What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Discussions about anything analog, digital, MIDI, synth technology, techniques, theories and more.
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GuyaGuy
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by GuyaGuy » Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:37 pm

One thing I've noticed is that when people talk about synths and their pros and cons, it seems that they are often comparing them to some Holy Grail of synths that doesn't actually exist. This is especially the case when the talk is analog synths--and even more so when the topic is polys. Just as an example of what people bring up:

CS-80: oh the sound! but no MIDI and limited memory, heavy as h**l, expensive
Prophet 5: a bit cheaper but no MIDI and limited voices
Prophet 600: MIDI and 1 more voice but slow envelopes, quantized pots
Jupiter 6: faster envelopes but not as thick or fat
Jupiter 8: thick and fat enough but no MIDI and expensive
Junos: cheaper but getting overpriced, limited but good for basic sounds

The same thought process continues when the topic is contemporary analog snths:

Prophet 08: bells and whistles but not analogy enough
Andromeda: analog enough but a bit thin and fiddly

Obviously, pointing out limitations can be good so a potential owner is aware of them. But they often are talked about as flaws--as if every synth should theoretically have the same features: MIDI, 8 voices of polyphony, 200 patches, envelopes that are super fast and super slow, etc. This would be like expecting an El Camino to handle like a Ford Shelby and a Ford Shelby to have the storage capacity of an El Camino.

I guess I have a different approach. I look for something that roughly meets my criteria and when I find it, I learn to work within its features and limitations. For example, my favorite analog synth is the P600. When I write for it, I have in my head that it doesn't do mono but it does do unison, its filter knobs are quantized so I need to use a CV pedal for smooth sweeps, etc. Its just working with the machine as it is. In fact I use the alleged limitations as features: 6 voices in unison sounds huge and scary, that quantized stepping can sound friggin cool, etc.

Just some thoughts I have while I should be working. Maybe they will resonate with you while you should be working too.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by soundxplorer » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:00 pm

I just try to be honest, because there will always be something that could be better.
For example, when the DSI Desktop Evolver first came out I had pre-ordered one from the very fisrt batch and I think I wrote the very first review of it on Harmony Central. In the "Ease of Use" category I gave it a 5/10 in my review because, honestly, the matrix style of editing with encoders isn't the most fun thing in the world, plus the small LCD display used crpytic abbreviations for a lot of parameters. So I thought a 5/10 was fair. If we're going to have a scale from 1 to 10 I'd probably put something like a DX7 down around the 1/10 end for "ease of use", and then a Moog Rogue up towards the 10/10 side, because it is simple and every parameter has its own control.

So anyway, a few subsequent Evolver reviews slammed my comments saying stuff like "this is SO easy to use, I give it a 10/10". Really? Well, I think that is leaning to the sensational side of things. And also, every time I read a synth review that is just completely over-the-top gushing about how awesome something is, I tend to think they are trying to convince themselves more than anyone else. Quite often, just a few months after the "Synth_X is amazing!" post you'll see a "Synth_X for sale!" post because.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by Moped10 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:09 pm

good points- I was nervous forking over the dough for my Voyager Old School, due to the online forum random gear nuts that described it as lacking mojo and "sounds nothing like a true mini"- balderdash- sounds like Moog, sounds amazing, blows speakers just fine ;)
trust your ears and your real life musician peers over online strangers and you'll be better off- not to say there're no benefits to these online discourses- tips, do-it-yourself fixes/mods, unbiased original music reviews, etc., and last but not least, humor, bring me back, but I've learned to take every negative spin on a synth/guitar/whatever with a big grain of salt

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by GuyaGuy » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:37 pm

Moped10 wrote:good points- I was nervous forking over the dough for my Voyager Old School, due to the online forum random gear nuts that described it as lacking mojo and "sounds nothing like a true mini"- balderdash- sounds like Moog, sounds amazing, blows speakers just fine ;)
Yep, that's a perfect example. I've never played a Minimoog but I know what it sounds like and modern Moogs still sound Moogy to just about everybody. It's like buying a nice new Fender Telecaster. No, it won't sound exactly like a 1951 Tele, but it will sound exactly like a Telecaster. And, along the same lines, there's no reason to trash a Mini because it has no MIDI or to trash the Voyager because it sounds 2% less Moogy than an old Moog. They do that sexy thing they do; enjoy that.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by Moped10 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:49 pm

It's like buying a nice new Fender Tele ... elecaster.
haha! Yes! I got roasted on a Gretsch guitar forum for selling a '64 and buying a 2005- The only thing I sacrificed was resale value- the "Gretsch sound" was still there, and with better intonation, but NOT according to those guys :roll:

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by pflosi » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:00 pm

GuyaGuy wrote:I look for something that roughly meets my criteria and when I find it, I learn to work within its features and limitations.
True love means loving someone / something with all his / her / its faults and quirks. They just belong together.

Good that it's socially accepted to have several synths........... :D

On the topic, you always will find haters. About anything. Just look at the "gear you don't care for"-thread :lol:

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by garranimal » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:03 pm

Moped10 wrote:trust your ears
This phrase magically appears sometimes when giving synth advice. To me it is the only reason to choose a synth. Features, polyphony, interface, reputation, and all that other stuff helps in finding one to try. To me I want an instrument that I can have a real connection, get to the sounds I desire AND the sounds I never dreamed. Bob Moog has discussed this idea when designing his instruments, that he can feel what is going on inside them and no doubt probably his engineering intuition talking. But there's an idea of setting up a dialog between the instrument, your hands, ears and brain. And I rarely hear anyone talk about that.
pflosi wrote:True love means loving someone / something with all his / her / its faults and quirks. They just belong together.

That's what I'm talking about.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by realtrance » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:04 pm

I have to believe a lot of the "this is better than that.... you'll never be able to do that with this synth" stuff on the internet is mainly people using synth forums to try to market what they have up on craigslist or ebay. :)

The reality is, as in all the arts, constraints are good. Let what you need be driven by what walls _you_ come up against with your current instrument or setup, and it'll always be fun. And sometimes, it's just fun to chat and compare, nothing wrong with that, just don't let it waste your money or create anxiety. And sometimes, even, it's just fun to buy a new instrument even if you don't "need" it, nothing wrong with that, either. I'd rather throw my money into the musical instrument making industry than the automobile industry or the housing market any day, eh?

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by th0mas » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:07 pm

What's funny is I find it self-perpetuates. IE I buy a synth, read about it online and find people saying it's good for basses but otherwise bla bla bla, or that it has this problem or that problem.. next thing I know I'm approaching the synth I just bought with preconceived notions about what it's good and bad for instead of just finding awesome sounds on it.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by cgren72 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:18 pm

Moped10 wrote:It's like buying a nice new Fender Tele ... elecaster.
haha! Yes! I got roasted on a Gretsch guitar forum for selling a '64 and buying a 2005- The only thing I sacrificed was resale value- the "Gretsch sound" was still there, and with better intonation, but NOT according to those guys :roll:
I have noticed that most "guitar guys" are almost paranoid about loosing any bit of "good tone" that they think they have. i had a '63 silvertone (i think it was a '63) but it sounded like a toy next to my modern sg. and even a jackson dinky that i had. And i built a fender 5e3 clone and the people on the forum i got information from were defenately paranoid. i used all standard plastic wires and modern componets, and it sounds great. everyone on the forum was using paper wrapped wired for heater wires, other things for other parts, and fender most likely did this to make it as cheap as possible during production. why not use good components when building a clone? no amps are going to sound like eric clapton or whoever because the person playing the instrument isnt eric clapton in the first place.

but about synths, for some reason i find alot of expensive "holy grail" synths to sound bad. i would rather have some cheap toy (synth toys are good, guitar toys arent as good^ lol) than an expensive synth im afraid of playing. thats part of the reason i dont play much guitar anymore. (which is a shame because right after i finished the 5e3, i pretty much stopped playing guitar)


but back to the topic of this thread, did you hear the christmas prayer or whatever that was on this forum? i think that was the synth youre talking about lol.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by cgren72 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:19 pm

http://www.vintagesynth.com/forum/viewt ... er#p650701

heres the prayer. i think this is most peoples dream synth lol

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by cgren72 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:21 pm

th0mas wrote:What's funny is I find it self-perpetuates. IE I buy a synth, read about it online and find people saying it's good for basses but otherwise bla bla bla, or that it has this problem or that problem.. next thing I know I'm approaching the synth I just bought with preconceived notions about what it's good and bad for instead of just finding awesome sounds on it.
and thomas is exactly correct about this

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by meatballfulton » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:07 pm

Every musical instrument has it's pros and cons and what is a deal-killer for one person is a who-cares for another. That's all instruments, not just synths.

Still there is a lot of holy-grail BS flying around all the time. I am amazed at people claiming the Voyager, LP and DSI synths "sound digital". How can they not sound analog when they are analog? WTF x 1000 :banghead:

There's also a lot of bias built into comments due to the kind of music people are creating (i.e. the constant trashing of workstations, love/hate for softsynths, etc.). Dance music types obsess over the fattest, most subby kick drum sound or whether it's a real 303 or not. Piano-trained players obsess over keyboard actions and how many velocity layers are used. Modular heads will keep adding to their systems until they either need a larger house or they die. People with no money think everything is an expensive ripoff and people with plenty of money think we should all own lots of hyper-rare and expensive gear. And on and on ad nauseam :truce:

Of course I am as guilty as anybody to making boneheaded pronouncements, easily proven by reading old USENET postings that are still viewable on teh netz.

The hardest thing is taking the time to understand the point of view of the other posters before turning on the flamethrowers. :pissed:
I listened to Hatfield and the North at Rainbow. They were very wonderful and they made my heart a prisoner.

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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by Solderman » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:51 pm

The thing about synths is that due to their innate flexibility, it almost seems absurd that anyone would want one only for a handful of ideal sounds. Sounds they have likely already heard repeatedly and wish to exploit for themselves. They want that sound and They want it now!!! The flip-side of this perspective is the crowd that, when asked what sounds they like, they would look up from madly tweaking and say "I don't know, I'll tell you when I hear it".

The common ground there is having something that isn't perfect, but rather it gets results, and inspires your creativity without the technical aspects getting in the way. If I had to guess, I'd say the latter is the reason people get so finicky about what gear they want. Regardless of the attitude, given enough time without these results, anyone will certainly question the effort spent and the capability of the tools used. You begin to long for shortcuts to success, so you may default to whatever has already achieved that.

It's natural to expect more, especially with synths being what they are, doing what they do. The thing to realize is that obviously everyone has different expectations, but with the growing demand consisting more and more of people who either have never played them or covet them as symbols of vanity, the majority of this demand is now immature and likely unfounded, therefore may never be satisfied.

I echo the sentiment above. Trust your ears. Play it for yourself and decide, otherwise acknowledge your viewpoint as merely speculation. If you do have it, but it's a pain in the a*s to use some of the time, if it brings any joy at all, it's probably worth hanging on to. If it no longer does, there's a long line of people waiting who probably will.
I am no longer in pursuit of vintage synths. The generally absurd inflation from demand versus practical use and maintenance costs is no longer viable. The internet has suffocated and vanquished yet another wonderful hobby. Too bad.
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Re: What We Talk About When We Talk About Synths

Post by Solderman » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:32 pm

meatballfulton wrote:There is a lot of holy-grail BS flying around all the time. I am amazed at people claiming the Voyager, LP and DSI synths "sound digital". How can they not sound analog when they are analog?
I'd guess this is partly due to uninformed deduction. For instance, The Alesis Andromeda, DSI synths and the Future Retro XS give me a f**k headache. NI Massive, UHe Ace and the Akai MiniAk also cause me to reach for the Tylenol. Therefore I quickly deduce the former category sounds like digital. Just more lazy, unwarranted analysis from people who are high on hastened malcontent and short on patience.

I realize the other aspect of this is the AG argument that the forumites are all familiar with, presenting the technical reasons vintage synths sound so pleasing in comparison to modern facsimiles. But those reasons are hardly common knowledge, are they?
I am no longer in pursuit of vintage synths. The generally absurd inflation from demand versus practical use and maintenance costs is no longer viable. The internet has suffocated and vanquished yet another wonderful hobby. Too bad.
--Solderman no more.

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