What’s Your Dream Synthesizer?

CreateDigitalMusic’s Peter Kirn helped sponsor a contest to design a “dream synthesizer”. Many interesting ideas were proposed, but the image above illustrates the winning dream synth idea.

Here’s how winner Andreas Paleologos describes his dream synthesizer concept:

  • My Dream Synthesizer has 3 sound modules that together generate the sound.
    • Digital Sound Module.
    • Physical Sound Module.
    • Vocal Sound Module.
  • They’re high-quality software modules with a lot of identity. The sound is constantly routed through all three
  • sound modules, whether generating sound or silent.
  • It has a big Low Resolution LED screen, covered with a transparent high resolution multi touch film for on
  • screen interaction with support for up to 3 fingers.
  • Draw the waveform on the screen and get instant control of the sound.
  • Use one finger to manipulate the Digital Sound Module.
  • Use two fingers to manipulate the Physical Sound Module.
  • Use three fingers to manipulate the Vocal Sound Module.
  • The envelope is basically ADSR, but with looping sustain. Draw your envelope curve.
  • You can record and automate all waveform and envelope changes making really complex sounding sounds
  • with just a finger stroke, recording your particular timing.
  • Select whether all automation should be triggered once or whether it should loop.

Paleologos’ dream synthesizer concept is fascinating – but it’s certainly not my dream synth.

Clean minimal interfaces look cool, but mean that you’ve got menus to remember and that you lose the immediacy of having one knob per function.

My dream synth would probably be an update to one of the classic analog synths – but with modern build quality, a good keyboard and velocity-sensitivity and aftertouch. Make it 16-voice polyphonic and you’re getting pretty close.

Or my dream synth might be something that combines the originality of some of the more interesting iPad apps with the tactile control and responsiveness of classic hardware synths.

What’s your dream synth?

24 thoughts on “What’s Your Dream Synthesizer?

  1. I think it would be really interesting to see a modular synth that patches and controls using a dockable ipad. You’d have physical knobs in the main unit that you would choose what gets connected to so you could still physically interact, but you’d get the benefit of being able to automate everything in either a connected or disconnected way, and that includes sequencing, adsr, and anything else time-related. Additional modules wouldn’t have to have controls (though they could) so they would potentially be cheaper, and could maybe sit out of the way. You could easily do things like drawing out envelopes or waveforms, and this would likely have patch memory. With computer control of everything, why not? You could also randomize everything, or select few things in a range from extreme to minor. You could also have the patching randomize during use if wanted for some reason, and attach more main modules to do more at once.

    I think the kicker would be using OSC for attachment of modules, so a new module could be TouchOSC, a Lemur, a boutique synth module, an Arduino synth, a keyboard with built in OSC, or really anything that could be though of. Truly modular as it could integrate with anything.

    You could also incorporate a computer or module running plugins within a host that allows direct patching in the same iPad interface.

  2. What I've always wanted is an extensive digital/analog hybrid synth. The digital end would be like Reaktor, or could even be Reaktor, where you can overhaul the digital side by uploading modules to a computer where you could tweak away until you're happy with what's coming out. You then download this to a heavy, well-built keyboard that would come in several styles. Everything from a Nord Micro Modular little box interface up to an 88 weighted key 'desk', and everything in between. The hardware end would have three analog oscillators since you could do wavetables, FM, physical modeling with the downloads. It would also have several different outputs: analog outs, digital outs, bit-crushed outs that emulate old akai gear, etc. Both sides, once in the keyboard, would work seamlessly with each other. You could route the analog through the digital, or vice-versa. The clencher would be having a a modular style set of inputs and outputs on the face, like an MS-20, where you could physically patch different sections of the synth together. Some of these would act as audio inputs so you could route the different outputs physically back through the synth for extra mayhem.

  3. You know how some desks have motorized faders..?

    My synth would also have motorized knobs for automation with it’s built in sequencer.

    It would have lavry conversion on the backend.

    It would be eurorack. Muse research would make modules for it with fully workable patch capability.

    It would also sample and chop, come with a haaken instead of a keyboard, use multiple large touch screens for integration with software.

    It would use cosm, kyma, karma, hds, the realtor engine, the motif engine, and would make me pancakes too.

    It would open like a virus ti in my favorite host. There would ba drag and drop waves to track.

    It would be made by apple.

    It would fit in a large suitcase, EAR style.

    There would be skip back sampling, ala fantom.

    It would cost under 10 bucks.

  4. Sounds interesting.

    I like the idea of more advanced analog/digital hybrids, too.

    This example illustration above actually made me think how nice it would be to have a iPad synth that fit into a keyboard "host". Touchscreen interfaces are great – but iPad music apps are always going to be limited unless they can escape the interface limitations of a touchscreen.

    I've seen the pictures of the Akai iPhone synth keyboard, but it's vaporware and the hardware looks pretty cheesy.

  5. My dream synth has a left hand control section that allows some realtime expression control, like Hugh Le Caine's Electronic Sackbut from the 40s. http://www.hughlecaine.com/en/sackbut.html . Something that involves all 5 fingers — something worth the investment of time to develop good technique. The sackbut had a control surface and a little plug that you could leave in place as you moved your left hand back to the keyboard. Like a kaosspad, with memory of your last position. If you listen to demos of the Sackbut, you'll be blown away by how good it sounds as an expressive instrument, based on a tremendously impoverished oscillator, by today's standards. Reading Le Caine and Bob Moog's source documents, one is struck by the common theme of overcoming 'mechanical' sound through providing means of expressive control to the musician.
    So my dream instrument is not so much a digital/analog hybrid in terms of sound production, as a digital/analog hybrid in terms of realtime sound CONTROL via a relatively standard set of left hand controls, and a fantastic keyboard (incorporating a glide strip on top, and the ability to add vibrato via key wiggling). The Nord wheel and pitch stick is a step, as are the micro-wiggleable keys of the eigenharp. The touchscreen on the Voyager feels great (better than kaosspad imo). Put these together in a format that is standard, so that one can develop some technique which is transferrable. Step 3. Profit.

    We have amazing sound generation, and we have wonderful means of controlling multiple simultaneous aspects of sound via midi (and osc, etc). What we really lack is realtime control in a format that is worth learning, like a violin. Just slapping touchsceens everywhere isn't quite going to do it, although the touchsceen is going to be a key enabling technology.

  6. Good points.

    I like the idea of touchscreen interfaces for things like patch editing and keyboard administration (splits, layers, etc) – but not so much for playing. This may change as the technology gets better and programmers have more time to experiment with them.

    Too often, though, the interface for electronic instruments is limited by cost or tradition.

  7. Mine would be super-versatle software that absolutely, positively, undeniably sounds like hardware…well, you said "dream," right? 😀 And a controller keyboard with old-school build quality. As far as the durability of the chassis, keys, knobs, etc, that's one area where I usually find the older synths superior to the modern ones.

  8. what everyone said before plus an interface that lets me draw my oscillators adsr etc more x and y pad and can it have a built in 128 monome clone

  9. Oh, I forgot to mention that it will be controlled entirely by thought. Wait until you hear the struggle between my ego and my id!

    I can't decide yet whether to go for 1 or 2 alpha wave Hertz per octave or to use a bipolar or schizo power supply. Nurse!

  10. My dream synth would, well, basically record the music that plays in my head sometimes when I dream. Even better would be one that could record the entire experience. I mean, wouldn't it be great to recall your favourite dreams on demand?
    Until then, my MonoEvolver desktop's pretty brilliant. It's the only hardware synthesizer I've kept hold of apart from my old Roland D5 which is still great. Why? Because I don't have to go through yet another fresh learning curve to use it!

  11. Lots to be said for lots of knobs and ease of use.

    I lean in the same direction – but it would also be good to have something that makes you work a bit to discover its complexities. You gotta remember that those classic analogs were confusing as hell when they first came out, too.

  12. 3-Oscillator Analog synth / sampler that has a touch panel for programming, 32 real patch selector buttons, a sequencer, and drum modeling for endless drum sounds. Lots of modulation. Vocoder. Reverb FX saved to each patch (not master). Keyboard split & patch layering.

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