Music & Entertainment

Digital Vs. Analog Synths


Lesson time 17:53 min

Analog synths are a big part of the deadmau5 sound and a great way to add creative elements to your productions. Hear the difference for yourself when Joel plays some of the same patches on digital and analog equipment.

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OK. So what I'm going to do is-- that, what you just heard there, was a pure as pure can be analog saw wave. So I'm going to take that analog saw wave, go into an analog filter. [DIGITAL TONES] All right. And what I'll do is I'll take a digital synth here. Let's see, like what? I don't know. Anything will do it. Massive or something, which is not analog. And I'll match that frequency with a saw wave. So massive here consists of three oscillators and a modulation oscillator and all that stuff. But just for demos sake I'm going to use a single oscillator. So what I need to do is just match [NOTE SOUNDING] that note if I can. [BEEPING NOTES] Well, see the analog one is slightly out of tune because that's analog for you. [MATCHING TONES] change that envelope a bit so we can actually hear it. Raise the voice in a little . So I got it close. And this is something I tend to do a lot with analog census You have to reference your pitch to a digital synth because the digital synth will never be out of tune. So I'm going to try my best to line up the pitch. Close enough. And the thing about analog is you don't necessarily want it precise because-- so this one is digital. And that's analog. So analog is giving it a little more warp to it even though I am running it through a low pass filter. But the filter is wide open. But if I go direct out-- [DISTORTED TONES] Whoops. So that's analog and that's digital. Now, in a square wave, you're going to hear there's no filter being applied on this digital synth. It's actually bypassed. [DIGITAL TONES] And it's pretty close because it's a saw. But when you start introducing things like filters-- so say I put a low pass, a four pole low pass on that with no resonance. You'll hear the way that-- No. It's hard to A and B it at the same time. But the way that works with this filter is if I-- [WAVE TONE] --you're going to get-- [WHISTLE TONE] you'll hear things like this ringing IN the resonance in an analog filter. But in a digital filter, unless it's being over sampled a ridiculous amount of times, you're not going to get that kind of resonance in a filter, a digital filter. It's close, but it's step. You can actually hear the steps in it as you're turning the-- [MOVING DIGITAL TONE] So the analog, there's no amount of steps. It's infinite. But with digital, you're obviously locked into certain increments of values due to the interpolation of the filter or the oversampling amount, which is basically the more oversampling, the more divisions it'll have within a filter step, or an oscillator, or something like that. That's what oversampling does. Some digital synths have oversampling that can come pretty close to recreating that to the point where, shit, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But then some don't and are just so obviously b...

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The filter resonance sound grainy while swiping it up or down in some virtual synths, nicely illustrated in this lesson.

Robert P.

Knowing how to do something, even very well, unfortunately does not always translate into being able to share and/or teach that something.

Jesse G.

I got my first analog synth a year ago. It was the moog subphatty. Great synth. You can get them for $800 new (I had to save up). It's monosynth, so no chords (although you can layer tracks to create full chords if you really want). I found that it was the perfect analog synth to learn on. I think my favorite thing about analog is the imperfections. You can kinda feel the electricity flowing through it. It feels alive compared to soft synths and more intuitive to learn what's happening to the signal. And I end up making mistakes that just end up feeling more interesting. People get into debates about what's better (analog v digital). They both have advantages. I personally like using both. There are things you can do to digital synths to get some warmth, too. Like adding LFOs to adjust pitch, and maybe an S&H wave to create random artifacts if you want that imperfect "boards of canada" from a digital keyboard. The Microkorg is probably the most versatile and cheapest keyboard I've ever used. I actually use it for more sounds than my sub phatty, but they are just totally different. I'm usually surprised when I hear that certain artists used a soft synth or digital rack unit on certain syth tracks I love. Kandinsky uses almost entirely softsynths, and the "Real Hero" bassline by College is a digital rack synth (I was told the tx81z). They are both sounds I thought I needed analog gear to get. Sometimes it goes to show you, the ideas and your taste are the most important thing. Different gear is great to teach and inspire, but don't let not being able to afford expensive gear hold you back. People always told me that but I never really believed it til i got these keyboards. Get what you can afford, learn it inside and out. Experiment. Have fun, and don't make stupid excuses. That's what I've been trying to do :)

Joshua T.

This is pretty damn fun, you have a lot of input about the questions I have involving the synths. Helps eliminate all the confusion involved with it.

Ron L.

I have to admit i was skeptical about the digital vs analog (Nyquist-Shannon and all that) but he makes a solid case for analog based on three things: 1) Creative uniqueness (patch disappears when you pull the cables!) 2) Grittyness (warm imperfections of analog) 3) No worries about aliasing or limited (digital steps) in control .

Brian A.

Honestly, I don't know if his replication made a fair digital comparison, but he still really opened my eyes to analog synths. I feel a bit handicapped for not being able to afford them based on this... Maybe it will become clearer to me when I finish my synth training..

Steven P.

In Conclusion, buy Serum if you can't afford a beautiful modular synth, yet. Haha!

Khalid H.

Very interesting the dynamic range available with analog. But on a realistic level I think most people would stick to digital due to the price factor. Maybe some day if I have big bucks an analog setup would be awesome. Hopefully digital will continue to improve and eclipse analog...

Dylan W.

This inspired me to learn more about Modular and how to patch. I bought Softube Modular which is a virtual version. I wanted to learn how to patch there and how the different modules work together before buying hardware. If you don’t patch it right it won’t work. It doesn’t have the “steppyness” either. It’s been two months and I love it and use it everyday. It’s only $50 and comes with about 20 modules and you can buy more, which I have.

Austin B.

I understand what he says about the analog feeling, but for those like me who don't plan on dropping big bucks on analog synths(for now at least). You can actually get the hiss for synths from a free program called Izotope Vinyl. There are a few little quirky options within that VST. Also the cross modulation and all that is pretty close if you change the parameters of Octave,Semitones and fine(cents) all at once in a specific order which is what automation clips can do for you. Just some fuel for thought.