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The power of FX


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Browsing through various patches on various virtual and real synths, more often than not I realize when I am impressed by a patch and start deconstructing it, it's the effects that make it sound wow. Once I turn off all the effects and listen to the raw sound it's meh. There was a FM-lead on my MODX (forgot the name and I sold the MODX) that just melted me. But it was all the chorus and the lush reverb. Once turned off, it sounded like an 8-bit sound from an arcade game.

 

And I'm wondering about the obsession with the vintage analog synths and comparison with virtual emulations, digital synths or even modern analog replicas. But who uses the raw sounds anyway, you're gonna wash it in delay and reverb the least. And then it's all the same 😀 Or it isn't? What do you think?

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Some Boxen are like that. 
 

My Lintronics Memorymoog is chock full of presets that sound like they cannot possibly have been done without effects, but there they are… 

 

The JX-8P sounds great without effects, too — but there’s an internal

chorus that’s part of the synth. 
 

Then again, so often it’s the mixture of processing and source that inspires and shapes what I play…

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Yep.  FX have bolstered otherwise mediocre sounds for a long time now.  In fact, the effective use of FX is another aspect of sound design.

 

Modern KBs have onboard FX that many users fail to fully explore. When those users get tired of and/or bored with the onboard sounds, they usually replace the KB.  Digging into onboard FX could give that old KB new life. 

 

Along the same lines, using a pedal or outboard FX processor can breathe new life into old KBs and sounds as well. 😎

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PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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I've been saying that for decades :)   Mainly because I owned a nice synth for years (a JX-10) and didn't have any fx, mixer etc when I was younger.  When I'd get to take it into a studio, especially one with a nice Lexicon or similar, it would truly shine.  Onboard fx were one reason people were oohing and aahing over the Korg M1 when it came out.

Not saying that good raw sounds aren't to be sought for of course.  Good fx on a great raw sound just multiplies the goodness!    The 1984 intro to Jump is a good example.   The biggest thing is that a good delay or reverb can really change the way you play a patch...you might play less since the space is getting filled by the effect for instance.

Not long ago I demoed Synapses Legend plugin (a minimoog, though with poly capability).  One patch really caught my ear, and I wondered how much of it was the fx.  Turns out, a ton.  the sound bore no resemblance to the original patch when I turned off various fx.   Synapse makes excellent fx, turns out!  Same with u-he's Repro; I think those fx are good enough to sell as their own plugins, they are one reason that Repro is my favorite software plugin.

I did an experiment to try to replicate a great patch from Repro in the lowly (or at least, ignored by me) "Retro synth" in Logic.   At first it was impossible.   I had to add various plugins to the Retro sound to get it close, because the Repro patch was using its maximizer and other built-in fx.  The stereo field for example was much wider in the Repro patch and sounded great (though of course in a mix you might not want that!).  I used a chorus and iirc an exciter plugin to get a similar effect on the Retro patch.   In the end, it was close!  But it took a lot more work to get it there.   Not to mention that having the effects "in" the synth can open up possibilities for modulation (say having an internal lfo adjust delay feedback etc).  You might be able to expose all those params and do it in the DAW of course too.


I have changed my mind just a bit about a hardware synth and fx on the keyboard.  I no longer consider it essential--mainly because there are some advantages of having the fx outside (on a pedal, rack or just from the main mixer).  If I see a room is really "live", I'd have one send to turn down for less reverb and not a ton of patches to adjust. (Because of this I tend to keep reverb low by default in my live rig...better a bit dry than too wet.)   I'd rather a synth have no fx than mediocre ones, and many have mediocre ones compared to dedicated units.  Some are excellent, like those on the Summit.   Part of this attitude change has been because I've been using a pedalboard lately with my Key Largo and monitor mixers, so it would be quite easy just to pop an fx pedal on there and use it's fx send!   :D

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1 hour ago, Stokely said:

I have changed my mind just a bit about a hardware synth and fx on the keyboard.  I no longer consider it essential--mainly because there are some advantages of having the fx outside (on a pedal, rack or just from the main mixer).  If I see a room is really "live", I'd have one send to turn down for less reverb and not a ton of patches to adjust. (Because of this I tend to keep reverb low by default in my live rig...better a bit dry than too wet.)   I'd rather a synth have no fx than mediocre ones, and many have mediocre ones compared to dedicated units.  Some are excellent, like those on the Summit.   Part of this attitude change has been because I've been using a pedalboard lately with my Key Largo and monitor mixers, so it would be quite easy just to pop an fx pedal on there and use it's fx send!   :D

One of the huge advantages to external effects is that you can use a simple A/B box to run your patch both unaffected and with effects and then mix those back together. 

Low frequencies don't really benefit from some types of effects, first in the effects chain would be a HPF, then various cool widgets. If you run the unaffected signal off center to one side and the effects off center to the other, the difference in the two sounds will create a "stereo" (dual mono) sound field that sounds "bigger" than a mono output with the same tones applied. 

A value added feature is that your bass response will remain solid, some settings on flangers and phasers can "disappear" the low end something fierce. 

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It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Different companies started including effects for a variety of reasons:

 

  • More appeal for live players, who wouldn't need to carry extra rack gear
  • Make up for deficiencies (e.g., chorus because there were only one or two oscillators)
  • Have more impressive sounds when people dialed up presets at Guitar Center

 

Although using external effects multiplies your options, I love it when synth effects are brought into the synth's modulation matrix, so you can modulate the parameters. That's much harder to do with external effects. You can also do tricks. One of my favorites is using delay to offset layers for pseudo-wave-sequencing.

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I grew up during the 70s when synths were largely devoid of effects thus raw sound defined my sound design preferences.  Almost every time, the raw sound is the #1 attribute I develop.  When factory presets or audio demonstrations are drenched in effects, that's a red flag in my book.

 

For years my only outboard effect was an ART Multiverb.  Until the last fifteen years I never applied much FX (or any processing for that matter) to my sounds.  By the time I started acquiring tools for a decent recording systems I had been listening to commercial releases and was trying to get the subtle effect I was hearing on keys, drums, vocals, and guitars.

 

My mixes sounded better when I entered the rabbit hole of pro audio processors with the Eventide 2016, followed by other high end processors.  This was just before DAWs and plugins started dominating the field but I stayed with the OTB stuff.  Whereas many synths left the factory with sounds drenched in onboard FX, I seldom took that approach.  My studio mixes sounded better with subtle FX, and when gigging I could be heard above the high gain guitars with the same subtle effects without blasting volume.  Those factory FX-drenched patches sound great in a solitary setting and help to sell keyboards, but they do not work in a group context.

 

I adopted the adage of Bob Katz - it's not loud you make it, it's how you make it loud.  It has served me well.

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When it comes to onboard insert- and aux-fx chains, Kurzweil wins.

 

Modulating FX parameters is diverse, especially when using dedicated FX LFOs, ASRs and FX FUNs

 

There are Layer FX (chains) possible already in a single "program"

 

Dedicated FX are routable on demand to the Aux-Output(s) #3 and #4,- mono by using the PAN parameter hard left or right, or stereo.

 

No problem running the dry "program" to the main stereo outs and FX striktly to the others.

 

A "Multi" (Setup) boosts possibilities.

 

☺️

 

A.C.

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In one of the Oberheim OB-X8 demo videos, the description includes this paragraph

 

Quote

It is important to note that the OB-X8, like the original OB's from back in the day, does NOT contain any onboard effects. In this video, I used some external reverbs and delays to give certain presets the ambience and resonance they deserve. Light compression and limiting was applied for the purpose of uploading to YouTube and balancing the sounds

 

Analog synth demos are usually criticized if the viewer can see an effect pedal next to the synth, or hear obvious usage of FX.

 

That OB-X8 demo got a free pass.  One reason is the Oberheim name.   The other may be the skillful use of FX and mixing, so that attention is not called to the FX but to the featured synth.

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2 hours ago, The Real MC said:

 

I adopted the adage of Bob Katz - it's not loud you make it, it's how you make it loud.  It has served me well.

 

Any sound should have substance and some character already w/o FX,- even w/o EQ or any other dynamics.

Decades ago, I´ve read an interview w/ Bernie Kirsh where he described recording Chick Corea w/ band.

He said, in the mix, they rarely had to ride the faders or use EQ,- just only why the instruments used sounded good already and were painstakingly recorded,- last but not least because the musicians were able to play dynamic according to what the composition, arrangement and recording process needed.

 

In opposite and when I worked as a studio session artist,- I very often heard "don´t mind, we do it all in the mix".

Well, it was paid well always, but I was very often disappointed when I heard the result later and sometimes I was really shocked how the keyboards sounded later.

That was already in the 80s when we schlepped our gear into recording studios several days a week.

 

When the big DAW sequencer editors and plugins became good enough, it became even more worse.

Pre-processing became undesirable and they recorded s##t w/ the assumption "comping" and "post-pro" does it all.

Vanity of the producers !

Musician´s work is worth almost nothing, just only input,- and then, THEY do it all.

Possibly the way all mass production goes,- reducing production costs for the main part.

Now, everyone does it all @home and in the box, which offers endless possibliities,- creative ones or for corrections in depth.

But has the one doin´ it all the ears needed ?

 

☺️

 

A.C.

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I first heard about modulating the FX in a recent Matt Johnson video (I think of Take 5). It struck me how I never considered it as a possibility. Then I tested the concept on my Hydrasynth and created a patch where among other things that I modulate through the poly AT, I also modulate a phaser and the reverb. It’s probably my best patch so far, it was very popular and I also posted it on another thread here. I think not many people really consider it but it can lead to a whole new world of sonic capabilities.

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Whether I add FX or not depends on the application. An upfront solo may need a little delay, and that's it. A background pad might have binaural panning, subtle filter modulation, saturation, etc. Generally with synths I don't add a lot of effects, not because I'm a purist or anything, but I find that they tend to dilute the sound. My one exception is when they're integrated in an arrangement with electric or acoustic instruments. In that case, I try to duplicate the existing ambience so the synth doesn't have a "one of these things is not like the other" quality.

 

FWIW the same issue happens with guitar processors. A lot of multeffects factory presets are unuseable for musical applications, they're more about "here's an encyclopedia of stuff you can do, have fun." My favorite Helix sounds don't have much except for amps, cabs, EQ, and delay (although to be fair, I do use multiband processing).

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I remember my first digital dealay in my keyboard rig. No patch memory. I had settings memorized for important songs like "Dirty Laundry" and could dial it up in seconds. I also remembrer when word spread about those new digital synths and ROMplers. "Turn off effects when you try one out so you will know how it really sounds. Funny, Roland had the thinner sound but Korg was the king of overdoing effects and one note wonder patches. Well, up until Yamaha released the Montage. I bought a Montage 7 and there was not a single patch that didn't need the reverb dialed way, way back. What were they thinking? It had a good sound. They did not need to flood it to mush.

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When in the 80s I built and used a low cost  good home studio/keyboard setup in a very small room, I wanted never to practice music or lay down multi tracks without some form of sound enrichment like chorus or reverb. I too remember digital reverb without patch memory and in fact I made my own BBD based chorus/Leslie which with some (stereo spring with quality electronics or otherwise) reverb sounded fine enough.

 

Built in effects can be theatrical, live or home recording directed, warm and hardly noticeable, helping sampling reconstruction or defy any further digital processing by making things hopelessly cold and over processed, I think I've heard all variants by now, and most aren't very interesting to me.

 

It's not necessary to commit to cybercide of the roasted earth of music about reverberation, but the function seems often to be dumbed down unnecessarily. A good reverb should act as a former of sound which works with (or even against) the room or hall reverberation, so it's not the challenge to get a very dry sound because of all the slapback, standing waves and digital sh*t flying around the room, but racther to make a beautifully prepared "sound" which works good in a listening space.

 

Theo V.

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12 hours ago, Theo Verelst said:

When in the 80s I built and used a low cost  good home studio/keyboard setup in a very small room, I wanted never to practice music or lay down multi tracks without some form of sound enrichment like chorus or reverb. I too remember digital reverb without patch memory and in fact I made my own BBD based chorus/Leslie which with some (stereo spring with quality electronics or otherwise) reverb sounded fine enough.

 

Built in effects can be theatrical, live or home recording directed, warm and hardly noticeable, helping sampling reconstruction or defy any further digital processing by making things hopelessly cold and over processed, I think I've heard all variants by now, and most aren't very interesting to me.

 

It's not necessary to commit to cybercide of the roasted earth of music about reverberation, but the function seems often to be dumbed down unnecessarily. A good reverb should act as a former of sound which works with (or even against) the room or hall reverberation, so it's not the challenge to get a very dry sound because of all the slapback, standing waves and digital sh*t flying around the room, but racther to make a beautifully prepared "sound" which works good in a listening space.

 

Theo V.

Two very different approaches here: one is the creation of the sound, the other is a mix thing. 
 

these things go hand in hand, so there is lots of overlap, but using a stereo flanger or a super grungy BBD reverb on a sound serves a very different purpose from adding just a touch of reverb or some super-subtle pre-amp distortion to a voice, to get it to embed and blend nicely in a mix. 

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I had to make that distinction a bit when sending a lot of keyboard track stems to a friend.  It was an 80s-style tune with a ton of synths and effects.   I had done the main mix but he wanted them for remixes and safe-keeping.  I had to answer: what is part of the sound, and what is part of the mix.  This can be a tough call.  Generally, I turned off most reverbs because that is more of a mix thing; the exceptions were tracks where the verb I considered integral to the sound, an example being a huge snare that was mostly reverb that popped in a few times during the song.  Delays can be a harder call, think of the Edge from U2 if he turned off delay on his guitar tracks :)   Especially in the old U2 days, the delay *was* most of the sound.  Chorus, phasing, overdrive etc that were on the patch I left on.   

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5 hours ago, analogika said:

Two very different approaches here: one is the creation of the sound, the other is a mix thing.

 

That's a very good point. I hadn't really thought about my own workflow until I saw that statement, but it's true...there are some synth presets that I record with their effects because they ARE part of the sound. But often, I can do better with the DAW's plugins.

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For reverb, there's Lexicon (a physical machine) for the grandest and most interesting things.

 

It has as a side effect that other things work as well and become audible, however in the course of time all the good stuff has become hard to get. Really hard, just putting that glorious Lexicon sound on a track is a crime, lots of work and preparations.

 

Chorus, phaser and delay are usually not used straight in the well known mixes most people find sounding good, like vocoder and multitracking can be used but are often strangely used and hidden. Long story as far as I found out.

 

Low mid and mid frequency averaging are a big thing for the sound of keyboard and other productions, also hard to make, the way most people work. So to my knowledge there's no Y-box that you put on your tracks or master and it will sound like an Elvis record, also not in the DAW+effects domain, like far far from it!

 

Theo

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For me, there are two different contexts and three different processes to consider.

 

The first context is if you are playing live on traditional keyboards. Your effects, are there usually as a sweetener (reverb, chorus) or for character (Leslie, phaser, etc. ). Reverb especially should be very sparing as the room you are performing in is already adding mud. 

 

If you are creating musical tracks, you have control of the soundstage so there can be a lot of reverb to create context. Think of the beautiful soundstage Vangelis created for Blade Runner.

 

The three processes I think of are efx as sweetener, efx as mix assistant and efx as musical gesture. We've discussed the first two at some length. When efx are a musical gesture, they are functioning as musical instruments. You can probably recall a favorite tricks such as band-pass-filtering the heck out of a track for a few measures to make the track sound like it was coming out of a telephone. Or playing with delay time to create a rising or falling howl. Or filter sweeps. It's all fun!! 

 

 

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Good point, I've tried like hell to make that point to our guitarist as he puts too much effects on his guitar patches (IMO) then has problems hearing himself clearly in the monitor.  Let alone what all that echo and verb is doing out front.

It would be quite interesting to hear the raw non-effected tracks from something like Blade Runner Blues side by side with the effected ones.   I reckon it would be quite jarring :)   Good as a raw dry track is going to be, surely, but nothing like the final product.

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In sampling the D-50, I've received a good lesson in the inherent necessity of internal effects with some synths. I always sample dry, unless its a wundersynth patch, in which case I make a second run and set the FX at 50% or so. Running those through an outside reverb often leads to synth nirvana. Patches that depend on it at 100% usually want to be played from the original source. You can't sample your way past that purity. The proverbial (and subjective) curve is readily apparent.  

 

I've also been discovering the no-effects effect on the Memorymode. Careful modulation is your friend, usually. Its been a pleasant surprise to see how broad it can get via that route. Click on the Ensemble and you can double that. If I was a bit crazier, I'd carry a hardware reverb around in my shirt pocket like cigarettes. Dunhills, please. :puff:

"Weaponized kindness" is my new
    ambient drone band name.
       ~ Rob Neschizza

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