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Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

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Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 10:38 am

OK folks, I am feeling in the need for some synth-nerd education.

Early exposure to analogue synths was all ADSR, but fairly quickly, in search of budget polyphony, I came up against 8-stage envelopes on the Casio CZ-101 and 6-stage on the Korg Poly 800. The late 80’s and early 90’s Digital synths (FM or S+S) frequently had ‘4 times (or rates in some cases) plus 4 levels’, as did the Ensoniq hybrids, ESQ1 and SQ80. Some synths, e.g. Waldorf Blofeld, give a choice between simple ADSR and more complex multi-stage. I like (in principle, haven’t had one to play with) that the Deepmind has variable curves for each stage - I could see myself playing with that to alter attack or decay characteristics.

When programming the multi-stage beasties, I frequently find myself wishing for the simplicity of ADSR. I get that multiple levels/times are more ‘powerful’ in terms of synthesis options, but it is rare for me to want to explore these options. Perhaps if synthesising brass, I might want a pitch blip at the start of the envelope.

On a different tack, loopable envelopes can make interesting LFOs, but that is a bit of a side issue.

Apart from that, I am mostly satisfied with ADSR. I noticed a software editor recently, I think for an FM synth, that had opted to combine and reduce the envelope settings to simulate ADSR, for simplicity (sorry, can’t remember which one). But it made me think, how much do we ‘need’ complex envelopes?

So here’s my question. Have you found mult-stage envelopes to be useful in creating any particular musical sounds or effects, or do you think that ADSR is sufficient for most purposes?

Incidentally, I realised as soon as I wrote “Perhaps if synthesising brass....” that my first stop should have been Synth Secrets, which no doubt goes into great length on the subject of envelopes. But I am more interested in hearing about people’s experience and views on the usage of our favourite modulation generator. Is simple good, or complex good, or are both good for the right purpose?
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby desmond » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:05 am

My first programmable synth was the CZ-101, so I got comfortable with complex envelopes fairly quickly - especially as it was really the only way of getting movement in a patch (the CZ's are fairly limited modulation wise.)

Yes, for simple sounds ADSR's are good and it really is an idealised version of what you really need. If I was going to add envelope controls, the next things I'd add would be curve controls to adjust the behaviour of those ADSR segments - this can make a massive difference in how a particular envelope response feels, it's snappiness and musicality etc.

Multistage envelopes come in handy for modulation, where you can make things move in a more complex way. Back in the days of the CZ, I used to use extra envelope stages to add things like echo effects or things that would happen after the key release, which can be quite nice (though of course we all have FX up the wazoo these days, so we don't quite have to stretch a given box to it's maximum.) Oli's Virtual CZ emulation has a regular 8-stage emulation mode, but it also has an option to switch to simpler ADR types for those a bit overwhelmed by all those envelope steps, which is a good option to have.

As you say, sometimes an extra attack stage can be useful. But anything over the things listed above start getting into the, eh "creative" territory - looping envelopes, complex behaviours etc, all things that you can exploit if you want to. Have you seen some of the crazy things on YouTube where people have taken something like Absynth, and literally re-created complex cover versions of songs using the envelope steps? I mean, clever, but... :headbang:

Let's face it, complex synths have sometimes thousands of parameters, and they aren't used most of the time. They are there should you need to tweak something - which is better than not being able to tweak it - but aren't necessary to most patches. There's nothing wrong with good 'ol Bob's ADSR envelopes, and good doesn't have to mean "complicated"... :thumbup:

Edit: I find the Rate/Time/Level thing a little trickier to get a mental overview of what I'm doing, and this extends to something like the Roland stuff eg D50, which has multiple rate/level settings, and you're never quite sure which is the sustain level, or you have to change two levels to adjust a sustain level... it's gets a bit tricky to unpack sometimes, and I don't feel the added flexibility you get with these types really adds a lot to overcome the complexity... but that's my tuppence-worth...
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby The Elf » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:12 am

I always found the complex envelopes on the JD-800 overkill. They annoyed the jeebies out of me! I would have swapped for a simple ADSR any time.

Fast forward to last year, when I began to get to grips with my V4-ed MKS-70 and I'm finding that the multi-stage (ultra-fast!) envelopes are really useful for adding/removing attack bite to my sounds. For lead synth sounds this can be really useful.
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:21 am

Haha, I seem to recall a CZ-101 vaguely fluty preset that went Woof-wooooo-ee-oo-ee-oo-ee-oo.... generated by the 8 stage envelope...
really useful, that one :headbang:

The fact you could not achieve that with an ADSR was a positive asset - in favour of ADSR!
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:25 am

The Elf wrote:I always found the complex envelopes on the JD-800 overkill. They annoyed the jeebies out of me! I would have swapped for a simple ADSR any time.

The JD-800 was another prompt for this post. I was programming some percussion sounds on it last week. Would probably have been twice as fast with ADSR....
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby desmond » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:31 am

BillB wrote:Haha, I seem to recall a CZ-101 vaguely fluty preset that went Woof-wooooo-ee-oo-ee-oo-ee-oo.... generated by the 8 stage envelope...
really useful, that one :headbang:

Indeed. That one ("FANTASTICSOUND2") had a wobbly pitch drop that was interesting but not that useful. However, there was a variant preset of that ("FANTASTICSOUND1"), which left a beautiful echoey after effect with no pitch drop, which was a really nice patch and a good example of something the CZ could do that other, more expensive synths couldn't...
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:59 am

Here is Synth Secrets intro to envelopes
https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... s-triggers

And here’s the argument FOR more complex envelopes:
https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -envelopes
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby Folderol » Fri Apr 10, 2020 12:12 pm

In Yoshimi we get the best of both worlds. There is the normal ADSR one, but that can be converted to an editable graph-style with up to 40 nodes. I mostly use ADSR but have made use of the editable style for both amplitude and filter. Very occasionally for frequency.
One of our users produced an extremely complex vocal sound that had something like 25 nodes :o
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 1:30 pm

Folderol wrote:In Yoshimi we get the best of both worlds. There is the normal ADSR one, but that can be converted to an editable graph-style with up to 40 nodes. I mostly use ADSR but have made use of the editable style for both amplitude and filter. Very occasionally for frequency. One of our users produced an extremely complex vocal sound that had something like 25 nodes :o

It’s good to have a choice :thumbup:
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby Dave B » Fri Apr 10, 2020 2:29 pm

Look at the envelopes in Kurzweil's VAST synthesis. I love the recent review of the PC4 which describes them as AAD(S)RRR loopable envelopes. It's handy to be able to have a delay before they fire rather than a slow attack - I was able to get secondary sounds to swell after the main one had played nicely recently. And the loops mean that you can get get effects similar to vector synthesis so you can have different layers moving nicely.

Kurzweil also have a 'simple' mode as well as full access (e.g. 'Piano', etc) but I tend to go straight for the advanced mode. I'd be lying if I said I was 100% au fait with them, but I get by and love having the flexibility.
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby BillB » Fri Apr 10, 2020 2:44 pm

Sounds like fun - and a D(elay)ADSR is a fairly simple and useful thing to comprehend.

Just realised that's exactly how the DSI Prophet'08 is designed : )
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby N i g e l » Fri Apr 10, 2020 3:22 pm

I like the Yamaha 8 parameter envelopes as standard

Level 1, 2, 3, 4
Rate 1, 2, 3, 4

Very versatile: can implement start delay, Moog peak hold, clap double peak, piano damping, etc...

Ive never found a use for rate 4 to non zero level 4 (followed by decay in 0 time to level =0)
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Re: Envelopes - beyond ADSR...

Postby nathanscribe » Fri Apr 10, 2020 4:51 pm

This is an interesting topic. Works both ways as well. The Moog Rogue has one very simple envelope which is either AD or AR, depending whether you switch the Sustain on. And it always completes the cycle, whether you release the key before Attack has completed or not. It's an odd one, but it doesn't stop the synth being useful for the kind of sounds it makes. Similar functionality on the Werkstatt (and possibly the Mother 32? which strikes me as a expanded Werkstatt really). The EMS stuff only had a couple of trapezoids too, very simple really.

Then you get stuff like the Maplin 5600 or whichever it was, that had the complex contour generator with several stages and rates. That was pretty much the only instance of an analogue version that I recall seeing.

I guess it's a trade-off between simplicity and capability. You can do a lot with a simple envelope and some other modulation source, or two simple envelopes combined (eg, one for a fast attack and decay, another with a slow attack with sustain portion, and combine them to modulate the same source). These days I wonder if onboard modulation sequencers have taken the place of stuff like complex envelopes. Look at the Korg Minilogue XD, for example – one one regular envelope for the VCA, one simple one for the filter, but you also get the sequencer modulation of the cutoff.

I never felt too limited by envelopes really, even the simple ones.
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