Ambient music requires a variety of preset sounds, effects, and automation. To achieve these, it's important to choose the best possible synth designed for creating ambient tones.
These synthesizers provide you with a plethora of options for creating textural layers and adjusting their properties in real-time. In this post, I'll highlight the best instruments available for producing ambient styles of music.
6 Best Ambient Music Synths
The Waldorf Blofeld is a comprehensive synthesizer that is capable of producing a wide range of ambient tones. Building upon the world-renowned Blofeld synth module, it includes a high-quality keyboard for ultimate playability.
With 49 weighted keys, you can play ambient synth parts with an abundance of expression. Each key is also built with aftertouch, and polyphony over 25-voices. Additionally, there are pitch bend and modulation wheels for tweaking the sounds.
When you stumble across a new idea that works well with the ambient style, you can sample the section and save it into the 60MB onboard memory. This allows you to access ideas at any time and incorporate them into your performances.
One of the qualities required from a synthesizer for ambient music is high quality presets. Waldorf has incorporated over 1000 ready-made sounds which you can use as the building blocks for your unique tones.
With analog-modeled circuitry, the Blofeld’s tonal quality is rooted in vintage technology. However, you also get the best of both worlds, thanks to the onboard digital features which ensure that the synth meets the requirements of the modern musician.
You get three LFOs and four envelopes per voice, and there’s a USB MIDI output for hooking the synth up to your computer device. A complex, adjustable arpeggiator and a detailed onboard effects unit complete this outstanding synth.
The OB-6 is the result of two legendary synth designers joining forces to build an exceptional analog polysynth. Inspired by the classic Oberheim SEM circuits from the 70s, this instrument is perfectly suited to ambient music styles.
Although it is rooted in vintage technology, the OB-6 is littered with modern features that make it one of the best-functioning synths on the market. Each voice is kitted out with a pair of voltage-controlled oscillators and a sub-oscillator.
Then there are the 49, highly playable, and responsive keys. Semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive, and aftertouch-enabled, the keyboard allows you to put natural expression into your playing.
Oberheim’s classic SEM module is integral to the operation of the OB-6. Updated with numerous enhancements, it provides you with the option of adjusting waveshapes for each preset sound, and also tweaking the pulse width.
You also get access to a detailed modulation section which is ideal for creating ambient textures. Polyphonic sequences of up to 64 steps can be programmed and synchronized to an external MIDI clock.
If that isn't enough, there's also the stacked effects unit. Two digital effects engines allow you to add studio-quality reverbs, delays, flangers, and chorus to your ambient tones.
3. Moog One
The Moog One is an iconic synthesizer that boasts all of the qualities associated with the manufacturer's lineage. The unique thing about the One is that it is the first polyphonic synth that Moog has produced in over thirty years.
Unsurprisingly, the design of the Moog One has been meticulously planned. There's nothing that this synthesizer can't do, and if I was to describe every single feature it would likely fill this whole post!
Some of the standout features include an intuitive interface, a polyphonic sound engine, and three analog voltage-controlled oscillators per voice. No to mention, the independent analog filters which can be run parallel or individually depending on your needs.
Moog’s reputation was largely built on their remarkably detailed effects units, and the One benefits from their long experience in this field. With master bus and individually programmable effects, you can layer your synth lines with a range of reverbs, delays, distortions, and modulations.
The front panel is hand-made from luxurious ash and contains a total of 73 rotary knobs and 144 buttons. The center panel LCD allows you to monitor the processing status of each preset, and adjust the qualities as you wish.
Another modern feature that the One synth boasts is its generous preset storage space. You can save any sounds of effects for later recall using the Snapshot button, which saves you the time of saving each element of the sound.
The Prophet Rev2-08 is an eight-voice analog synthesizer, with 61 expressive and highly playable keys. Building upon the success of its predecessor, this instrument houses numerous ambient tones and effects.
Some of the standout features of the Rev2 include a 2/4 pole resonant lowpass filter, a sub-oscillator, and dual DCOs per voice. Then there's the waveshape modulator, polyphonic step sequencer, and a handy OLED display screen.
If you need to manipulate the presets to make them sound more ambient, you can do so using the generously-packed onboard effects engine. This provides you with all of the classic processing options, from reverbs to phasers and everything in between.
The semi-weighted, 61-key keyboard spans across 5 octaves. Therefore, you can create high-end eerie textures or powerful sub-bass tones. The keys also benefit from velocity and channel aftertouch for added feel.
Using the highly respected chip design that was pioneered by legendary synth engineer Doug Curtis, the Rev2 has a classic, vintage tone when the filters are engaged.
Then there’s the separate Audio Mod control that adjusts the harmonic nature of each sound.
The Hydrasynth by ASM is no ordinary synth. Perfectly suited to ambient music, it offers 8-voice polyphony and the unique Mutator wave-shaping feature. This allows you to tailor the character of each voice in real-time.
The effects unit housed on the Hydrasynth is so detailed that it rivals digital VST synth plugins. Each voice includes a trio of WaveScan oscillators with a total of 219 varying waveform shapes.
If you need to create sounds that create a certain atmosphere, you can fully control the ADSR properties using the envelope generators. There’s no limit to the possibilities that are provided by this feature.
The PolyTouch feature is also worth highlighting. This innovative technology allows you to control the offsets, release times, and aftertouch curves of the synthesizer, making it more expressive and interactive to play.
The Hydrasynth engine is very powerful, but it isn’t overly complex. Each parameter is clearly labeled and laid out intuitively, so it doesn’t take long to familiarize yourself with the controls.
The smartly-designed Korg Minilogue offers all of the features of its larger counterparts, without the over-crowded controls. It is built around a pair a VCOs which can be shaped using a switchable 2-/4- pole lowpass filter.
With up to 200 savable user settings, you can store your unique tones for later recall. Also, there are 100 high-quality Korg presets onboard which can all be adjusted to your liking.
When creating the Minilogue, Korg was forced to completely redesign their analog synthesis technology. They stripped it back to basics and remodeled it to suit the smaller, more compact format.
The 26 step sequencer allows you to add a sense of motion to your ambient sounds. Unlike some sequencers, the Minilogue's is very easy to use, with clear indicators and controls allowing you to create expressive rhythms right away.
Ambient Synth Features
When choosing the ideal synthesizer for creating ambient music, there are some main qualities that you should look out for. These are:
- Number of voices
- Onboard effects
The number of voices that the synthesizer houses will effectively decide the sonic range it can produce. Synths that have 16 voices offer an endless number of possibilities, which those that offer 8 or 4 are generally more simple to operate.
Onboard effects are one of the main things to look out for. Ambient synth lines require reverbs, delays, and modulations, so choosing a synth that offers an extensive amount of processing options will ensure that you have all of the necessary possibilities at your fingertips.
Sequencers allow you to create rhythms, usually in real-time and apply them to the synth sound. This is a great tool for creating motion within a synth line, which is a very important aspect of ambient music.
The synthesizer that you require for creating ambient music will depend on the complexity of the sounds you aim to produce. The selection I've just presented includes options to suit everyone, so hopefully, you've identified the ideal choice for you!