Vintage synthesizers are objects of fascination to musicians and collectors alike. But buying your first vintage synth can be a nerve-wracking experience: There are usually no refunds and no guarantees when buying second hand. If you’re on a strict budget, it’s hard to find too many attractive options in the world of vintage synths.
Bear in mind that some bits of kit are extremely rare and can only get rarer. So prices for fully working and well maintained kit are likely to increase rather than drop over time.
Alternatives: Some companies started offering hardware remakes of their classic synths. Examples are Roland’s Boutique synthesizers or Yamaha’s Reface series. But there’s another option to acquire some vintage synthesizers: You can use DAW plugins reproducing the sound of classic synthesizers. And many vintage synthesizers are also available as iPad apps. So why not convert your tablet computer into a vintage synthesizer sound module? Thinking of buying your first vintage synth? Maybe you should check its replica app for iPad first.
Some Successful Examples of Vintage Synthesizer Apps
Arturia’s iSEM is a physical model of the legendary 1974 Oberheim SEM vintage synthesizer expander module. Known for its characteristic multimode filter and rich oscillators, the SEM is revered by many for its sonic power and flexibility. Notable users include Jean Michel Jarre, Prince, Pink Floyd, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The iSEM is Audiobus compatible for further processing and inter-app recording. More info.
The obsession with all things analogue risks us overlooking the fact that many of the coolest, most iconic synths and instruments of all time are actually digital classics: The appearance of the legendary Korg M1 Music Workstation in 1988 helped musicians deliver professional-quality songs using just a single piece of equipment. Sounds such as the “M1 Piano” and “M1 Organ” are instantly recognizable and have appeared on numerous hit records over many years. Notable users include 808 State, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, and Mike Oldfield. And that’s what you can now have on your iPad – with the improvements you would expect from a touch screen interface. Optional expansions available contain M1 and T1 card packs. More info.
Developed in Australia during the ’70s and ’80s, the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) was the first commercial sampler and screen-based rhythm sequencer. Early adopters included Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Herbie Hancock, and Stevie Wonder. Now you can have this piece of music history on your iPad. The app is developed by Fairlight staff Peter Vogel who worked on the CMI in the ’80s. So don’t be fooled by the fact that it is an iOS instrument! More info.
The iPad as Sound Module: Audio & MIDI Accessories
Btw. you can use the studiomux app to stream audio and MIDI from your iOS synthesizer apps to your Mac or Windows DAW and vice versa.
If you need classic MIDI In/Out connection for your iPad instead, check out the Roland UM-ONE mk2 USB MIDI Interface. In addition, you will need the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. Get exactly this iPad accessory as it provides you with a connection for the Apple Power Adapter, which is needed to run the USB MIDI interface. The connected power adapter will also energize your iPad during stage and studio operation. Furthermore, a standard 2 x 1/4″ mono jack to stereo mini-jack cable will be necessary for mixing desk connection. It’s shopping time! 😉
More Vintage Synthesizer iPad Apps
- ARP Odyssey by Korg
- Minimoog by Arturia
- MS-20 by Korg
- Sound Canvas by Roland
- Syntronik by IK Multimedia
Vintage Synthesizers Book Recommendations
- “Analog Synthesizers” by Mark Jenkins
- “Vintage Synthesizers” by Mark Vail
- “Electro Shock!” by Greg Rule (discontinued)
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