Synthesizer Keyboard - Yamaha, Roland and Korg Mixing Synths
Sythesizers (or synths) are devices - either hardware or software - that produce sounds from electronic circuitry. The name comes from early attempts to reporduce or synthesize the sounds of real instruments. These days, synths are primarily used for the creation of 'unreal' sounds that couldn't be made using any other instruments.
A synthesizer is an electronic instrument capable of producing a variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies. Synthesizers create electrical signals, rather than direct acoustic sounds, which are then amplified through a loudspeaker or set of headphones.
Synthesizers are typically (but not exclusively) controlled with a piano-style keyboard, leading to the instruments also sometimes being referred to simply as "keyboards". Synthesizers can produce a wide range of sounds, which can either imitate other instruments or generate unusual new timbres.
The first electric synthesizer was invented in 1876 by Elisha Gray, who is best known for his development of a telephone prototype. Robert Moog created a revolutionary synthesizer which was used by Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Bach (1968) a popular recording which introduced many musicians to the sound of synthesizers. In the 1970s, the development of miniaturized solid-state components allowed synthesizers to become self-contained, portable instruments, which made them easier to use in live performances. By the early 1980s, companies such as Yamaha began selling compact, modestly priced synthesizers such as the DX7, and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was developed, which made it easier to integrate and synchronize synthesizers with other electronic instruments. In the 1990's complex synthesizers no longer required specialist hardware and began to appear as software for the PC, often as hardware emulators with on-screen knobs and panels.
Synthesizers generate sounds through various analog and digital techniques. Early synthesizers were analog hardware based, but most all modern synthesizers are either a combination of DSP software and hardware, or strictly software based (often emulating analog hardware components). A common feature is that the sound is very controllable by the operator, with many parameters which may include:
- wave generators (oscillators) - add harmonic frequency components to the sound, modifying the timbre or colour of the sound
- AHDSR envelopes - modify the volume envelope of the produced sound
- LFO - applied to volume can create a warbling or tremolo effect
- filters - shape the sound generated by the oscillators
Because the sound is so controllable, synthesizers are capable of emulating other instruments with varying degrees of accuracy.
Modern synthesizers typically look like piano keyboards with many additional knob and button controls. These are integrated controllers, where the sound synthesis electronics are integrated into the same package as the controller. This has not always been the norm: many early synthesizers were modular, and most modern synthesizers may be controlled by MIDI.
Another common form of synthesizer is as a virtual instrument, and in this case the controller is necessarily separate. Some commercial programs offer quite lavish and complex models of classic synthesizers -- everything from the Yamaha DX7 to the original Moog modular.
Like conventional instruments, synthesizers are controlled in other various ways.
- Wind control
- Midi controls, such as
- drum pad