[sdiy] Understanding 80s Synth Architectures

Benjamin Tremblay btremblay at me.com
Mon Feb 7 15:20:57 CET 2022

True words!

Back in the 1980s the technicians would be smoking their pipes the doorway of the hi-fi shops saying digital amps, or bipolar amps, or FET amps, or whatever, “lacked warmth” you could only get with tubes.

At some point we all came round to realize digital had warmth. What was wrong was a complete lack of weirdness. Digital wasn’t weird, and that was the problem. The digital synths of the 1990s had this sterile, Rated G, pre-compressed, “trade-show-like” sound that was great for the instrumental version of an Adult Contemporary ballad. This was the canned music you hear on a VHS training tape about how to use a new piece of equipment in a dentist’s office. There was always a horrible obligatory digital saxophone for the lobotomized Kenny G riffs. 

Just like camcorders of the day, consumers had been trained to buy “the one with the most features for the lowest price” regardless of any intrinsic value.

However, if Wakeman had been able to use a Nord or a Virus (or even a blofeld with knobs), it would have been great.

When analog emulation became a series of streams you could manipulate with knobs just like voltages in a real analog, things changed.
I had this on my MC-505 in 1998, but it was too slow and too low resolution (sample rate was 32K I think). 

The very fact that plugins and dedicated digital synth hardware does such a superb job of emulating analog is why I like DIY synths today.
No matter how perfect a digital synth is, it’s hard-wired to do certain things. I don’t have a problem with hard-wiring, but I want to be the one doing the hard-wiring.


Benjamin Tremblay
btremblay at me.com
330 Fiske Street
Carlisle, MA 01741

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