Discover the best hardware experimental Synthesizer releases of 2021 including modularity in the box, multi-engine synths, and more.
The year is drawing to a close. Less than 6 hours (EU), then we welcome the year 2022. A perfect moment to look back on the small Synthesizer manufactures who have created and released special and unusual instruments. Developments that look beyond the boundaries of classic subtractive synthesis and offers musicians new ways of generating sound. Electronic instruments that represents a niche in the Synthesizer niche.
My best hardware experimental Synthesizer releases 2021 list is about products that have already been releases. No matter whether in a single, first batch or in larger quantities.
As in the list last year (2020), the ranking of manufacturers and devices means nothing of relevance. A product that is above is no better or worse than a below. The list is personal too and relates to my highlights in 2021. Everyone has of course their own favorites here. I hope my choice also suits your taste.
Menq Qi Wingie
Something cute and small for the little budget for the beginning of the best hardware experimental Synthesizer releases 2021. The Chinese developer Meng Qi made it onto the list last year with his Wing Pinger, a Synthesizer that uses self-oscillating filters to create unique sounds ranging from organic, soft up to rhythmic chaotic.
This year he released Wingie, a handheld stereo resonator with a built-in microphone that outputs lovely, rich harmonic sounds. It’s not just a USB-powered resonator for your pocket, it’s also a fully-customizable development board for those who want to go deeper.
Percussive, organic elements that vibrate with the environment or drones that arise through acoustic feedback loops, Wingie is small but is capable of creating wide range of unusual sounds.
Wingie is out now for 109€. Full article release
Erica Synths Matrix Mixer
The EMS VCS 3 pin matrix is considered to be the forerunner of today’s modulation matrices. Well implemented, the concept gives every Synthesizer dozens of other sound layers. Erica Synths has revived the legendary VCS 3 pin matrix in a storable digital form in their SYNTRX Synthesizer who made it onto the list of the best last year.
In 2021, they pulled the mod matrix from the SYNTRX as a standalone recallable 16×16 matrix mixer for audio and CV signals.
The Erica Synths Matrix Mixer is not a Synthesizer per se but a box that can inject the experimental spirit into any analog synth with audio and CV options. It is your control center that stands by your side on your wild, crazy sound journey. More it is the bridge to the fascinating, undiscovered world of sound.
And with the storability, your journey through sparkling, evolving sounds can be called up and reconstructed over and over again.
Befaco Rebel Tech Witch
Back to the synths and to another small, compact instrument who made into the list. The young Barcelona-based developer company Befaco recently teamed up with Martin Klang of Rebel Technology. In close cooperation, they developed improved versions of his unique modules as well as a super interesting desktop synth.
Witch is a compact, digital polyphonic MPE Synthesizer and effects processor powered by the programmable open-source OWL engine. Witch is delivered with four unique synth engines. Only a foretaste of what is possible with synth sorceress. Users can exchange the algorithms at will. A constantly growing library of many different programs is available on the Rebel Tech website.
From bizarre synth voices where the harmonics fly around, rich drone machines to experimental effect processors with granularization and spectral processing… Witch is a cute multi-talent. And with its five rotary encoders, it offers hands-on control and thanks to rich amount of audio/ CV inputs and outputs, you can seamlessly integrated in your existing setup.
If that’s not enough, users can program their own patches using any of the supported DSP languages including Pure Data, Max gen~, SOUL, Faust, Maximilian and C++. Friends of sound and audio coding will have a lot of fun here. Lich is its modular brother and expands your Eurorack system with many unusual processors.
Befaco Rebel Tech Witch is available for 300 €, a DIY version for soldering is available for 205 €. Full article release
Soma Labs ENNER
Experimental synthesizers have a difficult time in the scene. Often because they pursue ideas that are completely different and often lack the power to market the device on a large scale.
Vlad Kreimer and his team from Soma Laboratory (Soma Labs) with its lovely, experimental instruments and effects is one of the few who managed to appeal to the masses. Often so popular that there are long waiting lists for new products. This year, they released ENNER, an utterly unique, analog Synthesizer that creates and outputs sounds in relationship with the human body.
ENNER is a very complex Synthesizer that uses a modular-style engine with 7 different parts with internal inputs and outputs. Including a synth with 5 voices, field of stereo filters, modulated stereo delay, and more. By pressing on the sensors you become part of the circuit and depending on how you touch the elements, with less or more pressure, the synth will output different timbres.
It also has a built-in piezo pickup that captures the sound from the case itself like clicks, scratches with your fingers or even from the front panel metallic spring. ENNER is capable of generating bits, pads, FX, noises, clicks, glitches, and more.
A very innovative, fascinating Synthesizer that not only challenges every electronic sound artist, but also classical educated musicians.
Soma Labs ENNER is available now for around 530€. Full article here
Arturia MicroFreak Updates
Arturia MicroFreak, oh? No, I wasn’t wrong in the year. The MicroFreak is one of the most commercially successful, modern digital synthesizers with an experimental touch. The budget-friendly multi-engine hit made it onto the best hardware experimental Synthesizer releases 2021 list this year because of its exciting free updates in 2021.
In 2021 alone, the MicroFreak received two major free updates. On the one hand, there are the three new algorithms that were created in close collaboration with Noise Engineering. They took the synth into new crazy, harsh, harmonic rich sound worlds. Rich, weird and very experimental
At the end of the year, the developers also opened the wavetable engine and now allow users to insert their own wavetables. An endless sea of new sounds is waiting for you. Two free updates that took the already very feature-rich Synthesizer in new directions.
A very big gesture from Arturia to constantly expand the synth with new algorithms and thus keep its product constantly interesting. The MicroFreak is the gateway to experimental sound for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have small or big interested in weird, unusual sounds.
Arturia MicroFreak is available now for 329€. Full article here
We travel on to Denmark to Gotharman’s an independent developer who has made exciting hybrid synths in recent years. In 2021, he released Urano, a modular Synthesizer that contains a large range of digital modules for creating complex patches in combination with analog filters.
Unlike classic modular synths, the entire engine is in a small, portable box. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Nord Modular. But much deeper and powerful in terms of feature-set and patching. The feature set is huge and ranges from 8 different sound generators (samples, VA, wavetables, drum engines…) 8 digital filters, analog filters, 8 effects processors, and more.
Urano is on two tracks in the patching area. The internal engine can be patched using a touch display. But it also offers hardware patch points with which you can communicate with the external world. Definitely a very special hybrid modular synth.
Gotharman’s Urano starts at 2199€ and is out now.
Modern Sounds Pluto
Pluto is not just a planet or a character from the Disney world. It’s also a new portable, battery-powered semi-modular Synthesizer from a young company Modern Sounds. It’s a little box of knobs, sensors and patching possibilities that takes you on an inspiring journey through modulations and rhythms.
The core is not classic at all. No filter, ADSR envelope, LFO… it combines traditional ideas (wavetables) with west-coast concepts including lowpass gates, and more. The highlight of the synth its unique five channel modulation engines named the five moons of Pluto (Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra). As well the patchable 4-step sequencer per voice.
As I wrote in my full article: Pluto is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Pretty simple from the outside, once patched for a long time, it shows it’s wild and playful character. It is a lovingly designed mobile synth with many inspiring functions. Many that you only really recognize in full bloom when you explore the engine
The first pre-production run of Modern Sounds Pluto were released in January 2021. More coming soon as well as the final price. Full article here
Make Noise Strega
And my personal highlight at the end. Strega (witch in Italian) is a semi-modular analog Synthesizer in 0-Coast design by Make Noise and Alessandro Cortini (Nine Inch Nails). It is a fascinating raw-sounding experimental sonic machine that is all about wild sound shaping, organic modulations, and vintage delaying.
At it score it hides among others things a Buchla Sound of Uncertainty inspired modulator, a patch matrix with interactive golden square and circles and a dirty, vintage delay processor.
There is no MIDI, no keyboard or sequencer. But Strega can do both: out of the box it creates gorgeous, evolving drones. The built-in delay provides a large portion of nice dirt, noise and character. With additional gear, however, you can unlock the melodic soul with which you can create distinctive rhythmic elements.
The result is a unique experimental box that sounds and behaves like no other device on the market. It’s both a synth and an effects processor for external signals. Strega is a personal sonic experience. Different hands, different ideas, different behavior and results.
Make Noise Strega is available now for 598€.
The year 2021 is almost over. It’s been a great Synthesizer year. Many small developers showed us fascinating, unique synths. Unfortunately, many of the instruments mentioned are unfortunately not available due to the current chip shortage. I hope the situation improves a bit in 2022.
I’m already looking forward to 2022 to more new synthesizers. Especially the crazy, bizarre, and unusual ones from small developers. In times of clones etc. we need more such fresh ideas to enter the market. Until then, I wish you all a happy new year and thank you very much for your support in 2021. You have been a great community here and hope it will continue to grow in the new year.