Discover the best hardware experimental Synthesizer releases of 2022, including large drone ambient machines, weird sound boxes, and more.
It’s that time again. A new year is about to start, and it’s also time for my best experimental Synthesizer releases of 2022. A slightly different “best of” article that looks back on releases from many small, independent Synthesizer companies with unique ideas that let us experience new sonic worlds.
I love unusual, crazy synthesizers that may not sound like your favorite vintage synth from the 80s or make Italo Disco sounds. My favorites are synthesizers with sonic character and unique features that deviate from the norm.
Small Developers FTW
The article also celebrates once again small manufacturers who are often off the beaten track of the big Synthesizer players. Without a big budget to organize dominating social media campaigns with constant new video releases from social media starlets and content creators. There is a “big player” exception to this list as well.
But the focus remains on small, very personal developers and their crazy, lovely instruments that challenge and inspire musicians anew.
Like the last two years (2020, 2021), the order of the mentioned experimental synths doesn’t mean anything. A synth that is #4 or #9 doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. I just listed them randomly and leave it up to you, my continuous-supporting readers, to choose which sound generators you liked best.
2022 was a rather quiet year for experimental synths. It wasn’t easy to make a high-quality list out of it, which might have some nice surprises for some.
Let’s start with a very simple, affordable noise box that is especially useful for beginners in experimental sound generation. In October, French developer Krischer released the MicroQuad. A small, beautiful-sounding 4-voice analog drone Synthesizer with four individually controllable oscillators.
For just under 55€, you get a funny analog drone Synthesizer as a DIY project. And in combination with different pedals, you can transform the small French noise box into a very versatile texture machine.
Let’s stay in the world of endless sounds. Yes, drone synthesizers are an important part of the experimental sound scene. Many musicians can’t do much with these synthesizers, but they are more versatile than you might think.
In March, the British developer DecadeBridge presented Bora, a sophisticated analog matrix drone Synthesizer. Unlike the MicroQuad, Bora takes you on a more complex, harmonic journey. With its 6 oscillators, it initially offers everything you would expect from a classic drone synth: individual detune controls, independent volume pots, etc. But it goes further.
With the help of the intuitive matrix interface, you can sync the oscillators in various ways or archive pitch modulation. And thanks to the extra analog connectivity, it can be expanded by connecting it to the modular world.
Bora sounds wild and crazy. Its little extras make it a very fun drone Synthesizer. Its black and golden design with built-in LEDs is also neat. Unfortunately often sold out, but hope the developer can deliver again soon.
Meng Qi Wingie Mk2
The next “Krach” machine is on the sensitive sonic side and loves bright, harsh tones. If you read the best hardware experimental synth list from 2021, this instrument looks familiar to you. This is the Wingie resonator Synthesizer from the Chinese developer Meng Qi. This year, the Wingie got an Mk2 upgrade with some lovely extras.
As a reminder: Winger is a fascinating little stereo resonator instrument allowing you to interact with the sounds captured with the two built-in microphones. It’s a great drone synth, feedback sound effects machine, or even a percussive instrument.
The Mk2 benefits from more features, better keys, and additional controls but also a new aluminum shape. It has lost its crazy DIY charm of the Mk1 but now looks more like a finish, solid product.
Wingie Mk2 is a special instrument, and for everyone who likes to work with resonances and feedback, it’s almost a must-have.
Hikari Instruments Duos
Working with resonances and feedback is a lot of fun. Japanese developer Hikari Instruments, known for its exotic instrument designs, released the Duos this year. A compact experimental Synthesizer based around a unique stereo engine driven by the pulse of two internal resonant lowpass gates and an unpredictable signal path.
There is also a Eurorack version with additional analog connectivity. According to Hikari, the synth relies on exploration, experimentation, luck, horrible sonic accidents, and some human intervention. An eye-catching release that fits this list.
Sonically, the Duos doesn’t make your deep house bass or Synthwave 2022 Pluck sound that you always wanted. Hikari’s developments stand for wacky, crazy sounds that feel at home in the experimental, industrial, noise corner.
The Duos box is no different—the sounds that make hands-on on the fly range from wild, crazy, noisy, to glitchy. It’s a nice example of a special interest Synthesizer. Thank you Hikari for such lovely bizarre developments.
Cre8audio West Pest
2022 was the year of the young American company Cre8audio. They have launched a variety of exciting, very budget-focused synth products. Like the NiftyKEYZ Eurorack keyboard, the East Best, or the beautiful West Pest Synthesizer made in collaboration with Pittsburgh Modular.
The West Pest is an experimental highlight of the year 2022 as well. Not because of its crazy bee looks but mainly because of its analog engine, which takes you into the Buchlaresque sound world for little money. It offers the core elements of a west-coast Synthesizer in a very affordable desktop and Eurorack synth voice.
Cre8audio’s west-coast synth is also very versatile. Unlike many experimental synths specializing more in noise, drones, etc., the West Pest covers a wide range of sounds. This goes from harmonic-rich drones and special effects to beautiful acid or techno sequences, all with that west-coast sound color.
The developers have created a unique all-in-one synth package with which musicians can generate classic sounds and also easily drift into the experimental, unfamiliar.
Erica Synths SYNTRX II
Quite surprisingly, Erica Synths presented the successor to the SYNTRX at Superbooth 22. An experimental analog Synthesizer based on the operating concept and looks of the legendary Synthi AKS. The epitome when it comes to experimental synthesizers. Like the SYNTRX, the new SYNTRX II is not a clone of the AKS but an all-new synth with a new engine in old iconic clothes.
At first, the SYNTRX II wasn’t on the list as I overlooked that it was released two weeks before the end of the year. So a late addition to this experimental synth list.
Why the Erica Synths SYNTRX II is an experimental Synthesizer should be clear to many readers. On the one hand, the matrix knobby concept + joystick invites you to experiment with sound. Same as the original, only in an innovative digital, storable format. Break the classic subtractive fixed signal path and take it into the darkest, epic sound areas with timbres full of character, wild modulations, and more.
On the other hand, its rich analog sound that can break through walls. With the feature enhancements of the second version, such as a built-in sequencer, FX, etc., the Erica Synths developers have unlocked layers of sounds not possible in the first version.
The synth masters the creation of creepy unusual sound effects, powerful, mysterious drones, and unique basslines. Where the Synthrx 1 was very similar to the legendary Synthi AKS structure, the 2 goes its own way with a new hybrid engine and new sound possibilities.
MOTOR Synth MK2
2022 was also the year of the Mk2 versions. In addition to the Wingie, Gamechanger Audio’s Motor Synth has also received a major upgrade in 2022. Gamechanger Audio’s first synth was already on the list of the best experimental synth releases in 2020. But at that time in a rather unfinished Mk1 version.
At the time, I wondered if it was more of a gimmick or a “game-changing” Synthesizer. With the Mk2, the developers have taken the bizarre concept of the Motor Synth to a more mature level without taking away what was special about the Mk1, its weird, unusual sound. The Mk2 still makes otherworldly timbres reminiscent of a broken outer space control center.
I am particularly pleased that the developers have managed with the Motor Synth Mk2 to pack the novel analog electro-mechanical engine into a finished instrument. With less background noise from the motors, improved hardware specs, more features, and a rounder sound.
Whether Mk1 or Mk2, the Motor Synth remains a fascinating, experimental Synthesizer with its abnormal concept and industrial-flavored chainsaw sound. It will polarize electronic musicians.
That’s a good thing because that’s what experimental synthesizers are all about. Turn crude ideas into reality that move the market forward, even if they catch the wrong eye of many.
One of the big Synthesizer highlights of 2022 is the Arturia MiniFreak. The MicroFreak’s polyphonic brother, as some like to say. However, it is more than that. Six hybrid voices, two MicroFreak multi-engine oscillators, three digital FX slots, hidden routing options (MiniFreak as an FX processor), drawable LFOs, and more.
Two points why I call it an experimental synth release. First, its multi-algorithm oscillators. These are so flexible that you can hardly grasp them and sort them into one area. It’s particularly good for pop, and techno… these are difficult statements to make with the MiniFreak.
It is an instrument that swims in almost endless fields. Its oscillator algorithms allow you to use the synth as a classic virtual analog or FM but equally as well as a wild, unusual west-coast-flavored cosmic box. It’s like having 20+ different synthesizers in one device.
Secondly, the workflow and how to use the MiniFreak. Experimental instruments often have a very unique approach to making sound and often ignore the conventional signal path (oscillators go in filters, etc.). The MiniFreak takes a similar approach, giving the user freedom over the signal path.
Thanks to the different modes, you can use the oscillators as effects for external audio or turn oscillator 2 in effect (waveshaper…) and set it before the polyphonic filter. Thus, the engine invites the musician to explore it through experimentation.
The engine is designed for such playful trial-and-error stories. Even in the wildest settings, you can imagine, it is still superior to many other classic synths in sweet spot ability. The MiniFreak is certainly not an absolute experimental synth. But it is an instrument that awakens the experimental spirit in musicians.
Recovery Effects The Mystic
Let’s go back to wild soundscapes. Late in the year, now in December to be precise, Recovery Effects published a new experimental Synthesizer called the Mystic. It’s a handheld-style drone Synthesizer powered by a digital FM engine and an analog-style echo.
I particularly like the fact that FM synthesis was chosen for the core. A less popular sound tech for a drone Synthesizer. However, this makes it possible to immerse yourself in creeping, bright, aggressive textures. The built-in analog-style delay can also quickly generate feedback, adding more layers of weirdness to the FM textures.
It’s a shame that the corners of the Mystic aren’t touch-sensitive areas so that you could play the engine expressively. But this can be done via the available patch points, which can also be used to dock the Mystic to the modular world.
Nevertheless, Recovery Effects has managed to create a beautiful, hands-on experimental Synthesizer with which you can build weird, otherworldly sounds.
Error Instruments Imaginary Friend
The unique developments of Paul Tas, aka Error Instruments, should not be missing in any experimental synth recap. The company stands for wild, bizarre, and own designs like no other in the synthesizer world. Paul has released umpteen new products this year. Whether desktop synth, effect, or Eurorack module, there was something for everyone from the crazy Dutch sound laboratory.
The Eurorack oscillator Imaginary Friend, one of the biggest Error Instruments releases to date, particularly stood out. It’s based on a unique engine consisting of an experimental multi-wave LFO, sub-generator, clock divider, low pass gate, duo attenuator, and more. All of this sonic madness can be played with CV or with a joystick.
Once racked and patched, it catapults you into crazy, terrifying-sounding worlds far away from Moog, Oberheim…etc. Here you go, all-in in the experimental world with no way out. Where many other synths on this list still have a glimmer of hope on the horizon of conventional sounds, here you are, trapped deep in experimental sound hell.
I’m a big fan of Paul Tas’ work. The products polarize, which is perfect because these instruments make the synth market broader and more exciting.
Bastl Instruments Softpop SP2
The last one in the list, which is neither worse nor better than all the others, is also a product that we already know in a different form. It’s the second generation of Bastl Instrument’s unique hybrid Softpop Synthesizer.
The Softpop SP2 is a portable experimental instrument that makes an impressive balancing act between beautiful organic melodies and screaming noise. I know almost no Synthesizer that can “morph” from one extreme to the other so quickly and beautifully.
The built-in engine is like a hybrid clockwork where the features are perfectly matched. The combination of analog and digital parts, a rich number of shaping options, and a very sophisticated rhythmic section make the Softpop SP2 a very versatile and unpredictable experimental Synthesizer.
And the beautiful, organic sound character of the first SoftPop has been retained in the SP2 version and expanded to many levels. It can generate rich analog patches and crisp digital timbres but also an interesting mixture of everything. But all with that very organic sound.
With the Softpop SP2, musicians get a 100% original instrument in their hands that is challenging and with which they discover something new and unusual. One that will push even the best semi-modular (2VCO+filter) musician to its limits.
Special Mentions (Not Released)
Many synthesizers were introduced this year. However, some of them were not published by the end of the year. Among other things, Terra the new fascinating touch Synthesizer from the synth pioneer Vlad Kreimer aka SOMA Labs. It is a digital Synthesizer that is difficult to describe in words.
This much I can say so far: it flashed me on this Superbooth 22. Terra has a very deep engine that can only be played with a few knobs and touch plates. It will challenge every musician, whether a hobby or keyboard shredder. The sound is massive and organic.
Another experimental synth still in development is the X Audio Systems Beats FM. An instrument that has a radio as an oscillator and routes the signals through analog filters and a delay processor. A very crazy instrument that I’m very curious to hear more about.
In 2022 a lot of synthesizers were released. Some of these have very original designs that, unfortunately, continue to fly under the radar of the major synth communities. I hope I was able to focus on some exciting new releases again with this article.
I’m already looking forward to 2023 with more new synthesizers—especially the crazy, bizarre, and unusual ones from small developers. Until then, I wish you all a happy new year, and thank you very much for your support in 2022. You have been a great community here, and I hope it will continue to grow in the new year.