When looking at a new synth to purchase, the options may seem never ending. The range of possible synthesiser choices such as vintage, to analog, and even digital can make it almost impossible to choose one over the other.

Do you need to use it on stage, or just in the studio? Do you want something tactile or you just want a lot of presets? So what is it?

 Is it Hardware or Software, or as we say a “Hard vs Soft Synth” that you choose?

A hardware synthesizer is literally a music instrument where all the sounds are built in. They are an oscillator/s, you have your envelope generator and you have your filter. Something like a Yamaha DX7, a miniMoog, a Korg Prologue are all different examples. From monophonic like the KORG monologue to a polyphonic type of synthesisers.

A type of soft synth is a VST plug-in as in “Virtual Studio Technology”, AU and AAX and at times “stand-alone” and what this is, is often an emulation of hardware synthesisers that reside in your DAW of choice. They generally have parameters that you can assign and control with a Midi controller, similar what you would do on hardware. Often at times and especially in today’s modern music you will hear of producers using VST Plug Ins.

Some examples of Soft Synth plug-ins are things like Massive from Native Instruments, which is something that a lot of people are currently using.

If you’re looking to use hardware instrument, you’re probably think of something along the lines of Ableton Push Controller, or it might be a guitar, a drum kit or a saxophone or something along those lines. These are referred to as a musical instruments that you are going to own and become familiar with all its nuances, parameters, and all of the sounds they are able to create and you will generally fall in and out of love with the sounds you can generate with a tactile instrument from each and every individual synthesiser that you end up purchasing. Just check out our article “Steve Williams: Addicted to Synths” to see how someone is definitely in love with Hardware synths.

Yamaha DX7 Hard vs Soft Synth
Hard vs Soft Synth Analogue Synth
Hard vs Soft Synth on Mac Book

On the flip side, Soft synths are pretty easy to come by, they are constantly updated, sounds are always changing, you stay current with what’s new and going on in the world of synthesis and what people are doing to explore the boundaries of what you can virtually do within your computer.

There are obviously Pros & Cons to any argument when it comes to Hardware vs Software synths and some of the examples you often hear are:

  • Hardware has hardware problems – something breaks, takes up space and setting up, and possibly automation is limited.
  • Hardware has hardware benefits – reliable, tactile, and repeatable.
  • Software has software problems – tied to your OS and laptop, updates can break, and projects can bit-rot.
  • Software has software benefits – saves space, portable, editable (if you have enough CPU to not bake a track down)

There are certainly some amazing options now available on the market, from the Arturia V Collection 6 Synthsand Native Instruments KOMPLETE  Soft Synths to the Hardware options of the Arturia MatrixBrute or the NORD Lead A1 Analog Modelling Synth. 

But at the end of the day, it’s whatever you prefer, Hardware of Software. What inspires you? Maybe a bit of both! Whatever gives you the most satisfaction and compliments your ambitions…. So follow your head, your heart and your ears, and start making more music!


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