Many people think that there are only two types of synthesizers: analog and digital. It’s caused some debates about which ones are more reliable or offer better quality and whether or not any other types of synthesizers are independent of those two main categories. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to all the different types, and it depends on what you’re trying to get from the synthesizer.
Keep reading to learn what different types of synthesizers are out there and the pros and cons for each of them so you can pick the right one for your project.
What are Analog Synthesizers?
All early synthesizers were analog as it was before modern computers. Analog synthesizers rely on specific circuits that combine low-level electronic components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors to create and change sounds. Any synthesizer that you would come across from the 1960s or 70s will be analog.
Analog synthesizers create sound by continuously fluctuating electrical voltages. The voltages originated from the Voltage-Controllable Oscillator or VCO or a noise generator, which provides several core timbres that can then be combined or altered by the analog circuits. These other circuits are Voltage-Controllable Filters or VCFs and Voltage-Controllable Amplifiers or VCAs that allow you to change the tone and loudness of the sound respectfully.
Analog synths usually have the form of a keyboard instead of using buttons or knobs, and like some more modern digital synthesizers do. Remember that if you’re going to use one, it can limit the number of functions you can have. If you’re looking for something that will have an older sound or work for vinyl, analog is the best choice.
Some pros of analog synthesizers are:
- Having a warmer, more intimate sound often results in some quirks that make the track unique.
- Infinite resolution since there are no limits based on Sample rate or bit depth.
- Controls also have infinite resolution with an intimate, tactile response without zippering noise.
- They usually have one knob per function control, so they’re more straightforward to use.
Some cons of analog synthesizers are:
- They often have a particular tonal pallet.
- Shooting can sometimes be temperamental, especially for older instruments.
- It can be more expensive than digital synthesizers that have a similar function.
- They can require a larger form function given that the number of components is related to the sound production.
- They may not have preset memory unless there are digital controls.
What are Digital Synthesizers?
Digital synthesizers began to gain popularity in the 1980s and were the natural upgrade from analog synthesizers as manufacturers started to use digital technology to control analog circuits. It allowed for a lot of new development end created more variety in what made bachelor’s could include in their synthesizers and what musicians could get out of them. An entirely new set of sounds came into play.
Digital synthesizers are specialized computers as they use meticulously constructed computer code to produce sounds translated from user input. How the manufacturers built those programs determines the range of possible sounds instead of the limitations of physical or electronic properties of the components. This means that technically any type of sound is possible.
Some pros to a digital sympathizer are:
- Being capable of producing a much more comprehensive range of sounds than analog synthesizers.
- Having more Novelties to the sound production and control.
- Capable of preset memory.
- They’re often more affordable than analog synthesizers but still have similar capabilities.
- Form factors can vary widely and can make even small instruments very powerful.
Some cons to a digital synthesizer are:
- Not having the same sound as an analog synthesizer.
- With limited resolution on the digital controls, most new digital instruments have enough resolution.
- They’re more complicated to repair.
- Usually, a minimal physical design requires more instruction to understand and use.
What are Virtual Analog Synthesizers?
Virtual analog synthesizers are a digital synthesizer that emulates an analog synthesizer. These became more prevalent in the early 2000s when people wanted to get an analog sound. Still, they couldn’t get a hold of an analog synthesizer because analog synthesizers are comparatively more expensive to make. So virtual analog synthesizers came into play as they had a model that behaved like classic subtractive synthesis architecture.
Virtual analog synthesizers use digital models for oscillators, filters, and amplifiers that give a similar sound to the classic analog synthesizers while still having the advantages of a digital synthesizer like reset memory and smaller footprint. However, many virtual analog synthesizers have changed over the years as digital synthesizers tend to be more in demand.
Some up pros for virtual analog synthesizers are:
- Condenses the analog synthesizer workflow into a smaller space than an actual analog synthesizer.
- Has a workflow of a modular or semi-modular synthesizer with the footprint or patching.
- Has preset memory
- Often has MIDI implementation, which isn’t always possible with analog synthesizers.
Some cons of virtual analog synthesizers are:
- They don’t exactly mimic the sound of analog synthesizers.
- They often have a limited set of modulation options determined by the designer, unlike open-ended modular synthesizers.
- It can be challenging to repair.
- Some designs don’t have the one-knob-per-function that actual analog synthesizers have though some designs do.
What are Hybrid Synthesizers?
Hybrid synthesizers have been very common over the last decade, even though their Origins are from the 70s and 80s. The term hybrid refers to the instrument using a combination of analog and digital components 2 provide the finer aspects of both types of synthesizers. There can be many variations in how a particular hybrid synthesizer works.
It’s common to have a synthesizer with a digital oscillator and then have an analog filter to process it. This combination provides a clean and reliable oscillator performance while still having the Deep coloration that people associate with an analog filter. You can also use other instruments to add digital effects with an analog signal path or simply implement digital control but leave the audio path analog.
Some pros of a hybrid synthesizer are:
- Provides aspects of both analog and digital synthesizers.
- They often have a small footprint, capitalizing on the Sonic aspects of analog synthesizers.
- Offers more control options than a true analog synthesizer.
- Provides more effects than a true analog synthesizer.
Some cons for a hybrid synthesizer are cold in
- Usually more expensive than digital synthesizers, even if they have similar features.
- Doesn’t always have a one-knob-per-function control.
What are Modular Synthesizers?
Most of the synthesizers in this article talk about how they generate sound, but a modular synthesizer refers to the form factor. Modular synthesizers can be any combination of digital or analog synthesizers. A modular synthesizer is modular because it uses modules or individual components that the user selects to construct a system that serves their purposes.
Synthesizer connects those modules with search cables that carry audio signals and control voltages. These are analog voltages that allow the modules to control different aspects of another module’s Behavior. However, it was difficult to fully take advantage of these modules until recently as there weren’t standards that every designer had to adhere to. Now you can use modules from many different designers because of size and connectivity standards.
Some pros of modular synthesizers are:
- Their flexibility allows you to design your own instruments.
- It lets you take advantage of both digital and analog techniques.
- They take a far more adventurous sound design approach than self-contained synthesizers.
- You can easily change instruments over time so that if something doesn’t suit you, you can replace it.
Some cons of modular synthesizers are:
- It takes time to adapt to using it.
- It’s challenging to integrate Daw or MIDI-based setups but not impossible.
- It’s usually more expensive than the average synthesizer.
- Polyphony can be complex to handle.
What are Semi-Modular Synthesizers?
Semi-modular synthesizers often have the same options as a fully modular synthesizer but fixed architecture, meaning you can’t add or remove individual modules. However, you can alter the signal flow using patch cables. Since they don’t require patching, a semi-modular synthesizer can transition into using a modular system. Modular synthesizers require that you set up a valid patch before you’re going to get any sound out of it.
Some pros of the semi-modular synthesizers are:
- They combined the immediacy of a stand-alone synthesizer, but they have the flexibility of a modular synthesizer.
- They’re a great transition into using a modular system for those who haven’t had experience with it yet.
- They are usually more affordable than a modular synthesizer.
- But usually more compact with their form factor than a modular synthesizer.
- They integrate well with modular synthesizers, so you can still use the semi-modular synthesizer if you decide to get a fully modular system.
Some cons of a semi-modular synthesizer are:
- Since they’re a combination of fixed and patchable digital paths, understanding how signals flow can take some time.
- They’re not expandable in the same way that a modular system is.
- They’re usually not as advanced as full synthesizers.
- They’re typically monophonic but not always.