In Praise Of Virtual Analog Synthesizers

Now that analog synthesizers are relatively cheap and plentiful new, why bother with virtual analog synths?

This video, via Seen From Space, makes the case for knobby and powerful VA’s like the Novation Nova and Korg MS2000.

The bottom line? “People who own these things tend to be quite attached to them them. and that’s because they sound so good. It’s not analog, but who cares?”

Check it out and share your thoughts in the comments!

44 thoughts on “In Praise Of Virtual Analog Synthesizers

  1. Great points are made here. With virtual analog machines, there is a factor of better long-term reliability. Over the near 40 years I’ve owned synths, I’ve kept all of my digital ones and sold off all of my analog devices as they became progressively more problematic over time.

  2. Lately I have been leaning more towards analog if I’m buying hardware because I figure it’s all gonna end up in the DAW anyway and I have an abundance of amazing plug-ins and midi controllers.
    But I do still love a few of my hardware VA’s. They are focused and single purpose and fun as hell. I have nothing against VA. I loved my Ultranova. That thing was amazing !!

    1. I had an Ultranova and it was excellent, but it went totally nuts when MIDI’ed up to my Octatrack. The arpeggiator also wouldn’t sync to the clock in Logic. My Mac is an old Intel model and can’t run recent OSX, so I was a bit stymied. The Ultranova went to eBay :o(

  3. +1 for the Ion. One of the best user interfaces I have seen. Deep, deep. Can produce so many different sounds. Real time tweaking of the 4 parts is insane fun.

    1. Its because they’re new. Most of the analog nostalgia is because younger people heard older synths with deteriorating parts.

      Its an illusion for the most part.

      1. for sure! they had to discontinue the G2 and Lead 3 too soon because the processors at the heart of the instrument were no longer being manufactured. (those Nords and the TC Powercore)

  4. I don’t know if it’s the youtube audio or the sound he was going for, but the virus + ms2000 combo sounded a lot more metallic and clanky than I would have expected.

  5. FYI: The Akai Miniak is a repackaged Alesis Micron, both of which have the same sound engine as the great sounding Alesis Ion. The Miniak and Micron can be had used for a song.

    1. I tried to get a Nord Rack 3 when I was buying, but no-one was selling 🙁 I can see why. No-one was selling a Waldorf Q rack, nor an Arturia Origin either. Why can’t they keep on making these great instruments?!

  6. Watched this again. I do dig my VAs and there are several iOS synths I love an awful lot but his mention of “sweet spots” got me thinking. I do find it easier to come across the proverbial sweet spots on my analogs. And it’s not just down to occasional menu diving or whatever. There’s something about them. No idea what it is.

  7. I’ve got a bunch of analogs and I think the Nord Lead A1 is my favourite synth. Can’t stop playing it. It’s awesome how you can sequence it as four separate synths as well. Super fun and super versatile.

  8. Two comments:

    1) One of the reasons why we often think analogs sound better is that they are constrained by the realities of physical circuit design. Analog hardware designers can’t put in every feature – so they tend to choose features and modulation options that sound the most ‘musical’.

    Digital synth designers don’t have to worry about these same constraints, so they’ll design synths with more features and deeper modulation options – but many of those options can take your patches into areas that may not be conventionally musical or useful.

    2) Older VA’s often have great synthesis capabilities, paired with mediocre effects engines. Things like reverb and delay are still demanding to do in hardware, and the effects engines in older synths just weren’t as good – they often added a digital ‘graininess’ to the results. Pair them with good external effects, though, and you’re not just adding the effect, but you’re also often getting rid of a layer of digital artifacts.

    1. I was going to add something about the reverb in the Nova not being as good as more recent digital reverb, but it would have made the video a bit too long. Used sparingly it’s still useful though, or you can get some great textures by messing with the order of the FX e.g. by flange-ing delays that are wet with reverb.

      1. Agreed, that is true of all of my Novation gear, the delays are great, other FX good and reverb is kinda garbage. Love my Nova but I need to take the leap and try to fix some of the iffy pots, it would be more useful to me if a # of the pots weren’t activating themselves.

    2. The reverb observation is true… But it’s also funny, because some of the old reverb units are now desirable because of their grittiness!

  9. Quality Video, You could say I like VA’s as well, The ones I still own are the Novation Nova, Nova 2, K-Station and KS5, Korg MS2000b, Prophecy and Z1, Alesis Micron, Waldorf Blofeld, oh and the Korg ER-1 and EA-1, and also AN in my Yamaha EX5, I Love em all !, as well as my romplers, workstations, Samplers and Groove boxes!, now maybe I should buy a few Analogues…. does my Volca Keys count?..

  10. I’m very fond of my Prophecy – great little controller too.
    Though I don’t programme it much more than modify presets – it’s a bit inaccessible. Still it sounds lovely amongst the JX8p, the CZ101, the K5000s, MicroQ, WSA1R, etc

  11. Great video. I am very interested in Ultranova (also because it costs one fifth of Virus).
    However, I am well aware of opinions I read in dated reviews which stated that after Nova and SuperNova the sound engine quality of the following generations was no longer the same. The reviewers assumed that Novation had revised the algorithms to optimize resources with the drawback of less convincing sound.
    Since you had the opportunity to use both Nova and Ultranova did you perceive a lowering of the sound quality?

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