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Why could some digital hardware synths sound better than software?
Old 27th November 2013
  #121
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Yoozer's Avatar
 
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EQ has nothing to do with it: I merely used it as an example.

In a DAC incoming sequences of bits are translated into voltages. Sometimes this process has (from an engineering POV) undesirable side-effects; high frequency noise created by aliasing). Often, such a DAC has an analog stage after it because a static LPF tuned to get the icky artifacts out is cheap. However, no filter is perfect so you will always get side-effects/coloring.

Still - this does not change the fact that the incoming bits are still plain bits.
Old 27th November 2013
  #122
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🎧 10 years
I have a theory that the reason why software synths sound worse than hardware synths is that the software synths simply sound too clean. Plugin developers have all been on the "aliasing-free oscillator" bandwagon for the last 5-7 years or so. Arturia kicked this off with their "True Analog Emulation" marketing malarkey. As a result, everyone now conflates super clean oscillators with analog/pure sound. But real analog synths have all sorts of distortion in their signal path. That's why they sound so good!

So I say, add more grit via much, much more detailed/authentic saturation algorithms. That's the key to a beefier sound, IMO.
Old 27th November 2013
  #123
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there are many differences between digital chips--the way numbers are stored, and how they are added, can change from chip to chip. sure 1 + 1=10 no matter how you slice it, but those edge cases get gnarly. Were floats used at all in the old stuff? was it all integer?

firmware tends to be harder to pick at (from what i have heard), so maybe the embedded dev env itself causes subtle differences in algorithmic implementations. And the people doing firmware tend to be more ee less compsci, there again, just differences in thought and approach.

algorithms may play a large role. the wav file format is well known. what file format do old romplers use? maybe an in-house one. so that process of playing back a wav file, maybe that itself was just different in older hw.

i actually think omnisphere sounds much better then my d550. however my hw m1 sounds better to me then my sw m1. So...*shrug*
Old 27th November 2013 | Show parent
  #124
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@yoozer
thanks alot!

i just missunderstood the thing with "jack and john" the opposite way (first page of the thread)
Old 27th November 2013
  #125
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so my conclusion overall ... i mean the thread started with all that ...
digital synthesis ( not like analog) putting DAC differences aside --- is equivalent to the software version because the sound source is not important in this case
rather than the type of DAC spitting it out ...

what about these DACs then? is it about the quality of them - like " im buying a crap converter" in terms of getting the sound right?

so lets say i want the original dx7 sound -
then it doesnt make a difference using the SY77+DAC ...OR respectively ITB+DAC ???

( well i know you have to configure that one the but forget about that)

forgive me all that but me rookie freaks
Old 27th November 2013
  #126
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It's the reverse

The dac doesn't matter as much as what goes into the dac
Old 27th November 2013
  #127
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well but yoozer said the opposite? im confused
Old 27th November 2013
  #128
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I think a blind listening test comparing hardware digital to software might be very revealing in regards to this topic.
Old 27th November 2013 | Show parent
  #129
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Aliferis ➑️
I think a blind listening test comparing hardware digital to software might be very revealing in regards to this topic.
No disrespect, but I'm not sure how useful this would be. There are very few instances of a hardware synth that has been converted to its plugin equivalent. There is the Korg M1 and Wavestation. And there seems to be a consensus that the hardware versions sound somewhat "warmer" (i.e., a little less bright and with a slightly more pronounced mid-range) but that the difference is slight. Most people would choose the plugins for their convenience and cleaner sound.

And then there is the PPG Wave and PPG Wave 3.0 plugin. I think most people would agree that the "real" PPG sounds significantly better primarily due to its real analog filter.

Any other comparisons would be comparing apples and oranges. For instance, how would you go about comparing a Virus with Spire or Sylenth (plugins,) for example? If the idea is to determine if the DACs, processing power, etc. is the source of the difference, you would need a software version of the Virus to make the comparison.
Old 27th November 2013 | Show parent
  #130
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Music Maven ➑️
There is the Korg M1 and Wavestation. And there seems to be a consensus that the hardware versions sound somewhat "warmer" (i.e., a little less bright and with a slightly more pronounced mid-range) but that the difference is slight. Most people would choose the plugins for their convenience and cleaner sound.
Quote:
Originally Posted by zzzxtreme ➑️
I like older digital synths, so , it may be because of the "lower bit" effects/DA converters. Wavestation sounds "colder" than Wavestation VST.
Old 27th November 2013 | Show parent
  #131
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
I like older digital synths, so , it may be because of the "lower bit" effects/DA converters. Wavestation sounds "colder" than Wavestation VST.
I think the poster means "darker" and not "colder." But maybe not.
Old 27th November 2013
  #132
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🎧 5 years
I'm not convinced that there is much of an audible difference between hardware and software but I still think there is a place for the digital synth. I hate doing sound design with a mouse; I much prefer the tactile controls of hardware. Unfortunately many old digital synths have a horrible interface so they are of no interest to me. If I wanted a Wavestation I would rather use the soft version because of the lackluster UI on the hardware. But I much prefer a knob per function VA to Massive.

Stephen Schmitt, the founder of Native Instruments', new company is working on a new digital synth based on Reaktor. I think it is the future of digital hardware. One of his big focuses is responsiveness and playability. He has developed a new signaling protocol for use within the synth that allows for greater expressiveness than MIDI's 127 step zipper. He also has a separate processor dedicated to just handling control signals, separate from the processor handling audio. From their blog http://nonlinearlabs.de/blog/synth/synth.html-

"At the moment our prototype synthesizer is the Reaktor instrument Phase 22. You can read more about Phase 22 here. In addition to the Phase 22 engine, we are already working on a second instrument concept with delay-based resonators (comb filters) as the main components. For future projects we are considering components from waveguide, modal, additive, subtractive, phase and frequency modulation, wave-shaping, and phase-distortion synthesis, as well as pure numerical signal generation. We feel that since we put our focus on digital synthesis, we have a virtually unlimited field of possibilities. After all, there is so much more to synthesis than virtual analog, wavetables, and samples!"

In short, I don't care much about the audible difference between hardware and software digital synths but I think that the interface, both sound design and performance, is where digital synths outperform soft synths.
Old 27th November 2013
  #133
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I kept my Roland 5080 as well. It have 8 stereo pairs that can play 8 samples at one time for one patch. Add modulation, sweeping pans and LFO's you will have a very gorgeous sound.

I try to compare acoustic guitar patches from the Roland with Kontakt 5, and Roland blow away those mono none panned, barely processed kontakt patches out of the water.

In terms of analog Synth emulations dont by a hardware box vs pc/Mac synths, as long as they have enough osculating going on, there the same for me.

Software being to clean can be an issue IMHO. Its take so long to process ITB, just to get that sound. But it can be done.

Sent from my Galaxy Nexus
Old 29th November 2013 | Show parent
  #134
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For everyone laying claim on one side of this or another, have you tried running your stuff out of the computer and back in? I'm not super-hip as to why, but going to the analog realm and back to digital seems to warm up just about anything albeit subtlely.

If you have a board, you might notice it even more.

Another thing to consider is impedance. If you're hooking up line ins that are designed for impedance x and the hardware is kicking out a different impedance, that will alter the sound, sometimes for the better.
Old 29th November 2013 | Show parent
  #135
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Music Maven ➑️
No disrespect, but I'm not sure how useful this would be. There are very few instances of a hardware synth that has been converted to its plugin equivalent. There is the Korg M1 and Wavestation. And there seems to be a consensus that the hardware versions sound somewhat "warmer" (i.e., a little less bright and with a slightly more pronounced mid-range) but that the difference is slight. Most people would choose the plugins for their convenience and cleaner sound.
My casual analysis -- hw & sw sound most different w/respect to FX.
Old 29th November 2013
  #136
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This topic comes up so often that I put it in my FAQ.
Old 29th November 2013 | Show parent
  #137
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Quote:
Originally Posted by living sounds ➑️
............. Up-/downsampling in modern plugins also is far from transparent and many ways more destructive and detrimental to good sound.
Wow Someone finally gets it..... the fact real time up/downsampling to get to higher sample rates is maybe not as nice sounding as actually being at that sample rate.

This was one of the main reasons I work at either 88/96khz or I work at 44khz and use hardware for fx instead of plugins. FM7 (I don't have FM8 so can't vouch for it) sounds a lot nicer at higher sample rates than it does at 44khz and this is an FM synth which is by its very nature digital and should be able to be replicated 100% as good as the hardware. But there is a difference....
Old 29th November 2013 | Show parent
  #138
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Proton ➑️
Wow Someone finally gets it..... the fact real time up/downsampling to get to higher sample rates is maybe not as nice sounding as actually being at that sample rate.

This was one of the main reasons I work at either 88/96khz or I work at 44khz and use hardware for fx instead of plugins.
The difference between the Korg Legacy PolySix and MS20 plugins running at 44.1 and running at 96 kHz is like night and day. The improvement at the higher sample rate is huge. Not sure I can hear the much of a difference between oversampling and higher sample rates in something like dcam synthsquad though.

Pretty much all hardware DSP based synths of the last 15-20 years run at 48 k, so 2x oversampling would get you to 96 k, but I've never seen any hardware synths mentioning oversampling in the sales literature. But it does make me wonder some of the difference people hear is down to sample rate. I'm speculating, but maybe the jump from 44.1 to 48 k makes far more difference in a synth engine than for pure playback where the difference is pretty negligible.

Having said this, I'm leaning towards a rich blend of the pleasing psychological effect of the physical presence of a physical synth, well designed algorithms, very carefully produced ROM samples and maybe some mild euphonic effects - aliasing and distortion in the output stage acting like exciter an exciter adding additional harmonics.

And to the guy who noted FX tends to sound pretty different in HW, yes! In particular, the reverb in rompers/workstation type synths sounds very different to your average plugin.
Old 30th November 2013
  #139
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I've never expected a synth, or any instrument for that matter, to just be plugged in a computer recording system and sound great. Some instruments sound better than others, but I couldn't imagine not having an analog mixer for eq and gain as a middleman between my capture machine. The korg triton was my first synth, and I never had problems with it sounding cold, sterile, sitting in the mix, or whatever. Thats what an overdrive pedal and a analog eq is for, along with basic engineering and mixing skills. Virtual instruments can sound good too, just use music equipment with them.... like Amps, mics , and rooms.
Old 30th November 2013 | Show parent
  #140
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adydub ➑️
The difference between the Korg Legacy PolySix and MS20 plugins running at 44.1 and running at 96 kHz is like night and day.
Oversampling or using higher sample rates reduces aliasing, which is probably the single most annoying digital artifact.
Old 30th November 2013 | Show parent
  #141
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Real MC ➑️
This topic comes up so often that I put it in my FAQ.
Perhaps you meant to post this to a different thread. The topic of this one is hardware vs. software digital synths.
Old 30th November 2013 | Show parent
  #142
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rimwolf ➑️
Perhaps you meant to post this to a different thread. The topic of this one is hardware vs. software digital synths.
Nope, it was quite relevant.
Old 30th November 2013 | Show parent
  #143
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How is a post on the difference between analog and digital filters relevant to a discussion of hardware digital vs software synths??
Old 30th November 2013
  #144
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I'd hazard a guess, that big part of "the lovely sound" of the old digital HW comes from the limitations of the HW. These limitations forced the engineers to make unusual decisions which no sane engineer would make with today's HW since those restrictions don't exist anymore. For example the amount of fast memory inside the micro controller itself (if any), bus speeds etc. can have a tremendous effect on:
- how exactly you want your synthesis to work
- how long samples you want to use
- if you want to cheat with some things/somehow
- if you want to somehow layer the sample data with clever algorithms to make it sound less looped
- etc. etc. etc…

It's probably all about: "How to make this super-limited HW do things that sound like it's not super-limited?"
Old 30th November 2013
  #145
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I think taking a sound out of a digital system - reconstituting an analogue waveform - and going back in again thru some electronics where there is slight signal degredation and saturation - can have a subtle and beneficial effect on audio sometimes...giving it a bit more separation and density...Its just a theory...
Old 30th November 2013
  #146
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There seems to be an assumption that digital hardware synthesis is just a CPU/Hard Drive and a computer in magic land that doesn't need electricity. It's not, at least in the case of older digital synthesizers. It still uses analog signals, only quantized to certain values. There can be noise issues in the circuit that create inaccuracies as a result. Rather than having a continuous range, there's just a bunch of bands, where anything inside the band is fixed to a certain value. Even in binary logic there can be timing issues due to the signal path used: Computers do not really have to deal with that, as everything is synced.

What kind of digital electronics we're dealing with also matters. Are we in the vacuum-tube land, because those things overheat like it's nobody's business. Resistor-Transistor Logic, Transistor-Transistor Logic, Emitter Coupled Logic and CMOS Logic all work a bit differently. Even the type of RAM (Random Access Memory) used matters: New computers are running on Synchronized Dynamic RAM, which started to show up in the 1990's. Older models are going to drop that Synchronized part off, and even older ones might be running on Static RAM. There are a gazillion subtypes for each of these, too, and I don't really know enough of that rabbit hole to do a guided tour. Suffice to say that DRAM takes little space, but tends to forget if not refreshed around 15 times a second.
Old 30th November 2013 | Show parent
  #147
Deleted b598644
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i don't like staring at a monitor to make music, so i don't use software
Old 1st December 2013 | Show parent
  #148
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Interesting thread!

I just made a comparison of Korg Wavestation VSTi and Wavestation SR. I imported the same soundset into both synths.

(The VSTi plays first and then comes the hardware synth.)




Vic20
Old 1st December 2013 | Show parent
  #149
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vic20 ➑️
I just made a comparison of Korg Wavestation VSTi and Wavestation SR. I imported the same soundset into both synths.
man, nice job! Pretty similar--until towards the end there. The last 2 or so patches sound very different (to my ears).
Old 1st December 2013 | Show parent
  #150
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crufty ➑️
man, nice job! Pretty similar--until towards the end there. The last 2 or so patches sound very different (to my ears).
Yes, there's a few patches that sounds very different, for some reason.

I was thinking of selling my Wavestation SR since I allready had the software version, which I believed was almost identical to the hardware synth. But, after I did a comparison again and listening carefully with a optimal listening position between the monitors, I noticed on most of the patches that the hw version has a better stereo field. It just sounds better...
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