Dubrek Stylophone - £10-15
|Pic taken from the Amazon entry for the Stylophone|
Already got a stylophone? Why not take a look at the uber-gimmicky Beatbox Stylophone, which comes with cheesy scratch samples and vocal hits. Or don't, I'm just saying...
Gakken SX-150 Mark ii - £25-28
|Pic taken from the Amazon entry for the Gakken|
This looks so good that I actually asked for one for my secret santa this year. It seems popular with modders and fairly straightforward to get into: this page here has a tonne of great information about the internals and modding instructions, which include how to add MIDI in, among other things.
Korg Monotrons - £28~ each
Korg's battery-powered Monotron range comes in three distinct versions: the Monotron, Monotron Duo and Monotron Delay and use the gnarly MS-20 filter with strong resonance. The Monotron comes with a sawtooth LFO that can either modulate the pitch or cutoff, the Duo comes with two oscillators and an X-modulation function for creating tons of bright chiptune-esque sounds and the Delay comes with a fully fledged delay circuit and pitch modulation LFO with triangle and square waveshapes, turning the Monotron into a spaced out dub siren and Doctor Who SFX generator. All three are darn cheap and are great for sound effects, gathering inspiration and using as an external processor, using the 3.5mm in and out jacks to add a bit of spice, though as cheap units I note that signal noise is a bit of an issue as the filter cutoff is opened fully.
Naturally I have all three and cannot rate them highly enough, though as analogue machines they do tend to eat up AAA batteries quickly. Like other budget analogue machines, I have seen quite a few sites with mods, including MIDI control, in part thanks to Korg's habit of adding labels to the circuit board to help all those who are curious about opening them up.
If you only had to buy one, go for the Delay.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators - £40-45~ each
The Pocket Operators are the first products from Scandinavian firm Teenage Engineering that are priced at the bottom end of the spectrum. Taking cues from the Volca series, the Pocket Operators all fulfil different duties for drums, basslines and leads, with the on-chip digital samples providing a serious amount of sonic power in a charming format with a Game & Watch inspired LCD with charming (if slightly bewildering) animations based on what sounds you sequence. All can be synced together using 3.5mm jacks and can also be synced to the Korg Volcas as well, meaning these are perfect for adding to an existing setup.
All three are admittedly fairly flimsy, so for £45 it might be prudent to invest in the rubber cases that are offered. Unfortunately, this bumps the price up by another £20, putting them close to the Volcas in terms of cost. Caveat Emptor, as with all of these purchases!
Korg Volcas - £80~ each
In my mind there is no "best" module, as it is all based on what you are looking for. At this price they combine lots of advantages with some distinct downsides for their size/price, but get one and I guarantee that you will want to collect the other two (or three if you want the Volca Sample as well!).