There are various types of synthesizers (synth for short) in various forms (for example those controlled by a touch pad) but the ones relevant to this site are those on which the pitch information is controlled by a keyboard. The synthesizer often appears as a stand-alone music keyboard instrument, although its functionality is sometimes built-in to workstations.
The synthesizer has functionality to create new, unique sounds from scratch, using a variety of tone generators, pre-created tones, or a combination of. The synthesizer will have various built-in synthesizer technologies (Roland, for example, offers Elastic Audio Synthesis, AP-synthesis, and Vocal Designer), analog and vocal modelers, filters, and other effects that mold the sound to your imagination (and heart’s) content.
Many vintage analog synthesizers are still highly coveted and used by musicians, but todays keyboard synthesizers offer more sound creation options with a combination of analog and digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. Roland has an extensive line of dedicated keyboard synths.
Some of these specialize in vocal and vocal ensemble synth sounds (the VP series), while others like the Juno-G integrate features like an audio/MIDI multitrack recorder that you would find on workstations. The AX series are known as “shoulder” synths which you can play like a guitar. Korg also has an extensive line of dedicated synths, making some of the smallest synth keyboards today such as the MicroKorg and MicroX.
Nord is another well-known manufacturer of digital keyboard instruments that makes dedicated synths such as the Lead 2x and the Wave. Premium workstations such as the Korg Oasys and Roland Fantom G8 have powerful built-in synthesizer functionality as well. Each synthesizer, old and new, can be treated as a unique instrument, offering it’s own unique character and functionality.
There are so many different kinds of music keyboards to choose from. Within a particular brand’s catalog there are several types, or categories, (for example, workstations or digital pianos) of musical keyboard instruments. Within each category there are sometimes several series.
Within each series there are different models. To find out what each type of keyboard has to offer and determine which one is best for you, it’s useful to browse through a few brand’s offerings and read up on what the various models have to offer.
By understanding what types of music keyboards are out there, it will be a lot easier to choose the right keyboard instrument to meet your needs. All music keyboard manufacturers make digital pianos while the other keyboard categories are manufacturer-specific. Casio, Yamaha, and Roland make arranger/workstations while Kurtzweil, Nord, and Roland make synthesizers, and M Audio makes midi controllers.
Understanding the different options and functions will help to know what you can do with the music keyboard, but as I’ve said before, it’s valuable to be able to play different music keyboards to determine which one feels right, and ultimately let your ears be the judge of how it sounds.