The factory preset conundrum

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sensorium
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The factory preset conundrum

Post by sensorium » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:16 am

I have noticed a pattern, where the vast majority of complaints about a synth's sound are typically followed by comments such as:

"Have you dug into the synth's programming to tweak and get the most out of it?"

"Are you just using the presets? The presets suck. You really need to learn the instrument and create your own sounds"

More often than not, the synth manufacturers enlist some of the biggest names in the industry (and likely pay big money) to create their factory presets. Yes, it always seems they rarely showcase the synth's unique capabilities in both the basic sounds, and modulation options. For example (to me) one of the greatest things on the NL series is the ability to map unlimited modulations to the modwheel, aftertouch, velocity etc....Yet, not a single preset demonstrates this.

It seems to me, in the software world it's quite the opposite. The presets generally do a good job of saying "This is what this synth can do".

I'm interested to hear other opinions on this, and the possible "why" behind the wealth of lackluster presets.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by Rezisehtnys » Thu Apr 10, 2014 8:34 am

Presets are the first impression someone will get of an instrument, so you'd think they'd go out of their way to make sure they'd be as impressive as possible. It seems like most fail in this regard. Though in some instances they're targeting a particular buyer. The best presets ever are all of the acoustic instrument emulations on vintage analogues. :P

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by zoomtheline » Thu Apr 10, 2014 9:46 am

I hate presets as (for me) it's a waste of potential sound. If a synth has hundreds of presets covering a lot of ground then it makes less sounds available to me, in theory. Sure, presets are a great thing for people who do not want to learn to program but it also deters people from diving in out of necessity.
I think a synth should have say 10 presets of really useful starting points and they should sound good.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by bochelli » Thu Apr 10, 2014 9:58 am

I remember Gary Numan saying the Polymoog had one good preset in it called Vox Humana the high string sound heard on Cars , he was right then and still I must admit many old and new presets are feeble so perhaps the way forward is to do away with them praise the Lord the Minimoog did not have them.
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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Thu Apr 10, 2014 10:02 am

Let´s face it, since the days of the DX7 most synths have become extremely hard to use (sarcasm mode *on*). Users are blinded by a plethora of options which, technically, might be interesting, practically, though, they are useless in most cases. This has led to a certain laziness when creating individual patches -- hey, even a Voyager comes with factory presets which is pathetic in my book but, on the other hand, there are many switches on the instrument which puzzle the user. It serves the "instant gratification" mentality these days, as much as it prompted people to buy this or that instrument twenty years ago.

There´s that Dutch synth collector, forgot his name. He´s got a huge collection of vintage and modern stuff, and I remember reading an interview with him where he was asked how he programmed sounds. His retort was very telling, it was like "well, I don´t program sounds, I just use the factory sounds and tweak them a bit."

Most people don´t seem to care *what* a synthesiser can do as long as they´ve got it in their rig -- or can bash it.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by Hybrid88 » Thu Apr 10, 2014 10:18 am

I get the impression sometimes the designers kinda see the presets as an afterthought, occasionally they get it right, but there are some real corkers on some boards :lol:

Some of the worst ones if you ask me are when they try and emulate famous 80's sounds, truly terrible...

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by griffin avid » Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:35 am

I think this [thread] only serves to bring out the staunch believers on either side.
Presets are good verse presets are bad.

And I say "Play me the isolated/soloed sounds on your last X number of records and see if I like them."

This is a paradox.
If the presets are awesome and useable, then everybody uses them and that's a negative.

If the presets are wild and imaginative, it's the developers showing off the unit and NOT MAKING USEABLE SOUNDS.

If the sounds are bread and butter useable, then they are bland and don't show off what the unit can do.

If the presets are 'unheard of' then you wonder IF IT CAN DO NORMAL SOUNDS.

And if you include zero presets, each user makes their own 'favorite preset(s)' and decides if it's any good based on their own programming tendencies and results.

And so I'd repeat:
"Play me the isolated/soloed sounds on your last X number of records and see if I like them."
Cause that's the truth of it all.

In concept, the sounds you USE are/were your presets.
And so, why not judge you by your sounds?

Most likely you scream for context and want, no NEED your 'sounds in context'
Listen to the SONG/Music....oh dear please....the whole thing....in....context......

That, to me creates a second conundrum.
Most of us have a magnifying glass about these things, but would never want to be seen under that lens.
Interesting topic, but might as well make a poll.
----------------------------------------------
Software seems to have several exits.....and advantages
1) High number of sounds. Users tend to see value in number of presets. "Ships with over a 1,000 sounds".
2) Can't find a cool sound? Launch another VST until you do.
3) Organization and sub-Sounds menu....they group sounds by genre in many cases as opposed to sound category.
4) Hardware usually pitches a wider field and the demos hint at the target. VSTs can make very niche products, with a very small and narrow lane in mind.

I could go on, but I feel tired (not physically) and tempted to delete this post.
I've been doing that a lot recently.
So I'm going to post before I
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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by Jabberwalky » Thu Apr 10, 2014 2:30 pm

The Bass Station 2 has the best presets I've come across.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by georgemarauder » Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:04 pm

Presets can be good or bad. I don't see a big issue with them. I've used presets to make music and I've thoroughly developed my own sounds. Whatever sound good, is good.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by madtheory » Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:30 pm

"Enlisting the biggest names in the industry" to program the presets only came in with the Roland D50 and Korg M1, in an effort to beat the dominance of the DX-7. I can't remember who did the DX-7 presets, but it was probably the first time someone managed to put together a sound set with almost universal appeal. Also FM on the DX-7 offered much more nuanced response to velocity than previous synths did.

So you'll find that the presets on lots of earlier synths are actually quite limited and dated to the modern ear. The early preset synths are the best, the Roland SH-2000 with "Funny Cat".

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by ryryoftokyo » Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:44 pm

I think there's two issues at play with presets:

1) With the resurgence in synths in the mainstream, there's a ton more of what people call "casual players" who just want a synth that makes professional or funky sounds and don't want to get into programming because it's a whole extra process in addition to writing, practicing, and performing their music. The presets ARE the synth to them.

2) My guess is that when presets are made, it is done with popular tastes and middle of the road sounds in mind. If you make the sounds too exotic, it will alienate casual users and leave a bad taste in someone's mouth about the board which can translate into lackluster sales numbers. Just thinking if I had to design presets these days I would be looking to make patches that would show off the mechanics of the synth (i.e. arp/sequencer, internal FX, complex EGs) in addition to bread and butter sounds (leads, basses, etc) and some sounds geared towards casual users and mainstream tastes. This seems to be what happens. You get the sounds that effectively demonstrate the key features that set the synth apart from the herd, but don't pay too much mind to the actual wow factor of the sound, the bread and butter for the experienced synthesist, and then something for the casual user who wants access to modern sounds without the hassle of programming.

My only other guess is that maybe the sound engineers understand the same thing we do about our synths. If they were so well programmed that we would have no need to ever program them ourselves, then it would make our journey a lot less fun.
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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by CS_TBL » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:36 pm

I make sounds (FM8) which fit a certain tune I'm making. When during the tune development a sound is not bright enough, I tweak the operators/filter/EQ in FM8. Technically I'm already mixing the music by tweaking the synth. And because there are zillions o' tunes and styles possible, the number of suitable voices vastly exceeds any amount of presets. Though the FS1r's DX7-library of 1400++ sounds made me pick those after I noticed that anything I've made was already there! :D

I often use a lot of reverb and delay. Not in a bad bathroom way, it's just a way of doing and I'm anticipate the long tails when I'm creating notes (kinda like Vangelis). Many presets just don't connect with me when I'm in this reverb-mode.

Many presets of synths with reasonable editing options barely scratch the surface.
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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by Infinity Curve » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:50 pm

Generally when I get a new synth I will go through the presets just to see if there any sounds that actually appeal to me or might be good jump off points for similar sounds and note them down, and then proceed to overwrite everything else with my own sounds as I program new ones.

What I don't like are synths that have like half the preset slots taken up with things that can't be overwritten, seems a waste to me, especially if I never use any of them. What is the point of even doing that? Why not make them all over-writable? Understandable perhaps on older stuff where the technology wasn't the same as what we have in this day in age at our disposal, but on modern stuff, it makes no sense.

I can understand the appeal of presets for people who just want to turn it on and play, but for me, half of the enjoyment of creating music with synths is making my own sounds.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by Rezisehtnys » Thu Apr 10, 2014 6:51 pm

The worst thing is when you don't have a clear user bank. As long as the presets cover a wide range and the unit offers a blank user slot things are ok. It's when you have to go through and start choosing which presets to overwrite that it becomes a big issue. I'm looking at you AN1x.

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Re: The factory preset conundrum

Post by c-level » Thu Apr 10, 2014 7:00 pm

i dont see why people get hung up on preset sounds, of an instrument thats supposed to 'synthesize' any concievable (and sometimes unimaginable) sounds. must have very little imagination....

on the other hand... theres some preset sounds (lately bass, soundtrack, fat fifth) that are just so charachteristic that you'd be stupid not to co-opt them into your sound set if thats what your really going for. im hunting down a D-50 knowing full well that half of the presets will be gaudy, and half will be instantly recognizable...

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