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Creating & Using Synth Pad Sounds | Audio

Audio Examples From Pad Sounds May 2010 By John Walden
Published May 2010

These files accompany the Cubase Technique Filter Sweeps workshop for SOS May 2010 (/sos/may10/articles/pads.htm).

TexturePadOut Audio icon texturepadout.mp3 File texturepadout.wav

Here's a section of my mix of Dave Gerard's song 'Never Stop' with the synth pad muted.

TexturePadSolo Audio icon texturepadsolo.mp3 File texturepadsolo.wav

Here's a simple chordal pad part created with a freeware virtual analogue synth: Mikko Hyyrylainen's Satyr 8. I used rich-sounding sawtooth waveforms which packed the upper midrange area of the frequency spectrum with consonant harmonics, supporting the pitched components of the upper guitars. The pad's was rolled off gently below 1kHz with a high-pass filter in Cockos Reaper's built-in ReaEQ plug-in, and a further peaking cut of 4dB at 3.9kHz helped make it less audible in its own right in the mix. I also treated the pad with a little phasing from Schwa's Oligarc Phaser plug-in to provide some stereo width. While it's rarely necessary to add many effects to pad sounds to get them to blend, in this case I decided that the fairly bright sound could be made wider and more background using a fair amount of reverb (from a brightened Lexicon 960L impulse running in Christian Knufinke's SIR2 convolution plug-in) and tempo-sync'ed delay (from Reaper's Readelay).

TexturePadIn Audio icon texturepadin.mp3 File texturepadin.wav

This file shows how the mix sounds with the pad mixed in. It's a subtle enhancement, so if you want to hear it most clearly A/B this file directly against TexturePadOut in your own sequencer.

DistRedPadOut Audio icon distredpadout.mp3 File distredpadout.wav

Here's a section of my mix of Bobby Nobody's song 'Switch Up', with the synth pad muted. Notice that the guitar sounds are quite edgy, lacking in both body and chord definition. This was because the guitar parts had been tracked with too much distortion, a problem that typical mix processing strategies struggle to deal with.

DistRedPadSolo Audio icon distredpadsolo.mp3 File distredpadsolo.wav

In order to increase the guitar parts' chord definition, I used this pad sound, which was created using a combination of the pulse and sawtooth waveforms in Cockos Reaper's built-in Reasynth plug-in. The output was EQ'd with Reaper's ReaEQ to filter out the low end below about 400Hz and the high end above roughly 7kHz. I wasn't looking for anything in the way of additional stereo width, so I left the pad in mono, which meant that the synth component was favoured slightly on typical lower-fidelity playback systems. In terms of effects, a very small amount of ambience reverb was added from Lexicon's Pantheon II plug-in to help blend the bright pad better into the overall track.

DistRedPadIn Audio icon distredpadin.mp3 File distredpadin.wav

Now you can hear how mixing in the pad affects the guitar sound in context. Again, the effect will be most clearly noticeable if you A/B this example with the DistRedPadOut file.

NoteSusPadOut Audio icon notesuspadout.mp3 File notesuspadout.wav

This file contains a section of my mix of Timo Carlier's song 'The Road Ahead', with the synth pad muted. As you can hear, this isn't the kind of music that you normally associate with synthesizers!

NoteSusPadSolo Audio icon notesuspadsolo.mp3 File notesuspadsolo.wav

The pad I used for this track was designed simply to add some low mid-range pitched sustain to the acoustic guitar and bass drum. As such I went for a triangle wave in Cockos Reaper's bundled Reasynth plug-in, and then gently low-pass-filtered from about 100Hz to kill off the higher harmonics. No extra width or blend was necessary for the pad to fulfil its desired function, so I left it dry and in mono, although I did take care to use fader automation so that its contribution didn't become too obvious in the song's quieter moments.

NoteSusPadIn Audio icon notesuspadin.mp3 File notesuspadin.wav

Here's how the song sounds with the pad mixed in. Although the pad clearly fattens up the track, the effect is unobtrusive enough that it doesn't undermine the natural acoustic feel of the song as a whole. Indeed, when Timo heard my full mix he didn't notice the synth at all, commenting merely that the overall result was a lot warmer and more pleasing to listen to.

MotionPadOut Audio icon motionpadout.mp3 File motionpadout.wav

This is a section of the band Zeno's track 'Signs', without any synth parts. I decided to mix a rhythmic synth pad in with to try to add some twinkly stereo interest to what was otherwise a fairly standard 'wall of guitars' rock texture (albeit with a dash of piano).

MotionPadSolo Audio icon motionpadsolo.mp3 File motionpadsolo.wav

Rather than programming a part myself using a synthesizer, in this case I built up a stereo synth texture out of a couple of the REX loops in Nine Volt Audio's excellent Melodic REX sample library. Once I'd shuffled and pitch-shifted the REX fragments to suit the song's chords, I panned the two parts to opposite sides of the stereo spectrum and applied a three-sixteeth-note stereo ping-pong delay to add more rhythmic detail. In the context of the mix, it turned out that EQ was required to maintain a suitably subtle contribution, namely high-pass filtering at 300Hz and an fairly narrow 8dB peaking cut at 2.2kHz, both applied with Cockos Reaper's built-in ReaEQ plug-in.

MotionPadIn Audio icon motionpadin.mp3 File motionpadin.wav

MonoPadRaw Audio icon monopadraw.mp3 File monopadraw.wav

Here's a simple mono pad without any effects processing. I'm going to use it to demonstrate the effects of some different stereo widening effects.

MonoPadWideChorus Audio icon monopadwidechorus.mp3 File monopadwidechorus.wav

This is a chorus send effect from the freeware Kjaerhus Audio VST plug-in Classic Chorus. It's operating in its 'Spread' mode, which puts the left- and right-channel modulation waveforms out of sync with each other -- the key to the widening effect.

MonoPadWideFlanger Audio icon monopadwideflanger.mp3 File monopadwideflanger.wav

This file uses another of Kjaerhus Audio's freeware plug-ins, Classic Flanger to demonstrate how a similar widening effect, but this time using flanging instead. Again, the left and right stereo channels are being modulated out of sync.

MonoPadWidePhaser Audio icon monopadwidephaser.mp3 File monopadwidephaser.wav

Phasing is another effect that can achieve stereo widening by virtue of out-of-sync modulation of the left and right channels, and here's an example of me using Kjaerhus Audio's freeware Classic Phaser to this end.

MonoPadWidePitchshiftDelay Audio icon monopadwidepitchshiftdelay.mp3 File monopadwidepitchshiftdelay.wav

For this file I'm applying one of the classic stereo widening patches, which is implemented using pitch-shifted delays. In this case I'm using fairly representative settings: left and right delays of 11ms and 13ms delay shifted by -5 cents and +5 cents respectively. The processing in this case has been set up in Cockos Reaper using its built-in Reapitch and Time Delayer plug-ins, but if you want a one-stop solution, there's a great VST/AU plug-in from Schwa called CMX which fits the bill perfectly.

MonoPadWideGraphicEQ Audio icon monopadwidegraphiceq.mp3 File monopadwidegraphiceq.wav

A pair of graphic equalisers can create some stereo width out of a mono file, as I described in the main article. For this demonstration I've used Slim Slow Slider's freeware Linear Phase Graphic EQ plug-in, but you should get an even more pronounced effect if you use something that messes with the phase of the signal too.

StereoPadRaw Audio icon stereopadraw.mp3 File stereopadraw.wav

This stereo pad comes direct from the sound library of Native Instrument's Kontakt 3 virtual sampler instrument. I'll use it to demonstrate a couple of ways you can expand it's stereo field.

StereoPadWideMS Audio icon stereopadwidems.mp3 File stereopadwidems.wav

I've applied Middle & Sides (M&S) processing from Voxengo's freeware MSED plug-in to the StereoPadRaw file here, reducing the mid gain by 4dB and increasing the side gain by 3dB.

StereoPadWidePolarity Audio icon stereopadwidepolarity.mp3 File stereopadwidepolarity.wav

If you add some reversed-polarity signal from the left-channel into the right and vice versa, it's possible to extend the stereo field apparently beyond the speakers, albeit with a corresponding loss of level at the centre of the image.