A synthesizer is a device that creates sounds. It can be used to imitate sounds such as other musical instruments or natural sounds like wind, thunder or the sea but more exciting it can be used to make totally original sounds. The Casio XW-G1 Synthesiser is a digital synthesizer that can produce many sounds from its PCM samples.
Synthesizers first became available in the sixties, they were analog and very expensive, digital synthesizers began to appear in the eighties and began to take over from analog machines, however analog has made a massive comeback in recent years. There was an obvious need as the older synths started to command huge second hand prices, so analog began to be manufactured again. If you’re looking for an analog synth check my page on the best analog synthesizers, these are the currently available ones that I consider to be the best.
All sound can be broken down into wave forms, most sounds wave forms change over time. So the first thing a synthesizer will do is to produce a wave form. Sounds also have a beginning and an end and that also has an effect on the sound. A bell sound starts almost instantaneously and can take a few seconds for it to die away to silence. A synthesizer gives you control over lots of aspects in sound and this is one of the basic elements you learn in sound creation.
The volume envelope is the one that controls this element of the sound, it’s usually split into four sections, the attack is the first and is the time it takes for the sound to build to its maximum level, once it has it begins its decay, it decays to reach the sustain level, which it will stay at until you release the key and then its release time will die away into silence.
With analog synthesis a filter is deployed to alter the wave forms produced by the oscillator. This can also be controlled by an envelope generator. The cheapest way to experiment with analog synthesizers if you’ve never played with the controls before is the Chugan Corporation Gakken Sx-150 Mark Ii Analog Synthesizer it costs less than £15 and will introduce you to what some of the basics of analog synth’s are about.
Korg were on of the quickest manufacturers off the mark with the analog synth revival. They produced the classic MS20 in 1978 and its now available as the KORG MS-20 MINI Analog. It sounds just like the original in my opinion, and you can read a full review of it here.
Novation are also a synthesizer manufacture of note. Starting off in the early nineties they produced the Bass Station, a modern classic. The NOVATION BASS STATION II Analog has been released recently to give Korg a run for there money, and it certainly does that, you can read a full review here.
Another popular Synthesizer they produce is the Novation MiniNova Synthesizer apart from its huge range of synthesizer functions it also has a microphone that it uses to produce all the classic vocoder effects, made popular by many electronic artists and particularly Kraftwerk. You can also use it to play your voice from the keyboard. It has a range of effects that can be added to vocal sounds and the synthesizer, all in all with everything you can do with it and the price of around £270 you can see why its a popular.
There’s no doubt that synthesizers have changed the face of music of the last few decades, once considered a fad there’s scarcely a record released theses days that doesn’t use a synthesizer somewhere! one thing i’m pretty sure about though since my first introduction to the synthesizer is that they are great fun and amazingly addictive, you might find them taking over your life!