To many people, synthesizers are divided into two main categories: digital and analog. Know the argument among many is which is better between the two categories when it comes to reliability, sound quality, and portability.
In reality, neither of these designs is better than the other. Each has its disadvantages and advantages – and as time progresses, the main differences between the two synthesizers become murkier as the gray areas between them expand. In this piece, we’ll go through the different types of synthesizers, including the cons and pros of each type. We’ll also cover the different synth design branches; you’ll encounter as you explore the electronic music world.
But let’s begin with the major ones, the analog and digital ones, and what they mean.
What is an Analog Synthesizer?
The traditional synthesizers were analog since they emerged before the heyday of modern computers. These instruments heavily relied on specially designed circuits that combine specific electrical components like resistors, transistors, and capacitors to modify and create sound. In short, most of the synthesizers designed between the 1960s and 1970s were analog.
With analog synthesizers, the sound produced relied on continuously fluctuating electronic voltages within the device. The voltage originates from the VCO (Voltage-Controllable Oscillators or the Noise Generator. Together the two provide numerous timber cores that are altered and combined with additional analog circuits like VCAs (Voltage-Controllable Amplifiers and VCFs (Voltage-Controllable Filters) that allow users to change sound loudness and tone color correspondingly.
However, as digital technology continued to evolve and become affordable in the 1980s, analog synthesizers started to fall out of trend. This saw the resale value of classic analog synths plummet, and by the 1990s, many upcoming musicians grabbed the chance to snatch analog synths in garage sales and pawn shops at affordable prices. This led to interest resurgence of analog designs, and today analog synthesizers are sort out just like their digital synthesizers.
Analog synths take many forms, including polyphonic and monophonic keyboards, rack units, or desktops. It’s also important to note that contrary to many opinions that highlight analog synths as taking the form of a keyboard, the truth is that analog simply means the device generates and processes sound through a specifically designed analog circuit.
- They have a warmer and more intimate sound that results in quirks making tracks stand out in terms of uniqueness
- It provides an infinite resolution as there is no limitation based on bit depth or sample rate
- The device controls provide infinite resolution, with a tactile and intimate response without the need for zipping the noise
- Analog synthesizers offer a more straightforward use as they feature a one knob key per function
- Analog synthesizers feature a particular tonal pallet
- The shooting can sometimes be temperamental, particularly in older instruments
- They cost way more compared to digital synthesizers with similar functions
- The device does not feature a preset memory unless it has a digital control
What Is a Digital Synthesizer?
Digital synthesizers started becoming popular in the 1980s due to various reasons. In fact, you’ll be overwhelmed with the fact that the primary use of digital synthesizers did not have anything to do with sound generation. In the late 1970s, analog synthesizer manufacturers began using digital technology to control analog circuits. This made it possible for new and profound developments as polyphonic synths and preset memories became common.
Eventually, the manufacturers switched their focus and started employing digital approaches to sound generation leading to the revolution of electrical instrument designs. Rather than relying on analog approaches with VCFs, VCOs, and VCAs, new ways of generating sound started coming up. Some of which were purely impossible to achieve with analog circuits. This promoted new types of sounds.
Many synthesis techniques heavily relied on the new digital technology approaches, with some being used even in modern devices, including addictive synthesis, FM sampling, physical modeling, and others. Some popular digital synths include the CMI Fairlight, YamahaDX7, and the Sequential Prophet.
- It has the ability to produce a comprehensive range of sounds compared to analog synthesizers
- Features a preset memory
- It offers more novelties to sound control and production
- They are quite affordable compared to analog synthesizers with similar capabilities
- Have the ability to make smaller musical instruments more powerful
- It does not have a similar sound to analog synthesizers
- Features limited digital control resolutions
- The device is more complicated when it comes to repairs and maintenance
- Requires more instructions to comprehend and use
What Is a Hybrid Synthesizer?
Hybrid synths are instruments that use digital and analog components to provide more refined and comprehensive aspects of both types. These instruments can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s. There are lots of variations in how a hybrid synthesizer functions.
Generally, you can have a synth with digital oscillators and an analog filter. The two combination offers a reliable and clean oscillator performance while maintaining deep coloration people can relate to using an analog filter. You can also apply other instruments in adding digital effects.
- It offers both digital and analog synthesizers aspects
- It provides better control options compared to an analog synthesizer
- It offers a myriad of effects than an analog synthesizer
- More expensive than digital synthesizers, even with similar features
- It doesn’t feature one-knob-per-function controls
There are many synthesizer types, but they all fall under two main categories: digital and analog synths. Therefore, you need to understand these two main types better if you wish to have the upper hand in navigating the diverse world of synthesizers. Both types also have advantages and disadvantages, and both can produce an incredible sound on the right hand. It’s simply a matter of choosing which instrument feels more appealing and inspiring to your music journey. If an analog synth inspires your music creativity wheels, it’s simply the instrument for you and vice versa.