DSI Mono Evolver Keyboard $1,199
The MEK is an updated version of the Sequential Circuits Pro-One, probably the coolest widely available and affordable vintage synth, and they were both designed by Dave Smith. But it's not self-consciously retro. Alongside the analog oscillators and filters are digital oscillators and effects, plus tunable feedback loops and bit-crushing effects that no other synth has ever had. It even has a 'slop' control to recreate slightly out-of-tune vintage synths.
Pros: It's a modern classic. Programming is so deep and complex it can compete with huge modular synths for wierdness.
Cons: Synth purists whine about the A/D converters in the signal path. Also, do you really need more blue LEDs in you life?
Moog's 'affordable' mono synth drew howls of derision from purists and turbogeeks when it was launched in February. Then the initial 'Tribute Edition' run of 1,200 sold out within weeks. They're now preparing to launch a standard edition, expected to lose the wooden panels and Bob Moog signature on the back, hopefully retailing for below $1,000. It's still a long way from the days when Moog built 'Concertmate' branded analog synths for Radio Shack.
Pros: This is a serious, luxury, properly-engineered instrument, with very few compromises on sound. It doesn't use all-in-one oscillator or filter chips, but discreet components.
Cons: Even at this price, they have made huge compromises with the interface to save money, and this is a strictly retro-sounding synth. It won't make any sounds that a 25 year-old Moog Prodigy can't . Also, do you really need more blue LEDs in your life?
The Moog and the MEK represent the establishment -- you can buy them in Guitar Center, and their boards are buit by computer-controlled SMT machines. The AR-1 is something altogether more traditional. It's a totally retro (no MIDI, no patch storage) analog synth hand-built to order in Bedford, England.
Pros: It's the real thing, but it will work out of the box. Vintage synths went out of fashion for 20 years for a reason: they were flaky and unreliable and -- in many cases -- really badly made. Not this baby.
Cons: Supplies are strictly limited, and maker Adrian has been burned by time-wasters, so he'll want a hefty deposit before starting work. The specifications are limited, but it's a hand-built machine, so custom mods are always a (cost) option.