In December of 2010 I made a forum post asking about “Techno Synths”: Big Time Techno Synths
Note: You can always tell a person doesn’t know a damn thing about electronic music when they say the word “techno”. It would be like me saying “fly” around the brothas in 2013. It’s almost comical if it weren’t so “dope”.
Regardless, I had ingested this idea that the REAL synth sounds were in hardware….usually analog hardware and not in the “toy” plugins. I picked up a DSI Prophet 08, Moog Voyager RME, Virus Rack, Roland JP-8080, Novation Bass Station, and borrowed a buddy’s Korg MS-2000R.
I was VERY wound up about these hardware synths. I was about to kick some serious ass. I could feel it.
Lesson Learned #1: It turns out that to REALLY good at any one synth you have to be obsessed with that one synth. You simply can’t master multiple synths at once.
Lesson #2: Hardware synths take forever to learn because their “GUI” sucks so bad compared to the plugins. (The Prophet 08 is a breeze with the on screen librarian controller thing.)
Lesson #3: Hardware synths more or less force you to commit to sounds in the midst of creating. At least they do when you’ve got a electronic music session on Tuesday night and a hippie jam band coming in on a Wednesday with metal guitar solos on Thursday. This commitment stuff isn’t a big deal so much in electric guitar rock/metal land where you are used to the drums, guitar, bass, and vocal standard. Many guys have their guitar sound and you don’t run into too many songs where there is no bass or the bass is everything.
The roles change radically in synth land from song to song particularly when the group doesn’t have a specific sound they use everytime. The need to go back to retweak a track in a dense mix is high. (It’s not nearly as big of issue in ultra sparse Deadmau5 productions.) This makes learning electronic music production VERY difficult with hardware and until a person gets REALLY handy at knowing how a dense mix is going to unfold, nailing this right out of the gate with hardware is a real bitch. I believe this is why our consistency improved radically when switching to soft synths.
The best thing about hardware synths is they all sound so unique. My Roland JP-8080 (possibly supersaw champion) is lightyears from my Moog Voyager RME. While the Moog is a mean son of a Bob in the low end, the lead sounds almost always have that 70s synth sound unless get really creative after the fact. My Prophet 08′s first preset sounds exactly like something from Halloween 2. (Basically that 70s synth sound again.) I’m showing my age a bit, but I abhor those 70s synth sounds for the most part. It’s just my personal tastes. I’m sure I’ll be ridiculed for being so into the Night At The Roxbury synth sounds, but that would mostly be by those so into the Moog Voyager lead sounds….and that’s my point.
The lack of effects on the analog synths was a real drag for me as I seem to really like effected synthesizers. The limited effect options on the JP-8080 really kept me from being creative. The Virus had great effect options, but editing through menus was horrendously slow and daunting. You could always add effects later, but that causes major workflow issues that could be handled if a person were setup for it, but were generally a pain.
Limited Modulation, Voices, and Oscillators
As more of an exercise in synth land than anything else, we tore apart the Skrillex sound. It requires modulating maybe a dozen parameters with a single knob. That concept is awesome. Super awesome! My Prophet only has 4 modulators and I never did figure out how to set them all to be controlled by the modwheel the way I wanted. It’s not even worth trying.
The Prophet is can do some wicked things with all 8 voices tossed on a monophonic synth. I love that Moonster preset and have a few variations I made off of it that are really fun. However, it’s not enough for me when I want to do something new. I’m sure in the right hands it’s absurdly powerful, but it just didn’t fit my sensibilities.
Fast forward two years. I don’t say “techno” anymore. SMILEY I have a good 2,000 hours of work on electronic music under my belt. I make my own kicks and snares. I’m working almost entirely with Zebra2 now. Minivanz, my partner in electro crime, is handy with Massive and Sylenth1. We really don’t feel the need for any other tools, really.
I have $5,000 in “highly respected” synths I don’t have any need for. We are better with the plugins. With iZotope Trash2 behind them, I hear nothing I’m missing. So much for hardware synths.
Whether a hardware synth is “better” than their software counterparts is the wrong question in my opinion. I can say without hesitation that I am better with Zebra2.
Many hardware synths have an immediately recognizable sound (like that or not) and in many cases this sound is rather desirable. However, spending the big dough on hardware synths (analog or digital) is not a guarantee that you will be most effective in your shop. The hype surrounding the analog synths and hardware synths in general caters to a very small sect of the population making electronic music. I was disappointed.