Analogue Synth or digital synth?

Today I’ve conducted a small scale experiment via Twitter and Facebook-

asking people if they thought this sound recording was either a digital synth or an analogue synth.

The majority of people came to the conclusion that this was an analogue synth unit. Two people was sure it was a digital synth.

I can now reveal…

It is in fact a max/MSP patch running in Ableton! (in the form of Max For live). Its a crude patch- a single sine oscillator (cycle~) being modulated by another as an LFO (low frequency oscillator, again cycle~) with two controls, one for rate, the other for depth. There are no filters in this patch, and its monophonic. However what I did was to assign those virtual knobs to real knobs on a control surface then played them as I would with an analogue monosynth, altering LFO rate and depth whilst holding down a key.

Why I did this experiment

I am interested in finding out if what we perceive is down to the intrinsic clinical quality of a synthesizer or how its manipulated/ played. The original concept of a synthesizer is that it is essentially a blank canvas on which we make imagined sounds. The reality was (and still is) that with the best intentions, each make of synth and synthesis approach have their own characteristics, and as such, those characteristics influence how a synth is used, so I chose a very typical approach for an analogue monosynth only played it on a fairly neutral max patch (which the max for live version does some nice accurate oscillator and filter effects) and recorded the result.


I think from this very loose informal experiment that the context and means by which a synthesizer is used is perhaps more important than what it actually is. However there still resides these characteristics; one perceptive listener came to the correct conclusion of a digital synth due the the volume of the higher frequencies- something not present with analogue systems- also, of course, the very capricious nature of analogue systems can produce all sorts of unpredictable effects, that just wouldnt happen with a digital system, even with the use of randomness (which is never truly random in a digital domain).



About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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