Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

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Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:46 pm

So, I'm trying to understand the difference between "virtual analog" synths and "digital synths", from a customer point of view, I don't know much about synthesis. And a lot of what I've found seems to be really general and would apply to both, or it's really technical and I just can't get what it means for the synth generally.

I think my overview might be "virtual analog synths recreate analog synth sounds digitally" and they have lots of knobs and things you would find on analog synths, like choosing your waveforms, LFO, filter, envelope, stuff like that. For example, a Korg MS2000. It has a bunch of knobs, that do stuff like select waveforms lfo you get the point.

My knowledge of what digital synths are is pretty much everything that doesn't have a ton of knobs and analog settings like waveforms lfo... but you're still able to control the sound a little bit maybe through menus or a few knobs so it's not a walmart keyboard or anything. For example, the Korg Wavestation.

But, I've seen a whole bunch of digital synthesizers with loads of knobs like waveforms lfo and other analog looking stuff that never even mention analog modeling or virtual analog. Are virtual analogs just trying to be exact replicas of analog synths except without being analog? Are digital synths giving you a whole bunch of ways to tweak your sound but without trying to sound analog?

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Z » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:07 pm

All VAs are digital, but there are other types of synthesis that are only available with digital synths (or in which digital synths excel). Such syntheses include, but not limited to:

DGW (Digitally Generated Waveform) (found in many Ensoniqs, Kawai K3, Korg DW, PPG Wave & SCI Prophet VS)
Additive (Kawai K5 & K5000 among others)
Frequency Modulation (made famous by the Yamaha DX7)
ROMplers (pretty much all 'workstation' synths)
Physical Modelling (Korg Prophecy, Yamaha VL-1)
Granular (can't think of any hardware, but there's plenty o software)
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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:13 pm

By only in digital synths do you mean only in digital synths that aren't analog modeling? Sorry, I'm pretty new.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:18 pm

Or wait, are those other types of digital synthesizers? Like those are all different types of digital synthesizers and virtual analog is another one of those?

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by CS_TBL » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:20 pm

Digital (FM, Rompler, VA etc.) just means that the sound is created using software, typically burnt into ROM chips so it runs on its own.

So, if you have this routine:

loop:
a=a+1
if a>127 then a=a-256
SendToDA (a)
goto loop

..this creates an 8 bit signed sawtooth with a fixed frequency. Now, add more of such routines, far more complex of course, and you have a digital synth.. which also explains why software (as in: VST's 'n such) isn't any different from all that.
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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by zoomtheline » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:27 pm

I know you didn't post that to sound clever but you just might have made the op's eyes glaze over and brain melt a little.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:35 pm

Haha it was a little frightening, but I think I got the gist of it even with the uber programmerhacker lingo. So, I guess digital synthesizers is a blanket term for VAs and such. But, are VAs all about trying to recreate analog synth sounds? I mean, the MicroKorg is called a virtual analog, is that because you can go in and change the sound features the way you would with an analog synth?
Last edited by Goose on Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by zoomtheline » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:40 pm

Yeah, to keep it simple, VA is just a digital synth that is based on analogue subtractive synthesis. But many don't stick with that anyway. A lot of VA's have other synthesis under the hood as well.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:49 pm

Because it looks like a lot of synths have the same kind of things (LFO waveforms ...) you can fiddle with, so I don't really understand the difference between them and other VAs. Is there really a difference to the average consumer? Like amount of knobs and what they do, the kind of sound you'd be able to get (are VAs just trying to do analog stuff) Or is the difference something synthesis and electronics related that newbies like me wouldn't understand, like where Korg put the gigawatts and what brand of protons they used, as opposed to if I get to mess with LFO knobs and If I can make space sounds?

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Z » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:52 pm

Goose wrote: So, I guess digital synthesizers is a blanket term for VAs and such. But, are VAs all about trying to recreate analog synth sounds? I mean, the MicroKorg is called a virtual analog, is that because you can go in and change the sound features the way you would with an analog synth?
Not really. There were plenty of digital synthesizers before Virtual Analog popped up in the mid 90s.

Short history:

In the beginning, all synths were analog and only capable of producing a limited range of timbre. At that time, digital technology was very expensive, so analog subtractive synthesis was commonplace. As digital technology became more affordable, instruments using digital technology (FM, sampling, ROMplers) became commonplace as they were able to produce a wider range of timbre and able to emulate acoustic instruments better than analog. As most people were ditching their old analog synths to purchase these new digital instruments, the old analog was available at super cheap second-hand prices and people making electronic music in the late 80s & early 90s, thus beginning the "analog renaissance". By the mid-90s, the deals on these second-hand analog instruments had dried up (still cheap compared to what stuff sells for today) and manufacturers wanted to cash in on this new fad by making modern "Virtual Analog" synths. The rest is history...
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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by CS_TBL » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:11 pm

Goose wrote:Because it looks like a lot of synths have the same kind of things (LFO waveforms ...) you can fiddle with, so I don't really understand the difference between them and other VAs.
So, the real question is: "why don't synths evolve a lot faster compared to where they've come from?"

Answer:
- not many people are crafty sound designers, see/find the "original factory presets" story from the Yamaha DX7 synths that were returned to shops for repairs. You can add a thousand buttons and knobs to a synth - I would love it - but a majority would just do poop with 'm.
- often a synth is kinda linked to a musical genre, acid + 303 is one example. They sell (and get rebooted) to cash in on such hypes, so such synths can't be that radically new. I mean, oh dear, the new Aira from Roland is digital and it has more possibilities than the original ancestors.. oh teh horror... *sigh* :)
- cost: more buttons - more moneys - less buyers - and since not everyone is a sound designer, why would a manufacturer care anyway?
- long term business. Why make the lightbulb that never breaks when you can sell stupid feeble lightbulbs for another 100 years? VST's often have a different strategy btw, much more based on coders who want to best now, such products are usually only limited by CPU, RAM and HD-speed.



.. I could as well talk out of my a*s, but I think these are fair points.. ^_^
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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:23 pm

Okay, but is there a difference though? I think if I look deep inside my soul my fears are that virtual analog synthesizers are trying to be analog, and as such wouldn't give you opportunity for digital sounds. And, that digital synthesizers that aren't VA won't have a bunch of knobs like LFO Waveforms those things, and would be patch-players, with some settings, for people who are really good at piano and are playing at a church or something.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:29 pm

And the whole consumer question, whether it would make a difference in controls and sounds, in reference to other types of digital synths

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by nathanscribe » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:16 pm

Z had it right at the top. Virtual Analogues are a subset of Digital Synthesizers.

Digital Synthesizers can use various kinds of synthesis, some of which Z lists - an LFO to use your example is just a way of saying there's a slow waveform generated, it can be in the digital or analogue domains, whatever. Not important. It's a term for a synthesis tool, not a way of implementing that tool

The thing with digital synthesis is that because it's done by number-crunching, and not by the use of continuously variable voltages, is that you are not bound by the physical constraints of that kind of system. So, for example, in 1983 the DX7 blew everybody's minds because in some ways it was the equivalent of a big and VERY precise analogue modular.

Digital synths are not constrained to playback of presets, or samples, or anything of that type. Though some of them do just that. Digital synths are able to use mathematical models to generate sounds that analogue could not accurately or practically do so, for reasons of scale, cost, complexity, speed, whatever.

EDIT: your assumption about VAs is basically correct. They are digital. But they are modelled on analogue methods and designs. So they do seek to act, as far as the user is concerned, like analogue synths. There are ways in which they go beyond that, such as polyphony, effects, greater variety of filter types, etc.

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Re: Difference Between Digital and Virtual Analog Synths?

Post by Goose » Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:04 am

Is being a virtual analog a subjective thing? Are synths definitely or definitely not VA or is it pretty much whatever the company calls it? I mean, the Novation Novas are pretty modern sounding, but they're called Virtual Analogs, which confuses me a little, I don't really get it. "modelled on analog methods and designs" sounds pretty general, like something that'd be in a lot of product descriptions. I might be looking too far into it though. Okay, here's something that might help, why is the Microkorg considered virtual analog but the Roland JD-800 isn't? Sorry for the endless questions by the way

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