Recently, someone contacted me about purchasing a synthesizer. My current knowledge of electronic keyboards is woefully outdated, so I passed the question on to Roger Hooper, who is the synth-player in my church and a long-time friend. He’s also a gifted composer and film scorer.
Here’s how Roger responded:
If the purpose of the keyboard is to do the non-piano stuff, you’ll save a lot of money going the non-weighted key bed route. I am primarily a pianist, but I’ve found that in either playing in the worship band (I also play out in the DC area), a non-weighted action is much better for playing organ parts, and the synth parts as well.
Korg, Yamaha, Kurzweil and Roland all have “radio ready” sounds in their synths. The Leslie FX in all four manufacturers is excellent.
Yamaha just released a Motif XF. The sounds are brilliant, the organ FX spot on. It’s in the $2400 range, though, and that’s for 61 non-weighted keys. They also have the MM8, which is 88 keys, weighted. It’s an older model, but still sounds great, and sells for $999
Korg has an M50 series in the low teens, a couple of sizes. They are based on their flagship M3, which is $1900 (61 keys). The M3 series has a 73 and an 88 weighted version. The main differences in the M50 series and the M3 series would be the workmanship (the M3 series being more solid), and the M3 series probably has better converters (analog to digital converters; the output sound quality). I’ve used Korgs for years; the organ sounds have always been full, and the Leslie FX (the rotary spinning sound) are always replicated well.
Not as familiar with the Roland stuff, although I played one of the Fantoms a few years back, and thought it sounded very warm and full. They also have a keyboard, the Juno G. There’s a YouTube video demo on this link. It’s $1400; a lot of features are included for that.
Kurzweil has a PC3 series. The PC361 with 61 keys is $1992. Kurzweil also has a PC3LE series that has half the DSP, so the units are less expensive. Half the DSP means the resources will be tapped out sooner. The PC3LE6 is $1495 (61 keys). The sound quality is the same, you just can’t use as many sounds in the built-in recorder. They also have an 88 key version, the PC3LE8.
Then there’s the PC3X, which is 88 keys, weighted, and a non-weighted version, the PC3, with 76 keys. These units are both the “flagships” of their line, and cost over $2000. I played the PC3X a few months ago and thought it sounded stellar. The first thing I noticed was the presets didn’t have a bunch of huge, swirly, ear candy presets other manufacturers sometimes overindulge themselves in. I used to like that stuff back in the 90s; used to give the sound man fits! The Kurzweil has a lot of bread and butter sounds that sit in the mix really well. I’ve always thought their OS was easy to get around on. I’ve owned 4 Kurzweil instruments along the way. The pianos sound real, the EPs sound like they came from the 60s/70s, the organs are great, and the keyboard has sliders that double as drawbars. I would say that playing B3 parts on Kurzweil instruments is probably the most satisfying. I used to play Hammond in the 70s, and owned one for a while in recent years. The strings sound orchestral, and the synth stuff sounds like “real” analog where appropriate.
A lot to read! If I were buying a new synth now, I would look at the new Motif XF, or the Kurzweil PC3. I’ve only heard the Motif XF online; I played the PC3. If you’re in the DC area, you can contact Ed Spence, at Washington Music Center. He is a believer, has been in the industry since the 90s, is very fair, and knows his stuff. The number of the store is 301-946-8808.
Any other thoughts?