Tool­kit

Get to know this re­cent breed of ver­sa­tile, mul­ti­fac­eted synths that seem­ingly do it all

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Power synths

A decade ago, the best soft­ware synths could barely run on a home com­puter with­out CPU splut­ter­ing and over­loads. To­day, com­put­ing power has clearly caught up with ad­vances in DSP tech. Rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive vir­tual in­stru­ments can now em­u­late costly hard­ware synths, gen­er­ate un­heard of uber-com­plex tim­bres, and ma­nip­u­late au­dio sam­ples in count­less ways. So where next?

Well, re­cent years have seen the rise of so-called ‘pow­er­synths’: all-singing, all-danc­ing be­he­moths that aren’t re­stricted to one sin­gle method of sound gen­er­a­tion, but in­stead al­low you to mix and match be­tween syn­the­sis and sam­pling types across dif­fer­ent os­cil­la­tors. Want a plain ol’ sub­trac­tive wave­form? Easy! A wavetable os­cil­la­tor? That can be added side-by-side. Sam­ple-stretch­ing gran­u­lar syn­the­sis? You get the idea.

What’s more, these of­fer a lot more than ver­sa­tile sound gen­er­a­tion. De­signed for use as semi­mod­u­lar ‘play­grounds’, typ­i­cal pow­er­synths give you the op­tion to con­fig­ure in­di­vid­ual mod­ules as you see fit. Ad­vanced mod­u­la­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties go far be­yond reg­u­lar mod ma­tri­ces and tra­di­tional wave shapes, with handy drag-and-drop as­sign­ments, multi-stage LFOs, loop­ing en­velopes and ul­tra-com­plex se­quencer sig­nals. Switch­able mul­ti­mode fil­ters can be called up and re­con­fig­ured, fa­cil­i­tat­ing next-level tone shap­ing. Macro con­trols – ie, ‘empty’ knobs that can be as­signed to mul­ti­ple pa­ram­e­ters – are now the norm, so you can com­pletely trans­form a sound with one twist. And in sig­nal pro­cess­ing terms, these epic synths serve up mod­u­lar-es­que racks of stu­dio-qual­ity ef­fects that al­most ri­val a DAW’s of­fer­ings in sheer scope and power – the main boon be­ing that these reroutable ef­fects chains are saved within a sin­gle synth patch for in­stant re­call.

The ob­vi­ous caveat is the com­plex­ity that comes with learn­ing such fea­ture-packed synths. With fid­dly ar­chi­tec­tures and mul­ti­ple syn­the­sis modes to grasp, these deep in­stru­ments aren’t as in­tu­itive as more ba­sic sin­gle-use synths. How­ever, the ben­e­fits of learn­ing a hy­brid pow­er­synth are ob­vi­ous. Once you’ve mas­tered that one in­stru­ment, you can ex­plore new types of syn­the­sis within an in­ter­face you’re fa­mil­iar with. And hav­ing the abil­ity to com­bine mul­ti­ple os­cil­la­tors within one synth, each us­ing a dif­fer­ent syn­the­sis type, lets you cre­ate tim­bres you’d never gen­er­ate oth­er­wise – imag­ine a dense bass patch com­prised of a solid VA sub, midrange wavetable ‘growl’, a stereo vo­cal sam­ple layer and top-end spec­tral fizz, for ex­am­ple.

This month, let’s ex­plore some of to­day’s most pow­er­ful soft­synths, see how easy it is to com­bine os­cil­la­tors… and build a track us­ing just one in­stru­ment!

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