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Top 10 Vintage Synths (Under $10,000)



Synth and Software

The price of classic synthesizers continues to rise. Which ones are worth their asking price?

With few exceptions, almost everyone agrees on which vintage synths they consider classics. The synths in this list range from 38 to 51 years old. As time marches on, prices on the used market for most of these beauties just keep going up. Many are some of the most desirable electronic instruments you’ll find, and they’re practically guaranteed to hold their value. For now, at least, you should be able to find most of them for less than $10,000—sometimes much less, though nothing prevents someone from asking for more—and all of them originally sold for $10,000 or less. So here they are, listed in chronological order.

EMS VCS3 (1969)

The Voltage Controlled Studio 3 was the first truly portable synthesizer, preceding the Minimoog by just over a year. It was the creation of David Cockerell, Tristam Cary, and Electronic Music Studios owner Peter Zinovieff. Wanting the VCS3 to capture the education market, they built it as cheaply as possible to undercut any competition (which accounts for its reputation for instability and unreliability.) The ability to connect any circuit to any other makes the VCS3 a true modular synth. Instead of using patch cords, though, you could connect an oscillator to the filter, for example, by sticking a pin at their intersection on its 16×16 matrix panel.

The VCS3 has two audio oscillators, a lowpass filter, an LFO, a noise generator, and a single trapezoid envelope generator, as well as ring modulation, spring reverb, two speakers, and a joystick for controlling any two parameters simultaneously. Its most common use is for sound effects, though it never really caught on much outside of the U.K.—probably because its keyboard was an optional add-on. The VCS3 launched Brian Eno’s career and remained his instrument of choice for years. It made its biggest impression, though, on Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon.

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