6 best FM, additive and phase-distortion synths

To accompany Part 2 of our in-depth guide to synthesis, we round up six of the best synths for handling FM, additive and phase distortion.

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Yamaha DX-7

Yamaha DX7 / DX7-II / TX802

Yamaha DX7

A good example of an original DX7 will set you back around £350, but you should aim for the Mk II model as it has a larger screen, better buttons, better build strength and updated 16-bit circuitry giving cleaner sound quality. The rackmount TX802 also has these MkII updates.

Price circa £350/$350

Yamaha DX11/TX81Z

Yamaha’s four-operator FM variant has a sound all its own, and is in some ways more pleasing than Yamaha’s six-operator implementation. This is largely thanks to the operators being able to produce more than just sine waves. Prices for these fabulous FM synths aren’t high, so they’re well worth a look.

Price circa £200 / $200

Native Instruments FM8

Native Instruments FM8

NI’s take on FM synthesis is arguably the pinnacle of FM technology. This fabulous plug-in simplifies the process of programming an FM synth and gives you invaluable waveform and harmonic readouts while you work. Unless you have a penchant for classic hardware, this plug-in is all you need to achieve FM nirvana.

Price £129/$149

Kawai K5

Kawai K5
Image: Tonetweakers.com

Kawai’s K5 was the first affordable additive synth to hit the market. On the surface, programming seems simple, but once you started digging in to the K5, frustration could mount rapidly. Great and unique sounding, but never a big hit, these rare instruments change hands for quite a lot of money.

Price circa £750/$750

Casio CZ-101

Casio CZ-101

The CZ-101 was very popular in the 80s. While its small size and miniature keys give it something of a toy-town appearance, it has a professional sound that’s distinctly different to FM, and is eminently programmable. If you want full-sized keys, the CZ-1 is also worth a look.

Price circa £250/$250

VirSyn Cube 2

VirSyn Cube 2

This plug-in synth is one of the few synths to ever really get to grips with the potential of additive synthesis. It produces some truly unique sounds and textures, has various sound-morphing capabilities and is both fascinating and fun to play and to program. 

Price €169/£150/$190

Learn the basics, origins and more about FM, additive and phase distortion synths here.

For bite-sized tips on FM synthesis, check this out.


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