Analog vs. Digital Synthesizers – My Take on the Old Debate

November 8th 2012  || by  || 20 Comments

“Analog, digital, virtual analog, software synths… which one is the best option? Which ones sound the best? This is one of the most frequent questions I get from my listeners, students and even friends from the music industry. So I thought I’d post my thoughts about this in a very condensed and non-technical form. Obviously, I won’t be comparing specific models or talk about the exceptions in this article, rather discuss the benefits/disadvantages of the four major categories in general (as for professional or advanced amateur studio use). So let’s go from the most fundamental to the more recent concepts.

Can a digital synth sound as good as an analog one?

Define good. A digital synth can sound horrible or it can sound way more interesting than an analog, depending on what type of sound and character you’re after. They both have strengths and weaknesses, and it simply doesn’t make sense to compare them without talking about some specific characters. For example, for sounds with a truly vintage character, for soft-saturation-rich sounds, for naturally unstable tones or somewhat uncontrollably fluctuating parameters, analog instruments will have an advantage, while most acoustic instrument imitations will sound quiet pathetic coming from analog electronic instruments. Besides actual samples of acoustic instruments, many digital synths will give you access to non-traditional parameters, diverse control options including MIDI, other than subtractive synthesis methods such as stable FM, PM, PD, additive, wavetable, granular, etc., and modeled analog component designs (algorithms), which might be unfeasible or practically impossible to build in the analog domain. So, get that old digital synth down from the attic.

Virtual analogs never sound as good as real analogs, right?

Wrong. Again, define good. The individual character of a virtual analog will likely come from different elements/attributes of the sound it produces than those of real analogs, and if that’s what you’re after, they might very well sound bigger, fatter, harsher, punchier than their analog relatives. Built-in effects may be available as part of the sound design process (as opposed to just system effects) in many of the virtual analogs (think of the Virus or the Supernova), and can often be controlled and routed in unconventional ways and interact with the more traditional attributes of sound. While virtual analogs will certainly have their own character, they will let you create sounds with a different character quite easily, as virtual analogs typically offer a large number of editable parameters, the non-traditional combinations of these, and highly flexible routing and control capabilities. Classic analogs have their individual character, which is fantastic, but might be somewhat more limiting when you’re trying to create sounds that don’t necessarily feature the typical character of a given model.

If you are using a VA and going for a classic”imperfection” (of steady pitch, amplitude, control and dynamic behavior) of a true analog sound, an often highly desirable character, you will have to imitate this imperfection by randomizing the value of several parameters– still, it just won’t be the same as the real thing. While the “warmth” of an analog synth can be described with an algorhythm and added to a virtual analog sound, a monotonously consistent (sampled) analog character or a digitally pre-programmed change of that character just won’t give you the same sonic quality and feel as the dynamically (and often randomly-and-dynamically) changing warmth and imperfection of a classic instrument. These exciting imperfections result from minor, unpredictable voltage changes, unrelated parameters’ coincidental effect on each other, use of a less consistently acting keyboard, difference in design (often no consistency there with hand-built models) and degree of stability between the oscillators, temperature changes, etc. Not to mention the unpredictable effect of a true analog instrument’s mood at a given time, i.e. what kind of day it’s having…

Do the new versions of vintage analog synths, those with fully analog signal paths (like the Voyager, MS-20 mini,  OB 2-voice, etc.) sound the same as their original versions?

Comparison test (including my own) show that they never sound the same. First of all, most units of classic analogs don’t sound the same to begin with, while there is very minimal difference, if any, between the mass-manufactured units of today’s analog synths (with a couple of exceptions). These synths can be really great as their analog signal paths and components give you the raw, warm, forgiving, “pushable”, powerful sound you might like, but with character stability, digital control and convenient features (flexible routing, performance controls, MIDI, software interface, patch memory, etc.).

Yet, sounding different doesn’t necessarily mean that they sound better or worse. More stable, yes. The question is whether you like a more or a less stable tuning, and a more or a less consistent reaction (amplitude, pitch, filter amounts, dynamics, etc.) to your otherwise consistent performance. Whether you like a cleaner or a “dirtier” analog output? In other words, when recording it, do you prefer more of a “the same notes played repeatedly never sound the same” behavior, or a more predictable, consistent sound? If the latter, recently (post-2002) built analogs (or most VAs) will be your best choices.

Another factor that might greatly infuence your choice is the synth’s ability to store your patches or settings. Today’s analogs often offer this functionality – for most, this is a clear advantage (more about the rest of us at another time). Lastly, besides the differences in sonic character and features, classic analog, new analog, and virtual analog instruments feel entirely different as a whole; the materials they are made of, the feel of their keyboard and controls… and of course, we all have our individual preferences between numeric displays, hi-res lcd screens with lots of details – or no screens at all.

Softsynths are just like digital synthesizers, but thank to the host computer they run on, they have more memory, handle larger samples, have more polyphony, offer higher multitimbrality, feature better interfaces… overall they are just better.

As far as the specs: yes. Better overall: definitely no! It is true that the numbers make software synthesizers seem like clear winners (especially if you don’t plan to show them off on stage), but I would argue that they have at least two major disadvantages, even when compared to digital synths.

The smaller disadvantage is that the sound they create either stays in the digital domain, or gets converted to analog signal by the D/A converter of your computer’s sound card or connected audio interface. This might not be a disadvantage for one or two sounds, but when 10-12 different sounds come from 6-8 different plug-ins or software, and they all go through the exact same host application and the same hardware’s D/A conversion, they might (and often they do) get a bit processed, “homogenized” the same way. Think of this as an extra spice, an extra character, which becomes part of every one of your sounds, making them sound a little more similar to each other than they did before conversion. On the contrary, if you keep them in the digital domain (the sounds never leaving your DAW), or if you have a very high quality interface with highly transparent D/A converters, you will end up with no added character in any of your sounds, at least in theory. This might be exactly what you want, but personally, I prefer to get that little bit of an extra sonic diversity, as long as it comes from different D/A converters, pre-amplifiers and other components for each digitally generated sound. I have blind-A-B tested the digital (adat, s/pdif) and analog outputs of several of my digital and virtual analog synths, and in 80% of the time I preferred the analog signal. (Surprisingly, the 20% of these synths where I opted to use the digital output, were virtual analogs!)

This is not to say that the advantage of an analog signal is that it’s warmer, less sterile, or in any way better than the digital signal – in fact, in some cases it’s less “clean” and less dynamic.  But, the analog signal is usually a bit more exciting, as its character isn’t as consistent as the digital signal’s more “always perfect” character. Letting favorable accidents (like analog distortion, signal degradation) happen can lead to unexpected (good or bad) character in your sound – and now we are talking about a creative element of sound shaping, as opposed to just sonic quality!

The other disadvantage of software synths is even more interesting, partly because it’s actually a difference between software synths and all types of hardware synths (not only digital), in other words, in-the-box vs outboard gear. It’s a less obvious yet HUGE difference that only a few uesrs think about:

The consequences of a different interface

Based on my experience as a professional electronic music composer and synthesist, and as an owner of dozens of hardware synths and a long list of softsynths, I can assure you that the differences in the way we control software and hardware synths differentiate them more from one another, than their sound or features ever could. While hardware synths might feature (ideally) a large number of switches, buttons, faders, sliders, dials, encoders, joysticks, software synth applications and plug-ins typically offer a streamlined graphical interface, showing the image of buttons, sliders, selectable parameter windows, drop-down menus and value fields.

Our physical connection with an electronic instrument plays an important role in musical sound design: being “one” with a familiar model often yields more diverse and interesting results. While “mousing around” on the screen and trying to access certain parameters in menus and sub-menus of a software synth can make the sound sculpting process way too streamlined, unintuitive and even frustrating, the literally hands-on operation of the hardware synths makes the user able to hear or imagine a sound or tonal character first, at the same time reach for a dedicated knob and take the sound to the just imagined direction instantaneously. No ideas lost or “textures in your mind” gone before your ears get to hear the changes in the sound – the mind is ready to take the instantaneously heard sound to a new direction in real time by directing the hands. This sensation of literally touching a parameter, this continuous two-way feedback between the two hands and the ear/mind ensures a highly creative and idea-inducing sound shaping process, which is largely or completely missing when one is using an indirect controller such as a mouse, is entering values, scrolling through menus. Even with a controller keyboard, you are limited to one particular interface, the controls of which were not designed with your particular soft synth in mind. We use the mouse for way too many things in our lives today, why make the way we control all of our instruments so uniform, too?

Although some awkward menus of small-display digital hardware synths might slow you down in the sound design process, they will still offer a direct hands-on experience, and a menu system featuring a different structure and logic for every instrument – less likely that you will follow the usual left-to-right structure of soft synths, and less chance that you will end up at the same place when you’re trying to create a brand new sonic texture or behavior.

The significance of the difference between what tools (like a mouse vs physical buttons) and what senses (such as seeing vs touching) we use to communicate with an instrument is greatly underestimated by most, yet they might allow users to unlock the real creative and unique potentials of their hardware instruments, and more importantly, expand and realize the user’s sonic ideas.

Don’t get me wrong – I like many software synthesizers and actually use several in Studio CS. So where do I see their advantage? Some of them will feature unique parameters or functions not found anywhere else, and using these in conjunction with the more traditional ones can lead you to new sonic territories. Unfortunately, these instruments are quiet rare, I could name only a handful that give you truly new and actually useful options (and they aren’t the really popular ones). If you want a totally sterile, noise- and unintentionally distortion-free sound, they are a great choice, especially when you’re keeping your entire production inside of your DAW. Then, there are the obvious practical benefits, such as saving physical space (they take up none), and saving money (they usually cost fraction of the hardware instruments, or are even free) for the user. They usually have a faster learning curve, they offer a simple-to-understand, large graphical interface, many preset sounds and the ease of saving user sounds with a single click. They won’t increase your electric bill, you can’t drop them by accident, you won’t ever need replacement parts, and they don’t even need cleaning – softsynths are definitely the most convenient option when it comes to synthesizers.

The question is, however: is it convenience that you want, when it comes to your sound?

20 Comments

  1. skunk3

    I agree with this article 100%. I’ve been saying the exact same thing for years. Yeah, softsynths are getting better and better, but they will never be as exciting as a hardware synthesizer… analog OR digital. You must always remain tethered to that computer, and you never really know if the stuff you have is going to be supported in the future. Also, there’s the fact that with hardware, you can always resell something in the future. Sometimes you can even make a profit off of it if the item is in demand enough. The bottom line is that there’s a lot of great options for synth heads these days… they should just use what they can afford and what makes the most sense for their preferred style of work flow. I tried going the “in the box” route, but I just couldn’t stay interested. I need hands-on control, and midi controllers never feel just right… not to mention mapping them is a pain.

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  2. Rob

    I would take your ‘define good’ statements even further as we look to the future, and ask, ‘define softsynth’.

    As our idea of what a computer is changes, our idea of where our software lives changes too. iPad controllers and offboard controllers like maschine are just the start of a much, much larger movement.

    What happens when you can take your phone around with you, and it can wirelessly connect to your keyboards and controllers, which communicate via OSC and automap themselves, querying back and forth until you realise you’re almost *never* looking at a computer screen and using a mouse any more.

    The tactile, immediate feedback workflow is already here, but it’s going to get bigger. Look at arturia’s keyboards, they are dumb midi keyboards but have all the same controls on them as a soft synth.

    I disagree about the advantage being a (usually cheap) D/A converter on your synths – if needs be, you can reproduce this by simply running your sound out and back into your sound interface – but why would you want to?

    I think my insight would be that digital is more work. It’s less forgiving. It requires an understanding, care, patience, but you can work in the box and have just as good a sound, but it requires careful attention. It’s becoming less and less work though, as circuit emulation is improving and we understand what makes analog so forgiving.

    There is very little gear our there these days that could be classified as analog anyway, in the ‘random fluctuation’ sense. Many forums have done blind tests asking users to pick their preferred recordings, often the results are surprisingly slanted toward digital, much to the dismay of the analog advocates.

    It reminds me of the audiophile days, when mp3 became huge and many people stuck to lossless recordings in FLAC, and before that with vinyl. The fact is, when you mix down a synth into a track, a lot of the finer, subtle articulations get lost in the summing process. The overall mood, tone, and feel of the track is what people listen to music for – and if your digital softsynth instrument can convey a great mood, then you’ve won the battle.

    Good ears will beat good gear any day of the week.

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  3. Julius Dobos

    Rob – good post, good questions.

    What happens when you can take your phone around with you, and it can wirelessly connect to your keyboards and controllers, which communicate via OSC and automap themselves, querying back and forth until you realise you’re almost *never* looking at a computer screen and using a mouse any more. The tactile, immediate feedback workflow is already here, but it’s going to get bigger.

    Phone- and other touch-screen-based controllers are definitely part of the future, and they will get bigger for sure. However, they are in a quite primitive state currently as far as feedback is concerned – actually there is no immediate physical feedback at all… Also, they come with their own limitations and disadvantages – check out my article Three Less Obvious Enemies of Originality which goes into more details on the issue.

    I disagree about the advantage being a (usually cheap) D/A converter on your synths – if needs be, you can reproduce this by simply running your sound out and back into your sound interface – but why would you want to?

    What I was pointing out in the article regarding the “homogenized” D/A conversion problem of computer-based softsynths and the lack of built-in pre-ams was the difference between these components and their effect on sound. I would agree with you if the goal was always to get the most transparent, least destructive conversion… the perfectly “clean” result. However, this is not the case (which is why the article starts with asking you to “define good”). Sometimes what you want is an added unique character from a digital-analog (or analog-digital) conversion or pre-amplification process, and sending all your sounds through your DAW’s (engineered to be transparent) pre-amps and converters will not give you any uniqueness nor character. Sometimes what you want is to purposely degrade your sound in a specific, interesting way. Devices in the 8-bit world would be some of the more extreme examples… Elektron’s SID-station comes to mind first. If you are going for uniqueness and differences in processing, you do want to have variety, when that variety means intentional change (even degradation) in a specific way!

    There is very little gear our there these days that could be classified as analog anyway, in the ‘random fluctuation’ sense.

    True… and sad. But luckily, for those who care to find the real thing, there is the used market of classic and vintage analogue gear!

    The fact is, when you mix down a synth into a track, a lot of the finer, subtle articulations get lost in the summing process.

    That should definitely not be the case! If you are experiencing the loss of subtle sonic details during your mixing or summing process, I would advice you to take your individual sounds’ frequency strengths and weaknesses into consideration during the arranging and sound design process (before you even record those sounds), and mix with a similar approach I mind. It’d be really a shame to loose the details and fine articulations of the performance and sound design that one painstakingly puts into a production. The best solution is to prevent a “conflict situation”: instead of mixing audio to handle sonic conflicts and loss of details due to frequency masking, think ahead about potential issues as early as the arrangement and sound design process, and create soundscapes that avoid such conflicts and potential loss of details early on.

    Good ears will beat good gear any day of the week.

    Agreed, indeed!

    Reply
  4. Dean Ross

    Hi Julius

    This is probably the best essay I’ve read on this subject, and it’s a subject I as a professional musician/keyboard player think about and dwell on often! I have several soft synths in my collection and in all of them there are a large number of what I consider to be outstanding sounds which I quite possibly could not achieve (or even envisage!) with an analog synth. For the purposes of record production–both sonically and for in the box ease of use and recall–I’m delighted with these and will no doubt use them for a long time to come. Where my opinion sharply differs however, is in their application for live use. Here is where my own personal integrity as a musician (as opposed to a record producer or session player) comes to the fore. When a paying audience comes to see me perform whether as a soloist or part of a band, I want to give them the most sonically satisfying (on my terms) experience possible. And for me, notwithstanding trying to reproduce sounds which on the recording may well have originated on software, that experience has to be an analog one. Having grown up with “real” as opposed to virtual instruments i.e. Moogs etc. there is to me a clear and unmistakable difference sonically between an analog synth played in full glory as opposed to triggering a soft synth from a laptop. It seems the latter is the most prevalent form of “keyboard” playing these days amongst young bands, and although I don’t blame them for doing so (who wants to cart around a load of hardware when a laptop and controller will do the job for them equally as well, plus they can run their sequences etc at the same time), for me, my own expression and emotions are best achieved with a hands on interaction with my instrument. So that I’m not merely triggering sounds but am PLAYING A REAL INSTRUMENT (can’t emphasize this point strongly enough!) in addition to IMO analog’s audio superiority. Even tho it will be argued that most listeners can’t tell the difference between an analog and virtual/software synth, the fact is that I can certainly tell the difference and this will be reflected in my own performance, and in my own satisfaction that I have given the audience and myself the best musical experience possible.

    Reply
  5. Julius Dobos

    Hi Dean –

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you elaborated on the live performance aspect. Aside from Kraftwerk (for other unique reasons), I’m yet to see an exciting synth performance given without real instruments (and without relying on other show elements than playing the instruments themselves). Plug-ins can be neat (and convenient) but rarely excite anyone when you open them up – not even in the studio.

    Also I fully agree with you about the power and organic expressiveness of analog synths on the stage. Even though controllers can provide expressive modulation options, it’s the surprise element that soft synths lack: you never know how exactly an analog will sound one night or the next. This alone might be worth giving up the convenience of the pre-programmed settings of the digitals for (ok, there are a few exceptions like the Ensoniq Fizmo – sometimes you just don’t know what you’re gonna get from it). Either way, it’s the real-time-unexpected that can inspire the performer, and the audience can feed on the synergy between performer and instrument… as long as it’s not a bad surprise that your MemoryMoog has in store for you!

    Cheers,

    Julius

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  6. Joshua

    Hey just wanted to ask a question. Currently using Virus ti snow for trance. One thing I picked up on is plucks and trance like leads. They sound perfect! Never in my life listened to perfect plucks. Even Nexus rompler could not produce Virus ti quality. So is there software synth that can over step the quality of virus ti pluck sound? If so please give me a sample.

    Reply
    • Julius Dobos

      Hi Josh – when it comes to a category of sounds (such as your “plucks”), there are certainly some synths that are less-, and some that more suited for the job. However, I wouldn’t say that a particular brand/model is the “best” at generating the “perfect” pluck sound: it’s rather the availability and precise settings of parameters that you can achieve it with. The Virus Ti (and its plugin version), the Nexus, Vanguard, etc. make it easier to get those sounds, as they are designed with those types of sounds in mind, requiring fast VCA and VCF envelopes, analogue filter emulation, OSC click, VA oscillator stacking, etc.) so naturally they are great for modern trace-y / stab-y plucks. However, with enough tweaking, you can get amazing plucks out of many other hardware and software synths, too. So I’d say, it’s more the synthesist’s approach, skills and patience, than a particular piece of gear that matters. If you prefer not to spend too much time with tweaking, though, the models above are all excellent choices for classic trance patches.

      Reply
  7. Joshua

    I like to compose my music on my keys. Making the sound i.e from scratch, is something I never really enjoy. I do however enjoy layering and creating slight changes while using a patch within the soundset. Also like making my own beats from the ground up.Most times I layer 4 patches into one main sound.

    So far all I use and seem to need is Virus ti snow and Spetrasonics OMNI.

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  8. Joe

    I can always tell an analogue filter from a digital one. In fact, I hadn’t heard an analogue filter myself live until about a year ago when I bought my first analogue synth. When I heard the liquid fluidity of an analogue filter sweep for a the first time, it blew me away. Analogue filters “calculate” at the speed of electricity (light speed). Computers (yes, even modern ones) can’t calculate nearly that fast, so compromises have to be made in the algorithms.

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  9. Chloe

    @Joe yes, that is true, but we don’t even THINK at light speed, nonetheless hear things that happen that fast. 20hz-20khz and for most adults it’s well below 20khz. Even recording engineers. That said, I’m actually looking at 2 different synths lately – the novation Ultranova and the bass station 2, I’m very synth minded these days.

    I feel that analogue always sounds pretty. After having used analog, VA, digital, and softsynths analogue is prettier in terms of quality for me. I can hear the warmth and the fatness. I will however say that for me, growing up in my generation, I sometimes prefer VA or digital hardware synths. Not for the sound quality, but for the capability to do so much sculpting of the sound. If I had an analogue with all the same capability, I’d play with that. Unfortunately I can’t afford that much analogue muscle. I truly believe that one of the most important things about the synth is the fact that you’re interacting with it. I’ve even used pcm based rack synths and gotten SO MUCH MORE out of them than my copy of NI Massive or NI Reaktor. Why? I know my stuff when it comes to synthesis, that’s not it. It’s the connection. Even going through the shitty menus on an Emu Proteus 2000 got my juices flowing. I wasn’t focused on the computer any more. I wasn’t distracted with the billions upon billions of options. I knew what was available to me and used it. The menus became fluid and soon I ran that little thing better than my copy of Massive that I’d had for a year. Now I really want one, even though it’s PCM. Everyone seems to hate on pcm. Why? It’s all about what you want. I can do sound design on pcm stuff just as well as analog, va, or wavetable. Oh, and here’s another bit of juicy that nobody has mentioned about hardware. It doesn’t crash. I mean maybe once in a blue moon your analogue gear may blow a fuse or your Virus or Wavestation may have an OS crash but …very very very rarely. Not like a mac or pc. Also, it doesn’t eat up CPU time on your computer, and lo and behold you can have the whole thing in one unit. Great for taking to the living room. Try watching The L Word with a laptop and controller keyboard. I still love my copy of massive, it does lots of cool stuff and I’m pretty well versed in it. I would rather have a few good hardware synths than all my soft stuff though. 1 analog, 1 VA, 1 wavetable, 1 PCM. And a drum machine. That would do me.

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  10. Julius Dobos

    Joe & Chloe – thanks for chiming in, good points!

    “I wasn’t focused on the computer any more” – well put. This is a very good philosophy to follow – and not just in music production but in most aspects of life, imho (as strange as this might sound coming from someone who lives in Silicon Valley…). Btw. if you’re on the market for a Novation synth, you might want to look into a used Supernova II. One of my top 5 VAs.

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  11. Steven

    I agree with most of the article.

    But what joe is saying is taking my ear too for years. I have been trying allot of synths now and I was always amassed by the old school GOA sounds of these slow filter sweeps with higher resonances. It took me years to touch my first Moog Analog Low pass filter and VermonaLancet Lowpass Filter… I was blown away by the sound!

    I noticed that in the end, the analog domain which for me DOUS DO make a difference, is the expensive gear where the digital control duos not exist. Check modular synths like DOEPFER. I mostly talk now about the filters…

    It’s like putting high quality glass on your digital photo camera.

    I tried out some very expensive gear and… I think there is a reason why a 3000euro piece of gear gives a 3000euro sound. No offense… many of my friends believe in ‘in the box’ only but never tried a FULL analog signal path.

    I believe both worlds have different sonic quality’s and therefore none of them is better. Digital and analogue synths hand in hand complete the color palette.

    And please, when we talk about analog synths… don’t let us confuse it with hardware… Almost all the ”analog” synths these days have digital control… Even a Moog voyager has 256steps on the filter, Prophet08 160steps…

    When we talk about analog synths, let us talk about the ones with NO DIGITAL control…

    Reply
    • Julius Dobos

      Steven, thanks for your comment. Great post.

      “I believe both worlds have different sonic quality’s and therefore none of them is better. Digital and analogue synths hand in hand complete the color palette.”

      I couldn’t have said it better. This was the main point of my original article; different (as opposed to better or worse) being the keyword.

      But even when talking about analogue instruments, I believe there are far more important musical aspects to consider than a perfect modulation curve. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve critically listened to (and actively use) some of the top analog gear in existence, and I agree that the difference is often clearly noticeable with filters… but the most important aspects missing from so many electronic music producers’ work these days is not so much the 100% perfect filter curves, but the music, the performance, the creative control, the new concept, the originality… which I argue is much more achievable with tactile control of a hardware (digital or analogue) than with a mouse and menus.

      But you bring up a very good point about vintage- and fully analogue modern synths vs new analogues with digital control. It is true that twisting knobs, sending MIDI cc combinations or sysex lines may still create a stepping effect during the real-time performance of a filter sweep (even though in theory a double-value cc can give you 16,384 steps, but manufacturers limit it due to processor requirements). However, I wouldn’t write down analogue filters just because of the option of digital control on the same machine: that’s only one of the many ways to create a filter sweep. At least in studio use (as opposed to live performance), you can still use an LFO, EG, etc. to drive the filter and achieve a perfectly clean voltage-smooth filter sweep thank to the fully analogue components. That’s where I see the sonic strengths of, for example, the Voyager.

      And if you really want to sweep, say, the Voyager filter realtime, you might want to use a fully analog external CV source, like a vintage synth’s CV output, and take advantage of the CV inputs of a modern analogue. Of course in that case, you’d loose the ability to edit MIDI, you’d be recording audio straight out of the synth. This is exactly what I did with some of my vintage synths for the forgotten future: W1 album: no MIDI convenience but a performance recorded real-time as audio.

      Reply
  12. John Williams

    Digital sounds inorganic, which runs contrary to what I feel is musical. However, if I were part of the electronica crowd, it would matter less, and maybe not at all. But for my stuff, the organic strains of analog present less of a sonic shock to the tonal palette. Analog it is.

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  13. synth_lover

    Analog, digital, hybrid, analog modeling, softsynth…it’s all good. IMO there is really no such thing as a “bad” (sounding) synth. There are only dull & unimaginative synth owners, who lack creativity. I’ve heard people make interesting music/sound high end vintage analog synths, high end modern digital synths, & I’ve hear people making interesting music using nothing but a Casio VL-1, or even a modified electric alarm clock. As a synth enthusiast, I love ALL synths.

    Softsynths are OK, but here is the biggest problem I have with them. Due to their electronic components, D/A/ converters, oscillators, etc,….all hardware synths sound different. Even the same sample played through different samplers can sound different. But if you’re using different softsynths on the same computer, with the same D/As, there is a component of that sound, that will sound identical. (regardless of which softsynth is used) Likewise for effects plug-ins. I love having a variety of different sounds, tones, & subtleties. SO I might use a few softsyntyhs, but I wouldn’t want, or see a need, to own many of them. I would treat a PC with 100 different softsytnhs, as just 1 individual synth, whereas I’d treat 100 different hardware synths, as separate individual synths. The Korg Kronos is a perfect example of what I am talking about. It’s got 9 different engines, 4 of which are different analog modeling engines. Is the Kronos 1 synth, or is it 9? IMO it’s just 1. (that does 9 different things) All those engines are using the same effects professors, circuits, D/As, etc…so even though the engines are different & sound different…there is an aspect about them that has a similar sound characteristic.

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    • Julius Dobos

      Thanks for the post, synth_lover – you reiterated the article’s points and your Kronos example is excellent (more so for its uniform interface than for its D/A though, for me). Of course keyboards like the Kronos have their own advantages (think of live use by a band). What weakens soft synths most is their lack of tangible interface, although there are more and more options for interesting controllers now. Still, the connection isn’t completely two-way or instantaneous, like with actual instruments. And if we’re talking about sound cards, converters, etc., let’s not forget about the sequencer either… which, for soft synths, is typically a DAW, while for a TB-303 or another synth with a self-contained sequencer (or driven by a voltage or midi sequencer) can add another dimension to the composition and performance.

      I agree that all synths can sound ‘good’ in a given use… it reminds me of a major game project I had worked on years ago for PlayStation, and used nothing but my iPhone and a $20 toy synth to produce the main theme and menu music… and it sounds great. The only part where we have a different point of view is that I don’t love all synths… they’re just tools… I love what I can do with them;)

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