Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by madtheory » Sun Jun 19, 2016 1:30 pm

griffin avid wrote:At any rate, to offer a different angle, I think there was a time in music when the SYNTH was the new sound and in many bands was a novel addition and was supposed to stand up, like any other instrument. It was featured and mixed to be as strong as guitar, piano, drums etc...

Then there's 'synth bands' and then there's music made almost entirely using synths/synthesis (electronic instruments) like a one-man-band. I don't know if the focus needs to be on the synths of yesterday or the popularity of music that 'requires' synths that sound like yesteryear.

In other words are we confusing the instruments with the 'sound' of current offerings?
Or if the two are so crucially linked that one is a direct result of the others evolution/devolution.

Or (another or) is it about what the modern musician (or abundance and interests of hobbyists) needs/prefers to make music. Cheap, entirely more portable, stable, reliable,modern connectivity, features, integration...workflow etc.. and that decides the swing

which is a bigger question than BETTER or WORSE.
I agree. It's really odd to start using musical examples as a way to somehow prove that there is such a thing as "better" or "worse". We still don't have a definition from the OP as to what would be defined as "improved". And we still have acres of opinion that, for example, the new Prophet 6 is not as good as the old Prophet 5. With not an ounce of evidence to back it up. God forbid that someone might actually demonstrate the differences with the two synths, instead of endlessly "expounding" (yes, pompous word).

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by megamanx » Sun Jun 19, 2016 5:44 pm

people can argue any little point about anything. for example some might say the prophet 6 is an improvement on the 5 because it has 6 voices and effects, and midi, etc...while others would argue that the 5 simply sounds better so it is not an improvement. All arguments presented are just opinions based on bias or nostalgia. personally the improvement I see as people have mentioned is availability. we have mass produced synths, we even have free synths (software) that just about anyone with a computer and internet connection can have a way to make their. own sounds and experience synths.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by recordbot » Sun Jun 19, 2016 9:03 pm

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:
recordbot wrote: [...] Tangerine Dream now and Tangerine Dream 1984 something tells me gear has got something to do with that.

Stephen
I mean I love Tangerine Dream or to be more specific Phaedra and Epsilon really stand out to me and yes it is the gear but it's mostly the musicians, and the low fi analog recording techniques that makes that material stand out, you really can't beat it, it's like what Boards of Canada try to be but never will be.

and that boards stuff is all made with low fi bread and butter synths and tape machines, and to me they kind of nail the TD vibe better than anyone else I've heard even though they don't even come close,

I think it would be interesting for us to look at other bands this way, I mean yeah those funk bands aren't "synth music" but they did utilize synths, even though it's bread and butter sounds we are talking about minimoog basslines for the most part here so that is kind of the heart of vintage oomph

would be interesting to see how many people who used those instruments when they were new still have one for the studio today, I'm getting the sense that majority of the bands maintaining these rickety old lovely tone beasts are younger folks, Alicia Keys and the like, I mean Stevie Wonder I think has 2 GX1s and they're both in storage probably haven't been touched in decades, likely the same for the CS 80, but Deamau5 and Alicia Keys both current regular users of CS 80,

I'm thinking it's because newer artists have a different relationship with these instruments, they admire the material made with them and didn't have to buy them new so for them it's nostalgia and filling the shoes of their heroes while the heroes themselves are probably just pissy they spent the 1970s money they did on machines that needed constant maintenance, had limited use, were problematic to tour with and brought on massive hassles that needed attention when they could have been simply focusing on making music,

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by Dr. Phibes » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:41 am

Oh I don't know about that, it's not unusual to see some bits of original gear gracing the rigs of those, shall we say, more experienced acts. As long as they get a decent service now and again a lot of that vintage stuff can still soldier on. The keyboards do ok too.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by ninja6485 » Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:47 am

recordbot wrote:I'm thinking it's because newer artists have a different relationship with these instruments, they admire the material made with them and didn't have to buy them new so for them it's nostalgia and filling the shoes of their heroes while the heroes themselves are probably just pissy they spent the 1970s money they did on machines that needed constant maintenance, had limited use, were problematic to tour with and brought on massive hassles that needed attention when they could have been simply focusing on making music
Maybe for some people this is true but I don't think it represents the majority of new vs old artists by any means. Sometimes you have to view something from the outside to really appreciate how much of an impact certain elements had on the whole. Younger artists may have been in a better position to really appreciate the role the specific qualities of the old synths had in the aesthetic quality of the music. From the standpoint of the original artists, this phenomenon may even have been accidental. And now, many artists are old, tired, and just sort of want to keep a career. I mean how many years can you keep playing the same stuff? They might even be sick of it and want to distance themselves, but stay in as a duty to their fans.

And not directly at you, but since it came up, characterizing an appreciation for vintage synths as nostalgia isn't a very fair assessment. Most of the time people are looking to a specific time period in an artist's career not to get some nostalgic feeling about those years, but because they're after the only source for that specific sound. In other words, they're not after the sound to appreciate the time period, they're after the time period to appreciate the sound; and learn how to use it again and do new things with underdeveloped styles of ideas. The very idea that certain sounds have to be wedded to certian decades and now you can never use them again without being nostalgic is complete bullshit. There is so much left unsaid here, and if the artists themselves aren't making something that scratches the itch, the only sensible thing left is to pick up some instruments and make it yourself - provided you have the ability.
This looks like a psychotropic reaction. No wonder it's so popular...

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by Zamise » Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:24 am

In 35 years huh?

If cost, amount of production, and general sensibility is not a factor:

Interface = 22.5% improvement.

Sound quality? 15.2% improvement.

Dynamics = 50.25%

Design = 15.19%

Fun = -12%

Reliability = 72%

Interdimesionablily = unknown
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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by madtheory » Mon Jun 20, 2016 8:35 am

recordbot wrote:Tangerine Dream... Phaedra... low fi analog recording techniques
Nothing lo-fi about that record. Huge range of frequencies from the Moog. Recorded in 1974 at the Manor, the same 16 track studio where Tubular Bells was recorded. The machine was the Ampex MM1000. It's a 2" 16 track. Those things are the opposite of lo-fi. Maybe all the Mellotron has a lo-fi vibe though.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by xenia625 » Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:00 am

recordbot wrote:I mean I love Tangerine Dream or to be more specific Phaedra and Epsilon really stand out to me and yes it is the gear but it's mostly the musicians, and the low fi analog recording techniques that makes that material stand out, you really can't beat it, it's like what Boards of Canada try to be but never will be.
A bit drifting off the thread topic but... I suppose I'm on the opposite side. I like TD well enough, but to me they can't hold a candle to Boards. Somehow I *feel* BoC in ways that TD doesn't touch me.
recordbot wrote:I'm thinking it's because newer artists have a different relationship with these instruments, they admire the material made with them and didn't have to buy them new so for them it's nostalgia and filling the shoes of their heroes
Can one be nostalgic for something one didn't experience?

Sure, I wanted to get an Odyssey as a result of listening to Jean-Michel Jarre, but that's hardly something I'd call nostalgia. I got interested in the MS-20 (and got the Mini) via listening to Ladytron. I have little love and even less nostalgia for the USSR, and yet about half my gear is Soviet-made. I really enjoy Gary Numan's music, always have, and yet I have little interest in getting a Minimoog. Every piece of gear I have, I decided to buy because I liked the sounds I heard from them (in most cases, I watched a fair number of demo vids online, to see what it can do on its own). So while in some cases my initial interest in a given piece of gear might have been because I heard someone using it on a record, I've never actually bought something just based on that.

As for filling anyone's shoes? Nah... I'd much rather do my own thing, and it'll sound how it sounds, in my own style, as opposed to trying to make something that follows in someone else's style.

As for the original question, I'd say the biggest improvement is availability and accessibility - there's now so much good stuff available at all sorts of price points that makes it possible for just about anyone who wants to get into making electronic music to do so... something I don't think was really the case 35 years ago.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Jun 20, 2016 3:09 pm

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:There *is* a difference between Tangerine Dream now and Tangerine Dream 1984, however, and something tells me gear has got something to do with that.
Well, Edgar's death might have something to do with it :roll:

Seriously, almost all electronic musicians who started in the 70s moved on to newer technology as it became available for the many reasons people have already mentioned. Sure, many of them hung on to their MiniMoogs or modulars but they fully embraced digital instruments.

The real question is how did the newer instruments affect their musical ideas. TD started out as a rock power trio, remember?

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: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Mon Jun 20, 2016 7:58 pm

meatballfulton wrote:
ppg_wavecomputer wrote:There *is* a difference between Tangerine Dream now and Tangerine Dream 1984, however, and something tells me gear has got something to do with that.
Well, Edgar's death might have something to do with it :roll: [...]
Edgar has been dead for a year now -- thanks for the heads-up.

Before that, TD already was a terrible-sounding band using shoddy sounds. Compare Phaedra 1974 and Phaedra 2014 with each other and you will notice Edgar's passing has absolutely nothing to do with the sound of the instruments, perhaps only with the sound of the band as a whole. Which is awful enough.

A D50 doesn't sound like Stratosfear, and a Radias doesn't sound like Phaedra so obviously it's not only the *cult* being made around the instruments but also the way you make use of their intrinsic character.

But I'm confident you already knew that.

I wouldn't call the Bathtub Session power rock, neither it's a trio, strictly speaking.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by cornutt » Mon Jun 20, 2016 8:47 pm

This is actually an interesting thread to me. First things first: are synths today better than they were 35 years ago? Well, the problem with that question is that we aren't building houses here; we're talking about music, and an awful lot is subjective. There are only a few ways in which performance in this area can be measured and said to be objectively better or worse. Electronic components available today are almost unquestioningly better, in terms of specifications and reliability. Capacitors are more stable, less temperature sensitive, have less parasitic inductance, higher breakdown voltages, and the electrolytics are a lot less toxic. :shock: Resistors have better specs and less noise -- a lot of the old synths were built with 10% bulk-carbon resistors. I don't know if you can even get those anymore. Arguably, transistors have improved, although fans of geranium transistors might disagree (but that's mostly the guitar-pedal crowd). Power supplies are more reliable and better filtered. Today's op amps have vastly better specs than the old 741s. And pots last longer and are less scratchy.

Beyond that, however, most things are subjective. Is a transistor ladder filter from a 1970 Minimoog better than the same circuit in the Voyager? Entirely up to the performer. Now, it might be interesting to do an A/B test to see if the user can actually tell the difference sonically. But if choice A gives the performer more of a vibe, more confidence so to speak, then use A. Why not? (On the other hand, the user of A doesn't get to mock the person who chooses B, unless they want to look pretentious.)

I'm not surprised that 1970s designs are re-surfacing. There were some particular design philosophies there that the industry moved away from later, because everyone wanted the Next Big Thing. That Next Big Thing kind of whipped through several stages from the early '80s to the mid-'90s, and some people felt left behind. Even though I was all up for digital processing, I was one of those people saying back in 1993 that analog wasn't done. And I think the subsequent experience shows it wasn't, and it still isn't. Admittedly, some of those '70s synths were kind of limited. Part of that was trying to make things easier for the new synth player, and part of it was just sheer cost -- anything electronic cost more, compared to the cost of living, back then.

Is it nostalgia? Well, partly. And yes, you can be nostalgic for a place and an era you didn't actually experience, whether that be sailing ships, coast-to-coast passenger trains, Glenn Miller at the Savoy, or Edgar Winter with a 2600 keyboard slung around his neck. Is nostalgia good or bad? Well, sometimes it's beneficial to put yourself in the place of someone from another time, by experiencing what they experienced. And sometimes it's beneficial to re-explore the past to see what was left undiscovered the first time. There's value in just seeing "how it was back then". But you can't let nostalgia swallow you, drag you out of the present. You have to be careful with those rose colored glasses. I think it's amazing what MOS-Lab has done in re-creating parts of the vintage Moog modular. At the same time, I have no particular desire to own one. Why not? Well, I don't want to deal with VCOs that won't stay in tune, or non-standard voltages, or S-triggers. There's a reason why all these things were improved or replaced by other things. And, by modern standards, the old Moog module selection was not very broad -- there's tons of modules you can get today that have pretty much zero roots in the vintage Moogs. The 1970s were not the golden age of modular synths. The golden age of modular synths is now.

Getting back to our then-vs-now discussion, part of what happened was that those of us who lived through it grew accustomed to it; after a while, it seemed like nothing special. But it seemed that way because we sometimes forgot what we were dealing with; we let ourselves get locked into conventions and habits and patterns and our expectations of what we thought the technology was good for. Sometimes you need younger artists, not influenced by preconceived notions, to come along and take a fresh look at an old thing, and find undiscovered potential. And upon doing so, they find ways to improve upon the old, not only in new uses, but in updated designs. We have the while virtual-analog thing now, and a lot of it goes into territory that Moog and Perlman could only dream of, because it was impractical using the technology available to them. Limits create more limits, and sometimes you need to move basic assumptions out of the way. Several years ago, on a lark, I bought a copy of M-Tron Pro. I always admired the sounds of the Mellotron but I was leery of owning one. But M-Tron, a plug-in, hey, harmless enough, and cheap. I figured I'd drag it out now and then whenever I felt like whipping through the intro of "Watcher of the Skies". But then I got to playing with it, and I realized: holy c**p, there's a lot of unexplored territory here. It's got nearly every tape set Streetly made, plus a bunch of Chamberlin and Opitgan sound sets. The Mellotron was a lot more than just a flute-strings-choir machine, and a lot of people don't realize that.

So my answer is: are synths today better than 35 years ago? Yes. But they are so because they had those 35-year-old synths to use as starting points. While appreciating the heights we have achieved, let's not make the mistake of overlooking the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.
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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:26 pm

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:I wouldn't call the Bathtub Session power rock, neither it's a trio, strictly speaking.
I wrote power trio which is just a term for guitar based trios like Cream, Hendrix, Blue Cheer, etc.
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: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by rhino » Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:35 pm

IMHO: Alot like automobiles: More features, more power, more gadgets, more durable and trouble-free, but ofter just more of the same - not as much "soul".
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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:28 am

meatballfulton wrote:
ppg_wavecomputer wrote:I wouldn't call the Bathtub Session power rock, neither it's a trio, strictly speaking.
I wrote power trio which is just a term for guitar based trios like Cream, Hendrix, Blue Cheer, etc.
The original line-up of the first TD album not to forget. If Conny Schnitzler isn't about *power* I don't know who is.

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Re: Have synthesizers Improved in 35 years?

Post by knolan » Tue Jun 21, 2016 9:28 am

The reason why I say there are some synthesizers from the 60's and 70's that are true classics is because that's the era that originated the voltage controlled synthesiser; so it lead to unfettered exploration in design. Many were junk, but a few emerged as genuinely good.

So there were opportunities to create instruments for pure 'exploratory' reasons and not market driven reasons. The CS80 is a case in point. It is 'performance opulence' in a way not implementable today because the economic circumstances don't allow for that type of development (out side of one-off's like the Schmidt). If Yamaha had designed the Schmidt in the 70's they would have made a 1000 of them and they would have found their way onto some iconic tracks and we'd be lauding it as a great classic. But today, about 40 were made and it'll never be known beyond us geeks.

But, despite all the debates on this forum of late, I genuinely and honestly think the Minimoog - in particular - is endowed with a strength of sonic character that is uniquely 'strong and rich'. From Rick Wakeman to Mike Post (Rockford Files Theme), the Minimoog is instantaneously recognisable - and I do genuinely think it is perhaps the mosit iconic synthesizer of all time.

Nevertheless, if you look at the likes of the V-Synth GT, or the Schmidt, Sub 37, Solaris, Modal 008 - and I'd even venture to mention the likes of the DX7, SY77, D50, JD800, ...it's surely true that there have been and continue to be fantastic developments through the decades and to the current day.

But the list we all know, from the likes of the early Moogs to the Fairlight and Emulator, are genuine classics, for very good reasons - they are all excellent musical instruments.

A casual scan through Peter Forrest's 2-volumes on Analogue Synthesisers will readily reveal a myriad of 'duds' from the era too; so those instruments lauded from the early days are genuinely the very best of the crop.

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