A handy guide by Dave Gardner
Oh, the dilemma between workstations and synths! The main difference really is that a workstation keyboard is designed to do pretty much a bit of everything. Instruments like the Roland Fantom G8 or Korg Kronos are a combination of a really powerful synth, a piano, a vast library of instrumental sounds, a sequencer and multitrack audio recorder, a sampler and a live instrument with options to split and layer sounds any way you like. The great thing about it is that all of these functions are incredibly high quality and relatively easy to use once you’re familiar with the interface.
Why would you bother with a workstation though, if you already have a high spec computer running DAW software that’s already loaded with sounds, samples and loops? The answer lies in how you want to produce music. Workstation keyboards can give you great hands-on control of your software and also provide a totally different way of composing. For example, if you have been staring at a computer screen in work all day, sometimes it can be nice to leave that behind for a while and produce an idea using the workstations own sequencer. Another benefit is that producing bits of tracks within a hardware sequencer can free up memory or processor power on your computer leaving it free to run other things more efficiently. Larger workstations are often equipped with 88 weighted, piano action keys which allow for incredibly expressive, enjoyable performance.
“limitations” often give a well defined, identifiable “sound”
On the other hand, we have hardware synthesiser like the Nord Stage 2 and the Roland Jupiter 80. Hardware synths distinguish themselves as being dedicated to creating, combining and playing sounds. What they lack on the music-production front, they more than make up for as performance instruments. Hardware synths are usually entirely dependant on the sounds they can create internally, and whilst these options can be vast, their “limitations” often give a well defined, identifiable “sound” that is unique to each specific model.
Ultimately, the equipment you use should reflect your need as a musician. If you love to perform live, to sit and while away hours creating unique sounds and drawing inspiration from them, a hardware synth would be your new best friend. If the idea of having a musical base of operations, where you can take musical ideas from embryonic idea to finished product all in the one place using an almost limitless array of sounds, the workstation keyboard will likely make your dreams come true!