Standard "first synth" advice thread, yadda yadda

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Standard "first synth" advice thread, yadda yadda

Post by Seizure Salad » Sat Apr 26, 2008 2:52 am

I know you guys probably get a lot of these threads, so I apologize if I'm being, uh, detrimental to the overall quality of the community here. (This community really does rock--I lurk here sometimes and think you guys are awesome).

I've been meaning to get a synthesizer for a few years now. I've never owned one before, so it'll be my first synth. I'm not really looking for instant gratification and am willing to put in the effort required to learn how synthesis works, and build my own sounds, etc. I've got an excellent idea of what's on the market right now, but there are so many options and I have so little experience that I'm kind of overwhelmed with choice. So, I need some advice.

I want real analog, and I want polyphony. So that already narrows down the choices. Money's not REALLY and object, since I want to make a worthwhile investment. But I'm not, like, going to purchase some insane custom modular system.

Basically, I REALLY want a SunSyn. There's nothing I've heard that sounds better than it. I'm just hesitant to hunt one down because, first of all, they're out of production and hard to find. And, secondly, I understand that they're unreliable. And I don't yet have the experience to deal with an unreliable synth. (If the SunSyn's unreliability is exaggerated, someone please let me know).

The Andromeda seems intimidating, and DOES sound rather cold from what I've heard. (Although I'm sure it's true that anyone who really complains the Andromeda is too cold is probably a moron who doesn't know how to program it properly). I'm also interested in either a PolyEvolver or a Prophet 08. I'm worried the former won't be able to give me very workable pad sounds (especially with only four voices), and that the latter is...kind of unremarkable in sonic character.

I need a synth that is versatile. It has to be able to cut through the mix with the guys I jam with (who play loud, distorted music), but also be able to provide good pads and texturing. I want a healthy balance between workable musicality and experimental sound sculpting.

I know those criteria are vague and all but...what are your thoughts/opinions/recommendations? Thanks for your consideration!

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Post by tom Cadillac » Sat Apr 26, 2008 3:36 am

You could try an ensoniq sq80 - digital waveforms, but the rest is analogue. Its easy to programme and gets a wide range of sounds, often quite harsh.
Are you already a keyboard player? If so the sq80 has an unusual light touch, but is very good to play when you're used to it.

Synths differ a lot in how you can use the keyboard. Velocity sensitivity can effect different things, as can aftertouch and then you,ve got the envelope, so that one key stroke can trigger long evolving sounds and fast playing blur notes together in a wonderful way.

And actually when i think about it you're probably just on the edge of a fascinating journey of synth acquisition. There have just been so many wonderful synths made the last 20 years. So I wouldn't spend so much to start with, as I doubt you'll stick at one!

If you look at the lists of synths under the posts by people here it will give you a good idea of what are well respected synths. Enjoy!
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Post by THEODICY » Sat Apr 26, 2008 3:56 am

Dare I say an MS2000? It was my first and I think a pretty good one to learn on since most everything is laid out for you. Plus they are generally inexpensive and easily obtainable.

Oops.. just realized you wanted all analog :oops:

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Re: Standard "first synth" advice thread, yadda ya

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sat Apr 26, 2008 4:42 am

Seizure Salad wrote:I need a synth that is versatile. It has to be able to cut through the mix with the guys I jam with (who play loud, distorted music), but also be able to provide good pads and texturing. I want a healthy balance between workable musicality and experimental sound sculpting.
That describes the Poly Evolver pretty well, but could also be the Andromeda. The negative points you said about the Poly Evolver I don't think should be a problem. If you need more polyphony you can add a Poly Evolver Rack for another four voices, as far as pads go you've got 4 LFOs, 3 Envelopes, 4 freely assignable mod slots (all per voice) and all the usual mod sources, so you can get a lot of movement there.

Evolvers can cut through for sure, they can do soft and gentle and they can do wild and distorted. Play one and see if you like the general tone before you decide for sure.

The Evolvers tend to need reverb or something on them unless you're really trying to cut with them, so maybe consider getting a decent rack unit to go with it as well. I find myself EQing mine on tracks a lot too, probably more than other synths. It's a very big sound, and often I find myself having to cut it down to fit into the place I want it to.

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Post by V301H » Sat Apr 26, 2008 4:56 am

Possibly what draws you to the SunSyn is the sound of it's discrete VCO circuitry. The vast majority of polysynths use oscillator IC chips. The Jupiter 8 and Oberheim OBX are a couple of rare examples with discrete VCO's. With the limited choices available you might find a chip-based VCO synth to be a more practical alternative. If DCO's are acceptable the Andromeda is a more than adequate first synth.
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Re: Standard "first synth" advice thread, yadda ya

Post by Seizure Salad » Sat Apr 26, 2008 4:59 am

Stab Frenzy wrote:
Seizure Salad wrote:I need a synth that is versatile. It has to be able to cut through the mix with the guys I jam with (who play loud, distorted music), but also be able to provide good pads and texturing. I want a healthy balance between workable musicality and experimental sound sculpting.
That describes the Poly Evolver pretty well, but could also be the Andromeda. The negative points you said about the Poly Evolver I don't think should be a problem. If you need more polyphony you can add a Poly Evolver Rack for another four voices, as far as pads go you've got 4 LFOs, 3 Envelopes, 4 freely assignable mod slots (all per voice) and all the usual mod sources, so you can get a lot of movement there.

Evolvers can cut through for sure, they can do soft and gentle and they can do wild and distorted. Play one and see if you like the general tone before you decide for sure.

The Evolvers tend to need reverb or something on them unless you're really trying to cut with them, so maybe consider getting a decent rack unit to go with it as well. I find myself EQing mine on tracks a lot too, probably more than other synths. It's a very big sound, and often I find myself having to cut it down to fit into the place I want it to.
Yeah, I REALLY like the PolyEvolver Keyboard, actually. I've been able to play one a couple of times, and the kinds of sounds I was getting out of it were...just gargantuan. The PEK seems to be kind of a dark horse. It looks so good on paper, and SOUNDS so amazing in practice, and yet it doesn't seem to enjoy the popularity of other synths in its quality range.

And you're right: four voices is probably enough for lush pads if I'm clever with the programming.

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Post by Zamise » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:02 am

PEK is technically a hybrid, I'm not sure but you might be able to not use the digital side of it and say its all analog at the point, but that'd prob be a waste. P08 and A6 are probably your best bets. Your kind of limiting yourself to pretty few options with a modern anlog poly that has a high enough production run to have every bug and kink worked out of it. Maybe something I'm not thinking of tho. If I want a SunSyn sound the closest I think I've come is with my Yamaha AN1X, I've got pretty close with it I think, but its a VA.
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Post by Seizure Salad » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:06 am

V301H wrote:Possibly what draws you to the SunSyn is the sound of it's discrete VCO circuitry. The vast majority of polysynths use oscillator IC chips. The Jupiter 8 and Oberheim OBX are a couple of rare examples with discrete VCO's. With the limited choices available you might find a chip-based VCO synth to be a more practical alternative. If DCO's are acceptable the Andromeda is a more than adequate first synth.
I've heard of this before. I actually e-mailed the guy who runs Jomox (it's a one-man operation apparently) because I was so dazzled by the sound of the SunSyn, and he mentioned the discrete VCO circuitry too. Then he went on a quasi-coherent rant about how one day he'll build a dream synthesizer with a haptic interface whose sounds reflects the personality of its user. Gotta love those ambitious Europeans.

Does anybody actually know WHY discrete circuitry apparently sounds better or different than IC chips? I've got the feeling it could be one of those audiophile myths. But after listening to the SunSyn, part of me doesn't doubt it's true.

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Post by Seizure Salad » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:09 am

Zamise wrote:PEK is technically a hybrid, I'm not sure but you might be able to not use the digital side of it and say its all analog at the point, but that'd prob be a waste. P08 and A6 are probably your best bets. Your kind of limiting yourself to pretty few options with a modern anlog poly that has a high enough production run to have every bug and kink worked out of it. If I want a SunSyn sound the closest I think I've come is with my Yamaha AN1X, I've got pretty close with it I think, but its a VA.
Yeah, I know it's a hybrid. I actually don't mind--I'd want to use to digital oscillators as well. As long as it has an analog backbone.

I also don't mind buggy synths (anything high tech is buggy), just not synths that tend to have catastrophic problems, like I've heard the SunSyn does.

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Post by Zamise » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:14 am

Seizure Salad wrote:
V301H wrote:Possibly what draws you to the SunSyn is the sound of it's discrete VCO circuitry. The vast majority of polysynths use oscillator IC chips. The Jupiter 8 and Oberheim OBX are a couple of rare examples with discrete VCO's. With the limited choices available you might find a chip-based VCO synth to be a more practical alternative. If DCO's are acceptable the Andromeda is a more than adequate first synth.
I've heard of this before. I actually e-mailed the guy who runs Jomox (it's a one-man operation apparently) because I was so dazzled by the sound of the SunSyn, and he mentioned the discrete VCO circuitry too. Then he went on a quasi-coherent rant about how one day he'll build a dream synthesizer with a haptic interface whose sounds reflects the personality of its user. Gotta love those ambitious Europeans.

Does anybody actually know WHY discrete circuitry apparently sounds better or different than IC chips? I've got the feeling it could be one of those audiophile myths. But after listening to the SunSyn, part of me doesn't doubt it's true.
My understanding, and I'm usually half wrong or half right, that the signal has to be down or lowered before it goes in and then re-amped after or coming out the chip. Extra places for unwanted things to happen to the original signal, but I don't really know myself if that to always be true or not, but something like that I'm thinking where the signal original quality gets changed. Someone will enlighten us further hopefully if I'm totally wrong about that being the reason.

OBs do sound quite nice too, but well you arn't going to find a new one of those. Personally, the debate amonst VCOs, DCOs, and DSPs is old and I don't care. If it floats your boat then thats what you like and that is what you should get. Me, I'd hate to limit myself in that way, I'm more of a PCM man anyway.
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Post by ryryoftokyo » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:11 am

forgive me for going off the path here, but I have a suggestion. And anybody in this forum shouldn't be surprised at what I'm saying here...

Ever tried an AN1x by Yamaha? Yes, it is VA (virtual analog) which is basically a digital with a sound engine designed to mimic analog synths, but honestly...that board have made me neglect every piece of analog gear in my studio. I think it just nails the analog thing way better than even some analogs do. If you want more info or perhaps sound samples of what I've done with mine, PM me.

But, if analog is a must I want to say you should try and track down a Roland Alpha Juno 2. Those things go for very cheap these days, and to be honest, I'm not sure why. First off, 3 DCOs (digitally controlled oscillators), which if you don't know, it just means they're voltage oscillators, but they are controlled by digital means. Usually this is done to increase stability in the oscillators. Personally, I hear very little difference between a VCO (voltage controlled oscillator) and a DCO.

The VCF (voltage controlled filter) and the VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) are obviously both analog which makes a big difference in the sound as opposed to a digital filter. The polyphony is only six voices, but, that suits me fine. For others, well, that can be a pain. That's for you to decide.

It does have MIDI which is wonderful if you intend to use it in a MIDI environment.

There is good patch storage on there for a board from the 80s.

There is chord memory which is always a plus.

There's a good chorus effect.

But where the AJ 2 really shines for me is it's punch. I was blown away when I first heard it and still love it to this day.

I know you mention pads and that Alpha Juno 2 makes wonderful pads that are mellow but complex. But when you hit the right stuff on that it will cut right through the mix and get you in there.

Hmm...You can get a multitude of sound styles out of it. You can get that straight from the 80s sound for a nice new wave vibe, and you can keep up with the most frenetic grindcore band as well with it...and everything in between.

Maybe if you were a bit more specific about what sounds you are going for, I could probably help out a bit better, but from what I've seen, I think these are the best I can do for now.

Happy hunting!

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Post by otto » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:38 am

I think you'll find that if you take to synthesis you will most likely try out multiple synths which will each teach you more and more and then you'll develop a better taste for want you want. The best way to figure it out is to just get something and start learning. If money isn't too much of an issue you might consider trying a couple different synths and finding what it is you like. As many others have mentioned you might be too quick to dismiss VA. I've had multiple analog and VA polysynths and right now I've kept my favorite VA and sold the analog poly's. On the other hand I have a couple analog mono's and prefer analog for those duties. VA is just another flavor of synthesis and shouldn't be considered inferior.

On that note my advice is to not blow a large amount of cash on an expensive new(ish) poly when you are initially learning. I suggest trying a few cheap and easy to learn on items that will help you develop of sense of what you want in features and sounds. I would consider getting something along the lines of a Juno 60 and an MS2000. These should be easy enough to wrap your head around and give you good basics to learn on. Every different synth I have acquired has taught me something new and reinforced what I like and don't like.
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Post by Zamise » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:56 am

ryryoftokyo wrote:forgive me for going off the path here, but I have a suggestion. And anybody in this forum shouldn't be surprised at what I'm saying here...
I'm not surprised, in fact I already sugestted it :wink: There is something extra special about the sound and quality of the AN1X as a sleeper synth, not so much a sleeper tho as use to be, those that know, know now. I'll leave it at that.
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Post by Stab Frenzy » Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:05 am

Seizure Salad wrote:Does anybody actually know WHY discrete circuitry apparently sounds better or different than IC chips? I've got the feeling it could be one of those audiophile myths. But after listening to the SunSyn, part of me doesn't doubt it's true.
More headroom (therefore higher signal voltages) therefore less noise/interference, less crosstalk/bleeding because there's more physical space between components, more flexibility for the designer to do exactly what s/he wants, rather than having to work with a pre-existing IC design. Individual transistors can be tested to make sure gain levels are matched.

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Post by JMP » Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:45 am

otto wrote:I would consider getting something along the lines of a Juno 60
Exactly what I was thinking. As a first synth this would be an excellent choice, the best of the Juno range IMO. Simple to figure out, good sounds, DCB - MIDI connectivity, memories, six voices so pads are still achievable, not expensive and plenty usually available S/H.

From my experience think the Andromeda will be TOO MUCH synth as a first bit of kit. I've been messing and playing synths for over 20 years and found it the most complicated synth I've ever owned. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it is when you have little time or a maybe new to synths.

You also mention four voices on a PEK should still be OK for pads, I disagree, nothing worse than notes cutting off when your playing chords with long release. The PEK rack too would be nice but you're talking a lot of cash for both the keyboard and rack versions.

Other suggestions, maybe the Korg Polysix (but ensure the battery has been replaced) or a Sequential P600 (with working membrane keypad) although this may be harder to find. With these, you'll have cash spare to get them fixed if age related reliability becomes an issue further down the line.

Bit higher cost; Jupiter 6?

Happy hunting.

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