Here’s a guide of what I feel are the ten most influential and important synthesizers in music history (in chronological order). While I do not necessarily endorse these particular synths, they undoubtedly left a lasting impact in the synthesizer industry.
- Moog MiniMoog (1970): The one that started them all. Although not exactly a super-affordable synth, the MiniMoog put throbbing bass, screaming melodies, and fancy SFX in a keyboard players hands. Sitting in a nice wooden case with a foldable lid (a design that never seemed to catch on), it frequently went out of tune, and didn’t have patch storage, or a dedicated LFO – but who cares; we were all over the moon back then weren’t we?
- ARP Odyssey (1972): The controversial rival to the MiniMoog, controversial of course because it stole the original 4-pole Moog filter design, the ARP engineers soon completed work on their own 2-pole filter, and, combined with a duophonic ability the Odyssey gave players an alternative synth which stayed in tune for the duration of a concert.
- Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 (1978): Dave Smith and his friends at Sequential Circuits first found success with this beast – the Prophet 5. Originally called the Prophet 10 when they were making them out of their garage, they were prone to overheating, and therefore decided the sensible thing to do was to chop the voices in half. This was really something special though, as the microprocessor controlled keyboard allowed patch storage as well as excellent programmability, and who could resist that beautiful Koa wood? The Prophet eventually went to be a winner, going through 3 major revisions before production ceased in 1984.
- Roland Jupiter-8 (1981): One of the first synths to not only have digital patch storage but also splitting and layering across the keyboard, as well as an arpeggiator. The sound was key though, as Roland made a staggeringly pleasant on the ears analog signal path, with a knob-laden interface for easy programming. The oscillators and filters just scream buy me, although the price tag wasn’t quite the same.
- Yamaha DX-7 (1983): Polyphony, a good keybed, a cheap price, and unique realistic sounds for the first time was too much for every 80s pop star producer to resist, as Yamaha’s DX-7 synthesizer showed what could be achieved with their newly utilised Frequency Modulation synthesis. Admittedly, very few ever figured out how to program it, and FM synthesis hasn’t ever reached those heady heights since, but it spawned the rest of the DX series and made way for other new synthesis types to be publicly accepted.