Advice for a synth newbie

Discussion in 'VIRTUAL SYNTHS: Omnisphere, U-he, Reaktor, etc.' started by sIR dORT, Feb 13, 2019.

  1. sIR dORT

    sIR dORT Member

    Oct 26, 2018
    So....... I'm currently trying out the Zebra 2 demo right now, and as a person with almost no previous experiences with synths, I am having trouble get something different then a normal kind of boring 2 dual oscillator sound with some filters, combs, and shapers. Is a synth like that too tall of an order for a synth newb to tackle (i.e. is starting out with Omni a better idea), or is it good to slog through it.

    A broke teenager :thumbsup:
  2. dgburns

    dgburns splunge

    Nov 4, 2012
    The Logic Pro X stock synths are FANTASTIC, maybe even better then most bought synths. Why not use that?
    ptram likes this.
  3. OP
    sIR dORT

    sIR dORT Member

    Oct 26, 2018
    I have Ableton Live 9, not Logic :/ Their synths aren't great. Interesting about Diva/Repro5 tho.
  4. MaxOctane

    MaxOctane Active Member

    Mar 23, 2017
    Every minute spent asking about soft synths, when you haven't already bought Diva, is a minute wasted for yourself and others. Seriously it's that good.

    To be a bit more specific: it's fantastic for smooth sounds, retro-80s, Blade Runner, etc.
  5. wst3

    wst3 my office these days

    Apr 2, 2010
    Pottstown, PA
    Zebra is a deep synth, I've owned it for a little over a year now, and I still feel like I am scratching the surface. (And I've been at this since synthesizer meant large, monophonic, patch cords, etc<G>!)

    Repro and Diva may be better starting points. A lot depends on what you want to do with synthesizers.

    Also, don't look down on the "standard" architecture. People have made absolute magic with two oscillators, a filter or two, and a VCA (and a noise generator, and a ring moderator, and...)

    I have been known to suggest the ARP 2600 manual as a fantastic starting point. It is available from the author HERE.

    And the nice folks at Wayoutware share their ARP 2600 manual freely. (Jim M had a hand in this one too)

    Sam Ecoff has a couple excellent books as well, and he shares them freely too:
    Fundamentals of Music Technology
    Basics of Music Technology I
    Basics of Music Technology II
    (the later two cover other studio gear, but it's all good to know)

    There is also an on-line course - Syntorial - that I am really enjoying. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I highly recommend checking it out.

    Lots of great resources, and do not give up on Zebra - it is a remarkable synth!
    sIR dORT likes this.
  6. kgdrum

    kgdrum Senior Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    +1 Diva & Repro is a great way to go!
  7. String-for-sale

    String-for-sale To the highest bidder

    Oct 18, 2017
    At the same price range, you can also look at Synthmaster.
  8. OP
    sIR dORT

    sIR dORT Member

    Oct 26, 2018
    I'll try not to - can't/unrealistic to compare myself to synth masters like Zimmer. Thanks for the input, this is what I needed guys.
  9. jmvideo

    jmvideo Senior Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    If you can afford it, get an analogue hardware synth. The difference in sound quality is night and day. I used to think DIVA sounded pretty good until I A/B'd with a hardware synth. Aint nothin like the real thang, bay-bee....
  10. kgdrum

    kgdrum Senior Member

    Apr 11, 2005

    I have Sythmaster and I couldn’t disagree more Diva & Repro are in a different class.
    I only got Synthmaster because it was on sale for about $20 and I can’t remember the last time I used it.
    U-he all the way!
  11. Jeremy Gillam

    Jeremy Gillam Active Member

    Jun 10, 2017
    Los Angeles, California
    Dear broke teenager,

    Something I wish I'd done sooner when I was first getting into making my own sounds with synthesizers (and not just flipping through presets) is to have gotten my hands on an analog synth with actual knobs, buttons, and patch cables. The first synth I bought that wasn't included with a DAW or a bundle was Zebra2, because Hans Zimmer said it was the best (and it is), but I was in way over my head at first when it came to actually programming it. When I eventually did get an Arturia Microbrute and learned how to make horrible and beautiful noises with that in combination with effects in my DAW, I found when I went back to Zebra all of a sudden everything started to make a whole hell of a lot more sense.

    I'm not saying that analog is better than digital, it's just that for me the experience of having something physical to touch and play with was more deeply instructive than any mouse-clicking or manual-reading or YouTube-tutorial-viewing at the beginning. Just something to think about!

    jmvideo and jsheaucsb like this.
  12. jcrosby

    jcrosby Senior Member

    Nov 30, 2014
    Boston MA
    Zebras definitely a bold 1st move... lots of great advice in this thread, as others have said the current NI/u-he deal is great. Although Duvas approachable, it isn’t short on power features either...

    Abletons synths are pretty mediocre, but wavetables actually pretty good...
  13. DS_Joost

    DS_Joost One day I'll fly away!

    Nov 19, 2015
    What you are doing is trying to find a synth to makes you a better programmer, instead of what you should do, look at it exactly the other way around. And yes, Zebra isn't well suited for those just starting out programming synths. Omnisphere is nice, but not good if you really want to become a good synth programmer (if that is exactly what you want). It has many samples, and that offers really great possibilities, but what it does is also kinda hide that people can't model sounds worth a grain of salt. What I mean with that is, you can take an interesting sample, put a filter on it, some ADSR, and call it a great synth patch. But, ask yourself, have you actually made it yourself, or was the sample great to begin with? Omnisphere is great for inspiration, but not for learning actual SYNTHESIS (yes, it can do great synthesis, indeed, but it's not a good for learning it), in my opinion. It's also not a very well laid out synthesizer in my opinion (if you really want to do the programming part, not tweaking part). It's feature packed, yes, and that is great. But for true synth programming there are much leaner, much more ideal alternatives.

    What you need is a simple synth, with 2-3 oscillators, a filter, ADSR, some LFO's, and preferably an assignable Mod Envelope. Combine that with some FX in your DAW and go to town! That's it. If you think that's limiting, consider that many of the most iconic synth sounds were made back when most synthesizers were really, really simple (albeit expensive!) affairs. Thing is though, back then, people didn't have the moolah to buy lots of synths, and VST's were unheard of. So if you bought a synth, what you saw is what you got, and what you got is what you used. Take a simple synth, and use the heck out of it until it's run completely dry (and some simple looking synths are deeper than you think!).

    That last part is the most important part. One very prevalent part of this forum is the constant presence of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Proof is in some posts in this thread as well (buy X synth! Buy that one, it's sooooo good).

    Don't listen to that. Whilst some of the suggestions are indeed good synths, look at what your DAW offers. Which DAW do you use? I know that Mai Tai in Studio One is fantastic. Retrologue in Cubase is also really great. Heck, Reaper has this thing called ReaSynth that would be suitable to your needs if you stack some instances. Logic has some great ones as well. As does Ableton, and Digital Performer, and FL Studio, and on and on and on...

    Don't buy things if you haven't even touched what you might already have.

    Here's a free synth that will suit your needs just fine:


    Is it the best synth you can get? The answer to that is in the eye of the beholder, but it IS a good starting synth to learn the ropes. And believe me, like I said, many iconic patches were created on synths that weren't much different in features from this one. Think to yourself: if they could do it, so can I. If you can't get interesting sounds out of this one, you won't make yourself a better programmer by buying another synth. Oh, and if you're doubting, it does sound seriously good!

    Here's a free (and gaudy looking, but don't be fooled) and seriously in depth synth that also sounds bullocks good. I suggest learning this one as well, you'd be surprised how many professionals are using it (secretly of course). Perhaps use this once the above one has worn it's course:


    Here's a good, very well known and seriously in-depth course on synthesis. Don't be mistaken by it's age, synthesis hasn't changed that much since, especially not the basics. Gordon Reids Synth Secrets takes you from the absolute basics of sound to the very complex all in one series. For me, there's no better reading resource:

    For the absolute basics, watch these. They're old, but good. And the humor is really dry. What the guy says though, is absolute truth:

    Don't forget there's a part two as well.

    Moral to this story: don't listen to people telling you to buy x or y or z. Learning synthesis is done by learning synthesis, not by being a new synthesizer. Once you got that down, you know yourself what synthesizer you want and need. One man's trash is another man's treasure and all that...

    So here, broken teenager. All of this, before you've even spend a single dime. Isn't the internet awesome?
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019
    Wally Garten and kgdrum like this.
  14. babylonwaves

    babylonwaves Senior Member

    May 9, 2015
    whatever you do, get a synth with substractive synthsis like diva or repro - both are fantastic offers. I probably would gravitate towards repro, because it is less flexible (which is good when you start out).

    and of course starting out with a free synth is never wrong unless the synth is so shitty that you give up after a while for the wrong reasons ;)
  15. vitocorleone123

    vitocorleone123 New Member

    Feb 8, 2019
    Great post above. Start free. Read. Watch videos. Use free synths (the 2 listed are good). Also really good advice that I'd echo: save up and get an analog hardware synth. I made music for a long time with soft synths, but didn't really start to understand until I bought a used Roland SE-02 last year that's loaded with knobs. Diving straight into something like Zebra will result in a lot of frustration and potentially not a lot of learning - ultimately, music should be enjoyable, not a chore (at least not a chore if it's a hobby!). I started with found/made samples in a free "DAW".

    Alternatively, if you already have an iOS device, that's another path for getting into music for relatively little money (compared to PC or hardware). Visit the audiobus forums if you go this direction. You can make whole songs on an iPhone. Or use an iPhone and iPad as separate outboard effects to your PC DAW that your hardware synth is connected to. Lots of fun.
    Wally Garten likes this.
  16. ed buller

    ed buller Senior Member

  17. Cinebient

    Cinebient Active Member

    Dec 7, 2014
    Maybe first you should post what kind of sounds you are wanting or which genre you want to produce.
    Then do not buy all "our" favorites but just demo the synths you think are good and then decide.
    But just for interest, my favorites would be P900 (sound better as hardware for me even but mac/AU only) and Dune 3 (beside Alchemy inside Logic).
    U-he synths are great as well and they also offer things like microtuning. Repro sounds really good and is easy to use as well.
    There are just so many good synths out there today and almost all sound good in one or the other
    way. You could also start with some better free synths like U-he Zebralette, Podolski, TyrellN6 etc.
    Also in most cases no one will hear a different between great and good synths or even hardware in a mix, with added FX etc.
    You also could look into you-tube tutorials how to program synths or consider something like syntorial.
    bill5 likes this.
  18. vitocorleone123

    vitocorleone123 New Member

    Feb 8, 2019
    Oh, forgot to mention that the best (arguably?) overall free DAW is Tracktion 7.

    Learning, skill and experience is more important than the "quality" (expense) of the tools. Learn to make music, have fun, then think about what areas you want to spend (more) money in.

    If I was ONLY going to do software (again, I think a hardware monosynth can really help with learning), AND i'd already gotten to know the good free stuff, THEN I'd probably actually buy Dune 3 as of now myself as my first paid synth. It sounds really good and is quite well-rounded and modern. I already have my needs covered, so I personally opted for Diva+Repro+Hive instead of Dune 3. Massive X would also be interesting when available.

    If you do go hardware: If you learn best in life by starting from scratch and experimenting and figuring things out that way, a Behringer D is a great start. However, if you're like me, and learn best by dissecting and analyzing and then tweaking, then I suggest getting a hardware synth that has patch memory and a desktop editor so you can load/store your patches and see how others are constructed. No right or wrong - just think of how you best learn.
  19. OP
    sIR dORT

    sIR dORT Member

    Oct 26, 2018
    Here's another example - at 1:52 and 3:44 - not the base or the lead, the middle punchy synths with some sort of percussive noise. I don't think it's synphony, I own it, and can't find a sound like that, but correct me if I'm wrong.
  20. DS_Joost

    DS_Joost One day I'll fly away!

    Nov 19, 2015
    Sounds simply like a saw and square wave slightly detuned, with a short mod envelope on the filter to create that thwack sound, no attack, bit of decay, no sustain and a little release on the amp envelope. It's a pretty busy arrangement but it also sounds like the mod envelope is also slightly changing the pitch to make it a little more percussive, but ever so slightly over time. Biggest thing I hear though is filter modulation as described above. Then run through an arpeggiator with a little bit of of syncopation in the rhythm. You could also put an LFO repeating in a slow 2 bar or even 4 bar loop to the filter envelope ever so slightly (which is what I also hear) to make the mod enveloped filter go a little bit more open and then back over time, so the 'percussiveness' opens and closes a bit to make it less static. if you haven't got a mod envelope, you can also simply automate the filter envelope in a pattern. You can do this with the described ADSR on the filter cutoff as well.

    Very simple stuff, really. Any synth can do this. All of them (well, unless you've got something really isoteric).

    This is why learning this stuff is so important. Go read the Synth Secrets, and watch the videos I send you. They teach you a great deal of 'listening' to what you hear, which is the most important asset of creating synth sounds. 'Listening' closely is something that needs practice, believe me, but it is more important in synth programming than simply turning knobs (which is still a great activity in and of itself).

    If you want more practice, Syntorial is a great (albeit not cheap) solution to learn how to 'listen'.

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