Tag Archives: synths

NAMM 2016 Rumours & Facts

Oh! I love this time of the year! NAMM around the corner and lots of new products about to be presented, some stuff leaked, some stuff officially released before NAMM, speculation, etc, etc.

What a great time to be alive!

So, synth-heads, what may we expect from NAMM? Let’s check out some rumours & facts

Fact From Korg
Man, you’ve gotta love the guys from Korg! For the last five years or so, they’ve introduced lots of analogue affordable products and reissues. This year a week before NAMM, they’ve released this wonderful analogue poly called Minilogue (it’s quite hard not to miss read Korg Minimolgue as Kylie Minogue). The Minologue, it’s a four voice analogue synth with a street price of 500 dollars (US). Two VCOs, with pulse, triangle and saw waveforms, wave shaper for all waveforms, cross modulation, sync capabilities, ring mod, noise, resonant VCF which can be switched between 2 and 4 poles, keyboard tracking and velocity tracking, VCA with dedicated envelope generator, a second envelope generator which can be assigned to cutoff, pitch, LFO rate or intensity, an LFO which can modulate almost anything, analogue HPF, delay circuit (can be set pre or post HPF), 16 step sequencer, 200 presets memory and 8 different voice allocation. Probably this will be selling a lot!

Rumour from Akai
Akai has been experimenting with analogue products for the last couple of years, and there’s been some weird hate towards their analogue drum machines (rhythm wolf and tom cat) all over the internet which I don’t understand nor share it at all. Well, they posted a video on their Facebook page celebrating the 30th anniversary of their AX synth series saying it would be a nice product to bring back… lets just wait on it!

Roland Rumour
The guys from Attack Magazine think Roland will be presenting something that has to do about the Space Echo, claiming that the RE-201 UAD plugin quietly disappeared from UAD store, so, maybe we’ll see an AIRA range space echo?

Nord almost fact
The sweedish company has teased a video on their youtube channel showing some new product, so, we will probably see a new Nord Piano 3?

Oberheim Fact
Tom Oberheim is bringing new eurorack module, the SEM plus and a sequencer module, so, modular guys might be very happy about this news.

What other good stuff would we see at NAMM? Leave your comments!

Pre Namm 2015 rumours and facts

Well, this is one of the most exiting times of the years for all of us gear geeks! Namm is around the corner and rumours and new products are all over the internet! Let’s check out some of them…

One of the most exiting news for this year is the reissue of the ARP Odyssey by Korg. They put up the site arpsynth.com and there’s a live stream that will take place the 21st of January.

But in the last days of December, Behringer started some rumours of their own version of the Odyssey for about U$500 on their Facebook page.

Some days ago, a few images of a new Roland Synth were leaked on Facebook, and deleted a few days after, but, according to MusicRadar, the synth exists and it would be an analog/digital hybrid, and the guys at create digital music say that it might have some polyphonic capabilities, very much in the original Junos fashion.

Clavia has also posted a teaser for a new synth in their Youtube channel. We don’t have a clue of what this might be!

Akai has launched three new controllers with lots of control, specially for plugin instruments with seamless integration.

Dave smith has launched a new Eurorack modular, the DSM002 character module. According to Dave Smith himself, this is the character section from the Prophet 12 and the Pro 2, with all the digital effects like grith and air, hack, decimate and drive.

Legendary italian company Generalmusic (GEM, LEM, Elka) apparently has been bought by a finish company which will be manufacturing new products

Casio has announced the XW-PD1 and XW-DJ1. The first one is a groovebox and the latter a DJ controller.

Also, Arturia, has been talking about a new interface that promises to be revolutionary…

Any thoughts? Leave them on the comments section!

Substractive synthesis Part II – Filters

Today, I’ll talk about the one thing that no other synthesis method uses: the filter.
As you probably imagine, the filter, does filter something, in this case, the harmonic content produced by the oscillator.

So, basically, the filter shapes the tonal characteristics of the raw sound. In other words, it re shapes the waveforms produced by an oscillator. It can make the sound darker, or brighter. or thinner or fatter, etc.

There are various types of filters, being low pass filter and high pass filter, the most common ones in synthesisers. As their name states, low pass filter, let frequencies lower than the cutoff point pass, and gradually, frequencies higher than the cutoff point start to roll off; on the other hand, the high pass filter, does exactly the opposite: frequencies lower than the cutoff point are rolled off, and the higher frequencies are allowed to pass. In any synthesiser, the cutoff point is variable, and is the user who defines it. Another common filter type is bandpass filter, this, as it name suggest, it allows only a band of frequencies to pass, rolling off higher and lower frequencies, it’s like using a high pass and lowpass filter in tandem. Similar to the bandpass, is the notch filter, this, does the opposite: one band of frequencies is attenuated and higher and lower frequencies pass.

Most filter designs in synths also add an emphasis control. This, as it names states, boosts the cutoff point frequency, making this frequency highly audible and resonant. This is why in many synthesiser, this is labeled as resonance. In some other designs, it’s labeled as peak. Anyway, Emphasis (as in most Moog synthesisers) or Resonance (as in most Roland synths), or Peak (as in most Korg synths), they all mean the same, an extra boost right on the cutoff frequency.
So, lets say that we are dealing with a low pass filter with the cutoff point set at 8khz, we know for sure that all frequencies above 8khz will be rolled off until they disappear. Lets say we will add resonance (or peak, or emphasis), this will boost the 8khz frequency (and some of the near frequencies, too).
In most analog synths, the boost produced by the resonance can even produce a sine wave, transforming the filter in an oscillator. This is called self oscillation, and it’s quite beautiful when used in a musical way, in fact, as we will see later on, you can totally play melodies with a self oscillating filter.

Besides having different filter types, there are also different slopes, some low pass filters will roll off frequencies above the cutoff point for 6 dB per octave, some others for 12 dB per octave, some for 18 dB and some for 24 dB per octave. The most used slopes are 24 dB and 12 dB per octave. This are also called 4-pole filter (24 dB/oct) and 2-pole filter (12 dB/oct).

Almost every synth has a low pass filter. Some others also add a second filter, mostly a high pass filter. Some other synths uses what is called a multimode filter, having at least low pass, high pass and bandpass filter modes that are defined by the user. Every analog filter design has its own tonal qualities, and every major synth is recognisable for its filter. Think about a Roland Tb-303… well, it’s hard not to recognise its sound, and that is not because of the oscillator; the oscillator in the 303 can only produce standard sawtooth or pulse waves, something that pretty much any synth can do, but its filter design is unique, specially when you crank up the resonance. In the case of the 303, it’s a 3 pole 18 dB per octave low pass filter. Now, think of the Minimoog… that absolutely fat sound is hard to confuse with the sound from the 303, and that’s because of the filter; the famous Moog filter is a 4-pole 24 dB per octave ladder low pass filter, and it’s quite unique and musical. Another example of this, is the Oberheim filter, they sound brighter, more polite, more gentle than the Moog, some people say their sound is creamier… Well, they use a 2-pole 12 dB per octave filter. And then you’ve got the classic Yamaha CS-80… think of all those sounds from Vangelis, well, the Yamaha CS-80 used 2 different filters in cascade, a 2-pole 12 dB per octave low pass and, then another 2-pole 12 dB per octave High pass filter; none of them was able of self-oscillation, so, even though you crank up the resonance, filters would not produce sound on their own.
Quite an opposite case comes when talking about the Korg Ms-20, although it has a low pass and a high pass filter set in cascade, and despite they are just 1-pole 6 dB per octave filters, they will self oscillate, and they will start to scream a lot when you start cranking up resonances. And then, there are the Curtis chips used by SCI and nowadays by DSI, this filters are switchable between 4-pole and 2-pole, they are clean, even though in the 4-pole mode it will self-oscillate, it’s a filter somewhat creamy, very musical. Then the Steiner-Parker 2-pole multimode filter, used in many modular systems and recently in the Arturia Microbrute and Minibrute models, it’s also a very musical filter, with lots of character.

Thanks to Dr. Robert Moog, who came up in the late 60s with the Voltage Controlled Filter or VCF, cutoff points can track the keyboard voltages, so, for example, lower notes will sound darker than higher ones. VCF, also, let the user produce sweeps by closing and opening the filter with a knob, also, thanks to VCF, we can modulate the filter with an envelope generator or an LFO, or control the cutoff point by velocity, aftertouch or a mod wheel, or even a expression pedal.

Some designs can make the filter track the keyboard, as I’ve said before, in this designs, if the filter can self-oscillate, you can tune the filter to an specific note and play, like if it was an oscillator. Pretty cool, right?

In some other designs, like the DSI MoPho, the Oscillator can modulate the filter. This is called audio modulation, and it works in a pretty similar way than FM synthesis.

Most filters sound absolutely great if you overload the signal before the filter, this was a trick used pretty much in the Minimoog, where one would take the phones output, to the input of the minimoog, and then the signal gets overdriven by feedback before the filter. Nowadays, almost every modern analog synth has some means to achieve this feedback overdrive without using a cable.

Speaking of audio inputs, a lot of synths have an audio input for you to filter external sources, so, the VCF can be used as a processor, too. You should definitely try that out with drums, or guitars!

So, filter is what gives character to a synth. No analog filter design is perfect, and that’s the beauty of it. In digital synths, when you crank up the resonance, if you sweep the cutoff point you will hear some stepping, some unnatural quantising due to digital limitations… this is something you don’t hear in analog synths (unless of course the filter is digitally controlled or quantised by poor midi resolution). No filter is a bad filter, every filter has its own charm! Oh, BTW… you can definitely create some wah wah style effects using the filter!

See you in 15 days when we talk about the Amplifier!

Substractive synthesis part 1- Oscillator

Well, today, we are starting our first series of educative posts about synthesis! Specially subtractive synthesis.
Why is it called subtractive synthesis? Very easy: it implies the use of a filter to cutoff or emphasise some of the harmonic content of the raw sound in order to shape it.
In this kind of synthesis, we’ve got three essential modules or parts for creating the sound: the oscillator, the filter and the amplifier. Anything with these three blocks in that specific order is a subtractive synth (miscalled by many as analog synth)!

Now, let’s get started with the very first of these basic components: the oscillator.
As you might think, the oscillator is what actually produces pitch. The oscillator in a synth does exactly the same as a string in a guitar: oscillate in an audible (or not… more on that later) range, say 20hz to 20khz. It’s the sound source. Unlike a guitar string, an oscillator is always doing its thing: oscillate, we’ll see more on this when we talk about the amp. An oscillator can output diverse wave forms, typically those are:
*Sine
*Triangle
*Sawtooth
*Ramp
*Pulse
*Noise

These are ordered from less harmonic content to more harmonic content.
A sine wave has no harmonic content at all, it’s just a pure tone, and at the other end, noise, has no fundamental tone. Sine wave, as it has no harmonic content, is not a suitable wave for subtractive synths. Why? it just has nothing to filter. Remember, no harmonic content = nothing to filter = useless for subtractive synthesis.

The triangle wave, sounds dark. It only has odd harmonics, which roll off pretty fast, and that’s why it sounds so dark.

Then, Sawtooth wave and Ramp or inverse sawtooth wave, who sonically have no differences at all, are brighter sounding, even buzzy, it reminds me very much to the sound of the Farfisa Compact… Anyway, all of this happens because this waves have much more harmonic content than the triangle, and, because it has all the harmonics, odd and even.

Moving on, we find the pulses, and here, I’m gonna talk about the pulse width. A square wave, is a pulse with 50% width. It has only odd harmonics, but, they don’t roll off as fast as what happens in the triangle. The sound produced by the different pulse widths differ pretty much one from another, from silence (0% pulse width) to nasal, to kind of plucked strings. Most oscillator designs provide some way to change in real time the pulse width when outputting a pulse wave.

Some designs, like the Juno 6, 60 and 160 series, are able to output all the wave shapes at once or mix them in any combination. Other designs like some Moog synths, allow you to output anything in between two different wave shapes, for example, anything in between a triangle and a sawtooth.

Some modern designs like the Arturia Minibrute and Microbrute have some controls to vary wave shapes like triangle and sawtooth, by folding them. Other designs, like the one found in the Waldorf Rocket, can output duplicated and detuned sawtooths from just one oscillator. In fact, this was first introduced by Roland in the early 90s in some of their digital synths. This wave shape is known as Supersaw, and it can be heard as lead in numerous trance hits, specially during the 90s.

Most synths implement two or three oscillators in their design, letting the user detune one against the other. This creates the typical fat sound heard in basses and leads. Many of this multiple oscillator designs can be hard synced, making one oscillator master, and another, slave. This means that when you detune the slave oscillator against the master oscillator you will hear for a while the detuned harmonics from the slave while it is forced to be in sync with the master oscillator. Very complex and scream-ish sounds can be achieved detuning the slave oscillator in sync mode. This can be typically heard in many Prophet 5 leads.

Now, a very different matter is how is the oscillator pitch being produced and controlled. Remember this guy is always oscillating. So, in the late 60s, Dr. Bob Moog came out with the first (usable) way to solve this issue: the Voltage Controlled Oscillator or VCO. This, as its name suggest, provides means to control the oscillator’s pitch with very low voltage signals. In fact, this signals are so low that the most adopted standard provides 1 volt per octave. This means that every 1/12 volt, there’s a change in 1 semitone in pitch.
He also came out that the best solution to control and determine how voltage is being sent to the VCO, this was to use an organ type keyboard to send different voltages from each key. So, in this case, in a range of 1 octave, lets say from C2 to C3, we have a difference of 1 volt between C2 and C3, so, if C2 is providing 1,5 volts, C3 will be providing 2,5 volts. Easy. That also means that C#2 will provide 1,500833 volts exactly, in this case, and so on.

This was the standard until the 80s and microprocessors. At that time, VCOs, were a little bit unstable, cause, any change in temperature, will make the pitch drift. So, the now affordable microprocessors, did exactly this (and still do), but in the digital domain. These is called DCO (digital controlled oscillator). Some great synths like the Roland Juno (6, 60 and 160) used DCO, and despite the oscillators are digitally controlled, they still are analogue synths.

As microprocessors came even cheaper, oscillators evolved for being digitally controlled to being entirely digital, meaning that the waves are being created in the digital domain.

DCOs and Digital Oscillators produces pitch that are so stable, that they even sound cold or thin, lifeless.

That’s why, in modern designs, like some DCO synths produced by Dave Smith’s Instruments, have some function to make the pitch a little less unstable, which is perceived as a warmer, more organic sound. Remember, VAs and soft synths, they all use digital oscillators (as if they had a choice…). Analog synths can use DCOs, but mostly use VCOs. Each has its pros and cons. For example, digital oscillators, are capable of producing really complex and bizarre wave shapes that are just impossible for a VCO or DCO for that matter. But, yet, VCOs, are warmer, and in general are perceived as more organic than digital.

Oh, I almost forget: Noise. Noise is really complex, because it has all frequencies at the same level, this means noise has no fundamental pitch, in fact, you can’t tune noise. Obviously, noise is not used to produce melodies or basslines, but, it’s very useful for creating percussion sounds like hi hats or snare drums, or for creating sound effects like wind, seashore, explosions, etc. Most synths that incorporate noise, have a dedicated oscillator for noise. The only synth that I can recall that incorporates noise as a waveform for an oscillator, is the Korg Ms-20, but, I’m sure there are some more out there.

Well, I believe that this, pretty much covers everything you need to know about oscillators. If you have any questions, you can add them below in the comments and I’ll try to answer (if I know the answer, of course). Thanks for reading, and if you like what we do, share it with the rest of the world!!
Cheers!

Korg + 2014 = New ARP Odissey!!

Well, for the last couple of years, Korg seems that can’t stop with the great news!

First the Monotron Series: 50 dollars for plastic enclosure analogue ribbon synths, the three of them are quite limited, and for many people, toys. At Piggysounds we make extensive use of the monotron delay and we truly love it! They are three of them, each with a different voice architecture.

Some time after, the came out with their second line of analogue synths in more than 20 years: the Monotribe: again, ribbon controller, fairly basic voice architecture, no MIDI (like monotron), but analog sync for it’s sequencer. Yes, Electribe style step sequencer. Still seemed to be a toy for some people… For some others, it looked like something was going on between Korg and its analogue history.

Last year, they really made it: a reincarnation of one the most important mono synth of all times, the MS-20 mini. Every synth-head was going crazy with this. As if this was not enough, they’ve announced 3 new synths: the Volca series. A drum machine, pretty much inspired in the Tr 808; a Bass synth, also with step sequencer pretty much inspired in the Tr-303, but with Korg’s own MiniKorg filter; finally, a Volca inspired in nothing: the Keys a three note polyphonic (paraphonic) synth with looper and analog style delay. All of the three have tactile keyboard, sequencer, MIDI in and analog sync i/o.
We all thought, this can’t get any better…

But, this year, they’ve announced at NAMM a full size DIY kit of the Korg MS-20 with both filters circuitry letting you choose if you prefer to use the first grittier-screammy filter or the more gentle used in the latest models… so, you can have a 1978 MS-20 and a 1980 MS-20 in this recreation. Oh my god! What else?

Today, they have just announced they are working on a new recreation of the (drum roll, please) ARP Odissey!!

Here’s what they have to say (directly from Korg’s site):

Tokyo, Japan – February 17, 2014 – KORG INC. is proud to announce that a faithful recreation of the legendary 1970s analog synthesiser, the ARP Odyssey, is being developed by Korg for release later in 2014. The ARP Odyssey was released in 1972 by ARP Instruments, Inc. and quickly became famous for its unique rich sound and innovative performance controls. It was a staple for many recording and performing musicians worldwide and was used on countless hit records over many years. The Odyssey was one of the highlights of the ARP company and became a long selling product. With slight updates and improvements it was sold through to 1981. Korg is also proud to welcome Mr David Friend as our chief advisor on the Odyssey. David Friend established ARP Instruments, Inc. along with Alan Robert Pearlman and is a past president of ARP Instruments, Inc. He was also the lead designer of the original Odyssey in addition to designing or co-designing many other products. After ARP, Mr Friend became a successful technology entrepreneur. In 2010, he was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Emerging Technology category for the New England Region, he has been a lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and is now Chairman & CEO of Carbonite, Inc. He has been a trustee of the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. In the last few years, KORG INC. has released several top selling analog synthesizers such as the monotrons series, the monotribe, the volca series and the hugely successful MS-20 mini, a faithful fully analog recreation of the 1978 MS-20. With Korg’s technology capabilities and planning ability for analog synthesizers, and in collaboration with David Friend, we believe the legendary ARP Odyssey will become a “must have” for an all new generation of music makers. The ARP Odyssey is scheduled for release in September 2014. – See more at: http://www.korg.com/us/news/2014/0217/#sthash.GJgfFxPv.dpuf

Well… guess now we’ll just have to wait…

Pre NAMM 2014 Rumours

With NAMM 2014 around the corner, since last week we’ve been hearing and reading and watching rumours, teasers, leaks, of new products… This are the ones that got our attention:

Moog Sub37 – Seems to be a polyphonic, paraphonic analog sinthesizer. Pretty much the structure of the SubPhatty: 2 VCOs, 1 Sub OSC, Noise, 6, 12, 18 or 24 VCF with multidrive, 2 EGs, etc.
The cool thing about this, is the 37 note keyboards, and the fact that it can play more than one note at a time, I suppose that for it’s structure, it can handle duophony. 2 notes at a time sharing same VFC and VCA.

Nord Lead A1 – Well… not a rumour, but a fact. The swedish company has a new Virtual Analog synth. They say it’s the best analog modelling they’ve made so far; 24bits DAC should make this statement true. 24 voices of polyphony, 4 parts multitimbral with 4 independent line outs, a new oscillator design, multimode filter with emulations of the Moog Ladder filter and the TB-303, and a new effects section should make this synth very appealing for live usage as well as for the studio users.

Elektron Analog Rytm: They’ve just announce this on their Facebook page. It’s an analog drum machine with sample support. Analog filter and overdrive per voice, 12 velocity and pressure pads, reverb and delay (as sends), step sequencer, analog master compresor and distortion… Seems to be something you should definitely want to have in your studio.

Blue Microphones Hampton: Blue says it’s a small diaphragm condenser mic, and they say it will be exceptional for miking instruments like guitar, percussion, toms, strings, etc. And as a Blue mic’s user, I’ve got to tell you, if they say so, trust them.

Roland Aira: See? this is where I truly get lost. Roland has been teasing and leaking it’s new line of products named Aira. They seem to be four products in the line: something based on the TR 808, something based on the TR 909, VT-3 vocal modifier, and everyone out there is assuming that the fourth product will be something based on the TB 303.
There’s no much information, only speculations and some leaked images, and a couple of videos that doesn’t show that much. Some people are saying that Roland will be joining Korg at the analog revival, some others are saying that this machines will be digital recreations of the originals, and others say this will be digital products that will have nothing to do with the original… something like the Jupiter 80…
It’s Roland, so I’m a bit sceptical about this, but, in the bottom of my heart, I’ve got the hope that this will be a new analog line of products from the company… guess we will have to wait…

Any Bets?

Piggy Massive Presets VOL II

Here they are! 40 awesome presets for NI Massive!! Check Them out here

Piggy Massive presets VOL 2 Sneak peek

A short sneak peek form the new NI Massive presets collection we are working on! Stay tuned!

Korg Monotron Delay Quantized!!

Hey! we all love the Korg Monotron Delay. It’s warm, it’s dirty, it’s analog, and it’s great for making weird noises and SFX, but how about playing it in a more musical way? well… with four octaves range and a 5 cms ribbon controller, it’s almost imposible to play any melodies… unless you could quantize it’s pitch… and that’s exactly what we did in this short clip. We’ve used Autotune to quantize the monotron delay’s pitch, in this case, we just used the A minor pentatonic scale, and this is the result of this funky improvisation!! The groove was made using toontrack for drums, DSI Mopho for bass (through a bass amp and cabinet) and Nord Electro 3 clavinet with Autowah through a fender tube guitar amp. Enjoy, and try it at home!!!

The benefits of noise

How could noise (by definition undesirable sound) be something that’s deliberately included in the audio signal path in most synthesizers or be a crucial tool for mostly every sound designer and audio engineer?
Well in this post, i’m going to show some great stuff that can be achieved with the use of noise.

First of all… what exactly are we calling noise?
basically it’s a random signal with inharmonic content. What does that mean? it means
that unlike a musical note, it has no fundamental pitch or partials. Actually, white noise (which draws its name from white light) has the same equal amount of energy within a fixed bandwidth at any center frequency.

Leaving Physics aside, here are some useful stuff that can be done with noise:

1. Synthesize an explosion: the easiest way of designing an explosion sound effect is to get close to an explosion with a portable recorder a mic and a pair of headphones… synthesize it. For that matter, noise will be the sound source, then we’ll need to filter it, apply envelopes and some kind of distortion (if you are using a synth with an external input and feedback, there you go). Results are really good and experimenting with different parameters will give you different kind of explosions. Our Explosions + more sound effects collection was designed using noise.

2. Synthesize snare drums, shakers and hi hats: as snare drums, shakers and hi hats got lots of inharmonic content, the best way to synthesize them is to use noise as source. For any of the three sounds, we need filters, low pass and high pass. The cutoff point will vary depending of the instrument, especially with the high pass; shakers will have a pretty high cutoff point in the HPF* while snare drums, will have a much lower cutoff point for the HPF- We will also need envelope generators to shape the noise; a simple three stage EG** (attack, decay, sustain), will work. In our Piggy Ni Massive presets collection Snare, hi hat and shaker sounds are included using this technique.

3. Fatten up snare drums: as mentioned before, acoustic snare drums got lots of inharmonic content and one great way to fatten them up is with noise. Imagine you got an acoustic snare drum track and you want to fatten it up, all you need to do is add noise track and insert a gate processor with side-chain capabilities. You will side-chain the gate to the acoustic snare track output, so, every time the snare plays, it will open the gate inserted in the noise track. This is also possible and useful for live situations using ableton live or any other DAW.

4. Synthesize wind or seashore sound effects: noise is a great sound source for these kind of sound design, apply a low pass resonant filter to a noise oscillator, and that’s all you will need. For wind sounds, you will need to add some resonance (or peak) for sibilance and just manually (or with an LFO) vary the cutoff point of the LPF***; for seashore, no resonance is needed but, cutoff point variation, should be slower. Our SCI-FI & Drones sound effect collection includes a wind sound effect designed using this technique.