A synthesizer is a musical device that generates sounds electronically and then modifies them. They can be analogue sounds or digital and use a computer. Synthesizers dominated the 80s pop charts when played by groups such as Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, OMD and Soft Cell.
We shall consider 5 different kinds of synthesizer.
- The Moog synthesizer to many is considered the most famous of all synthesizers. Developed by an American Engineer, Robert Moog, various models were produced between 1965 and 1980. It was a modular synthesizer and the forerunner of the analogue synthesizer today. It was, in fact, the first commercially produced synthesizer.
- In the 1960s and 1970s, the lion’s share of synthesizers produced were Analogue Synthesizers. The sound was produced from electrical voltages inside the unit that continued to fluctuate. The voltages, in the main, begin in the Voltage-Controllable Oscillator (VCO), and are then changed by additional analogue circuits, in the form of Voltage Controllable Filters (VCFs) and Voltage-Controllable Amplifiers (VCAs). In the hands of its users, the device can control the tone colour and loudness of the sound that is produced.
- The 1980s experienced the prolific rise of digital synthesis Polyphonic synthesizers with preset memories became the norm. At the heart of digital synthesizers are specialized computers. It is the computer code that produces data streams which react to input from the user. The result is the production of sound. Without the reliance on the electrical properties of the components themselves, the computer programs, in theory, produce any type of sound desired.
- Hybrid synthesizers originated in the 1970s and 1980s, and have recently become popular, due to the instrument combining analogue and digital components. They satisfy users preferring to keep an element of the old technology. Sequential are one of the notable makers in this genre, producing a model known as Prophet X, which they have built with analogue filters to allow for the creation of some traditional instrument sounds, such as piano and strings, whilst also adding in granular swarms and polysynth sounds.
- Modular synthesizers are not defined by how their sound is produced but by their form. They can be made up of various combinations of analogue and digital technology, as with keyboard or desktop synths. As defined, it comprises modules, which are individual components that the user selects to construct the system they desire for their musical purposes.
A search of the top 5 synthesizers available today may include:
Korg Minilogue XD
Korg Volca FM
Synthesizers allow bands to create a repeated sound without their keyboard player having to play the same section over and over. From a sound perspective, they can either be used to produce an electronic sound or beat, or to sample the sounds of actual instruments. This is extremely useful when bands required a different sound by a specific type of musician that they do not have amongst their group. One purchase of such a machine can save many fees in session musicians. Although, this is not to take away from what they can also add to a performance or studio recording.
It is fair to say that operators of synthesizers are not just musical, in knowing the sound that they are trying to achieve, but generally technically minded, too. Much can be achieved from a synthesizer with a full understanding of the contents of its manual, which will often be in several languages. Although, this can be viewed as a good thing, as there will not be so much to read as first anticipated by the synthesizer novice.
Visually, many synthesizers resemble just a series of knobs, but in addition, they can also have the traditional black and white notes that a piano possesses. This allows the performer to play a melody in the same way that you would on a conventional instrument, but with, of course, the added advantage of being able to have it continue to play that same section of melody again, and all by itself.