I recently did a QUICK LOOK on the MEEBLIP mono synth unit. This is a sound processing unit that produces the late 70′s to early 80′s analog style like digital sounds. I was intrigued by this unit since it has the ability to save your sound creations where the original analog synths did not. You had to write down the positions of each control knob and recreate the positions each time you wanted that exact sound reproduced. This was never an exact science since the slightest variation in one knob position would greatly alter the sound. Some analog synths also used modules connected via patch cables which was also a very tedious process to set each sound. For this and other reasons, we went quickly from analog synths to digital synths in the early 80s. (SYNTH – short for synthesizers) Analog synths became mostly obselete once the creation of the MIDI protocol allowed MIDI capable digital synths to communicate between each other.
It is important to note that analog processing and digital processing is not directly compatible to each other, The signal must be converted from the analog format to the digital format first. This leads to more complex technology to maintain the integrity of the conversion and also allow the conversion to be completed instantaneously to minimize latency. To minimize cost, many manufacturers in the 90′s created a vast library of sampled analog sounds. This allowed users to access thousands of preset sounds but limited you in how you could alter these sounds.
To truly understand the significance of analog synths, I will briefly cover some of the features that made musicians salivate over analog synths.
- ADSR – Attack/Decay/Sustain Release – Analog syths used sound generators and filters to produce various sounds. The knobs which represent the ADSR were used to alter the waveforms producing unique sounds.
- LFO – Low Frequency oscillator – Produces a rythmic pulse using a frequency under 20 Hz. Some synths combined 4 LFOs to allow for more complex sound creations.
The ADSR and LFO controls allow any musician to create unique sounds from one musical instrument. This process is very stimulating for anyone interested in being different when composing a song.
One of the best known analog synths – Minimoog
One of the very popular early digital synths – Yamaha DX-7
One of the pioneers of analog synth music is Jean Michel Jarre
I decided to look further into the current crop of digital synths to see if anyone is manufacturing a synth that allows complete control of the digital waveform like the older analog synths while allowing many of the digital features like the ability to save the sound created and manipulate the sound via a computer software program. I came across a number of products that have such capabilities.
These are some of the products I came across:
- Roland Gaia SH-01 synthesizer
- Korg microKORG synthesizer
- nord lead 2X synthesizer
- Virtual analog synths that are 100% computer software based. Will be covered in another MSI post.
I listed the products in the order of interest. The Roland Gaia SH-01 is rich in features plus is priced between the Korg and the nord. All the phyiscal keyboards are considered virtual analog synths since the actual waveforms are digitally created or sampled and not actual analog waveform generators. In any case, these keyboards are some of the keyboards available in the market that allow control of the waveforms in a manner analogous to the late 70s analog synths.
To read more on synths and other digital music products, check out these magazines: