I originally wrote this as an answer to a question on Quora.
To put it simply, yes. Analog synthesizers are absolutely overrated. I’m referring specifically to subtractive synthesizers.
The differences in sound quality really ARE quite minor, so don’t feel bad if you can’t much tell them apart.
That’s not to say they’re not useful. They certainly are, and I say this as someone who owns more than one. They each have their own distinctive sound, but analog sounds are quite limited. I don’t mean you can’t create a wide variety of sounds with them, but rather that the type of sounds you can create don’t vary much from one analog synthesizer to another.
Most of the love (and idolatry) for vintage analog gear comes from how groundbreaking and iconic certain synthesizers are and how important they were for music of their time and the amount of joy the music created with them has brought to listeners. Just like most vintage cars aren’t actually very good cars, the historical and nostalgia aspects of vintage analog synthesizers affect their value greatly.
From a music maker’s perspective, the analog sound is worth it to a certain degree, but vintage analog not as much. 30-40 year old synthesizers break all the time, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single player or collector who hasn’t spent inordinate amounts of time and/or money on repairs. Good luck touring with an old Jupiter or CS. Just use or create the sounds you like and don’t worry about how they came into existence. The nice things about most modern synthesizer workstations is that they all have a massive library of sample-based sounds (including the sounds of vintage analog), one or more kinds of virtual analog synthesis, and the ability to load samples. Find a friend who likes vintage gear and sample some of it, because a working sampler or virtual analog sounds far better than a broken analog.
In a way it’s good that there’s an analog fad going on right now. New analog gear is being created and can substitute very well for decaying vintage gear. A prophet 6 is a great buy when you can get it new and it has much better capabilities and stability than a prophet 5, not the least of which is a large amount of patch memory.