Every hip hop producer needs to be armed with high quality synth sounds, and with more emphasis being put on performance than ever before, it’s important to have the ability to recreate the sounds in a live setting.
This list highlights the best options out there to take your hip hop beats to the next level. Each of these instruments gives you the possibility to create unique sounds or build upon the classic synthesizers used in the glory days of hip hop music.
5 Best Synthesizers for Hip Hop Production
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The compact minilogue synth is a perfect tool for hip-hop producers. If anyone knows synthesizers, it’s legendary manufacturers Korg. The minilogue combines their traditional subtractive analog synthesis with modern technology, and the result is an impressively detailed instrument with an abundance of sonic options.
This analog polyphonic synth is built around a pair of malleable VCOs, which can be manipulated using a lowpass filter. There’s a tone of modulation controls built into the minilogue, perfect for gradually perfecting the sounds within your hip hop beats.
Korg have loaded this synth with 100 high quality presets which can be used as the foundation of your sound, or tweaked to match the tone you have in mind.
If you find the perfect sound for your hip hop beat through experimentation, you get the space to save up to 200 individual synthesizer settings for future use.
To top things off, the Korg minilogue has an onboard 16-step sequencer for programming you beats. Whether you intend to record it through a direct input or use it for live reproductions of your hip hop songs, this synth will provide ultimate quality in both fields.
All hip-hop beatmakers know that without the right bass sound, the production never reaches its full potential. The Novation Bass Station II is, as the name indicated, an analog synthesizer specifically focused on producing powerful bass sounds.
With two oscillators and a sub-oscillator built in, you can create all kinds of low-end magic for your hip-hop beats. The Bass Station II isn’t just great for bass though. It also has a built-in arpeggiator which is highly useful for rhythmic lead lines and melodies.
This arepggiator gives you the choice of 32 unique rhythmic patterns which can be moved throughout the octaves. The step sequencer complements it by recording rests and finer details like legato, a recipe for expressive sequences.
This hip hop synth features two filter designs, each kitted out with an overdrive circuit for when you need to add grit to your beats. The acid filter is built on a diode ladder design resembling a 303 old school synth, and the classic filter provides you with low and high pass filter controls.
With 64 sound presets, you won’t get bored of the options this Novation synth provides.
It was only a matter of time before legendary synth producers Moog appeared on this list of the best hip hop synthesizers. The Subsequent 25 builds on the legacy of Moog’s popular hip hop instrument, the Sub Phatty.
With more headroom and a variety of new features, it’s even more suited to hip hop production than its predecessor. One of the standout features of this synth is the highly playable, 25 note keybed.
Although the keyboard is compact, you can easily flick through the octaves as you play to reach the higher or lower notes.
The Subsequent 25 is packed with high quality sounds, ranging from rumbling sub bass to soft dreamy synths. And all of the sounds can be tweaked in real time, perfect for fine-tuning the sounds of your hip hop beats.
Add in some useful controls such as pitchbend, modulation wheels, filters and LFO’s and you have a magnificent little instrument perfect for the studio or touring.
Next up on our list is the Jupiter-X by Roland. Paying homage to the Jupiter-4 synth that established Roland way back in the late 70’s, the X model has been kitted out with an array of modern production tools ideal for hip-hop and rap.
Unlike the majority of other synths we’ve reviewed so far, the Jupiter-X has a massive 61-note keyboard which is semi-weighted.
If your style of production is more piano or Wurlitzer based, I’d recommend considering this instrument. You can reproduce classic Roland synths from the early days of hip hop, such as the legendary TR-808 and 909.
With built-in arpeggios, pitch bend, and modulation wheels, you can tailor the huge selection of 4,000 preset tones and make them more suited to your style.
256 of the sounds you create can be stored within the synth, and there are also 90 drum kits built-in. The Roland Jupiter-X really is one of the most comprehensive hip-hop synthesizers in the world.
5. Yamaha MOXF6
To conclude this list of the best synths for hip hop production, we have the MOXF6 by Yamaha. This model is the latest version in the popular MOX workstation series, with more quality presets added and effects options in abundance.
This synth is great for coming up with chord sequences due to the expressive, sensitive 61-note keyboard. You can hook the MOXF6 up to your preferred DAW in the studio and use it as a MIDI controller to with your VST plugins too.
This Yamaha synthesizer contains many useful features for hip-hop and similar styles of production. With a range of arpeggios, 18 filter variations, and a huge list of built in effects controls, there’s literally no sound you can’t create with this instrument.
As you’d expect from Yamaha, their built-in piano and electric piano sounds are top of the range. This could be a useful tool for recreating your hip hop beats in a live, stripped back setting.
Weighted vs Semi-Weighted Keys on a Hip Hop Synth
One topic of debate amongst hip hop musicians is whether the difference between weighted and semi weighted keys is notable enough to justify the price differences.
In truth, it won’t have a huge impact unless you are a classical pianist who is used to playing on something like a Steinway Grand Piano.
The main difference between the two is that weighted keys provide more resistance (and thus a closer feel to playing an acoustic piano) when you play them. Semi-weighted keys use a spring and are, therefore, less touch-sensitive. For hip hop synthesizers, both types of keys will suffice.
What Makes a Synth Great for Hip Hop?
Hip Hop Presets
Hip-hop is renowned for the broad range of instruments, sounds, and samples that are used as part of its productions. A suitable synth should include a variety of strings, pianos, and electronic presets.
The more extensive the synth’s sound library is, the more options will be available to you when performing hip-hop tracks.
This will also aid your compositional process, as you will be able to quickly access sounds and try out new approaches when writing.
Pitch Bend & Modulation
Pitch bend is an essential feature of any synth used for hip hop. Commonly located on the left of the keyboard, the pitch bend wheel allows you to quickly shift the note up or down, much like the effect that bending a guitar string achieves.
This pitch-shifting effect is useful for creating variation in a hip-hop beat, and it’s very easy to master thanks to the responsiveness of the wheel control.
Modulation wheels are also useful, as these can be applied to any chosen effect from the synths library. You might find this useful if you wanted to manually control the dry/wet settings of reverb, for example.
Percussion & Beats
Many would argue that the core element of hip-hop productions is percussion. Synthesizers which contain a range of drum samples and loops are invaluable both for performing and writing rap music.
Having drum samples on a synthesizer means that you can compose a beat in any setting, without needing your recording equipment. You can then send the ideas to your DAW for editing later if you wish.
The final important capability required from a synth for producing and performing hip hop is sub-bass. This may consist of ready-made presets, or the synth may allow you to design your subs using oscillators and filters.
Sub-bass is an essential part of hip-hop music, even though it may not be instantly noticeable to the listener.
In a club or live music venue, being able to produce sub-bass tones will add noticeable substance to your sound.
I hope that after reading this guide you’ve found the perfect synth to take your hip hop productions to the next level. All of these instruments have great sound-sculpting facilities, so I’m sure you’ll have great fun coming up with unique patches for your beats.