Analog Vs Digital Synthesizer Blind Test

Can you tell the difference between analog synths and their virtual recreations?

Reader Lorenzo Furlanetto, an electronic music student in Rome, let us know that he has set up a analog vs digital synth comparison, as part of his thesis on the current state of virtual analog synths compared to their hardware counterparts.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

Using an original Minimoog, its Arturia emulation and The Legend by Synapse audio, I made 3 identical mixes, each made of sounds by only from the respective synth.

I also started 2 polls, a short one concerning the mixes alone and a more in-depth one comparing each single unaltered patch.

I’m trying to gather as much data and responses to get a meaningful statistical analysis, and I thought this might be a fun and interesting test for you and your readers.

You can participate via the links below:

The poll is now closed.

37 thoughts on “Analog Vs Digital Synthesizer Blind Test

  1. It would only be fun and interesting if I was able to see if I was correct on any of my guesses after taking 15 minutes to go through the long version!

  2. ‘fun and interesting.’
    Guess I have different definitions for both.
    Please Synthtopia, EG WaveSHAPER was released 2 weeks ago and not a mention.Aphelien Labs is coming out with an awesome iOS app on the 23rd NO mention. But please post more BERHINGER articles and silly analog vs digital tripe. Very cutting edge.

    1. alacazam

      If there is something that you think we should cover on Synthtopia, there’s a feedback link for making suggestions and submitting news items at the top of every single page on the site:

      http://www.synthtopia.com/feedback/

      Longtime readers may remember the days of Synthtopia getting flamed regularly about our mobile app coverage. IE, “Maybe the owner of this site can change the name from Synthtopia to iPadtopia”:

      http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2010/04/05/use-an-ipad-as-a-midi-controller-with-ableton-live/

      What we cover on the site, though, is driven by a combination of our take on what is the most important synth news and by metrics on what visitors actually read and comment on. This is exposed on the site in the right sidebar, under the headings “What people are talking about” and “Top Synth News”.

      1. One of my NY resolutions was to just ignore stuff that didn’t interest me here on Synthtopia and I get why there are the BERHINGER articles, tons of comments and bickering back and forth, so I get it, but as for ‘what is most important synth news,’ come on, articles on ancient Roland samplers you couldn’t even buy on eBay if you wanted to? I could list quite a few more um “most important news,’ examples but whatever.

        My point was EG WaveSHAPER was released weeks ago and Aphelien Labs new iOS app could have gotten maybe a mention? Not asking for ‘ipadtopia,’ but I would take exception that somehow “possible maybe BERHINGER future designs’ stories trumps actual very cool iPad apps that actually exist?

        I get it, iPad stuff gets pretty much disdain and hammered for the most part here, but lately it’s also piss on any VST stuff as well, just tired of the constant digital bad/analog good nonsense. Appreciate your response, but with all respect I find the “most important synth news,” a bit of a stretch.

        JMOs obviously and I know I’ll get flamed for my comments lol but honestly I love sound and sound making and whatever I can use to realize that is what I look for, whether that’s an iPad or a human voice, a vintage synth or samples from a gabillion possible sources. Cheers.

        1. alacazam, you seem to understand that not everyone has the same “what’s most important list”.

          But you seem to insist that there is a correct and incorrect list– and that yours is correct and synthhead’s is not.

          Given the vastness of the subject of synthesis, I think this site does an admirable job of covering it all pretty evenly.

          As far as subject matter covered, I wouldn’t change ANYTHING! And if there’s something I want covered, I send a feedback message and it usually shows up a few days later. What more could I ask for?

  3. Those kind of tests are completely nonsense. From many years it is not only about sound anymore, but there are so many factors. UI, fast work, how synth sit in the mix, how you like to work with synth. What you want achieve. What you’re looking in a synth. What type of music are you playing etc etc But blind test about analog and vst compressors, eq, etc are really interesting. Those test are showing straight that there is no big reason to buy real equipment if you’re not making a lot of money from your music. Same with real analog. You’re buying them for two reasons – 1) If you love them. 2) If you make money from your music, you love them and you can afford them. Real analog didn’t sounding significant better as VST. But I love my analogs 🙂 Of course you can make nice music with Moog iPad, same like you can make nice music with 400$ violin, not 8000$ worth violin. No problemo.

  4. Well said.
    Just my own experience but have I spent a tad over $1000 in repairs this past year for some of my aging hardware. Yamaha AN200, Roland JP-8000, KORG Triton Studio, Alesia DMPro all needed various repairs. The LCD displays on my Roland TD-20, KORG TR-Rack and KORG WavestationSR are all starting to fade.
    maybe my iPad Model D doesn’t sound as a good to some as a real one, whatfuckingever, in a mix no one will know, and it will never need servicing, and I can use it anywhere I can carry my iPad, and at a fraction of the cost of even a BERHINGER clone, I couldn’t be happier. $0.02

  5. I still think the comparison of digital vs analog is still a perfectly valid, interesting and useful topic. On one hand, we may have digital emulations that are dismissed unfairly, and on the other, we have analog gear that may have sonic differences that are perceived as superior.

    Both analog and digital have their own true advantages and disadvantages that must be considered apart from sonics.

    I like that this test is blind, and requires listeners to choose their faves before the reveal.

    We’ve seen comments from analog fans who claim that differences are obvious. And I sure would like them to put their claims to the test.

    With some comparisons there were issues with matching levels and settings. So even the slightest difference in filter cutoff (for example) is perceived as a glaring deficiency. And sometimes slight “differences” caused an unfair ranking when a slight turn of a knob would have turned the tables.

    Whether an analog synth has a robust modulation section, or whether a soft synth provides ample MIDI control (14-bit CC, MPE, PolyAT, release velocity, etc.) are important questions for some. The range & snap of envelopes, the speed of LFOs, the modulation scan rate of a digital synth– these can make a significant difference depending on the needs of a given patch.

    I will always check out these comparisons because it IS interesting to me. There are some extreme settings that put ANY synth to the test, and I’d prefer to hear those in these head-to-head things: snappy envelopes, super-high notes, fat bass sounds, noisy tones, FM-ish LFO warbles, etc.

  6. I have a minimoog and the Arturia vst. Your examples sound too similar! I can make my minimoog sound a lot bigger and fatter than any of your mixes! I love the Arturia minimoog but really, when I sit in my studio, the only way to fool anyone is to minimize the minimoog’s capabilities by not playing its strengths. It’s biggest strength? Is that it is FUN to play and it sounds amazing. A better test would be to get a Minimoog expert and an amazing patch editor, put them in the same room with listeners and see who can get the best sound possible. Can that fool an audience?

  7. The only test that ultimately matters is the Sounds Good For MY Work test. There is only rarely one clear answer to any situation. Besides, any given sound can be affected by physical space, type and quality of speakers, how much of that head cold is still hanging on and numerous other factors. I have my own tastes like anyone else, but these days, its not a question of Can You or Can’t You; its a simpler matter of deciding which angle of approach is the best for the job. Also remember to be savvy and semi-critical, because the ear bud version of your work will be different from the computer-monitor-speakers version and a decent pair of studio monitors will spank both of those easily. I snicker at these debates, because everything sounds so potent now. Nice job, Lorenzo. I enjoyed weighing the sounds for their own merits.

  8. I took the poll. I didn’t keep track of my responses. I’ll just be curious to see if, generally people will be able to tell. In most cases, there was one out of the three that I thought was more “analog” sounding. Also, in most cases, there was one that sounded best to me. There were a few cases where my guess for which was analog differed from the one I thought sounded best.

  9. Hello everyone, and thanks to all of you who spent their time taking part in the study! I understand that it would be nice to know the right answer like in a quiz, but this is a study and I didn’t want bias any newcomer. Rest assured that in a month or so, at the end of my thesis, the results will be unveiled so you can compare your own choices. I also wanted to let you know that this sonic test is just one part of my investigation, the other one being how musicians approach an analog instrument and a physical interface rather than a virtual one. At this stage I put all my effort to maintain all parameters the same, let the variable be only the instrument, not volumes, not fx, nor general processing. What you hear is kind of the worst case scenario, where a difference would be most audible. I’m personally very curious to see the results after a good number of people will have taken the tests. Thank you again for partecipating!

  10. That’s one way to get people to listen to your tunes. The clips are too long and I do not have the patience to go through. With enough saturation of the audio spectrum, what else is there to masquerade/compare anymore?

    1. If you click to the poll itself, you can listen to short examples of the individual tracks, and you can open all the examples in separate tabs and listen to bits at a time. If you don’t have patience, then probably this ain’t for you.

      1. I could see being curious once, maybe twice, but beyond that, WTF is there to “learn,” “understand,” “find fun and interesting,” after multiple analog vs digital “blind tests?” Seriously most of us aren’t newbies, many of us have owned or used a lot of the older gear, hopefully some of us make $$$ from our musical endeavors, or at least have fun making music, but seriously no one that buys my music gives two shits if I use a real mini Moog or my iOS model D, and probably many listen to my music in their cars, or on their ear buds so in the real world…

        Just more of my $0.02 but EG WaveSHAPER came out weeks ago and no mention on Synthtopia, Aphelien Labs is releasing a killer iOS app on the 23rd, demos and info have been available since Thanksgiving, NO mention here on Synthtopia.

        I get it iPad stuff gets little to 0 comments, so yeah keep posting the “what will BERHINGER design next” posts, and tutorials for old Roland samplers you can’t even get on eBay anymore, or the endless “digital bad vintage analog good” nonsense. Really useful stuff(sarcasm).
        JMOs

        1. It’s intriguing that you think a post about a synth-related research project is such a waste of time that you took the time to write four complaints about it.

  11. The analogue one it’s either the first or the third one. The second one is the weakest the sounding, the other two being, a few quirks apart, nearly identical (besides, I’ve never played an original Minimoog). If I had to take a guess, I’d say the third one is the original Mini, the first the Arturia (which I use and love) and the second one The Legend.

  12. What this really proves is how many whiny, moany people there are only too pleased to foist their own ideas on this which are so much better. It’s his idea, that’s what he’s doing! If you don’t like it, walk on by…

    1. Hmm. I was able to play them from my Safari browser. I right-clicked the link and chose “open in new tab”. It seemed that Google was using it’s own player from inside the page. You might have some security setting that is preventing the player from working.

  13. I think in this day and age, nobody should worry about “sound” anymore. It is easier than ever to sound fabulous even on the smallest budget, and this video proves it. People should stop obsessing on sound and rather invest more time on what really matters: good song writing.

    1. That’s an excellent point, Dacci Pucci. And I agree to a point. But we can do both– care about getting the sound we want, and working on good content (i.e., melody, chords, rhythm, groove, etc.).

      I find that I put on different “hats” so my creative brain and my sound geeking brain don’t fight each other.

      Part of what some people prize about analogs is that you just reach for knobs and go back to creating. Part of what some people prize about digital synths is calling up the preset and getting back to creating.

    2. Depending on what sound you want, yeah, you should “worry” if the synthesizer will or won’t produce it. What “overcomes” “bad” sound? Good tunes.

      The Moog demo for the Synthesizer IIIc (Or: Music for Riding Dragons) demonstrates the importance of tune “versus” sound. There’s not a lot going on as far as sounds go in that tune. The Moog is basically an expensive electronic organ. But the tune itself is pretty good.

      What is important in a comparison is not how similar they sound, but where they aren’t alike. I know that some of the digital implementations of the Moog fall apart in certain spots. Avoid those spots, and of course you’re fine.

      As for Lorenzo Furlanetto’s video, I honestly don’t know which is which. All of the sounds could be tweaked for my taste.

      But here is the important point of analog vs digital: which one works best for you? For me, it is analog, or a digital synth that has knobs or sliders for everything. Why? I used to own a Casio CZ-5000. I loved that synth, but entering all of the values via buttons was something I didn’t like. I have a Eurorack, and I can patch that in ways that give me sounds that are not possible with other synths. I turn a knob, and it’s continuous variation all the way. Sure, I also have Artuia and Native Instruments. But mostly it’s my analog synths. Just the way I am.

  14. a very interesting comparison. I did the long survey. Most noticeable are the differences in the Snare. They all sound completely different, but because I dont have an original minimoog here, I cant decide, which one is the original. But when I listen to the kick, I noticed some distracting noise on kick 3, so this must come from the original because I dont think that the simulations emulate this. The snare and the bass are also very prominent when comparing the mixes. In mix no3, the bass seems to fall apart — I bet this is the arturia, in mix 1 and 2, the bass is more stable, Mix 1 has a snare with more bite and a softer decay, mix 2 has a more “clammed” snare with an abrupt decay. But I dont know, if mix one or two comes from the original. Id prefer mix no 1 — but who knows. Overall I found the mixes a bit too squashed, the bass seems to have some nasty digital distortion, could be that you dindt care for Inter sample Peaks and that the distortion came along when encoding it to mp3. It seems a bit too loud by what the limiter can handle. Which limiter did you use? It could also be that dont have the same loudness, have you compared them with a lufs-meter?

  15. I think there is great value in evaluating whether digital emus of analog
    are close to the real thing. It is essential for achieving this goal.
    Doing such evaluations in a scientific rigorous manner is also essential
    otherwise various biases can distort the results.

    Regarding this particular study I am of the opinion that:
    (a) the programming of the sounds is bad. There is no single preset that in my ears has the
    characteristics of what people associate with analog. There is no warmth, roundness,
    smoothness. They all sound like very +bad+ digital to me.

    Also (b) this has been mixed very badly. Way too many
    harsh frequencies, and bassline/drums slamming you in the face all the time,

    In summary, as much merit the effort has, as they stand, all 3 mixes and all tracks do not sound analog or not analog, they just sound bad to me.

      1. Mad? No. It is badly programmed and mixed which makes the
        whole exercise pointless, is what I am saying. What is your point
        by the way?

    1. I am 60 years old, and got my first analog synth back in the 70’s. Since then, I’ve owned a lot of synths, digital and analog. I’ve worked in professional studios. I still work in professional audio, for one of the biggest companies of Europe that makes top notch speaker systems for professional live applications.

      There is a lot of mythological believe about analog. That it sounds warm, smooth, round or many other descriptions, subject to nothing but a pure personal experience and appreciation.

      For starters, we do not have calibrated tools that can measure ‘warmth’, ‘smoothness’ or ’roundness’ in sound. And they will never exist since there is no possibility to make an measuring instrument that can measure ‘warmth’ in sounds.
      (although I would like, cuz I could sell a lot to people who believe in the analog myth)

      It has been proven by scientific laboratory tests that people tend to hear different as soon as they know what the source is ! And similar tests that clearly prove that people can not point out the difference between analog or digital as soon as they are blinded. The discussion should be long closed by now.

      But although scientific experiences have long proven the reality, some people neglect science and start telling pure nonsense. Of course you can say the moon is made from sugar, but accept that you will be seen as an true idiot by astrophysical scientists.

      Just like sound guru and multi award winning Andrew Scheps – and if he doesn’t know, who does ? – states : ‘Analog is a myth. It is not only a myth, it’s a GIGANTIC myth’ Simply said : people who claim they can here difference and that analog sounds ‘warm’ talk complete bullshit and have no idea what they are talking about…

      If you have a look around on the net, you can find a blind test with Stradivari violins. An acoustic instrument where as sonic differences are even bigger in comparison to electronic devices.

      Experts were taking part in a blind test to point out the difference between multi million dollar Stradivari and ‘cheap’ (5-8K) violins. The outcome was that the majority (85% !!) of the experts pointed towards the cheap violins as the better sounding…

  16. I played..I know which one I preferred but I am not sure if it was the analog one…I went with the assumption that analog sounds better from the perception of greater overhead in analog circuits even when the signal is digitized for playback….but…I don’t even know if that assumption is even valid anymore. (or was it ever?)

  17. I just took both surveys – and I understand wanting to keep the results hidden, but I didn’t log my answers, and I’d like to know how my choices compare to the results. Can you e-mail me or post in the comments here which ones I picked? Thanks.

  18. It is frustrating since the mixes are so different – the bass starts out a lot louder in the second mix, for example. The sounds are very different also, as someone noted regarding the snare sounds above. The delay/reverb and stereo images are also very different. I don’t think they’re “bad” though, and I like some of the sounds.

    This does remind me of the Espen Kraft challenge – in that case, I thought the free digital synths sounded very good, but I think I liked the hardware reverb better than the software one, even though both were digital. Of course it’s all digital since it’s on YouTube anyway…

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