In praise of the Zynthian

A lot of the traffic on the forum concerns various issues people are having with the Zynthian, and sometimes it’s easy to forget why we are here to start with. So I thought I’d start a topic highlighting things we really like about the Zynthian.

For me, for starters its the whole idea of having a plugin host in its own little box with a dedicated UI including knobs. Some people scorn at the idea of Zynthian saying “it’s just an RPi4 running Linux; you could do the same with any old laptop”. And indeed, I have a ten year old sub-$200 tablet laptop with a 12.5" touch screen which I’ve used for Zynaddsubfx (and still use for editing) which is sortof half the price of the Zynthian (and with comparable processing power). But that’s missing the point. The thing with the Zynthian is that it’s all there, accessible, in one place, in one little box, with knobs.

The thing is, Zynthian bridges the gap between hardware synths and software synths. I have an aversion to software synths, I find there are always issues with things not working properly, and of course it’s not always smooth running on the Zynthian either, but emotionally, it’s much easier to slip into the “this is a synth” mindset with the Zynthian that with a PC, which is more of “this is a box emulating a synth”.

Then there’s the UI. There’s something inherently inviting with the way the UI is laid out when editing - the the red/gray color scheme, the font, the graphics, the clear graphic display of the parameter values, the way the screens are listed in the middle of the screen while the parameters are available in the corners, the ‘breadcrumbs’ of the layer and patch name displayed at the top so that one always knows where one is. It’s all both beautiful and functional, plus that it works both using the hardware buttons as well as in pure touchscreen mode. Plus of course that it’s all open, if I’m not happy with the menu layout I can just change it.

Setting up new layers is also easy-peasy business, no diving through endless menus setting up irrelevant things just to create a new layer. The way the layer number is the same as the MIDI channel is a simple yet brilliant concept. And adding MIDI and audio effects to a layer is simple, and just adds the new parameters to the available screens for the layer - it’s smooth and effortless.

I was initially surprised that the various software components are direct checkouts of a git repository, rather than single monolithic downloaded package. But this is also a brilliant concept - on a running machine I can experiment and test things using all the git features of branches etc, very direct, again very inviting (for us programmers…).

Looking ahead, the new audio mixer based layer setup on the testing branches again looks very inviting, although I seem to have issues accessing the various parts of the UI, and some things like the function mapping seems to be in a state of flux so I’m staying with stable for the time being to maintain the “this is a synth” feeling.

I’ve been through lots of synths over the years, and most of them have fallen short in some way, but Zynthian, although of course it’s no ordinary synth, is a ‘keeper’ for me, even if I were to use only a single synth engine (I’d go for a Zynthian running Dexed over the preenFM2 any day, for instance).


Hi @ricard!

Thanks a lot for writing this nice post! Most of people comes to the zynthian forum for solving their problems so it’s quite normal to have 90% of posts about issues. Developers normally talk about new features and improvements. It shouldn’t be a problem, as far as everybody understand these simple facts, anyway, it’s really good to have posts like this for talking about what zynthian currently offers, that it’s a lot!!


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I agree, having so many synth engines in a small box with great stability and a good UI is worth a lot.

I have always been interested in new instruments (and still am), but Zynthian is unique. The best thing for me is Pianoteq, but I also love the Mellotrons and other synth engines.

About alternatives:
-I am not a fan of running vst’s on computers, since you’re still looking at a screen a lot. Also the stability is never as high as on Zynthian.
-I do like the iOS instruments, but would never dare to gig with them because of a.o. the Lightning cable. Also the pianos are not as good.
-I have used a v-machine before, and really liked it, but again it was difficult to find a really good piano sound.
-For subtractive synths, I must say I still prefer my “knobbier” keyboard synths.

So for me, Zynthian is the way to go to expand my sound palette in an easy, compact and stable way.

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I haven’t bought the hardware but run Zynthian on a Pi 4 with a HiFiBerry soundcard in a metal enclusure with a small screen bolted to it. I was looking for an affordable synth that I could gig with, something I could control from my Akai Midi controller that wasn’t a laptop that I would be risking every time I opened it.
I am so grateful to Jofemodo, his team and all contributors to this forum. My set-up is a constant pleasure to use, robust, sounds great, super low latency and has at its heart something that is given for free. I am staggered at this generosity of spirit and would like you to know how much pleasure it has brought me.

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Really good to hear @Dylan .

Maybe you can share some pictures of your setup here:

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