[sdiy] Fast envelope follower circuit needed..

cheater cheater cheater00 at gmail.com
Sat Mar 30 15:19:19 CET 2013

Hi guys,
there are several points from Tom, Scott, and Brian here I'd like to
address. I hope it's ok, I would like to point out some errors to
spare you frustration in the future.

1. "the filter does not care about the spikes in the valleys"

that's incorrect. Bear in mind that this high-frequency content is not
removed in a low-pass filter, it is attenuated. Quite often the
rejection is less than the theoretical maximum for many reasons
(numerical error, incorrect algorithm implementation, etc). In effect,
that "rejected" signal is still there.

Especially if you use non-linearities later in your signal path (that
is, always), whatever program you modulate with such a tainted
envelope will sound worse than it could otherwise.

2. "analog rectification creates wide-band energy bursts anyways"

not an accurate picture of the situation. In analog, this sound will
be harmonically related to your input, which is a good thing. In
digital, it will work exactly against it, which is very bad. Besides,
the turn-on and turn-off speed is limited, it's not when using abs()
in a digital signal, but I don't know what the exact difference in
bandwidth limitation is in analog - it's unlimited in digital (with
the caveat that it gets mirrored around fs/2 and 0Hz, perhaps several

3. "the peak hold doesn't care about the little valleys"

not true at all. I believe this comes from the conceptual
simplification of the filter, which could go like this:
(i) when the input signal is above the current output, raise the output to match
(ii) when the input signal is below the current output, drop the
output at a constant rate

that is extremely inaccurate. What happens is more similar to this:
(iii) measure the distance between the current output and current
input. Move so that during a period of time, say 1 second, you cover a
fixed percentage of this distance, directly related to a number called
the time constant. For example, cover 90% in 1 second.

What does this mean? Say your output is at 1V, and your input is a
sinewave oscillation between 0V and 0.01V. As your output is falling,
it'll fall relatively faster when the input is near 0V (because the
distance is higher), and it'll fall relatively slower when the input
signal is *closer* to the output signal (i.e. when the input is at its
0.01V maximum).

This is easily described by saying that the peak hold is just a filter
as well, but it doesn't quite picture it, that's why I described the
operation above.

You might ask: "But can't I just use max() of the input and output and
somehow use that?"

One might think this code would work:
if (output < input) {
  output = input
else {
  output -= 0.01

This is a beginner's mistake. This sort of design will create awful
amounts of zipper noise. You don't want that. You want to use a

Brian, you first correct Tom on his mistake, then make the same
mistake yourself elsewhere, then agree with Scott who has made the
same mistake :)

4. "because peak detection allows the output to suddenly change if the
input is greater than the hold value, and any time a digital algorithm
allows a sudden discontinuity in its output you have the potential for
non-band-limited square wave type aliasing"

Not true. You just use a normal (asymmetric) filter for the peak hold,
like you usually would, and set its time constant for rising signals
so that it reacts instantly.

Your logic is flawed because you're thinking in terms of the "if/else"
model I described above. It doesn't hold. The transition you describe
will not be abrupt. There will still be phase delay like in any usual
filter (that's a good thing), and this phase delay will give the
filter just enough time buffer for things to happen relatively
smoothly. It's a different question, though, whether your filter
aliases *as a whole*.

5. "Assuming your audio signal is limited to 20 kHz maximum, and your
sample rate is 44.1 kHz, then your envelope signal need only have no
aliases above 2.05 kHz. Bingo, no audio aliasing"

That's not how it works. If your signal picked up aliasing somewhere
earlier, it's not going to magically get rid of it by becoming
band-limited later on. If you have frequencies within your 2.05 kHz
that do not agree with the harmony of your program, you're going to
hear it, simple as that. If you said...

"multiplying two signals, such that the sum of their bandwidth is less
than fs/2, will not create new aliases"

...then I might be partial to agreeing, although due to numerical
inaccuracies that's not really true either. Depending on what you're
working with, YMMV.

6. "I do not see how that is a problem with an envelope detector. The
goal is to produce a control signal with basically "no" frequency
components, or at least they should be as close to DC as possible. In
practice, there will always be undesired low-frequency components in
the envelope. My point here is that aliased components are no more
problematic than non-aliased frequency components."

Only if you revel in muddy sound that becomes more and more occluded
and unclear the more processing you apply. It's a fact that
harmonically unrelated sounds present in your program will deteriorate
its quality. They're much worse than e.g. white noise, because they're
concentrated in single, discernible tones, which play melodies that go
completely against the sounds that you are playing on the keyboard.
I'm not sure how to better say this; if anyone here is not convinced
that having this is bad, please read the previous sentence 50 times.

7. "The remaining frequency components are all equally undesired, and
it doesn't really matter whether they're aliases or not, so long as
they are low enough in frequency."

It's exactly the other way around: aliased low-frequency components
are very undesirable and are glaring problems in the final sound.
Harmonically related frequency components don't work against the sound
you're building, and are often very desirable. At worst they are
harmless because they become invisible when surrounded by lots of
other stuff playing in the same harmony.

8. "Perhaps I don't even need to bother rectifying the signal. Why not
just keep a check on the negative peaks like the positive ones, and
then use some average of the two as the final output. JP said his
signal might well be asymmetric (which is not at all uncommon), so we
can't assume the two envelopes will be the same."

This is DSP, not analog fx design. DSP is a harsh mistress. You can do
a lot of learning by experimenting in analog electronics and it works
out well. The signal degradation which happens when you make errors is
very musical: nth harmonic distortion, homogenic noise, cross-talk of
content that is harmonically related. It's all nice and very
forgiving. In DSP, you have very, very bad degradation modes: i)
aliasing - takes your melody and makes it sound like it's just random
notes; ii) through-zero distortion - adds mud and reduces clarity in a
way that's not related to your sound in any way; iii) time delay -
makes sure that you will never be able to mix your sound correctly
again after you've split it; iv) numerical errors - similar to
aliasing, those create junk in your sound that is harmonically
unrelated to the sound you're trying to achieve (examples include bit
errors, zipper noise, clicks, hard clipping, etc).

Be warned: you really have to go by the book on DSP. There are very
good books online; Julius Orion Smith's website is the best,
most-recommended classic. You simply can't "common-sense" your way
through digital audio. It's daunting. You'll be making errors, and the
worst thing is that in analog when you make errors they're obvious
whereas in digital, when you make errors, you might not notice until
after you've shipped the box; in the end people figure it out though
and just don't like your design. Granted that doesn't matter if you're
selling for the masses that buy microcorgi and other junk like that;
but let's maybe leave this kind of talk off this list and try to think
about what it takes to do an honest job. As someone said, if
something's worth doing, it's worth doing well.


On Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 7:24 AM, Paul Perry <pfperry at melbpc.org.au> wrote:
> A little philosophy on envelope followers:
> It's easy to see what the envelope should look like - after the original
> signal has been! But if you take a typical input signal, graph it, and then
> cover it with a card, and try to draw an envelope as you slide the card to
> the right........... you might see that is is not just 'difficult', but
> actually 'impossible' to have a circuit that behaves as you would wish.
> In my experience, there is no envelope follower that suits all applications.
> In particular, percussion and guitar are very different. I don't doubt that
> Harry's circuit is ideal for a guitar.. and that if he could have got away
> with fewer components, he would have (remember, a hex guitar has SIX
> outputs!)
> On the bright side, I have also found that if you are using the derived
> envelope to control a filter or VCA, the actual audio effect can be quite
> musically useful, even though the envelope itself looks really unpromising
> on the scope. In particular, full wave rectification was not much better
> than half wave.
> Real problems arise when the frequencies being enveloped are very low, in
> this case the low pass filtering is in conflict with the envelope being
> derived. Again, it is a matter of knowing what the results are going to be
> with a practical envelope, rather than knocking oneself out trying to
> produce an 'ideal' envelope.
> paul perry Melbourne Australia
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