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Vintage Synths: 9 Classic Instruments Every Producer Should Know

Vintage Synths: 9 Classic Instruments Every Producer Should Know

Vintage synths were the instruments that pioneered the original era of electronic music.

These legendary units brought with them huge innovations that changed how musicians work with sound.

But if you’re new to the world of synthesizers, this type of gear can be intimidating.

Luckily, modern musicians have never had so many excellent ways to get the sound of vintage synthesizers into their own music.

In this article, I’ll break down 9 top vintage synths, explain why they’re so coveted and suggest the best plugins to emulate them.

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1. Minimoog Model D

Preview of youtube video

The Minimoog Model D just might be the most iconic synth of all time.

Before its introduction in the late 60s, synthesizers weren’t the portable, musician-friendly instruments they are today.

The Minimoog used a common patch routing from the world of modular synthesis as its fixed architecture.

That allowed it to shrink down to a size that felt comfortable atop a piano, organ or electric keyboard.

But despite its pioneering form factor, the Minimoog is revered today for its fat sound and distinctive character.

The Minimoog Model D just might be the most iconic synth of all time.

It can be heard all over classic recordings from the late 60s onward.

If you’re looking for the sound of the classic Minimoog in your DAW, here are a selection of the best options.

Hot tip: You’ll see Arturia’s V Collection come up a lot on this list. The bundle contains the French manufacturer’s realistic takes on many of the most beloved vintage synths of all time. If you’re looking for an economical way to get access to a range of these sounds, you might consider Analog Lab Intro. It’s a greatest hits compilation of Arturia’s top sounds in a convenient, browsable format. Get it now with yearly subscriptions to LANDR Studio.

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2. ARP 2600

Preview of youtube video


Equally essential to the development of modern synthesizers was the ARP 2600.

Shrinking the modular format down to a practical size, the 2600 allowed musicians much of the same patching flexibility as fully modular systems.

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Unlimited mastering & distribution, 1200 royalty-free samples, 30+ plugins and more! Get everything LANDR has to offer with LANDR Studio.

That meant it could be configured for abstract sound design and non-musical textures.

In fact, the ARP 2600 is famous for providing the “voice” of R2D2 in the original Star Wars trilogy.


But the 2600 had plenty to offer when it comes to traditional fat analog monosynth tones with that vintage feel.

Here are a selection of plugin editions of the 2600 to experiment with.

3. Sequential Circuits Prophet 5

Preview of youtube video


Polyphonic synths became possible with developments in integrated circuit technology during the mid-1970s.

But with the increasing flexibility of subtractive synthesis, these more complicated instruments had a serious drawback—they couldn’t easily recall settings.

The early polyphonic instruments had a serious drawback—they couldn’t easily recall settings.

Sequential Circuits implemented the design that finally allowed players to save their sounds with the Prophet 5 in 1977.

Its introduction upended the synthesis community overnight. Before the Prophet, patches had to be inputted by hand each time and accurate recall was not guaranteed.

With the new system, musicians could instantly toggle between any possible setting, opening up a new frontier of experimentation.

On top of all that, the Prophet sounded excellent. Here’s a few choices to emulate it in your DAW.

4. Oberheim SEM

Preview of youtube video


The Oberheim SEM began as an add-on intended to augment other synthesizers when controlled by a keyboard or sequencer.

But it had a unique and satisfying sound thanks to its super fat oscillators and unique filter design.

The SEM formed the basis for a series of instruments that Oberheim would produce throughout the 1970s.

The SEM formed the basis for a series of instruments that Oberheim would produce throughout the 1970s.

And while polyphonic feats of engineering like the OB-X and Matrix 12 came to define the company’s sound, the SEM was where it all started.

Here are a few great plugin editions of this excellent vintage synth to try in your DAW.

5. Yamaha CS-80

Preview of youtube video

Yamaha’s CS series of synthesizers descended from the enormous GX-1 console the Japanese company released in 1973.

The new line of synthesizers reformatted the excessive feature set of the GX-1 into more compact and useable instruments.

But the CS-80 was the crown jewel of the series. It included possibilities never before seen on commercial synthesizers, like a tactile ribbon controller for expressive legato playing.

First debuted in 1977, the 8-voice CS-80 cost as much as a small car. Today, they’re considered priceless.

Luckily for modern producers, this legendary vintage synth is available in plugin form to use in your own tracks.

Hot tip: Unlike other instruments on this list, the CS-80 has never been reissued by Yamaha in any form—and it’s not likely to happen! For a modern hardware take on the CS-80, check out Black Coporation Deckard’s Dream.

6. Roland Juno 60

Preview of youtube video


The Roland Juno 60 was the synth that brought polyphonic sound to the masses.

While the earlier polyphonic instruments from Sequential and Oberheim pioneered the technology, their price point was beyond the reach of most non-professional musicians.

The Juno series brought affordable polyphony and simple front-panel control in a portable package.

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Its single oscillator architecture also contributed to its ease-of-use, making this vintage synth a favorite for gigging musicians.

Here are some great plugin takes on the Juno 60:

7. Yamaha DX7

Preview of youtube video


The Yamaha DX7 is one of the best selling vintage synths of all time. Its revolutionary new approach to synthesis took the music world by storm in the 1980s.

Lacking traditional knobs and sliders, the DX7 was a futuristic black slab with a keypad-like user interface.

Lacking traditional knobs and sliders, the DX7 was a futuristic black slab with a keypad-like user interface.

But its FM synthesis engine was capable of unique percussive and inharmonic textures. Among the most popular were dreamy electric pianos, mallets and bell tones.

These dynamic and percussive sounds felt more like a traditional piano to many musicians.

If you’ve ever heard an 80s ballad intro with its characteristically shiny and hollow epiano sounds, you’ll know what I mean!

Here are some excellent software editions of the Yamaha DX7:

8. PPG Wave

Preview of youtube video


The earliest digital synths have now become classics in their own right.

The earliest digital synths have now become classics in their own right.

Their introduction created a big splash with never before heard sonic textures.

Among the most revered was the original PPG Wave synthesizer.

Developed in the early 80s by Wolfgang Palm, the PPG used a new synthesis technology called wavetables to generate its sound.

These digital oscillators brought a unique chilliness and crystalline flavor to the Wave’s sound. It became the hallmark of the darker side of 80s synth pop.

Here’s a selection of great ways to emulate the PPG Wave in software:

9. Roland Jupiter 8

Preview of youtube video

The Roland Jupiter 8 was the pinnacle of polyphonic power when it was released in the early 1980s.

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With two oscillators for each of its 8 voices, it featured truly professional capabilities and enormous fat sound.

On top of that, the Jupiter-8s unique voice architecture set it apart with thick analog sound that still sounds futuristic in 2022.

It also featured a comprehensive patch storage system that allowed new features such as keyboard splits to be saved per patch.

Here are some options for Jupiter 8 plugins in your DAW:

Pantheon of vintage synths

The early era of synthesizers produced some of the most iconic sounds and instruments of all time.

Having a basic guide to the most in-demand synths in history will expand your producer palette with timeless analog textures.

If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a great start when it comes vintage synthesis.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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