Oh, right, I forgot that nobody fucking cares. I am now firmly convinced that if Sonic State isn't owned by Roland, then somebody that runs that site is fucking somebody at Roland. They continually print the most banal Roland press releases. A boutique company can send them shit all day long, and they'll never print it, but someone at Roland gets two-ply bathroom tissue instead of the company-standard one-ply, and it's banner headlines at Sonic State. I have no idea why I continue to subject myself to this drivel, but I'm a junkie for music news, what can I say?
UPDATE: I just did the math, and fully 10% of the articles on Sonic State's front page are about Roland. I realize I'm obsessing over this, but it is still such blatant ass-licking, I can't help but notice.
First up, we have the Chameleon, from Soundart. Unfortunately, Soundart went out of business not too long ago, but I'm given to understand they still have some available, for around $550 when all is said and done. I've seen these on the 'bay as well now and again, so they're not unobtainable. I own one, as does Adam, and while I like mine more than he likes his, we both like it just fine. Luckily for us, Paul Maddox (of Monowave fame) has kind of taken the Chameleon under his wing, and made a site devoted to furthering software development for it, which you can find here. All these "skins" are in addition to the several that you can get on the Soundart site, so all in all, this particular unit probably has more good quality programs available for it than any other option, cost-wise.
Now, by Open-Architecture, I want to be clear that I don't mean "open" like Open Source. I mean open like it isn't a chunk of DSP that is permanently stuck being, e.g., a Virus. In that vein, next up is the Roland VariOS. This particular beastie is significantly more powerful than the Chameleon, but only has three "skins:" VariOS-8, which is a Jupiter 8 emulator, VariOS-303, which does what you'd expect, and V-Producer, which is a slightly dumbed-down version of the VariPhrase box they used to hype the shit out of. You can read about it at the Roland site here.
This unit is also discontinued, I think, but it is available here and there as Roland sells down their stock. Sweetwater has it for $845. Worth it? That's up to you to decide.
Now, the Nord G2 Engine, well, you know all about it. It's a Nord G2 with no front panel; all programming is done via the USB interface. This isn't open in the strictest sense, as it only runs one program, the G2 Modular stuff. But it is certainly as programmable as the other two options, and considerably moreso in the case of the Roland unit. It is also much more popular and is still being made. It'll set you back a grand, if you shop around. I think that everything Nord makes kind of has this Nord-ness to it, and my experience playing with the G2 demo doesn't really change that. But if you dig the Nord, you could do worse than this.
Last up, we have the venerable PowerCore FW. This isn't as adaptable as the other three, as it is just a brick of DSP that needs a DAW to function. However, when it comes to professional-quality programs, it beats the other three hands-down. If you end up getting the really good plugs, this will end up setting you back an arm and a leg, but it's the best game in town for open systems, no doubt about it.
The point to all of this? If you're going to be buying a DSP-based synth or effect any damned ways, you might as well get something that can be more than one thing, you know? The current crop of Virtual Analogs and multi-effects are all intrinsically the same thing inside; it's the programs that count. So shop for the best programming options, not the best looking front panel.
Okay, rather than a ludicrous wall of gear, today I'm giving up a ludicrous _rack_ of gear. I copped this off the Waveterm page. What you're looking at is a fairly complete version of what was, for all intents and purposes, PPG's final product series. From the top, it is a Waveterm B, the Expansion Voice unit (to give 8 more voices to a Waveterm/Wave system, for a total of 32 voices), the Expander (which gave an additional hard drive), and the HDU, which gave the Wave system direct-to-disk recording. You can just see a PPG Wave 2.x (probably 2.3, given the rest of the system) peeking in on the right.
For its day, this was about as powerful as wavetable synthesis got, and is certainly still a viable system today. I don't know who owns this, but the process of elimination would say that it was owned by the creator of the Waveterm C software, which is downloadable on the same page. The Waveterm C package allows any random PC to emulate the Waveterm, so if you have a Wave 2.3, you're good to go. Note that this package also comes with a Wave 2.3 emulator which is surprisingly good. Download the demo to give it a try. You can actually have a whole Wave system (like you see in the picture above) running in software, should you desire. I feel it sounds better than the Waldorf VST plug (which is now abandonware, sadly.)
UPDATE: Apparently, it isn't free. They want $400 for it. Even so, that's a pretty good deal for something like this.
There are few tools you actually _need_ to create music, but a good compressor, a good mic pre, and a good mic are the three things you should spend money on. For everything else, you can either do it in your computer with passable quality, or the difference between good and bad is only noticable by people with "golden ears." That's why I continually post about high-end mic pres, compressors, and mics. This is the one area that separates the men from the boys. In that light, I bring you this.
Pictured above is the end result of the Bloo Technologies LA2A kit. This is apparently as close as you can get to the Real Thing in this day and age. It isn't exactly inexpensive, though. There is a thread at the Prodigy Pro forums, found here, that is everything you need to know. Bloo Technologies doesn't have a website, and this is more or less a complete child of the Prodigy Pro site. He mouses about the price, and won't actually tell you unless you e-mail him. I have thoughtfully done so for you already, and (risking the Wrath here) I post it: the kit from him is $650. It is missing a few parts which you will have to procure separately, which brings the total cost-to-build to around $850.
Now, Universal Audio makes the current incarnation of the Teletronix LA2A, available for $2399 from Vintage King, so $850 is quite a deal, if you're handy with the soldering iron. There are several other knockoffs, in the same price range, or you can, of course, track down a real one for about a grand more.