Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

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Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by Music Maven » Sat Dec 24, 2011 4:53 am

I own quite a few synths and have previously owned/used/programmed quite a few more. But the one synth that remains an absolute joy to use is my Nord 3 rack. Although I often wish that it sounded a bit fatter, nevertheless, I can whip up really cool, highly dynamic, hybrid VA/FM sounds on the Nord 3 in a matter of minutes - something that is more difficult and time consuming to do on my other synths and plugins.

The "Morph" (parameter change via mod wheel, keyboard tracking, velocity and aftertouch) features are absolutely brilliant. My question is why don't more synth/plugin manufacturers adopt the same style UI? It's so simple and powerful. Everything else (including the standard "matrix modulation" table) seems really clunky by comparison.

Thoughts?

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by sequentialsoftshock » Sat Dec 24, 2011 8:59 am

I'm assuming since you put this in general that it isn't limited to software / VA only, so I'd need to say a fully modular system or a really well laid out hardwired board without any menu diving and everything at your hands. MS20, Prophet 5, 10, T8, & 1, OBXa, OB8, I believe the 12 is almost without menu diving, Jupiters, etc.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by CS_TBL » Sat Dec 24, 2011 10:50 am

Music Maven wrote:My question is why don't more synth/plugin manufacturers adopt the same style UI?
Because not every synth is the same. The more parameters there are, the bigger the interface needs to be, the less parameters there are, the simpler and quicker an interface is. The more parameters there are, the less useful a two-line display becomes (menu diving!) and the less practical it will be to have one knob doing one thing - unless you really want to end up with a synth the size of your bedroom wall. That's where a software interface comes in. In -say- FM8 every feature takes one or sometimes two mouse clicks. In minutes I'll have a rather complex and dynamic sound with a minimum of efforts, and still an ideal overview to tweak and add other things. I'm not quite convinced one should convert the FM8 interface to hardware; just think of the size of that monster and the price tag it'll have.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by tekkentool » Sat Dec 24, 2011 12:02 pm

Massive is awesome for the speed of modulation routing and for how much information it can display to you about what's going on at any one time.

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by meatballfulton » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:13 pm

CS_TBL made a good point, greater complexity of the instrument makes it more difficult to offer an efficient UI.

Some favorites of mine:

Ensoniq ESQ-1: Yes, it's a parameter programming interface but there are no menus...you just press the button for the block of interest and all available parameters show on the huge screen. 25 years later, it's still the best non-knob interface I've ever used.

Image

ARP Odyssey: Color coded sliders! If you're lucky enough to have the original slider tips on the correct sliders, related controls share the same color.

Image

Korg Radias: Yes, it's got menus but every time you move a knob the related menu pops up on the screen. And there are plenty of knobs.

DSI Evolver desktop: I know the encoders are a love/hate thing. I love them, when calling up a preset it's nice to have every knob at the current setting. The matrix of knob functions is clever, easy to learn and keeps the box small. No menus, no patch names. My vote for the beat marriage of vintage and modern technology in the last two decades.

Synplant: A very fun softsynth. The UI has seven sliders controlling very basic parameters, all the magic is morphing the current patch into a new one by a clever "DNA" method of pseudorandom patch generation. A very different way of coming up with sounds not meant for dialing up a bass wobble or filter sweep. You experiment and discover new sounds in a non-technical way, perfect for coming up with unusual pads and FX.

Image

Minor rant: all softsynths and patch editors should use only sliders, no knobs. Whether mousing or using a touchscreen, sliding is easier to deal with. I hate sliding a mouse to rotate a knob, moving my mouse far away from the knob I'm tweaking.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by Music Maven » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:19 pm

tekkentool wrote:Massive is awesome for the speed of modulation routing and for how much information it can display to you about what's going on at any one time.
Yes! that's exactly what I'm talking about. :-) Massive is probably the closest to the Nord in how you assign modulation routings. The way that you can see both the current parameter value and the range over which the modulator (mod wheel, velocity, etc.) operates is fantastic - it's really powerful yet simple.

I just wish Massive sounded a bit more, er, massive. I find it a little thin, cold and digital (not in a good way) like most NI stuff. But great UI. :-)

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by mharris80 » Sat Dec 24, 2011 6:46 pm

meatballfulton wrote:CS_TBL made a good point, greater complexity of the instrument makes it more difficult to offer an efficient UI.

Some favorites of mine:

Ensoniq ESQ-1: Yes, it's a parameter programming interface but there are no menus...you just press the button for the block of interest and all available parameters show on the huge screen. 25 years later, it's still the best non-knob interface I've ever used.
+1 Gotta be one of the best interfaces on a digital board ever. Especially when you take into account the fact that it was made in 1986!

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by CS_TBL » Sat Dec 24, 2011 7:04 pm

I think it also depends on the synthesis model and how many parameters you need at a specific time. Especially FM synthesis is vast. You can alter the perceived brightness by tweaking the envelope of any modulator (envelope menu), any modulator level (operator menu), feedback (algo menu), any modulator key scaling (key scaling menu), any modulator velocity, any controller routing (such as after touch) going to modulators etc. etc. These parameters are usually scattered around, and each menu is a jungle o' options. With just the machine, this is exactly what sinks the FS1r for example - and I've done my fair share o' poking around on it. (and before we forget, as for brightness: the FS1r has a filter, and EQ in the effects section as well)

At the same time, I can quite imagine that a menu driven Juno60 would be no problem to manage, it simply has less options.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by vinyl_junkie » Sat Dec 24, 2011 9:29 pm

+1 For the ESQ

I know this won't get any votes but the DX-100/7 do have a great interface which I prefer over the software by miles, there are no menus really and every function has it's own button which is clearly labeled. If you know what you are doing I think it's pretty good, for what it is I don't think it's bad... DX-1 took it to the next level sure but at a price, also I think there was a programmer by Access for the 7.

Novation Supernova 2/KS Rack I thought also had a great user interface

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by Hugo76 » Sun Dec 25, 2011 4:00 am

meatballfulton wrote:
"Minor rant: all softsynths and patch editors should use only sliders, no knobs. Whether mousing or using a touchscreen, sliding is easier to deal with. I hate sliding a mouse to rotate a knob, moving my mouse far away from the knob I'm tweaking."

+1

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by Shreddie » Sun Dec 25, 2011 4:27 am

I'm surprised that people are even mentioning software here... Anything driven by a mouse is instantly going to be slower and more awkward to use as you can't use muscle memory for it.

As an example, I can practically touch type with my EX7 simply because I'm so used to it. Yes it has menus and yes that's not ideal but simply by getting used to it, I'm fast as h**l with it... I couldn't do the same thing with software if I tried... And believe me I have... The closest I have come to that is with Emulator X but that's only because I have a game pad programmed with a vast array of keyboard shortcuts (and macros) that allow me to get things done with ease.

For me though, the best kind of interface has to be one where pretty much everything is available on the front panel under single function knobs and buttons

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:50 am

Shreddie wrote:I'm surprised that people are even mentioning software here... Anything driven by a mouse is instantly going to be slower and more awkward to use as you can't use muscle memory for it.
You do realize that e.g. FM8 has well over 700 buttons/sliders in total? You want 25 square feet worth o' sliders in front of your nose, all for $200? :P I think I'm fairly experienced with FM8 if I may say so. I also have a BCR2000, just to test how well it works with it. I think I've tried it once, I realized it just didn't work well in practice, and continue mousing around. And that mouse really doesn't stop me from using it.

And ok, for a real controller one could work with pages, led-knobs and reduce the amount of buttons with a factor 8 or something. But still: a segment envelope (which is also present in the scaling) is a tough one for fixed layouts such as hardware.

This debate about parameter immediacy reminds me of similar discussions which programmers are fighting about, like 'what is the best scope definition?'

Scope{
..
}

or:

Scope
{
..
}

or:

Scope
..
End Scope

or:

Scope
Start
..
End

Here's reality: in the end, a programmer spends 98% of his time thinking, reading and testing, and 2% of his time typing. Also, a programmer can type so fast that there's barely any notable difference between accolades and words.

In my reality, I spend most time playing the sound across the whole keyboard with all possible velocities and several positions o' aftertouch, modwheel and pitchbend. And when I hear that I should be tweaking a parameter I go to that parameter with one or two quick clicks and tweak it.. then play all again. Never am I tweaking multiple parameters together in one go. And for those few people who wish to do so in FM8, there's always the Easy page, and the MIDI learn function so that any controller can be to one's wishes.

So again, it really depends on the specific synth and its complexity being used. Also it depends on who's using it in what manner, and as such, stating that a mouse interface just can't work is nonsense imho.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:52 am

meatballfulton wrote:Minor rant: all softsynths and patch editors should use only sliders, no knobs. Whether mousing or using a touchscreen, sliding is easier to deal with. I hate sliding a mouse to rotate a knob, moving my mouse far away from the knob I'm tweaking.
Sliders occupy more screen space than knobs.. and screen space is quite limited.
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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by Shleed » Sun Dec 25, 2011 2:42 pm

I find knobs on softsynths to be easier to follow, personally.

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Re: Best Synth Programming Interface Ever?

Post by georgemarauder » Sun Dec 25, 2011 5:28 pm

By far, the best interface in my opinion is the Arp Axxe. Simple, easy to use, perfectly laid out. You can get a very musical sound out of it extremely fast.

Why not the Arp Odyssey? The Odyssey is a bit more complicated, and to me it doesn't have the best interface ever. Now being complex doesn't automatically eliminate it from the discussion, but to me, it just takes too long to create a good sound on the Odyssey compared to the Axxe.

So I would go with the Axxe.

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