March 18, 2014

Let's Talk Mono-Synths...

by Chris Randall

I was joking to my wife the other day that I have like five jobs right now. Which made me sob a little on the inside, because I actually do. In my ludicrous amount of free time, I'm trying to come up with the archetype mono-synth design. And I thought it'd be interesting to get some input from people that aren't me on this subject.

The mono is kind of a beast unto itself, and that platform is the source of some of the most enduring sounds in the synthNrrrd's arsenal, to the point where we refer to particular sounds not by the place they fill in the sonic spectrum (e.g. "squelchy, knocky bass") but rather by the machine that makes the particular sound best. (e.g. "303.") I find that interesting, because with other instrumentation, we don't generally dwell on the toolset used to create it (say, Strat through Fender Super Reverb) but rather we generally reference a player who used that combo ("I think this song needs a Stevie Ray tone...")

We do this with keyboards too, but much more specifically. The Hohner D6 Clav and "Superstition" are so intertwined as to be functionally synonymous, for instance. Likewise the Mellotron and "Strawberry Fields Forever." But by and large, these are still machine-specific references. P-Mac is hardly recognized for his keyboard chops. You never say "get me that Paul McCartney keyboard sound." You say "I want the Strawberry Fields Mellotron flutes."

Anyhow, how about it? I'm not asking for a running litany of everyone's favorite monosynth. Nobody gives a shit. What I'm wondering is more about the "why" of it. If you were going to make a mono, what would you absolutely require of it?


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Mar.22.2014 @ 11:17 PM
i sorted took for granted that it would have to sound good as a general rule of all the things that anyone would want to use for music. meaning if it didn't sound good i don't care how good the UI is.

so, first, so long as it sounds good.. then it should have all the other things..

i think i'd add to my list a second noise source with its own filter.. in the interest of adding that texture.. perhaps not a noise source but a hiss emulation like in the U-he Satin tape plug in. that shit can be magic... and these days of so much music that is made to be so perfectly produced with ultimate clarity i think we could use a little hiss and hum and grit at the source.

edit: and it should come with sidechain ability for the edm

Mar.23.2014 @ 12:14 AM
Chris Randall
I should just come out and say it: I'm a convert of sidechain pumping. It's all the fuck over my new record. I was doing a 4-on-the-floor track, and I was like "man, the bass is stepping all over the kickdrum. Wish there was something I could do about that."

It's like heroin. You can't do it just once.


Mar.23.2014 @ 2:49 AM
'Sounds good' is subjective. I'd honestly rather have a clear interface that is easy and fun to use. Because then I will actually spend the time finding the 'good sounds'.

Mar.23.2014 @ 4:28 AM
That's right, atlastop, but depending on the synth architecture, they can still have a certain application: As sub bass they would give your sound a different character than e.g. using a square wave. And doing simple FM with two oscillators also goes somewhere else with one or two sine waves that it does with square, sawtooth or triangle. And then come the harmonics...

Mar.23.2014 @ 8:07 AM
The Nord Modular did nearly everything that is right with a digital synth, except controlling it without the computer visual is quite limited. I can scale it to as many voices I require, modulate nearly anything with nearly anything else, you can run a whole show off it, run outside gear through it, built like a tank, has all the I/O I could need, sounds as good or bad as you make it, and is very compact relative to its power (the only acceptable 25 key keyboard in my setup). The only improvements to that IMHO would be sampling capabilities and a good self-contained interface. I personally could lose most/all knobs in favor of a dock for a decent size touchscreen with multiple page capabilities (for different voices, larger patches, etc) put in above the keyboard...installed in some kind of secure/semi-permanent/gig-worthy way.

Hell, in a perfect sandbox you could make it a virtual "Eurorack" kind of interface that comes bundled with modules and then license and code other companies designs and sell those a la carte... But I understand that the cost/benefit of that kind of solution would be difficult to recoup if you didn't sell billions of them. I would settle for a fixed large helping of your own virtual modules (like the Nord Modular) and maybe allow outside developers in.

Mar.23.2014 @ 11:07 AM
I'm with boobs.

Mar.23.2014 @ 11:25 AM

Flexible crossmod/FM/sync on the oscillators is good. Which makes sine waves important. Continuously variable waveshapes and "PWM" on all, not just the square.

Dual multimode filters, each with their own Q control.

Mod routing needs to speed up and get away from the "matrix" idea, IMO. It should be as easy as touching two knobs/controls simultaneously.

modulation/delay/distortion effects that are integrated into the signal path, not just tacked onto the end.

Mar.23.2014 @ 11:31 AM
mike kiraly
@CR - regarding your side chain love.

One of the things the new TR-8 got right is the ability to side chain anything coming through its input. And you can select which steps in the pattern is the source of the side chain. Solid feature for mucking around live if you ask me.

Mar.23.2014 @ 4:30 PM
"sounds good" is subjective.. sure.. but there's a pretty big door you can fit a lot of subjective opinions through that will make lot's of people happy.

so, i stick with "sounds good" because for example.. look at a waldorf microQ w/all the features you can throw a stick at and it sounds like it's all coming out the ass of a camel on tranquilizers.

interface is what it is on that thing but even w/10 more knobs it wouldn't sound any better. and.. yeah.. i had one long enough to know that the root of it.. the source for all it's potential was stale donut you lost under a coffee table in 1986.

i sidechained once.. was easy to quit. i understand the bump and pump and the need for it sometimes and i tend to do whatever works for the mix but just end up not really needing it much. shrug.

Mar.23.2014 @ 7:32 PM
For me it just needs to be a combination of a relatively simple interface but with an interesting sound, especially if it is code based- go for it. Better if it doesn't sound like anything else. My favourite hardware synth is the DX200 but a Phosphor in a box would be attractive too.
And I'd like to be able to use it as a bass FX...

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