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You Don’t Need an Amp for Your Synthesizer (Here’s Why!)

One of the best parts of playing an instrument is playing it loud. If you’re new to hardware synthesizers, you may be wondering: do you need an amp for a synthesizer?

You do not need an amplifier for a synthesizer. Whether you are practicing at home, recording in a studio, or playing live, a synthesizer can be connected directly to headphones, an audio interface, or a PA system. An amplifier can be used, however, to give tonal character to your synth such as overdrive, but this is not a necessity.

Not the answer you were expecting? It certainly came as a surprise to me when I purchased my first hardware synth, but I’ve covered all the reasons that you don’t need an amp for a synth, as well as some reasons that you may want to use one, below!

Why you don’t need an amp for your synthesizer

I entered the world of synthesizers from a guitar playing background, so to me, I thought that an amplifier was a necessity to being heard, and was as important to my overall sound as the guitar I was playing. This isn’t the case with a synthesizer.

To fully explain this, let’s first look at what an amplifier does, what the components that make up an instrument amplifier (that’s the term for the amplifiers used with guitars, basses, and so on) are, and what they do.

What is an amplifier?

The role of an amplifier, as suggested by the name, is to amplify the signal of low output instruments to a level powerful enough to drive a loudspeaker, which results in the loudspeaker outputting your sound.

Sounds simple, right? An instrument is plugged into an amp, and then it makes a loud sound. 

Now we’ll look at how that happens.

Here’s how an instrument amplifier is made up:

  • Preamplifier: The signal first travels from the instrument to the Preamplifier. A preamplifier, or “preamp”, is a device designed to increase the amplitude of a weak signal, this could be from a microphone (which outputs at mic level) or a guitar (which outputs at instrument level). This signal is increased to line level.
  • Power amplifier: The line level signal is then sent to the power amplifier. The power amplifier, or “power amp”, is a device designed to increase line level signals to “speaker level”, which is a high enough level to drive headphones and loudspeakers.
  • Loudspeaker(s): The final part of the chain is the loudspeaker, which is driven by the speaker level signal.

All you need to understand is this: the preamp takes a mic level or instrument level signal and turns it to a line level signal. This signal is then taken to the power amplifier and is made speaker level. The speaker level signal then drives the loudspeaker to make noise. That is the primary function.

An infographic showing mic, instrument, line, and speaker level signals

A secondary function of an instrument amplifier is to affect the tone of the sound. Depending on the type of amp, this can be achieved in a few ways. The “traditional” way is by turning up the preamp on a tube based amp, which creates overdrive.

You can also get “modelling amps” where you can select a tone.

So, you can also use an amplifier to shape your tone. I’ll call this the secondary function.

I’ll now explain why neither of these functions are necessary to use a synth.

The reasons you don’t need an amp for your synth

Based on the above explanation of what an amplifier does, there are 2 related reasons that you do not need an amplifier for a synth:

  1. Synths do not need a preamp
  2. Synths do not need tone shaping

Let’s explore each of these reasons in more detail below.

1. Synths do not need a preamp

As mentioned, an instrument amplifier passes an instrument’s low level signal through a preamplifier to make it line level. Well, a synthesizer outputs at line level.

This means that it can output straight into headphones, a mixing board, or the PA system at a venue. Which brings us onto the second point…

2. Synths do not need tone shaping

Instruments like guitar (and to a lesser degree, bass) need to go through an amplifier to give the instrument some richness. If you plugged a guitar directly into a mixing desk it would sound very bland, so an amp is necessary to get some character.

A synth generates its own sound internally, so doesn’t need any additional shaping. Effects like overdrive or distortion are a product of the synth itself as opposed to any post-processing by the amplifier.

How do you use a synthesizer without an amp?

So, I’ve covered why you don’t need an amp but you may still be wondering how to use a synth without an amp.

Even though there are specific keyboard amplifiers, I maintain that in the vast majority of cases, you really don’t need one (don’t worry, I’ll cover the times you might want to use one later on!)

Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Playing at home: When practicing or playing at home, your synthesizer will have a ¼” or ⅛” headphone output that you can connect to. Some modern synths also have built in speakers. You may also choose to output to active speakers, which have broader uses than a traditional amplifier.
  • Recording in a studio: You can record your synthesizer by connecting it directly to a mixer or audio interface to record into your DAW
  • Playing a live gig: When playing a live gig, you will be able to connect your synthesizer directly to the PA system through the main mixing desk

I’ve expanded on these different scenarios in more detail below, and give you some more options on how to use your synth without an amp.

Playing at home

Playing your synth at home is essential for practicing and understanding your instrument, and so it’s important to be able to hear what you’re doing.

Fortunately, most synths come with either a ⅛” or ¼” headphone jack, which will suit most people’s needs for home use. In addition, most modern synths come with built in speakers, which can be useful for a quick playing session.

Modern synthesizers have a lot of connectivity options

There’s a few methods you can use to get a louder sound at home without using an amplifier that I’ll cover in more depth below. These are:

  • Using an audio mixer
  • Using an audio interface
  • Using active monitors

Using an audio mixer

My personal preference, and the method I use, is to play my synth through an audio mixer.

I run all my music equipment through the same mixing console as it means I can play my synth alongside other inputs, like a sequencer and a microphone, and blend them together and output them to my headphones, studio monitors, or PC.

This allows me to quickly try out different ideas for a song and then record it straight from the mixer into DAW without having to plug or unplug any cables.

If you’re looking for an option for practicing and recording at home, while being able to connect to headphones, loudspeakers, and directly to your PC, then an audio mixer is a great choice for you.

For reference, I use a Mackie Mix8 mixer, which gives me plenty of inputs and features for both practicing and recording. You can get one here using the below Amazon link. I’ll earn a small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to yourself!

Using an audio interface

Similarly to the above, you can also connect your synth directly into an audio interface to achieve a similar effect, as you can output to headphones, studio monitors, or a PC. The only difference is that with most audio interfaces, you need your PC to be turned on for them to work.

In addition, the number of inputs are less generous on audio interfaces compared to mixers. But, if you only intend to listen to your synth, or record one instrument at a time, then an audio interface can be a good choice.

Using active monitors

If you really want to get some extra volume from your synth without relying on headphones, then I recommend purchasing a pair of powereds monitors (also called active monitors) as a good investment.

These have an added benefit as you can also use them to monitor and master any home recording sessions, so you get your money’s worth of use for them.

The Yamaha HS5 studio monitors are the industry standard for studio monitoring, and will be able to handle your synth’s output. You can pick up a pair using the below Amazon link, where I’ll get a small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to yourself!

Recording your synth in a studio

You do not need an amplifier to record your synthesizer. That said, there are certain scenarios when you might want to use an amplifier to achieve a certain tone.

In the vast majority of cases, you’re going to connect your synthesizer directly into a mixer or audio interface and record straight into a DAW.

This gives you the advantage of a clean and clear sound from your synth without having to mess around with mic placement and the subsequent issues that can come with that!

Some artists and audio engineers like to use a dedicated preamp to overdrive the synth to achieve what’s known as “soft clipping”, or “overdrive”. This will give your synth’s tone some vintage warmth, which can sound great, but is down to personal preference.

Playing a live gig

If you’re a synth player looking to play live, you might be considering buying an amplifier to ensure you’re loud enough to be heard throughout the venue. You don’t need an amp to do this.

Whilst keyboard amps do exist, technology has made them redundant. For example, instead of putting a mic next to your amp at a gig (which is what the guitarists will need to do), your synthesizer can be connected directly to the PA system via the main mixing desk.

This means that you’ll not only have plenty of volume, but you’ll also have a much clearer sound then you would playing via an amp.

This can be done whether you’re playing a solo set, or as part of a band.

Top tip: Be sure to double check with any venue ahead of time whether they can accommodate you plugging your synth directly through the mixer. Any venue that hosts live music will be able to accommodate this.

When do you need a synth amp?

The only time you may need a dedicated synth amp is if you are in a band and practicing at a location without a PA system, or if you’re performing at a venue without a PA system.

If this is you, then I would still recommend getting a pair of active speakers as opposed to a dedicated synth amp. You will achieve a similar effect (i.e. making your synth louder) but you will also have the added benefit of being able to use the speakers to mix and master any music in a home studio, or use them for recreational use like playing music or video game audio.

Now, even though you do not need to use an amplifier with your synth, some people still choose to use one to get a certain tone, usually from overdriving a tube based amp. 

Again, this is purely a matter of personal preference and not a necessity. Most modern synths have the capability to produce an overdriven sound based on their onboard options alone.

If you’re determined on wanting to use a synth amp, be sure to get one that has been designed specifically for keyboard use. These amps are able to handle the high outputs and frequencies associated with synthesizers and keyboards, which can disrupt and damage traditional guitar amplifiers.

You’ll be able to recognise a keyboard amp as it will have 2 speakers: a large loudspeaker and a smaller speaker above called a “tweeter”.

Like the name suggests, the “tweeter” handles the higher frequencies while the loudspeaker, or “woofer”, handles the lower end.

Brands like Roland, Laney, and Behringer will be your best bet for a keyboard amp.


You should now have a better understanding of why you don’t need an amp for your synth, as well as how an amplifier works, and some ideas on how to set up your synth when you’re playing at home, recording in a studio, or at a live performance.

To summarise:

  • You don’t need an amplifier to play a synth
  • Synthesizers output at line level and can be connected directly to a PA system or active speakers
  • If you want to use a synth amp, make sure it has been designed specifically for keyboard use

I hope this has answered all of your questions, but if you do need to know anything more, get in touch here and I’ll be happy to answer any questions! 

Related Questions

Can you plug a synth into a guitar amp?

You should not use a guitar amplifier with a synthesizer. This is because guitar amplifiers are designed for frequencies between 70Hz to 6kHz. Synthesizers have an output that can be both lower and higher than this frequency range, which may damage your amplifier.

What amp do I need for a synth?

You do not need an amp to use a synthesizer. If you want to use an amp, you should use a amp designed specifically for keyboard or synth use. This will be able to handle the frequencies produced by your synth without risking damage to the speaker.