Best synths of 2020
2020 was a difficult year, but it also blessed us with some outstanding new studio equipment releases. As we prepare for 2021, we take a look back at some of the best releases of the last 12 months, picking out our favourites.
Third place: Pittsburgh Modular SV-1b
An updated take on the SV-1 and SV-1 Blackbox, the SV-1b is Pittsburgh Modular’s definitive take on East Coast semi-modular synthesis, combining 12 modular sections into a compact desktop synth format. It’s a powerful, punchy synth before you even start patching, but exploring the extensive patching options is when things really get interesting. One small box that packs a lot of potential. If you asked us to recommend the best route into (semi-)modular synthesis, this would be a strong contender.
Runner-up: Buchla Easel Command
What more is there to say about Buchla? The latest incarnation of the legendary Music Easel format is a unique instrument that reflects the personality and philosophy of Don Buchla, one of the true geniuses of synth history. It’s a synth that inspires a different way of making music, unlike anything else you’ll play. That might manifest itself as acid-dipped ambient explorations, it might be as experimental techno, or it might just lead to a few glorious lost hours of noodling. The Easel Command is special. It’s not cheap, but try one and there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked.
Winner: Modal Argon8
Modal’s Argon8 bucked all the trends of recent years. It’s not inspired by a particular vintage synth, it’s not modular and it’s not even analogue. Instead, it’s a showcase of the power of wavetables and virtual analogue, synthesis approaches that have become strangely underrated in a way. The Argon8 is built like a tank and features a high-quality, full-sized keybed. It’s a proper all-rounder with extensive modulation options, eight-voice polyphony, a sequencer, effects and all the bells and whistles. But the reason we like it so much isn’t anything to do with specs. Instead, it’s the simple fact that it sounds incredible.