Attn: MUSICIANS - need a Keyboard/Synth for my son

Discussion in 'iPod' started by pprior, Jun 22, 2009.

  1. pprior macrumors 65816

    Aug 1, 2007
    Sorry, don't know where to go, figured this forum might have a decent representation of musicians.

    I want to get my teenage son a keyboard/synthesizer for his birthday. I want it to be high quality but I don't know a THING about them. I know the names Korg and Yamaha, but nothing else in that world.

    He has been playing piano 6-7 years, pretty good, early teenager. He is really pushing back about "boring" piano, so I'm trying to let him expand a bit into this type of music.

    Portability not critical, but appreciated. Needs to be full sized, not a toy. Willing to spend up to $2-3,000 if needed, though less is good. Durability/quality key.

    I so much appreciate any recommendations or links to other forum where I might learn more about this. It's hard to buy something knowing nothing about them, but I never trust salespeople, so rather get 1st hand experience from users.

    Also - I assume any such device he can plug into his mac and use Garage band to record stuff. Any other software or gadgets that would be uber cool to put together?

    Thanks again!
  2. Music_Producer macrumors 68000

    Sep 25, 2004
    Hey, hope I can offer some tips.

    I love the Roland Juno series - the Juno D starts at only $499 - the Juno -G is $999 and the Juno Stage is $1399 (76 keys)

    Great all round synth that covers most of your basic sounds and the trademark Roland sounds as well.

    The Yamaha Motif synths are awesome - they're expensive though and have many features which your son probably wouldn't need. The Motif MM8 is a 88 key synth though with all the Motif sounds and sells for only $999 - so maybe you would want to look into that.

    If he wants to delve into a specific genre of music - say like electronica then I'd recommend the Access Virus.

    I'd choose between the Juno D or the Motif MM 8 - the Juno D is 61 keys (which is more than enough for me but your son might want 88 keys)

    To connect the synths to the mac and use the audio+midi in Garageband you would need a audio interface. If you need advice on that let me know - there are literally hundreds of interfaces!
  3. pprior thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 1, 2007
    I think definitely want 88 keys (full sized).

    I'm not sure what an audio interface is. I thought this stuff just plugged into the midi interface. I would want him to be able to record and play around with stuff he does - want to inspire him to be a bit more creative. He also wants to start playing (electric) guitar so that's another step and something I'd like to interface as well.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I have no problem paying over $1000 for a quality product - your suggestions thus far are far less than I thought I'd have to spend. The problem I have is I don't know what the important features are and what you get by paying more in a line.
  4. Xfujinon macrumors 6502

    Jul 27, 2007
    Iowa City, Iowa
    My take on it is to get a quality digital stage piano and run a synth module through that via MIDI or some other signal path. This way, you get the best of both worlds, but you have the flexibility to change your sound module at will and not have it tied into the rest of the setup.

    To that end, I recommend the Korg RADIAS synth module ($1000) and a good digital stage piano, such as the Roland RD300GX (around $1400). You'll probably need a set of speakers, too.

    I do not own this setup, but I know someone who does, and I use his equipment on a regular basis. When we are bored, we swith the RADIAS with the MiniMoog and go nuts. Total versatility, but not locked in with a MOTU or a similar product.

    Check it out, just my opinion. Your son may rediscover "boring piano" when he has a good sounding digital and can play some classic stuff.
  5. Music_Producer macrumors 68000

    Sep 25, 2004
    Xfuji.. I assume his son already has a piano - so it wouldn't make sense to add another piano.. and trust me, most beginners don't want to mess around with synth modules and all that (with me it's different of course!) Your idea is pretty good though if you want the best of both worlds - pprior - check into this if you don't mind having two pianos. (but the setup gets a bit more complex - it's manageable of course, but usually you'd want to keep something as minimal as possible)

    Pprior - when you look at a synth and what the more expensive model has - they are usually features such as built-in-sequencers, recording capabilities, etc - which your son won't require as he'll be most likely using GarageBand/Logic for those things. 10 years ago I used to shop around for synths with built in sequencers when computer based recording was not that popular.

    To record the audio from your synth to the computer - you need an interface - the synth plugs into the interface, and the interface connects to the mac via usb or firewire.

    The MM-8 from Yamaha does have a USB port which can connect to the mac, but keep in mind that this will only relay MIDI information, and not audio. So your son can connect the motif to the mac, open up garageband and use the motif synth as a 'keyboard' to trigger the sounds in garageband - but you can't 'transfer' the motif's sounds into garageband.

    Speakers - yes, get a pair of decent active monitors (active because they have built in amps) - again you can from $299 a pair to $1000 a pair.. the $299 alesis m1 mk2's are great.. so are the m-audio bx8a.. I love the Yamaha HS80ms (they're $699 a pair i think)
  6. pprior thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 1, 2007
    We have a baby grand that he plays at home.

    Yes it sounds like a single unit vs. having a piano and then a synth would be better for our situation.

    I see what you mean about the midi, I didn't realize that, so yes we would want the audio interface to capture the sounds.

    Are most of these products "static" or can they be upgraded to allow additional features later on, either by software or hardware. I know so much of music nowdays is done on synthesizers - when I was a teenager it was just really cheesy sounding effects.
  7. marioman38 macrumors 6502a


    Aug 8, 2006
    Elk Grove, CA
    Music is "now" done with software Synths. Plug a $200 M-Audio USB keyboard into your Mac, play 10,000s of sounds on Garageband, or Propellerhead's Reason 4 software.

    Korg also has the "Korg Kontrol" that is really great. They've gotta be plugged into a mac (laptops are great) or a synth to work, but for $200-$400 its insane how many bands on the radio you hear using this cheap, but effective gear!
  8. Music_Producer macrumors 68000

    Sep 25, 2004
    Yes, and unfortunately that's why it also all sounds the same. Software synths are good for convenience, but I still stick with hardware - and you *can* hear the difference. Some of the top producers I work with use hardware all the time - sure, soft synths are used - but mostly for drum loops or 'textures' I can always 'hear' a soft synth on a record - mostly layered with over-compression to bring out the dynamics.

    I find myself flipping through sounds of soft synths to find something inspiring - occasionally I'll find something good - but with hardware I always find some great sounds which I can play for hours - it's all about the inspiration.

    Pprior - you can go the software synth route - but I think there's really nothing like hardware. Nothing like switching on a hardware synth - and instant gratification. I also prefer the sonic quality of hardware. You should always have one solid hardware synth - and then you can always expand with soft synths later. Plus, when you're done with the hardware synth - it has nice resale value (although I've never sold any of my synths which I've bought since the 90s)

    One convenience with the soft synth route is that you don't need an audio interface. The synth will load directly into garageband and all you have to do is connect speakers and a MIDI controller keyboard to play that synth.

    Yes, a hardware synth will remain 'static' - you can update it with new sounds, etc - and update firmware, etc - but the synths you get nowadays have so many features that honestly one can't think of much more to add.
  9. localoid macrumors 68020


    Feb 20, 2007
    America's Third World
    Well, there's really no one single "this type of music" in the electronic music world. And there's no one "perfect" keyboard. (Perfect = meets his particular needs and desires.) I'd suggest that first you should try to find out more details about what particular area (or areas) of keyboard/electric music your son is most interested in exploring.

    For example: Is he into pop music (for simplicity, let's just define that as any type of music you'd likely hear on a commercial FM station)? Or is he considering a pursuing a traditional music education that might lead to work in film scoring or the so-called classical music genre?

    Who knows? He might want something to emulate a full orchestra, but maybe he has his heart set on playing a Theremin. You won't know unless you talk to him... ;)

    What kind of music does he listen to? One type? A variety? How old is he? Etc.

    Today, for $2-3k you could go in many different directions (software vs. hardware etc.) But it may not be what your son would really wants or would enjoy. A trip out with him to a local music store might be in order, or otherwise finding some way of learning more details about what direction he might be inclined.

    Post more specific info if you can...
  10. pprior thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 1, 2007
    He's 13, I don't think he really knows what his interests are fully. He likes Toby Mac, Skillet, Third Day. He does enjoy music scores - learned the star wars theme on his own.

    I don't think he has aspirations of professional music in his future, but he is talented (way more so than I am!) and I'm trying to motivate him to be able to express a bit more of what he enjoys rather than just continuing to force classical piano training on him. A bit of carrot and stick, as it were.

    I would definitely want something that doesn't NEED a computer to work. Right now we only have an imac for kids to use and that's in a small office room. Maybe a macbook in the future, but if he wanted to take this setup to a friend's house, I would want him to be able to pack up and go without having to drag a computer every time.

    I really appreciate all the input from you guys. I can't thank you enough. As I said, I know nothing about this stuff. We also live hours away from any large city so we don't have a good music store around that wouldn't have extremely limited selection.
  11. ibbieta macrumors member

    Jun 19, 2008
    Has he expressed ANY interest in experimenting with synth sounds? You may want to guage more carefully the direction he is naturally inclined to go in. What about jazz lessons on the piano? Learning to improvise may give him the jolt he needs to get more interested. Or maybe he's really a drummer at heart.
  12. pprior thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 1, 2007
    He's never used one. My thinking is that since he has the skills to play the keyboard/piano, having an instrument like this will allow him to play around and experiment musically without having to learn an entirely new instrument.

    He also wants to learn to play guitar, which we will likely be pursuing.

    I don't see him doing a bunch of sampling and stuff like that, but he does like to go into garage band and create his own songs using the stuff in there, so I figured add a keyboard and synth and mix together and it would allow him a bunch more creative freedom.

    That was my thinking.
  13. dXTC macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2006
    Up, up in my studio, studio
    You may want to look into the Roland Fantom series. The Fantom X7 fits in your budget, has a ridiculous number of built-in sounds, has an onboard multitrack sequencer and drum trigger pads, and works well by itself or with a computer (using standard USB as a MIDI/audio interface). The only drawback is the 76 keys.

    You could step up to the Fantom X8 for full hammer-action 88 keys, but it's more expensive than you may want to spend ( > $4000.)
  14. Music_Producer macrumors 68000

    Sep 25, 2004
    I had a feeling that he would be into movie themes/orchestral scores - I was the same at that age. :) Trust me, go for a nice hardware synth - don't think about soft synths at this time.

    The Roland+Yamaha lines have great sounds for all genres - and he'll love the string patches on these synths.

    The Fantoms are expensive but keep in mind they have fancy features such as touch screens, (which I personally don't care for - why pay upwards of $3500 for a synth with a touchscreen when I can buy the same sound engine without the lcd for $2000 less?)

    Some good synths -

    Yamaha S90 ES - $1999
    Yamaha MO8 - $1599
    Yamaha MM8 (this is the lightest 88 key keyboard in the Yamaha series) - $999

    All of these have a USB port so you can connect it directly to your mac for MIDI control.

    The Roland Juno Stage is a 76 version of the Juno series - $1395 - again, has USB connection.

    Keep in mind that these are more than just good 'starter' synths - they will last him for a very long time.

    The Korgs are nice, but I don't like the string sounds (orchestral sounds) - sound too thin and synthetic (duh, it's a synth!) The Yamaha S90 ES string sounds - aaaaahhhhhhh. :)

    Out of all these synths the S90ES comes the closest to a real piano (weight, feel, look, etc) Ultimately, it's up to you - good luck!
  15. dXTC macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2006
    Up, up in my studio, studio
    Come to think of it, the Juno Stage is probably a better deal than the Fantom. (The one main difference is the lack of a sequencer in the Juno.)

    Those Yamahas are also some nice boards.

    I agree about the Korg sound; in my (admittedly insignificant) opinion, Korg has always seemed to be more about the feature set than about the sound. For example, I vastly prefer the Roland D-50 over the Korg M1, despite the M1's multitimbral capabilities and onboard sequencer.

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