10 voices

Oscillators - 2 Roland Analog Modeling DSP oscillators: Saw, Square (PWM), Triangle (PWM), Super Saw (7 de-tuned Saws), Triangle Mod, Feedback OSC

Filter - Resonant 12/24dB/oct low/band/hi pass, 12-band formant filter bank

Effects - 3 onboard effects: Delay; Multi-FX including Chorus, Flanger, Distortion and Tone control

Memory - 384 preset and 128 user patches; 192 preset and 64 user performance

Arpeg/Seq - Onboard Arpeggiator and real-time Phrase Sequencing (RPS) capability

Keyboard - None

Control - MIDI (2 parts)

Date Produced - 1998

 

 

2. Access Virus TI2

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Another legendary Trance synth, as much an icon of the genre as the JP80x0. The TI series expanded on the older Virus models with improved DSPs, higher polyphony, added effects, more complex routing options, and more effects. Useful for virtually any genre, and can be used to produce almost 100% of a track, it’s a true studio workhorse. And with an abundance of knobs and front panel controls, it’s easy to use and fun to sculpt sounds with. The TI2 boasts an additional 25% processing power over the first TI, making it extremely useful for long, complex pads, and sounds no other hardware synth can achieve.

Polyphony - Over 90 voices

Multitimbral - 16 parts

Oscillators - 3 osc + subosc + noise, FM, Sync

Waveforms - Sine / pulse / saw / h9persaw / wavetable / granular / formant

Filter - dual LP/HP/BP/BR with envelopes and addtional multi-pole analog emulations (includes Minimoog 4-pole emulation)

LFO - 3 LFOs, multiple options plus mod matrix 18 slots

Envelope - Amp / Filter / 'LFO as envelope' option

Sequencer - none onboard

Arpeggiator - Up / Down / Random / Chord / Multiple additions, editable in software to any variation

Effects - Reverbs, Delays, EQs with Q and freq control, Tape Delays, Distortions (multiple), Phasers, Flangers, Chorus, Analog EQs, Vocoder.

Memory - 128 patches in each of 30 banks plus USB storage / Librarian with additional free patchbanks provided regularly by Access

Control - MIDI, USB, 16-part multitimbral in Multi or sequencer modes

Date Produced -
Virus TI series: 2005
Virus TI2 series: 2009

 

3. Waldorf Q

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Another amazing VA full of character. It’s a classic you hear in abundance in DuMonde and Ace Da Brain records, and its unique Waldorf Sound makes it distinct from the Virus and JP synths most commonly used, and its polyphony and tone make it great for bright pads, sharp leads, and punchy basses.

Polyphony - 16 to 32 voices

Oscillators - 3 per voice (sawtooth, triangle, sine, PWM, new oscillator algorithms, waves and a noise generator)

Memory - 300 single programs, 100 multi programs

Filter - 2 12dB/24dB Filters (Low pass, band pass, hi pass, notch, comb, ring mod and more; FM and distortion)

VCA - 4 envelopes (ADSR with loop and one shot function, bipolar)

Arpeg/Seq - Arpeggiator: Many user patterns (accents, timing, swing, glide, chords and more); Sequencer: 100 user patterns; 32 steps per pattern, polyphonic

Control - MIDI (16 parts), CV

Date Produced - 1999

 

 

4. Access Virus C

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The 3rd iteration of the Virus series. Where the TI series has HyperSaws, and higher polyphony, this has (according to users) a slightly fatter and heavier low end, making it ideal for basses, and thick pads demanding more low frequency content. It was commonly used in Psytrance between 2002-2005, and you can hear it in the basslines and acid squelches of the genre during that period.

Polyphony - 32 voices

Oscillators - 3 Osc per voice plus 1 Sub-Osc: Sawtooth, variable pulse, sine, triangle, oscillator sync. 5 FM Modes: 64 digital FM spectral waveforms.

LFO - 3 LFOs with 68 waveforms

Filter - 2 independent resonant filters; lowpass, hipass, bandpass, band reject, parallel, split & 2 serial modes with up to 36dB/voice (6-poles), overdrive/saturation.

VCA - 2 ADSTR envelopes

ModMatrix - 6 Sources, 9 Destinations

Effects - 98 simultaneous effects: 16 Phasers, 16 Choruses, 16 Distortions, 16 Ring Modulators, 16 Parametric EQs, Delay, 32-Band Vocoder, Surround Sound.

Memory - 1024 programs (256 User / 768 ROM / 128 Multi)

Control - MIDI (16 multitimbral parts)

Date Produced - 2002

 

 

5. Moog Slim Phatty

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When it comes to Trance, Analog Monosynths rarely take center stage. The lack of polyphony, and the tone drift can make using them difficult, and when they have Mono out instead of Stereo out, that makes using them for wide leads nearly impossible.
That said, the Slim Phatty, being compact AND the last synthesizer the founder Bob Moog designed, has that classic, magic Moog sound, and its true analog oscillators and filters make it fantastic for super fat, intense basses with just enough unpredictability to make it endlessly useful for unique, distinctive basses that cut through in a mix and add more character than any sterile vst or sample. Almost no one in the Trance world is using them, either, which gives you an extra reason to pick one up.

Polyphony - Monophonic

Multitimbral - No

Oscillators - 2 VCOs, both 16', 8', 4', 2'

Waveforms - Continuously variable: triangle through saw and square to narrow pulse.

LFO - LFO with triangle, square, sawtooth, ramp

Modulation - Mod Source: LFO, Filt. EGR or Sample and Hold, and Osc. 2 or Noise. Mod Destination: Pitch, Osc. 2, Filter, Wave.

Filter - 1 Low Pass VCF: 24dB/Oct Moog Ladder with overload and ADSR.

Envelope - 1 Volume amp with ASDR

Effects - None

Sequencer - None

Arpeggiator - Up, down, ordered. MIDI-syncable

Keyboard - None

Memory - 100 presets, all can be overwritten by user

Control - MIDI In/Out/Thru; USB; and CV: Pitch CV In (1 V/Oct) Filter CV In Volume CV In Keyboard Gate In

Weight - 5.75 Lbs (2.6 kg)

Date Produced - 2011

 

 

6. Waldorf XT

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Another underutilized legend. The XT was Waldorf’s wavetable synth, in a Halloween color scheme (for some reason), and when it came to evolving sounds, cutting leads, and exciting soundscapes, it was king. While not as well-known or used as its cousin the Q, it was an excellent synth, and makes a worthy addition to any studio.

Polyphony - 10 voice (expandable to 30)

Oscillators - 2 oscillators per voice of DSP wavetable synthesis; 1 Ring Mod; 1 Noise Source

Memory - 256 internal patches, 64 external card

Filter - 6/12/24 LP/HP, FM Filter, Sin (x)-LP, Dbl LP/HP, 24/12 BP, Band Stop, Waveshaper

VCA - 1 VCA, VCA ADSR, 1 Free Envelope

LFO - 2 LFO's, sine, tri, square, random, S&H

Effects - Chorus, Flanger 1 & 2, Autowah BP, Autowah LP, Overdrive, Delay, Amp Mod

Keyboard - none

Arpeg/Seq - 16 steps, 128 patterns

Control - MIDI (8-parts)

Date Produced - 1998

 

 

7. Clavia Nord Lead 2X

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An icon of Trance, the Nord Lead 2X (and the 2) really stands alone. The unique Nord Sound made it a feature in countless tunes throughout the 90s and early 2000s, featuring in tracks by San Van Doorn and Protonica, and other Nord synths appeared in E-Type’s, Armin van Buuren’s, The Thrillseekers, and numerous other big artist’s songs.

Polyphony - 20 Voices

Oscillators - 2 VSM oscillators: sine, triangle, sawtooth, pulse and noise

LFO - 2 LFO's (triangle, sawtooth, random) control OSC 1 or 2, filter, pulse-width, ADSR envelope

Filter - 12 dB/oct 2-pole lowpass, 24dB/oct 4-pole lowpass / bandpass / highpass (both with cutoff, resonance, env amount, env velocity, key tracking, ADSR envelope)

VCA - ADSR envelope and Amplifier Gain control

Keyboard - 49 keys (velocity sensitive)

Memory - 99 patches (59 preset, 40 user), 99 performances, 10 drum kits

Control - MIDI (4 parts), and all knobs and controls are MIDI!

Date Produced - 2003

 

8. Waldorf Blofeld

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Perhaps one of the rare synths deserving of the title Most Obscure Modern Classic. Well-beloved in sound designer circles, it’s a descendent of the Waldorf Q, Micro Q, XT, and Microwave series (and includes a number of their wavetables and filters), it is easily one of the most versatile synths on the market. What it lacks in user-friendliness and front panel accessibility, it makes up for in creating clean, fat plucks, basses, evolving pads and soundscapes, and gnarly basses. Users can upload their own wavetables into the synth, and with 25 voices of polyphony (not fixed, though), it works well in Trance. And hardly anyone in the Trance world is using it, so it’s perfect for creating sounds no one else is making.

Polyphony - 25 voices maximum (Poly, Mono, Dual or Unison modes)

Multitimbral - 16 parts

Sampler - 44.1kHz mono with 60 Mb RAM

Oscillators - 3 oscillators per voice (128' to 1/2') plus noise, frequency modulation, ring modulation

Waveforms - All Q Oscillator models: sine, saw, triangle, square with PWM; 68 digital 16-bit wavetables from Microwave II/XT/XTK

LFO - 3 LFOs per voice with square, sine, saw, triangle, S&H, random with delay and fade in/out

Modulation - Modulation Matrix with 16 Slots, freely programmable

Filter - 2 independent Multi Mode Filters per voice: Low pass, High pass, Band pass, Notch, Comb; 12 or 24 dB/oct modes

Envelope - 4 Envelopes per voice, ADSR, AD1S1D2S2R, One Shot, Loopable

Effects - 2 Effect units with Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Overdrive, Decimator, Delay, Reverb

Vocoder - None

Sequencer - None

Arpeggiator - Programmable, 16 steps, Up, Down, Alt Up, Alt Down, Random

Memory - 1,024 sounds, 128 multi sets

Control - MIDI IN (plus OUT on Keyboard), USB

Date Produced -
Blofeld Desktop: December 200

 

9. Novation Supernova

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Another piece of Trance history, the Supernova is one of those synths you hear everywhere, but might not immediately recognize. It’s versatile, flexible, and lacks a singular character just enough that when you use it, people in the know won’t groan and go “Guuh, they used a _”. You CAN hear it in tracks by ATB, and Ace Da Brain.

Polyphony - SuperNova: 20 voices, expandable to 32

SuperNova II: 24-, 36-, 48-voice models plus additional 12- or 24-voice expansion boards

Oscillators - 3 (sqaure, saw, variable width pulse) and noise

LFO - 2 with control of VCA, VCF & pitch; saw, square, tri, sample/hold

Filter - Hi/Low/Band pass, 12/18/24 dB/oct ranges, resonant self-oscillating filter with overdrive

Effects - Distortion, reverb, chorus, flange, phaser, delay, pan, tremolo, 2-band EQ, comb filtering

Memory - 512 expandable to 1,024 patches; 256 performances

Control - MIDI (8 parts)

Date Produced - 1998 - 2000

 

10. Clavia Nord Lead 3

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Another classic, that you can’t pass up. It sounds different from other Nords, which you may or may not like, but it has higher polyphony and an expanded oscillator section relative to the others, which makes it even more useful for fat leads and wide pads.

Polyphony - 24 voices

Oscillators - 2 oscillator groups each with Six waveforms: sine, saw, triangle, square (pulse with width modulation), noise, synced noise, dual sine; 2- and 4-op FM and differential FM; osc-sync; ring-modulation; variable unison.

LFO - 2 per voice, syncable to MIDI. Triangle, saw, square, smooth and stepped random, and triple-peak sine waveforms. Seperate vibrato effect.

Filter - 2 multi-mode filters (series or parallel). Lowpass, Bandpass, Highpass, LP-HP, LP-LP and Classic mode. 1-, 2-, or 4-pole.

VCA - ADSR envelopes for amplitude and filter; Amplifier Gain control

Memory - 1,024 patches, 256 performances

Control - MIDI IN/OUT/THRU (4-parts)

Date Produced - 2001

 

Dawnchaser is a Skagit-based electronic music producer, mountaineer, documenter of all things adventure, mountain, and travel-related, and manager of Kulshan Recordings. If he’s not in the studio writing music about adventures, he’s out on one.

Dave Andersson