It is common to see some digital pianos and keyboards with speakers built into them. That’s because most of those keyboards are made with the beginner in mind. It’s an excellent idea to have an all-in-one package without any extra gear when learning how to play the piano/keyboard. But what about synthesizers? Do synths have speakers?
While a few synthesizers have built-in speakers, most synths don’t have speakers because built-in speakers are not full range. This means you won’t give you the best representation of the sound your synth is producing. Built-in speakers will also make the synthesizer hefty to move around with.
This is a valid question, in my opinion, because synths are expensive, and it will certainly be a nice-to-have feature to be able to play or practice on your synth without connecting speakers.
However, manufacturers have very good reasons why they don’t add speakers to synths, and we are going to explore those reasons. Also, we’ll talk about some good speaker options you can use with your synths.
Why Synths Don’t Have Speakers
One thing musicians care about a lot is portability. Personality, I’ve made it a habit of checking the weight of every musical gear I buy. We care about portability musicians, especially those on the road, travel a lot. We move from city to city, from one studio to the other, and so on. And we carry our musical instruments along with us as well.
Synth manufacturers know this as well (of course) because most are musicians themselves. Year after year, they strive hard enough to make a much more powerful synthesizer that weighs less than their previous build.
That’s because musicians always demand a lightweight but powerful instrument that we can take along with us anywhere without stress. And in an effort to please us, sacrifices had to be made.
Good speakers are heavy; there are no two ways about it. And putting a pair of speakers inside a synthesizer will increase its weight significantly, making it uncomfortable to move around with. Unless you want to compromise on the quality of speakers, you won’t find good speakers that weigh less.
Synthesizers are not the only instrument without built-in speakers. Almost all flagship and midrange keyboards, digital pianos, and workstations available today have no speakers. It’s a conscious effort by manufacturers to reduce the weight of their keyboards and make them portable.
You can’t fit a full-range speaker in a synthesizer.
Another reason why manufacturers decide not to fit a built-in speaker in synthesizers is its limitation.
You can’t fit a big speaker inside the synthesizer’s form factor. That will drastically change how synths look and make them bulky. For this reason, if you are very keen on adding speakers to your synth, they have to be small, and small speakers have a lot of limitations.
Firstly, they won’t be loud enough. If you want to appreciate your synth’s true sound, the volume has to be high enough to fill the room you are in. This will make the synth much enjoyable to play. However, tiny speakers can’t get very loud else they will blow.
Secondly, built-in speakers are not full-range. This means that built-in speakers in your synth won’t be able to reproduce the exact sound the synth makes. That’s because tiny speakers lack the ability to produce sounds in the mid-range and sub frequencies.
You will notice that the speakers’ sound is thin, low quality, and lacks bass. And this can have a negative impact on how you perceive the synthesizer. You might think the synth is not powerful enough to produce fuller-sounding patches. However, the speaker might be the problem.
This is one primary reason why manufacturers choose not to add speakers to their synths.
Synthesizers with built-in speakers
Although adding speakers to a synth comes with limitations, as we have discussed, there are a few synths out there that have built-in speakers. I reviewed in this article five of the best synthesizers with built-in speakers, and I recommend you check it out. But for your convenience, here are two of them.
Korg MicroKorg S
The Korg MicroKorg S (on Amazon) is an upgrade to the earlier model; the MicroKorg launched in 2002. If you have been a fan of synthesizers, you probably know the MicroKorg was a massive success. A lot of synth enthusiasts had one of these in their studio or their live rigs.
The MicroKorg S comes with all the presets from the old version, but with two additional banks to give you more memory to save your programmed presets. The vocoder was not left out either. There is also a new favorites feature that allows you to save your favorite patches for easy recall. This is a handy feature, especially for those who’ll be using this synth live.
Lastly, it has built-in speakers. There are a total of three speakers crammed into this small unit. Two of those are a stereo pair, and one is sub-bass. The sub-bass speaker helps bring those low-end frequencies to life. Of course, these are small speakers, so you shouldn’t expect much volume, but they are loud enough to impress you.
Surprisingly, the MicroKorg S is very portable too. They weigh about 5.5lbs and small enough to fit in a backpack. You can power them with 6 AA batteries as well. Honestly, this is a cool synth to have fun with while on your Sofa or at a picnic. Great work, Korg
Teenage Engineering OP-1
Teenage Engineering OP-1 Synthesizer (also on Amazon) is a synth that many musicians love and admire. In fact, there is a whole community around this synth because of its mind-blowing features. but on the flip side, other people hate it too, mainly because of the price. Let me just say it upfront — the OP-1 is expensive.
Maybe I’ll cover the features and my personal take on the OP-1 in another article because I have to say lots of things about this synth. But that’s not what this post is about.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many mindblowing features about the OP-1, but sadly, the built-in speakers aren’t one of them. The speakers are too small for the sonic capabilities of this synthesizer.
So yes, you can take it along and have fun with it while on the road. However, the built-in speakers won’t give you a full-representation of the sound. You’ll appreciate the OP-1’s capabilities and sound engine better when you connect it to an external speaker. I guess the built-in speaker is an ok-to-have feature for the price you’re paying for this synth.
Which type of speakers is good for synthesizers?
As we’ve already established, most synthesizers don’t have speakers, and the few that do, are not of great quality. So what are the best alternatives you have? Which type of speakers is suitable for synthesizers?
If you want an accurate representation of your synth’s sound engine, a studio monitor is the best option to go for.
That’s because studio monitors are designed to give you a flat frequency response. This means it produces, as close as possible, the sound generated by your synth. This is particularly beneficial if you are a sound designer. You get a better representation of the sounds you’re creating, and you are guaranteed that they will sound great on a lot of different speakers as well.
You will get a lot of volume out of monitors as well, which makes playing much more enjoyable.
If you are a live gigging musician, then you know a keyboard amp is a must-have. So if you are going to use your synthesizer on stage or to practice with your band, you should definitely get a keyboard amp.
Keyboard amps are basically speakers with an amplifier built into them. They are much louder than studio monitors because of the amplification. And they are rightfully so because you need more output volume on stage than you will need at home or the studio. You will still hear your synth clearly in the midst of all the noise on stage when plugged into a keyboard amp. And no frequency gets missing in keyboard amps because most of them are full-range speakers.
There are also multiple channel keyboard amps out there for musicians that use multiple keyboards and synths on stage. So you don’t need an amp for every instrument. All you need is one excellent keyboard amp with multiple input channels to plug in all your instruments.
Can You Use Headphones for a Synth?
Yes, you can use headphones for a synthesizer. Many synthesizers come with a stereo ¼ inch headphone jack that allows you to directly plug in your headphones. And as always, you can use a headphone adapter to convert it into a 3.5mm headphone jack if you want.
A good pair of headphones may actually be the best option for you if you can’t afford monitors, or perhaps you are a hobbyist. That’s because there are really excellent headphones available today, which are full range and have a flat frequency response. So, you can equally get a perfect representation of your synth with headphones.
Headphones are portable. You can take them along with you and jam on your synth anywhere in the world. Also, if you don’t want to disturb your neighbors or family while you play your synth in the middle of the night, headphones are the way to go. These are some of the advantages headphones have over studio monitors and keyboard amps.
Keep in mind to turn down your headphones’ volume when you are plugged into your synths because synths can be very loud and harsh. Listening to your synths loud in headphones over an extended period can actually cause hearing impairment. So keep that in mind, anytime you are jamming your synth with headphones.
I hope this post gives you a good idea of why most manufacturers decide not to put speakers in their synthesizer unit. Essentially, they want to make synthesizers portable and, at the same time, powerful, and fitting speakers into their small form factor won’t make it portable. Also, built-in speakers are not that great, to begin with.
But a good option, if you are on a budget, are headphones. You can play your synthesizer with headphones directly connected to them to get a high-fidelity sound from your synth without spending a hefty amount on studio monitors or keyboard amps.