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How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

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How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Fraydayn » Sun Sep 10, 2017 9:25 pm

Hey guys,

I've been playing around with my synths for quite some time and I understand all the basics of how a synth works (oscillators, envelopes, filters, effects, and so on). However, I'd love to be able to reproduce any kind of synth sounds I hear and I feel like I'm "stuck".
I mean, how do you know which waveform has been used? I can recognize them quite easily but sometimes, for example, if you put a distortion on a square wave it might sound as rich as a sawtooth wave with a slightly different vibe to it but it never gets close to that sound you like.
How do you know which filter was used?
Do you necessarily need to own the same synth as the original composer's synth or is it possible to recreate, let's say, a sound that was made through a subtractive method with any subtractive synth?

I've been watching a lot of videos about that topic but many people have different opinions on the question.
This is driving me nuts haha!

Thank you for your time ! :)

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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:21 am

As with most things, it depends on lots of factors.

Let's start with you : can you really hear the difference between a sound created on, say, a minimoog to the same one created on, say, a Pro One? Both will have certain characteristic - big, strong sounds are their forte - but some people can hear a clear difference. Most people won't, and that includes synth heads. But hardcore people will. This is because they know those machines intimately and aware of certain elements of the synth and how they react. There are a few on this board who really astound me - and I've got over 30 years of synths under my belt!

As to types of synthesis, the simple answer is 'no' ... but ... I've heard a stunning DX7 bass sound come from an analogue monosynth that could do FM. Those are fundamentally different synthesis architectures, but certain sounds might be achievable. But for the vast majority of sounds, the answer is no. Or at least 'not without very painstaking programming and in-depth knowledge'.

In terms of being able to work out the right sound, this simply comes with practice and familiarity. There are some short cuts : look for classic tracks and there may be patch charts for some sounds out there. Also, some people do re-create sounds and publish them which means that you can pull them apart and see what they have done. It's very tempting to buy a handful of plugins or a roomful of synths (erm ... cough .. guilty m'lud) but the trick is to take one and really push it to see what it can do. I used to set aside an evening a week just for programming sounds. Sad really :) But if you push one synth and get to know it well, then the next synth you get will highlight it's differences.

If you're really serious about becoming a synth head, then you might want to consider going modular and getting a euro-rack system and some modules. You can start with some simple 'all in one' modules and then start adding the 'missing' and 'alternative' modules - another LFO, alternate oscillators, different filters, etc. This will really stretch you but it's definitely not instant gratification

Generally, just hang in there and keep plugging away - it'll come
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Fraydayn » Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:57 am

Dave B wrote:As with most things, it depends on lots of factors.

Let's start with you : can you really hear the difference between a sound created on, say, a minimoog to the same one created on, say, a Pro One? Both will have certain characteristic - big, strong sounds are their forte - but some people can hear a clear difference. Most people won't, and that includes synth heads. But hardcore people will. This is because they know those machines intimately and aware of certain elements of the synth and how they react. There are a few on this board who really astound me - and I've got over 30 years of synths under my belt!

As to types of synthesis, the simple answer is 'no' ... but ... I've heard a stunning DX7 bass sound come from an analogue monosynth that could do FM. Those are fundamentally different synthesis architectures, but certain sounds might be achievable. But for the vast majority of sounds, the answer is no. Or at least 'not without very painstaking programming and in-depth knowledge'.

In terms of being able to work out the right sound, this simply comes with practice and familiarity. There are some short cuts : look for classic tracks and there may be patch charts for some sounds out there. Also, some people do re-create sounds and publish them which means that you can pull them apart and see what they have done. It's very tempting to buy a handful of plugins or a roomful of synths (erm ... cough .. guilty m'lud) but the trick is to take one and really push it to see what it can do. I used to set aside an evening a week just for programming sounds. Sad really :) But if you push one synth and get to know it well, then the next synth you get will highlight it's differences.

If you're really serious about becoming a synth head, then you might want to consider going modular and getting a euro-rack system and some modules. You can start with some simple 'all in one' modules and then start adding the 'missing' and 'alternative' modules - another LFO, alternate oscillators, different filters, etc. This will really stretch you but it's definitely not instant gratification

Generally, just hang in there and keep plugging away - it'll come

Hi Dave,

Thank you for sharing your experience with me.

I can't really hear the difference between a soundd created on a Minimoog or a Pro One : as you said it, I don't know these synths intimately and, as you said, that might be the reason why.

I'm also struck by the evil GAS :P and I feel like buying more and more isn't the right way to go. I should focus on one synth and see it's limits and strengths (how can that even be achieved? It seems to take 2000 years to learn a synth perfectly).

A Euro-rack huh? Maybe I should start tweaking NI's Reaktor?
I have Omnisphere 2 , Xfer Serum and all the products included in NI Bundles (Massive, FM8, Ansynth 5, ...).
Is there a soft synth you would recommand to learn?

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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:38 am

Yes, you have a load of stuff that all works differently and have squillions of presets for you to wade through. It's great - really, he have so much stuff that we can just drop into tracks these days that it almost makes old timers like me cry.

But...

Ideally, you need something powerful and simple to use with a clear signal flow and a simple interface. If I were to recommend a soft sysnth it would be either :

- Rob Papen's Blue - because Zukan recommends it to all his students and he _really_ knows his beans when it comes to synths. Rob is a sound designer so his synths are designed to sound really good and still have a few tricks up their sleeve

or

- uHe's Retro1 - because it is the closest thing to a Pro One that you can get (almost indistinguishable I'm told) and that is a great sounding synth with a nice clear architecture

Once you outgrow those, your other synths will make more sense.

A short while ago, I started spending time with my Arp Odyssey which I'd played with a bit but never really got to grips with. Brilliant - it's always worth ignoring everything else and just spending time with one synth to really get to know it well. As with software, hardware is just stunning at the moment - we really haven't had it so good. I've also been going back through early 80s tracks (ah ... such a mis-spent youth ... ) and, now that I have a Prophet 6, I can hear Prophet 5 on just about everything. But I had to get to know the character of the Prophet before it became obvious that that was what I was hearing. It does come. Honest

:)
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:43 am

Correction : I think that Rob Papen's Predator might be more up your street. I just looked at Blue II and it's groovy but may be a bit much for teeth cutting ... :)
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby desmond » Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:45 am

Dave B wrote:now that I have a Prophet 6, I can hear Prophet 5 on just about everything. But I had to get to know the character of the Prophet before it became obvious that that was what I was hearing. It does come. Honest

Yep. It really is a question that there is no shortcut to a getting a lot of experience, and experience informs your knowledge.
As Dave says, once you are familiar with an instrument, you know what to listen for and how to decode it.

If you want to get better at being able to recreate sounds you hear - *practice*. Find a sound, choose a suitable instrument, and do your best to recreate it. if you can get close, keep trying to improve it. Try a different instrument - is it easier to get closer to the sound you want? If there are things you hear but can't recreate, explore your instruments so you understand what various tools do, how waves sound, what hard sync sounds like, what PWM sounds like, what ring mod sounds like and so on - and as you get better and more experienced, you can get to the level of what CS80 ring mod sounds like compared to ring mod on a completely different instrument, things like filter characteristics, envelope behaviours and so on.

There is no shortcut to gaining experience, so, play, enjoy, refine, explore... and over time this stuff starts to fall into place - just like any complex activity. But unlike us back in the day, you have the benefit of almost infinite resources (both in terms of tutorials, music, and people to ask for help) and almost every instrument even made to be available at your fingertips - the downside is it can be hard to focus and start, with so many other distractions.
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Fraydayn » Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:55 am

desmond wrote:
Dave B wrote:now that I have a Prophet 6, I can hear Prophet 5 on just about everything. But I had to get to know the character of the Prophet before it became obvious that that was what I was hearing. It does come. Honest

Yep. It really is a question that there is no shortcut to a getting a lot of experience, and experience informs your knowledge.
As Dave says, once you are familiar with an instrument, you know what to listen for and how to decode it.

If you want to get better at being able to recreate sounds you hear - *practice*. Find a sound, choose a suitable instrument, and do your best to recreate it. if you can get close, keep trying to improve it. Try a different instrument - is it easier to get closer to the sound you want? If there are things you hear but can't recreate, explore your instruments so you understand what various tools do, how waves sound, what hard sync sounds like, what PWM sounds like, what ring mod sounds like and so on - and as you get better and more experienced, you can get to the level of what CS80 ring mod sounds like compared to ring mod on a completely different instrument, things like filter characteristics, envelope behaviours and so on.

There is no shortcut to gaining experience, so, play, enjoy, refine, explore... and over time this stuff starts to fall into place - just like any complex activity. But unlike us back in the day, you have the benefit of almost infinite resources (both in terms of tutorials, music, and people to ask for help) and almost every instrument even made to be available at your fingertips - the downside is it can be hard to focus and start, with so many other distractions.

Hey Desmond,

Thank you for joining this topic ! :)
Yes, as Dave said (and apparently you too), there's no universal recipe to understanding and recreating sounds. Knowledge is power after all, right?

Still, another question pops into my mind : when you say "choose a suitable instrument and do your best to recreate it".
How do you know if an instrument is suitable for a sound you hear?
I'm asking this because I see a lot of people say "okay to do this you need FM synthesis", and then someone else says "no no, this can also be achieved with a subtractive synth".
How do you know when an instrument is suitable for your purpose?

Dave, thank you for those synths you've mentioned.

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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 11, 2017 12:34 pm

In a way you're fighting an uphill struggle here. The reason that we can hear a sound and think "hmm .. FM .." is because we are familiar with the sounds of FM synths. A large number of us had cheap 4 operator FM synths and then moved to the full 6op version of the DX7 and in the process were very familiar with the sound.

But you're shafted twice on this : firstly, a lot of records tend to layer sounds so we have things like a lot of 80s brass patches were a combination of FM and big analogue polysynth to get the correct attack and the big sound. So you have to learn to pull it apart which is tough. Sometimes you can find old interviews (check out the magazines in Desmond's mu:zines link for some great old interviews where people talked about kit).

But the biggest problem is that old synths were quite limited and, as such, were distinctive. But now, we have soft synths like FM8 which push the FM architecture to allow much more complex - but arguably more generic - sounds to be created. If you want to learn about (the horrors of imho) DX7 sound (which is the basis of all FM synths) then you'd be better looking at the excellent - and free - dexedit plugin which recreates it pretty much perfectly. It also has a ton of sounds on virtual cartridges so you can spend hours getting to know it and hear those classic 80s sounds.

Another good, cheap plugin is the Novation v-station which was used a lot in the late 90s / 00s. It's dirt cheap (19quid) and is the same engine as the hardware which did the whole 'supersaw' sound very well on a lot of tunes. Sounds ok too.

https://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/novation-v-station-virtual-analogue-poly-synth.html

And that's before we get into the digital synths - D50, M1, Wavestation etc. These are available as plugins, but tbh, a good session on youTube will introduce you to the key sounds that they made and you should be able to spot them a mile off.

As for gear lust, every once in a while, someone will post a demo track up where they've recreated a track that was created using a roomful of kit in the old days, but they've just used one synth. And they are great - embarrassingly so for those of us with big collections of gear.

But, as Desmond points out, the best resource is just asking : round here we are happy to help out. We all remember being new to this and how daunting it was. And in those days, most of the knowledge was jealously guarded secrets... now we are all snuggly bunnies who like to help

:D
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby desmond » Mon Sep 11, 2017 1:44 pm

Fraydayn wrote:Still, another question pops into my mind : when you say "choose a suitable instrument and do your best to recreate it".
How do you know if an instrument is suitable for a sound you hear?

You do it to the best of your current knowledge.

So, if you hear a lovely chord stab sound you want to recreate, don't pick a mono synth to try and recreate it.

If you hear a sound which is all glassy and digital sounding, probably try a digital synthesis instrument, rather than an analog synth, and so on.

As you get to know and understand what you hear, and have a larger understanding of the vocabulary of various synthesis types and instruments, you can pick an appropriate instrument more easily. You'll be able to recognise what FM tends to sound like, what subtractive analog sounds like, what wavetable synths sound like, and so on.

As Dave mentions, it's probably easier to dissect "older" sounds in many ways, as they will likely be less treated in the mix (although this is a factor a lot of people trying to recreate sounds overlook when they can't get their raw synth patch to match 100% with the "record"), and because if you are trying to recreate modern sounds, say in EDM, modern sounds have so much production that the synth element of it might just be a starting point, and it's all the processing afterwards which results in the final sound - ie, you can't get to the final sound with just a raw synth alone, you need to learn and understand all the production tricks and effects types etc - another large learning phase.

So I would say, pick an analog subtractive type synth, and get a feel for the types of sound in can produce. Turn the effects off to get a better understanding of the synth engine. Then do the same with a few digital synths - things like FM synths, PD synths, additive, romplers etc - bear in mind that these all work fundamentally differently (so that's more learning to do).

But, don't let this all stop you - if you don't *know* what an appropriate synth is, pick something that you have, and explore it. If you find out after some playing that it couldn't do the sounds you wanted, you'll still have learnt something about whats going on, and be informing your knowledge base for the future, and now have some refinement to it (ie, "don't go to that synth for those kinds of sounds")...

It's a (lifetime) journey of discovery after all...
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby slewin49 » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:51 pm

And if you're talking mainly about soft synths don't forget the thousands of presets available. You can learn a lot fairly quickly by analysing some of those...but I do mean analysing not just fiddling with. Find one you like the sound of and change things one at a time to work out what everything is really doing.

You can get a long way like that with just a few synths. Since I'm naturally cheap I do almost everything these days with a couple of freebies, Synth1 (simple subtractive) and Dexed (FM, basically a DX7 emulation). By the time you understand those in real detail you'll have a lot of sounds at your fingertips.

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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Scramble » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:59 pm

Why are you so hung up on reproducing other people's sounds? Unless your day job involves creating sound-a-like music, or you play in a high-level covers band, you should make your own sounds.
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Fraydayn » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:59 pm

Hey Slewin, hey Scramble !

Slewin : I've heard about that way of analyzing presets, I should do that ! ;o)))

Scramble : I'm hung up on recreating those sounds because as Dave and Desmond said, knowledge is what makes you an effective synth sound creator. To create, I think you need to understand how the creation process is enhanced and a technical knowledge is required (that's my personal opinion). Also, there's a few sounds I like a lot and I'd love to be able to recreate them just for my personal pleasure ! :)
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby desmond » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:06 pm

Fraydayn wrote:Also, there's a few sounds I like a lot and I'd love to be able to recreate them just for my personal pleasure ! :)

Nothing wrong with that, I do the same! :thumbup:
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:22 pm

One other thought. I don't know where you are, but if you check online, you might have synth/modular synth meet ups in your area (or close-ish). These are a good way to get to know other synth freaks. They are quite friendly places and the guys (and gals) are usually up for a natter. Might be worth a thought.

(If you're within travelling distance of Sheffield then I'd heartily recommend going to Synthfest...)
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Fraydayn » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:27 pm

Hey Dave !

Travelling to Sheffield might be a little hard for me as I come from Belgium ! haha
I've never thought of meet ups, I'll give it a go ;o))))
I hope I'll find some in Belgium though.

I'll have a look at Synthfest too ! :D
I like travelling to England, I've done it quite a few times.
Awwww apparently it's on the 7th of Octobre : I'll be working with a video game group as a composer in a game jam contest at that time. Maybe next year? :D
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Scramble » Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:16 pm

Fraydayn wrote:Scramble : I'm hung up on recreating those sounds because as Dave and Desmond said, knowledge is what makes you an effective synth sound creator. To create, I think you need to understand how the creation process is enhanced and a technical knowledge is required (that's my personal opinion). Also, there's a few sounds I like a lot and I'd love to be able to recreate them just for my personal pleasure ! :)

Well, sure, to some extent that's fair enough, but don't get too hung up on it. It's the synth programmer's equivalent of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). And like, GAS, it's another thing that stops you creating your own music.
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Re: How to recreate a synth sound you hear?

Postby Ben Asaro » Thu Sep 14, 2017 1:22 pm

Fascinating thread subject!

One thing is for sure: the more you use your synths the more you can 'hear' the different components or layering that make up a patch. Once of the advantages of modular is that you can strip down the sound to a single component and compare it to others in isolation. (Comes at a cost, however).

On the tutorial front, I will once again beat the drum for Syntorial; it's probably the most comprehensive way you can learn the nuts and bolts of synthesis today.

Most soft synth manuals are also very helpful, particularly the Arturia stuff; the manual for the Modular V has a really nice tutorial in it for building patches.

There is also a free modular just announced that is great for learning the process of analogue synthesis, https://vcvrack.com

Enjoy your journey!!
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