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Ed Grochowski

The Analog Synthesizer Revival

Ed Grochowski

Written 1-14-2016

korg minilogue
Korg Minilogue ($500)

sequential prophet 6
Sequential Prophet 6 ($2,800)

Analog Synthesis

The latest trend in musical synthesizers is a blast-from-the-past: analog synthesis.

Synthesizer giant Korg just announced a new analog synthesizer, and pioneering manufacturer Sequential came out with an updated version of their classic analog synthesizer.


Why Analog?

The earliest musical synthesizers used analog oscillators to produce simple waveforms that were filtered, modulated, and an envelope applied to create interesting sounds. Synthesizers went digital in the 1980s, first with FM synthesis (Yamaha DX7) and later with sample-based synthesis (Korg M1). Sample-based synthesis has remained the dominant technology because it can approximate the familiar sounds of acoustic instruments.

Today, the processing needed for digital synthesis can easily be carried out by software running on general-purpose computers. This offers greater flexibility and lower cost than dedicated hardware synthesizers, which are really just computers with black and white keys.

So, what should synthesizer manufacturers do? Analog synthesis offers a quality that digital lacks - in a word, imperfection. Much of the interest in the sounds of analog synthesis, and indeed acoustic instruments, comes from imperfections.

Outside the world of musical instruments, I am not expecting a revival of analog computing any time soon.