Has anyone here ever played Synth?
I’ve been thinking it would be cool to have one because I like a lot of synth pop.

I probably won’t get one, but I’ve been considering it. I’d want one of these.

So what’s it like playing a synthsizer?

A friend of mine uses a Nord something or other and whenever I express interest about how it works, I’m in for a musical theory lecture that I can’t understand.

He says it’s essentially really simple once you understand a few principles and after that, it’s just a matter of time before you get the sound you want.

In that sense, it’s easy.

I’ve always preferred the sound of one of those synths to the more modern ones that sample a given voice and play the sample - the genius of bands like early Front 242 and Skinny Puppy was that they had to come up with everything on their own and it sounded great. Nowadays, I don’t think most of these ebm bands bother to even mix their crap and everything ends up sounding the same…

Someone from some band I like said that the analog synthesizers sound better. It might have been New Order, but probably not. That’s why I’d rather go with the Jupiter 6.

I think it uses electricity to alter the sound waves. I learned a lot about sound in high school physics, but don’t remember much of it. It was only a year ago too.

I’m a bit of a synthesizer expert; I’ve played them for years (as well as samplers, software, etc.), and own many. I’ve considered making an “ask the guy who knows everything about synths” thread, but I figured there wouldn’t be that much interest.

The two major types of synths you see are Analogue Subtractive synths (all the classics, like that Jupiter 6, as well as modern “virtual analogues” like the Nord products) and digital wavetable synths or “ROMplers.” Subtractive synths generate basic sound waveforms in realtime (either from electric circuits in old analogue synths, or by “modeling” them using software in modern “virtual analogue” synths) and then pass them through filters and other things that shape the sound. ROMplers , like common keyboard “workstations”, use samples of real instruments (like a sax honk or a plucked guitar string) to emulate real instruments.

Jupiter 6’s are considered “boutique” pieces - they’re very rare, need to be repaired and maintained often, and are incredibly expensive on the vintage market. If you want a good synth to get started with, I suggest a used Roland Juno 60 (between $300 and $400). Not only is it perfect for learning sound creation, it’s a killer vintage piece that many pros still use.
If you guys have any questions about this junk, ask away.Roland Juno 60

Thank you.

Questions… hmm…

Is the sound adjustment part really complicated, or can someone get the hang of it pretty easily by playing around?

Is it like a piano that just sounds different? Is it an easy instrument to play?

Already lost me.

I dunno, my friend was also working on a program that would theoretically replicate what those subtractive synths do, but it was all on the PC. The demo looked cool, but I think he got tired of it. Unfortunately, I really don’t need another distraction right now so I’m lucky he stopped it.

One major difference is that many of the synths your are familiar with are monophonic: only one note at a time. Extremely frustrating for a painist or someone who plays a conventional, digital keyboard.

Easy to play?

Well, the keyboard is the same look as a piano–black & white keys in the usual arrangement. The feel can either be piano-like (“weighted”) or organ-like. The old analog synths are usually not the weighted keyboards, but many have MIDI and you can have any controller you like.

On the other hand, you don’t need to be a particularly brilliant player/technician to produce good music. A sequencer (a MIDI recorder) running on any PC can let you record and edit all you want, until it sounds like you want it to sound. Reproducing it live, of course, requires some chops–not to mention some other players.

  1. Both - you make and adjust sounds using the knobs and sliders, so you can just start tweaking away to see what happens. But further down the line, it’ll be good to know that (for example) filter cutoff muffles the sound or the “pulse width” slider makes your tone vary between thick and nasal.

  2. Just like a piano - you play the keys.

There are a ton of programs like that out there now - Reaktor and Absynth are two popular ones. There are also a ton of software emulations of classic synths. Some are very convincing.

More questions:

Does a synth always play the same notes as a piano?

If I were to buy one, would I need any additional equipment?

Most synths default to the basic 12-tone western scale. More modern digital synths allow you to customize them so that they play different scales and tunings.

As for extra equipment (other than more synths), many people like to pair up a sequencer with a synth so that you can “program” music for the synth to play back (a bit like a player piano) for recording.

I have spent some time trying to make music with synthesizers and noticed it is very easy to get bogged down in details : spending days and days just to get the right sound.
I ended up spending months, and not writing a single note.

I ended up selling everything.
I have now bought Propellerheads Reason and a MIDI keyboard and some manuals.
It is a little less hands on, but it is a lot of fun.
Maybe you should try an old step-sequencer first : they are usually a lot of fun.
You have them as hardware (Roland TB-303 and 808) or as software (Propellerheads Rebirth).

Almost definitely, yes.
One synthesizer without any other equipment, can only be used as an electronic piano : you will not be able to play more than one part at a time, and will probably not be able to edit it.

If you want to save and/or edit your work, you will also need a sequencer.
Most people nowadays use a software sequencer and connect their synth to their PC.

Maybe you should try and look at some software synths first.
There are a lot available on the market and most have free demos to download.
You can then play around and see how things work, before investing thousands of dollars in equipment. (I wish I had done this, would have saved me a LOT of money)

Yes, I highly recommend downloading a few program demos to start with to decide if you want to get into the whole thing.

Try out a few software emulations of classic synths, like Arturia’s Minimoog V or Native Instruments’ Pro-53 , and then check out some of the all-in-one “software studios” like Propellerheads’ excellent-for-beginners Reason and Rebirth.

Yes, definitely try software synths before you go out and blow a lot of money on a hardware synth. A decent starter program is Fruity Loops - it gives you an idea of the different ways to arrange and sequence a song (albeit overly complicated sometimes) and has a built-in softsynth that is fun to play with. There’s a learning curve going into it, but it’s fun to mess with.

p.s. what synthpop bands do you listen to?

I’ve got an Alesis QS8.2 that I like a lot. It’s not the most advanced synth technology in the world, but it’s quite intuitive to use, and I some some of its pianos are really quite nice sounding (esp. TrueStereo). It’s got some pretty good classic synth, organ, and electric-piano sounds (good-sounding Rhodes, if you ask me), so I can play cheezy-sounding '70s junk and get something like the right timbre. I can’t play keys for crap, but it’s fun to plunk away at it to annoy my wife (who plays much better than me); also, I can hook it up to my Powerbook and get a pretty decent-sounding accompaniment to my guitar playing using MIDI files I grabbed off of some-or-other website. MIDI instruments will probably never be able to duplicate the nuances of a human performance (they tend to sound a bit robotic, even with grace-notes, etc.), but it’s good enough for the wankery I call making music in my loft.

All right, I’ll try out some software.

Well, I don’t know if they’d all be considered synthpop, but they use synths:
New Order
Beborn Beton
Echo and the Bunnymen (at least on Bring on the Dancing Horses)
David Bowie
Psychadelic Furs

There’s probably more too.

I have an Ensoniq ESQ-1 which is in the gray area between retro and intolerably dorky, but more on the dorky side of things. It may be really cool in about 5 years, but the sound coming out of it is so mediocre that I sometimes doubt it.

Most of the synths from the mid-1980s onwards are not monophonic. They are polyphonic to a certain degree, depending on the technology. For instance, mine is a 16 note polyphonic. IIRC the workhorse Yamaha DX-7 from slightly before it is only 8 note polyphonic. The early Moogs were monophonic; when Walter Carlos recorded “Switched on Bach”, he (later she) had to do it with extensive multitracking.

Many from the late 1980s onwards have onboard sequencers, although with MIDI, it is far easier to just use computer software sequencers with their pretty graphics.

A good thing to note right at the beginning is that you will need a keyboard amp right away to hear anything out of these. A bass amp will do. So figure that into your costs. The vast majority have no speakers built in to them.

Second, a good thing that rank beginners don’t really catch onto is that the type of sound coming out of the synth are totally separable from the keys played. MIDI only passes keypress (and velocity and a few other) data points, but no real information about the instrument patch being played. So after recording keypress information into a sequncer, it is a simple matter of pushing a button or clicking a mouse or whatever to change the instrument (patch) to make your piano track sound for instance like a Hammond B-3 organ. So recording the notes into a sequencer means little if you change the instrument sound on the synth. It works the other way as well; most standard computer sound systems have a pretty good waveform generator. So if you have a Mac and use GarageBand, you can use the GarageBand synthesizer to make new patches and control them using a first-generation MIDI keyboard. The keyboard amp in this case would be hooked to the computer, not the keyboard, obviously.

Third, if you are a piano player, I would highly recommend a weighted-key keyboard. I find nonweighted keys, like those on the Ensoniq, abhorrent for actual playing.

(For the OP) the QS8 is a good example of a “ROMpler” - it uses samples of instruments and analogue synthesizers to create sounds.

For Loopydude - my friend has one of those, and I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the sounds. I thought many of the “instruments” sounded as good as the Korg Triton and Yamah motif workstations, and those cost 4x what the Alesis does! I was especially impressed with its Rhodes sound (always a great measuring stick for a ROMpler).

I have an Alesis Ion analogue modeling synth right now, and I can honestly say that it’s the best virtual analogue on the market (and it’s one of the cheapest!). I have everything from a Roland System 100 modular to a minimoog, to roland Junos and a Korg MS-20, and the Alesis Ion just has “the sound” - it’s the most convincing analogue emulation i’ve heard. It beats the pants off of the Nord and Virus synths in particular.

I think Alesis are really shaping up to become a surrpise contender in the synth market- they’re doing quality stuff.