Synthesis Glossary & Concepts

What is Synthesis?

Sound Synthesis is a process of simulating or creating a sound on a specific device by specific methods and procedures. There are many types of synthesis, such as Subtractive Synthesis, Sample-Based Synthesis, Physical Modeling Synthesis and Frequency Modulation Synthesis.

Here I’ll be talking about Sample-Based Synthesis and Subtractive Synthesis.

As there are many types of synthesis, therefore, there are many types of synthesizers as well. Some examples of synthesizers and its types:

Subtractive Synthesis synthesizers: Roland’s SH-201, Moog’s Modular and KORG’s Radias.
Sample-Based
Synthesis synthesizers: Roland’s Fantom Series, KORG’s Triton Series and Yamaha’s S90ES and the great majority of synthesizers and workstations nowadays.
Physical Modeling
Synthesis synthesizers: KORG’s Prophecy, Yamaha’s VL1 and Clavia’s Nord Modular.
Frequency Modulation Synthesis synthesizers: Yamaha’s DX7 and Casio’s CZ Series.

How is a sound generated?

Well, in both Sample-Based and Subtractive Synthesis, the sound is basically this:

So, we have three Elements of Sound: Pitch, Brightness and Volume. Pitch is defined by the Oscillators; Brightness, by the Filter; and Volume by the Amplifier.

The synthesizer uses envelopes to modify these Elements over time and/or LFOs (Low-Frequency Oscillators) to modify them in a cyclic way. There are, as well, three destinations for the LFOs and Envelopes: Pitch, Brightness and Volume.

Glossary & Concepts

Oscillator:

Every sound is made by a wave, that is made by vibrations on some medium. In order to generate sounds, the Oscillators produce waves. They are responsible for setting it’s shape and frequency. Since the frequency of an sound-wave sets it’s pitch and the shape it’s timber, the Oscillators are responsible for generating the waveform that is the basis for the whole sound.

In one synthesizer you may have one, two, four or any other number of Oscillators. More Oscillators means more different waveforms on the same sound, so you have a more elaborated sound.

There are infinite types of waveforms, some examples are: sine, sawtooth, square and triangle.

Mixer:

To set how your oscillators will interact to each other, which one (or ones) will be louder or softer, that’s what the mixer is for.

There are some ways to mix two (or more) oscillators: Simple Mix, Oscillator Sync and Ring Modulation.

Simple Mix: Both oscillators will sound together as they are configured to.

Oscillator Sync: One of the oscillators will be forced to restart it’s cycle in synchronization with the other’s cycle, generating a complex waveform. It’s only effective if one’s pitch is different from another’s, since the cycle time is defined by the wave’s frequency and it defines the pitch as well.

Ring Modulation: Both oscillators will be multiplied to create a complex waveform. It’s also easier to produce a different sound using Ring Modulation when you have different pitches between the oscillators.

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