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What makes plugins different?

ranaprathap

Active Member
I have often heard people say that certain synths sound better than the others. So what makes synths different?

If I make two synths to play a saw wave, with every other adjustable parameter on it the same, won't both of them sound exactly the same? How can one saw wave be better than another saw wave? How come people can make claims like "this synth has a superior sound engine"? To what extent is this true? This argument can be extended to DAWs as well, with people claiming that one DAW's sound additive engine is superior than the other.

Yes, some synths have unique features that help you make sounds different from everything else, or has a unique interface that makes you go a certain direction and end up with some different sound, but for the most basic sound design, would it make a difference if I made the same sound in a free synth that came with the DAW or on a 200$ synth, "quality" wise?

This video made a lot of sense to me in this regard. What do you guys think?
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
Well, I do think some of us (me, late to the party) have reached the conclusion that some of them have engines that are more pristine.
 
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ranaprathap

ranaprathap

Active Member
@Ashermusic can you explain to me what differences did you spot, that made you believe that? And are you sure that those differences are not attributable to some effects that are engaged by default in the patch in the synth?

Forgive me for asking, as I am quite new to this and this is a bit puzzling.
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
@Ashermusic can you explain to me what differences did you spot, that made you believe that? And are you sure that those differences are not attributable to some effects that are engaged by default in the patch in the synth?

Forgive me for asking, as I am quite new to this and this is a bit puzzling.
If I load a synth bass patch in e.g Moog Modular, and a similar one in Logic Pro's Retro Synth, and then a similar one in U-he's Repro 1, and play them sequentially (pun intended as Repro 1 is a repro of a Sequential Circuits synth) the Repro 1 just sounds clearer and for want of a better term, more "hi- fi."
 
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ranaprathap

ranaprathap

Active Member
If I load a synth bass patch in e.g Moog Modular, and a similar one in Logic Pro's Retro Synth, and then a similar one in U-he's Repro 1, and play them sequentially (pun intended as Repro 1 is a repro of a Sequential Circuits synth) the Repro 1 just sounds clearer and for want of a better term, more "hi- fi."
Now those are three different patches, created by three different people. A better comparison would be if you try and build the same sound in all the three synths using the same settings, and see if you can spot a difference. Or better yet, see if the same 'hi-fi' sound is coming from the logic retro synth when you apply the same settings from the repro 1 into the retro synth.

That said, it can't be done because the filters in repro 1 are designed after hardware filters. So as long as retro synth is not having those filters, it is not fair to the retro synth:P to make that comparison.

I am going to try downloading repro 1 and see if I can come up with my own opinion.
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
Absolutely true , but a number of synth guys , notably Mr. Zimmer , have said this about the U-he synth engine and I believe that is what I am hearing .
 

wst3

my office these days
Moderator
Plugins sound different because different people wrote them using different concepts, different coding approaches, and different philosophies about what is, and what isn't important.

If you want to have fun you can playback a sine wave in every one of your synths (well everyone that allows you to do so<G>), and compare the outputs.
 
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ranaprathap

ranaprathap

Active Member
Plugins sound different because different people wrote them using different concepts, different coding approaches, and different philosophies about what is, and what isn't important.

If you want to have fun you can playback a sine wave in every one of your synths (well everyone that allows you to do so<G>), and compare the outputs.
Thanks, I will try out the sine wave comparison soon. So basically that means when I ask an oscillator to play a sine wave, it doesn't always play a sine wave, instead, it plays its own version of a sine wave!

I knew hardware synths had this thing, but this is new info for me. Thanks.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
If you want to have fun you can playback a sine wave in every one of your synths (well everyone that allows you to do so<G>), and compare the outputs.
A sine wave should be a sine wave on all softsynths, except something's really messed up (or there are inserted waveshapers, saturators, Ringmodulators etc.)

However, more relevant differences can be found e.g. in the used filter algorithms.
 

Alatar

Active Member
If I make two synths to play a saw wave, with every other adjustable parameter on it the same, won't both of them sound exactly the same? How can one saw wave be better than another saw wave?
Well, I am no Synthmaker. But there are differences in how to implement a sawtooth or a square wave.
For example you should implement anti-aliasing. Because for Synths, aliasing of sound can happen, similar to what you see in graphics programming. Without anti-aliasing, you can get some unwanted noise. The reason for that is, that computers have only finite precision. But to make a perfect saw tooth or square wave, you need infinite precision. Infinite precision does not exist in the digital world. The next best thing is proper anti aliasing.
 

Gerhard Westphalen

Scoring Mixer
If you want to have fun you can playback a sine wave in every one of your synths (well everyone that allows you to do so<G>), and compare the outputs.
Doing a quick comparison using the analyzer in Pro-Q it seemed that the sine waves in the synths I have are all the same but I was very surprised at the difference in square waves. The Zebra looked the least like what I expected but I found to sound the best.
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
My understanding is that people feel that the biggest difference is not wave form generation but the quality of the filters. Is that incorrect?
 
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ranaprathap

ranaprathap

Active Member
Doing a quick comparison using the analyzer in Pro-Q it seemed that the sine waves in the synths I have are all the same but I was very surprised at the difference in square waves. The Zebra looked the least like what I expected but I found to sound the best.
Was it a pure square wave? Are you sure there were no added filters or settings? Then the legend of Uhe is correct I guess.

If it is not too much to ask, can you the wave files here for us to listen and compare?
 

David Chappell

Active Member
Take a look at this video, comparing a saw wave in massive and in serum, and you can see the difference in the frequency spectrum of what should be two identical waveform:


There's plenty of disagreement in the comments about what constitutes "better", but in a purely mathematical sense, serum does have a more accurate representation of a mathematically correct saw wave. That being said, sometimes a bit of inexactitude can be considered a good thing, like the "warmth" of analogue gear resulting from subtle pitch drift and harmonic distortion.
 

wst3

my office these days
Moderator
Apologies for over-simplifying...

Every snippet of code CAN affect the sound that reaches your ears. A sine wave SHOULD be the same in every soft-synth, but that was not always the case. I measured a handful last night (curiosity can be a bugger!), and they were, for all intents, identical. Then I started running them through gain stages and filters and some very minor (I imagine inaudible) differences started to appear, mostly degradation of the S/N ratio.

The comments about complex waveforms are good,and that is where the differences may start to appear. One programmer may include 10 partials to generate a sawtooth, another 50, and so on.

Filter is where things can get really interesting, there are probably an infinite number of ways to code a simple low pass filter, and when you start to emulate existing physical filter designs???

To me the OP asked a very good question, and the over-simplified answer is that the programmer makes the difference.

Take, for example, the ubiquitous Urei 1176 compressor/limiter. It's been done to death, and yet no two sound exactly the same, nor do any two react to incoming audio in the same exact manner.

How can that be?

For starters, there were several design changes over the life of the device. And even within a specific revision I don't think I've heard two hardware devices that sounded exactly the same, although it is often very difficult to find, let alone quantify the differences.

So variable #1 would include the revision of the hardware being emulated, and the aging of the components in the specific device being modeled. (which ignore the fact that back when the 1176 was introduced component tolerances were slightly greater than they are today!)

Variable #2 might be how the programmer interprets the schematic and/or measurements that they make, not to mention how they make their measurements. (maybe I selected a bad example here, measuring the behavior of a dynamics processor is a challenge!)

And variable #3 would definitely be how the programmer chooses to implement the code. And which CPU they use, and so one...

That's just for starters<G>!
 

Gerhard Westphalen

Scoring Mixer
Was it a pure square wave? Are you sure there were no added filters or settings? Then the legend of Uhe is correct I guess.

If it is not too much to ask, can you the wave files here for us to listen and compare?
I'll see if I can do it later today. I'm fairly certain that it was a pure square wave. The only "component" in Zebra I had on was an osc. The difference was that it had content in the harmonics that it's not supposed to have but at a reduced level. It also had a different rolloff at the top. Maybe I made a mistake and it wasn't a pure square wave.

Regardless, as others have mentioned, the real difference comes in all of the other processing like the filters.
 

Chandler

Active Member
As people have said above look at the waves from various synths yourself. Depending on the generation method they will sound different. For one thing many synths use single cycles so even the basic waveforms will sound different depending on where the single cycle comes from. Other synths generate the basic waveforms mathematically, so of course those will sound the different also depending on how it is done. Another thing is aliasing, which adds unwanted non-harmonically related sounds to your signal. This often causes the a rough or harsh sound, but getting rid of it takes more CPU cycles or tricks. The tricks and the choice in compromise between CPU cycles and sound will of course cause differences in various synths. Finally something I wasn't aware of until recently is DC filters. Someone noticed recently that MPowersynth distorted the wave form at low frequencies and this reduced the power of the bass notes he was creating. This was caused by the DC filter. Luckily you are able to turn this off in MPS, but I checked other synths and many had the same behavior.

Just talking about OSC alone those are 3 factors that can make 1 synth sound different from another.
 
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ranaprathap

ranaprathap

Active Member
Take a look at this video, comparing a saw wave in massive and in serum, and you can see the difference in the frequency spectrum of what should be two identical waveform:


There's plenty of disagreement in the comments about what constitutes "better", but in a purely mathematical sense, serum does have a more accurate representation of a mathematically correct saw wave. That being said, sometimes a bit of inexactitude can be considered a good thing, like the "warmth" of analogue gear resulting from subtle pitch drift and harmonic distortion.
In spite of having a very "unclean" waveform, massive is still one of the most popular soft synths, having plastered all over the EDM scene. So does it really matter for the most part if the waveform is "clean"? Apparently people seem to like it!

Thanks to everyone who explained this. Now I know, not every saw wave is the same.
 

synthpunk

Senior Member
It's not all about analytical, there is vibe, passion, and kung fu :grin: as well and a emotional connection just like playing a special piano or violin. It was Bob Moog's mantra.

A sine wave should be a sine wave on all softsynths, except something's really messed up (or there are inserted waveshapers, saturators, Ringmodulators etc.)

However, more relevant differences can be found e.g. in the used filter algorithms.
 
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Living Fossil

Senior Member
@synthpunk: totally agree. I just don't think that looking at a naked sine wave in different synths is of any use; the static waveform of a sine is a sine.
But some fluctuations in the pitch and amplitude can have a huge impact on the vibe of that sine and turn it into a wonderful sound. ;)
 
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