Types of Synthesizers


What is the difference between analog synthesizers and digital synthesizers?

Digital Synthesizers

A digital synthesizer is software that is installed inside a digital audio workstation (daw) and uses digital signal processing (DSP) to produce sounds. A good example of a digital synthesizer is any VST synth used on a computer.

Analog Synthesizers

Making music using analog modular synthesizers. Electronic music and professional music equipment

Analog synthesizers work use analog circuits to play sounds through electronic circuit board using oscillators and variable voltage levels. This means the analog sounds are made from Oscillators (which create signals from electricity) and Voltage Controlled Amplifiers (which are the filters/cut off) is how the sound is being manipulated by the analog circuit boards inside the synthesizer.

Because digital can only remember and process a finite amount of numbers, it can’t represent every possible signal level. This is why many people like analog synthesizers because analog has an infinite amount of possibilities. With that said, it is still possible to make digital too difficult for the human ear to reorganize the difference, thus making analog signal and a digital signal sound the same to the ear.

Hardware or Software Synthesizers

Musician performs on stage using modular synthesizers.

Now that we know what digital and analog synthesizers are, lets get into the hardware or software. Most early synths were created as hardware first, then later replicated into vst format in the late 1990’s. Many new synths are created from software, and a hardware version doesn’t exist.

Types of Synthesis Signals

The different types of synthesis and synthesizers. Making music using modular synthesizers.

Below we will discuss some of the different types of digital synthesizers.

  • Additive Synthesis – Is a sound synthesis that adds sine waves together.
  • Subtractive synthesis – is the type most connected to the early analog synths of the 1960s and 1970s. Many manufacturers have made synthesizer’s that emulate this, these are called ‘Virtual Analogue Synthesizers’. Usually this sound is made with two oscillator’s with the second oscillator being modified and having small pieces of it removed.
  • FM Synthesis – Is one of the newer digital synthesis technologies, it can create harmonic and in harmonic sounds. It can also create very complex and intricate sounds. It first appeared in the Yamaha DX7 in 1983. The first proto type was made in 1974. How does FM Synthesis work? A simple (triangle, saw, square, or sine) waveform is called the carier and is modulated by a second wave called the modulator. The waves together are known as operators, and an FM synth can have many operators to modify the shape of the sound. This results in a much more complex waveform. FM synthesis is known to produce great quality bell sounds with a high level of authenticity. This is not analog.
  • Hybrid Synths – The signal path is analog, but the control circuitry is digital.This gives you the advantages of both worlds. In 1987 Roland released the D-50 synthesizer, breaking world records for the first synth to combine digital sampling and digital oscillators. This is not analog.
  • Sample Synthesis (ROMplers)- Waveforms are samples sounds or instruments and not waveforms like a sine wave, saw, or buzz saw waveform.This is not analog. The advantage of this process is that is uses less computing power. A good example of this is Kontakt. Another good example is Spectronics Trilogy, which uses wave form samples from a keyboard, but you can also add in waveformslike you would from any other traditional subtractive synthesizer.


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