Best synths?

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chaocrator
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Re: Best synths?

Postby chaocrator » Tue Aug 14, 2018 9:34 am

tavasti wrote:In addition to price of hardware itself, price of having enough room for them. Now in my office I have barely space for Akai LPK-25 keyboard, and garage is cold most part of the year, so using it as studio is not an option. And anyway, stringed instruments are my main target, synths are secondary. It would be nice to work with hardware, get away from mouse, but at least now that is not reality for me.

and now, here comes an interesting part of my gear demands.
my hardware setup has a limit — to fit 40L backpack (excluding e-drumset and speakers).

In addition to actual budget, it is also mindset question: I don't want to spend money on anything unless it provides something real benefit. Therefore with software I prefer free options, and spend some money on supporting them.

absolutely agree. and when it comes to hardware, same criteria continue to work, because there is a lot of excellent gears with open design out there.

If you have some hints for affordable & great hw, could you share them as well?

sure.
preenFM2 — polyphonic & polytimbral FM synth (sized like 1/4 of my 13 inch laptop)
audiothingies micromonsta — polyphonic subtractive synth (very similar form factor)
IK Multimedia Uno — monophonic, but absolutely excellent little synth (approximately like 10 inch laptop in size)
my favorite one — axoloti. strictly speaking, it's not really hardware, it's semi-hardware — it's a dedicated unit to run patches designed in its IDE. anyway, it behaves like a very small hardware unit, costs only €65, has a large community with quite a lot ready patches, and allows to do many unusual things if you're willing to learn how to build patches for it.

the benefit is simple — hardware synths just sound better with much less effort than their software counterparts, and they do not eat your CPU, RAM and time (which is money too).

p.s. if you need a versatile MIDI controller for your synths (either hardware or software), i'd recommend a second hand Novation ReMOTE (they were made with different sized keyboards and with no keboard at all).

p.p.s. regarding space. lifehack number one: a second hand e-drums frame (with a little bit of DIY) is your best friend when you're really tight in space. all synths and controllers can be easily and conveniently mounted on it, and the folded frame takes virtually no space when it's not needed.

p.p.p.s. i even did not mention a mixer question, because it's very complex question. mine is Zoom L-12, which is not budget friendly, but i bought it to get rid of using generic laptops or computers in recording sessions.

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Re: Best synths?

Postby CrocoDuck » Tue Aug 14, 2018 10:43 am

I do really like Physical Modelling synths, especially Pianoteq:
https://www.pianoteq.com/

Of physical models, I like the capability of being able to tune parameters of a "physical system". I think it makes it more intuitive, but at the same time you are restricted to the "soundscape" of the modeled instrument.

I like ZynAddSubFx for anything else. In the past I really liked Phasex, which I don't think is under current development anymore:
https://github.com/williamweston/phasex

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Re: Best synths?

Postby chaocrator » Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:11 am

CrocoDuck wrote:I like ZynAddSubFx for anything else. In the past I really liked Phasex, which I don't think is under current development anymore

btw, all phasex capabilities (except for several wavetables) can be reproduced in ZASFX (tried it myself), doing phasex stuff in phasex is just faster :mrgreen:

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Re: Best synths?

Postby khz » Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:25 am

Personally, the ZynAddSubFx sounds too much like hi-fi to me.
Many software synthesizers sound too accurate, no matter if the sampling rate is 44100 or 192000.
I miss the ~errors/chaos/... . IMHO
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Re: Best synths?

Postby sysrqer » Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:51 am

khz wrote: I miss the ~errors/chaos/... . IMHO

I would say there should/can only be chaos with modular and/or FM synthesis but even then if you have enough knowledge then nothing would be too unexpected.

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Re: Best synths?

Postby khz » Tue Aug 14, 2018 12:26 pm

<OT>Maybe even words like instability. They are always steps (even at a sampling rate of 192000), i.e. a rounded value. This also applies to LFO/ENV/... .
0,1283734757xy unfortunately does not exist in the digital world. These inaccurate values add/subtract from each other, which again leads to completely different intermediate results in the sound calculation process.

With a Kawai K5000 (purely digital, additive synthesizer) I also hear the digital very strongly, but it sounds musical (even if cold, ice age).

But also presence and directness is often not so convincing with software synthesizers.

I need to be inspired by an instrument, an interplay between musician and instrument which leads me to become creative. If this doesn't come up, my creativity / music dies.
If I were a good musician I wouldn't need that, because then I would have mastered my craft and could always get something good out of it. ;-)</OT>
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Re: Best synths?

Postby 42low » Tue Aug 14, 2018 12:29 pm

chaocrator wrote:just one word: hardware.

Next to the money part.

What is the difference then?
Both create a sound wave. If creating the same kind off soundwave it doens't matter were it came from, and both sound the same.
What''s te "best" part then?

Plugins make you more versatile. That to me is the biggest pro.
That combined with the money part. If i see what others pay for their studio to do the same as i can right now. My studio would cost me at least 10 times more if i did it "the regular way".
And as i have a family too feed and more (costs huge piles of money :mrgreen: ) i don't know if i would choose to have a studio like i have now with that other option.

That's how i started with DAW and got catched by it. I've recorded almost all my life (tapes and audacity under win), but i discovered all studio software after conversion to linux. I had an old pentium 4 which had no use anymore and that i used to try the for me unknown extended digital studio. And even on that old penitium it did that well (and with all extended options, and cheap) that i carried on and bought a dedicated faster computer for it.
If i had to try by buying a lot off expensive gear i think i never would have tried.
And i think i'm not the only one....

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Re: Best synths?

Postby chaocrator » Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:32 pm

as for me, there are 2 main differences.

one difference is the sound.

well… first, coming out: i am not a synth kind of musician. i am the drummer.
it was preambule, and here is the story: drum module.
for drum sounds, i mainly use old trusted Yamaha DTXPress III module from my e-drumset — either with drum triggers, like e-drums (full setup), or as a regular MIDI controlled sound module (portable setup).
as a session musician, i also occasionally use software only solution — MIDI controlled laptop running a sample based drum machine.
i experimented with a lot of sampled drumsets, but none of them even came close to the sound of hardware module just plugged in and turned on.
the recipe is the same for both setups — samples + reverb. both setups produce sound waves. but the sound is VERY different. what i can achieve with learning, exprimenting and processing in software, i have right out of the box in hardware.

i chose drum sounds as the example because my ears are well trained for drum sounds perception. much better than for distinguishing nuances in synth sounds. but anyway, i certainly hear the difference. a patch spied on a software synth virtually always sounds better when recreated on a hardware synth. sometimes the difference is subtle, as for my ears, sometimes i can't certainly describe it, but at least for subtractive synths (which are most popular type) it's always true. FM synthesis is different kind of beast, but i mainly use it for percussions and FX, so it's harder for me to tell about the difference, because it varies.

regarding the second difference.

i have a feeling that current kind of mainstream paradigm for computer-aided music production — laptop / DAW / plugins / that's all — is horribly wrong by design. the reason is very simple — it's a Single Point Of Failure kind of design. losing DAW operability means losing everything. it's bad even for studio workflow, and absolutely inacceptable on stage. (but no one cares, because there are some advantages too, and they do matter.)

this was the main reason for me to migrate my rig to hardware. in most cases, losing one unit in hardware-based setup means losing only one unit. in a software world, no one can predict, will a crash of a single plugin crash the whole DAW or not :mrgreen:

so, the bottom line is: software synths are excellent for education (if one is willing to learn something beyond downloading and switching presets), acceptable for production, but the hardware synths are just better.

(and note that i wrote „synths“, not just „software“. because if we speak, say, about sequencers, software ones are better than hardware.)

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Re: Best synths?

Postby khz » Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:44 pm

chaocrator wrote:preenFM2 — polyphonic & polytimbral FM synth (sized like 1/4 of my 13 inch laptop)
audiothingies micromonsta — polyphonic subtractive synth (very similar form factor)
IK Multimedia Uno — monophonic, but absolutely excellent little synth (approximately like 10 inch laptop in size)
my favorite one — axoloti. strictly speaking, it's not really hardware, it's semi-hardware — it's a dedicated unit to run patches designed in its IDE. anyway, it behaves like a very small hardware unit, costs only €65, has a large community with quite a lot ready patches, and allows to do many unusual things if you're willing to learn how to build patches for it.

&&
LXR Drum Synthesizer wrote:The LXR is a full fledged digital drum machine with integrated sequencer. Its sound engine provides 6 different instruments, each with over 30 parameters to tweak. It can produce a wide variety of sounds, ranging from classic analogue emulations to crunchy digital mayhem.
...
We like to give the user full control over their gear and encourage modifications to the soft- and hardware. The full sourcecode and the schematics are available on GitHub and the firmware can be built using open source toolchains. So feel free to have a look under the hood and start tinkering. A machine you've built, is a machine you love!

Brendan Clarke firmware wrote:For the past few years, I’ve been plugging away at updating the code of the sonic-potions LXR Drum Machine, a versatile digital drum synth with a powerful sequencer that is both open-source and open-hardware. The updated firmware (available here, and hosted on GitHub here), aims to expand what can be done with the LXR, without altering the standard workflow or changing its sound. Any files made with the original firmware are compatible with my updated one.
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Re: Best synths?

Postby khz » Tue Aug 14, 2018 4:06 pm

chaocrator wrote:(and note that i wrote „synths“, not just „software“. because if we speak, say, about sequencers, software ones are better than hardware.)

~Yes. If the software instruments sound musical, too.
Whereby: the U-HE synthesizers for example sound great!
Many audio processes simultaneously in RT with the computer is difficult:
Simultaneously 2 - 3 different U-HE synthesizers, one drums and possibly some effects at low latency.
My computer can't do it. && The usability (GUI) can be different && ... .

But I can play a software synthesizer alone in an acceptable latency time.
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Re: Best synths?

Postby Frank Carvalho » Tue Aug 14, 2018 4:53 pm

One point in favour of hardware instruments. Some of these things are 30-40-50 years old. And they still work, with a bit of care taken of course.
How many of the present software based products will run on the computers of 30-40-50 years from now? It will be a bit like running Commodore 64 programs now. You need an environment in the same state as it used to be back in the days. But the software ecosystem today is so complex and dependent on internet repositories of packages and libs, that it is very likely to be very hard to get it to work. I have trouble keeping my Xubuntu 14.04 up to date, as some of the web repositories have vanished. And that is only 4 years old.

My point is, that the software and DAW software world we now is to some extent a here-and-now thing, while the old machines and their discreet circuitry just keep going and going - and still represent the golden standard of synths for many people. This does not mean that I don't value soft synths. Not at all. Softsynths can be great, and they do the job, and are highly portable. And they are affordable. Also a totally valid point.
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Re: Best synths?

Postby CrocoDuck » Tue Aug 14, 2018 6:10 pm

The best of both worlds in your view guys would be digitally controlled analog synths. This dude is quite active in that realm:

https://m0xpd.blogspot.com/
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Re: Best synths?

Postby Frank Carvalho » Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:54 pm

The best of both worlds in your view guys would be digitally controlled analog synths. This dude is quite active in that realm:

https://m0xpd.blogspot.com/


That's wonderful! The idea of using a small devices, like the Arduino, to act as a sequencer is a really good idea. I guess it could produce both CV and gate. And I love the hacker spirit. Brings me back to the days of... well, the beforementioned Commodore 64, when we built an analog drum synthesizer, and sent control signals through the Commodores rear port. Ah, those were the days. :D
Vox, Selmer, Yamaha and Leslie amplifiers. Rickenbacker, Epiphone, Ibanez, Washburn, Segovia, Yamaha and Fender guitars. Hammond, Moog, Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Crumar, Ensoniq and Mellotron keyboards. Xubuntu+KXStudio recording setup.

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Re: Best synths?

Postby chaocrator » Tue Aug 14, 2018 8:57 pm

regarding sequencers.

my favorite two of them are sequencer64 (FOSS) and b-step (proprietary, $49, native linux versions available for x86, x86_64 and ARM).
hardware sequencer units with similar feature set are REALLY expensive. and being expensive, they still can do less tracks than their software counterparts. when using sequencers for automation via MIDI, not only melodic/rhythmic parts, 8 or even 16 tracks is clearly insufficient.

what features are demanded by an average users is another question. for most of people, two time signatures — 16/16 (better known as 4/4) and 12/8 — ought to be enough for everything :mrgreen: . for others (like me), unusual signatures, step probability and stuff like that is where the real fun begins…

when i bought my first two Axolotis, i experimented with implementing advanced sequencer myself … and very soon realized that i'm going to stick with seq64/b-step combo for quite a long time. actually, implementing advanced sequencer is much more difficult than it seems.

so, the best small device acting as sequencer is still an 11 inch* laptop )) but for dumber uses, like 808/909-style sequencers, microcontrollers is the option.
_____
*) because 10 inch laptops are usually Atom-based, and the only thing they really do — they suck.

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Re: Best synths?

Postby chaocrator » Tue Aug 14, 2018 9:19 pm

returning to synths.
it's strange that no one mentioned discontinued second hand synths as an affordable option.
so, i'll start, because right now i'm choosing between second hand Roland SH-32 and second hand Waldorf Blofeld. well, Blofeld is not discontinued, but anyway.

another discontinued affordable machine that i could recommend is Nord Micro Modular.

and my absolute favorite is Novation Nova Laptop. the best virtual analog synth ever made in this form factor, period. i own one and considering one more unit.

as you probably understand, i'm addicted to synths with no keyboard, in desktop form factor.
(that's probably because i'm a drummer and can't play piano-style keyboard :mrgreen: )

and returning to the unanswered question from the very first post in this topic:
tavasti wrote:With my understanding it is hard to find reason why we need so many synths, do they have distinctive features really?


they all have distinctive implementations of more or less similar features. that's why they all sound different.

by the way, the same happens in the world of commercial synths, especially with software emulations of classic 70s—80s machines.

and that's natural, because the technologies evolve.


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