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How Subtractive Synthesizer Works

In this article, I am going to show you what you need to know about sound designing in a Synthesizer, the audio signal workflow you should follow to create a different texture of sounds, and more.

Do you wonder what different sets of knobs, buttons, parameters, and what seems like a mystery in that particular synth does?

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I would say they are all set for an audio signal path you follow to create a sound.

For instance, to prepare a bowl of cooked rice, you need to follow the process of washing the rice > boiling your water > pouring the rinsed rice into the boiled water > adding necessary ingredient > wait till done, and eat your cooked rice.

Audio Signal Flow

This is the actual process sound designing follows, it flows along an audio path.

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Before I start explaining the audio path and signal flow, let me briefly clarify the definition of a digital synth in a simple term.

What Is a Digital Synthesizer?

A digital synthesizer is a digital reproduction of sound (unlike an analog synth that is in physical form and also produces sound using analog electronics), when something is digital, the signals are processed in a sequence of number that represents a sample of a continuous variable in a certain frequency. That said, the good thing about Digital synth is the fact that you are not limited to playback of presets or samples, you can have or create thousands of distinct presets which you can't easily do with an analog synth.

Synthesizers are very powerful to the extent that they can emulate or synthesize the sound of another instrument, voice, a car, and even sounds that don't exist in the natural world.

It can also generate multiple tones at a time, making it an even powerful and unique musical tool.

The audio path and signal flow of a sound synthesizer.

There are a number of ways to sound creation with a synthesizer, they are designed to follow a pattern and signal flow that is based on subtractive synthesis.

We assume to be using a synth that is using subtractive modeling. Sylenth1 is an example of a subtractive synthesizer.

How subtractive synthesizers work In Reality

You can understand the basis of a synthesizer by considering the human voice when a human speaks; the vocal folds act as an oscillator (i.e., sine, pulse, saw wave, and more) and the throat act as a filter, the throat cuts unwanted frequencies depending on the way you shape your mouth.

How subtractive synthesizers work With Sound Creation/Design

A synthesizer approach starts from the oscillator - which produces waveforms with different frequency spectrums, i.e., a saw wave would look and sound like a sawtooth.

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Synthesizer audio is firstly generated by an oscillator, routed to a filter section, a filter represents dependent losses and resonance in the body of a sound.

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After specific desired frequencies are filtered out, they flow to the Amplifier section, which is used to control the level of the signal over time.

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The amplifiers feature an Amp envelope called an ADSR(Attack, Delay, Sustain, and Release) envelope, which is one of the critical elements of shaping a sound via a synthesizer.

A synthesizer also features a Modulators, which is used to modulate the signal path for even more advanced and sophisticated sound design.

After this stage, Global controls come into play. It affects the overall characteristics of a synthesizer sound, such as pitch bend, note gliding, and more features.

I guess you now understand how a synthesizer work in general, the next step is to put it in action.

I will be releasing lots of tutorials on sound design, for now, bye.