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One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth

One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« on: March 10, 2016, 07:58:02 AM »
I have been searching for years now for a specific type of synthesizer.  I've wasted countless hours late at night reading thousands of forum posts, and as many opinions have only led me away from common sense.  In other words, reading so many varied opinions tends to obscure my own certainties, and the short-lived desire to grab always the latest new synthesizer - the one getting all the glitzy marketing and forum attention - has the absurd effect of making me want what I know I neither want nor need.

My musical needs are wonderfully met, regarding polyphonic synthesis, by the Poly Evolver Keyboard and the Prophet '08.  Whatever musical objectives I have in mind at any time are happily fulfilled by these two instruments.  However, I'd like to have one dedicated instrument that is at all times reserved and programmed for melodic uses.  The upper P'08 in my set up usually serves this purpose well, but I'd like to improve on it, if I can.  I know exactly what I'm searching for, my needs are simple but specific, and here are my requirements:

1) Keyboard - This is my favorite part of any synthesizer.  I need a bare minimum of 44 keys, a high-quality keybed, and preferably aftertouch as well.

2) Tone - It must be warm and rich.  Classic old school but refined analog timbre is what I'm after.  And by the way, I've no interest in the usual analog vs. digital debates.  My stubborn Irish mind is made up, so let's move on.

3) Oscillator - There must be two or three complete and very stable oscillators (not subs), with triangle, sawtooth, and pulse waveforms, plus white noise.  Keyboard tracking must allow the oscillator beating rate to be the same at both ends of the keyboard.

4) LFO - There must be no fewer than two LFOs for simultaneous vibrato and pulse width modulation set to different amounts and rates.  A dedicated vibrato LFO would work.

5) LFO Delay - Aftertouch is no substitute for a fine and evenly controlled LFO depth.  I need the ability to control vibrato amount with a four-stage envelope.

6) Envelopes - There must be two or three four-stage envelopes.  Delay is not necessary.

7) Module - This is not absolutely necessary, but it will eventually become an issue.  I must have the ability, somehow, to achieve a stereo depth with the instrument.  It's  essential to the sound I'm after.  This means either a keyboard version MIDI-ed to a module version of the same instrument, two identical modules, or else, combining the instrument with an entirely different module.

Additionally, I'd like to have a high pass filter and onboard delay, but these are not absolutely necessary.

Everything on this short list of requirements is common and ordinary.  As I said, my needs as a synthesist are simple but specific.  Amazingly, it has been impossible to find all of these basic capabilities in one instrument.  Actually, the Prophet '08 comes the closest, but I would like to improve on its monophonic tone just a tad, if possible.  The DSI Pro 2 easily meets most of my requirements, but I'm not convinced it has a sufficiently warm tone.  My mind might have been changed if DSI had made a module version, because the stereo depth can greatly improve an overall character.  The Moog Voyager was nearly the right instrument, but I disliked its sawtooth tone, which sounded very nasal to me; plus, a second LFO required the addition of a CP-251 Module.  The MFB Dominion 1 and Oberheim Two-Voice Pro are also close candidates, but the keyboard lengths fall short; plus, the Dominion 1 is nearly impossible to get in the US.  I suppose the Matrix Brute is a possibility, but I don't personally like at all its lop-sided control panel, and being a totally new instrument for Arturia, I do expect it to be loaded with bugs and other problems.   I don't want to have an ongoing relationship with a company.  I just want to buy a synthesizer and end it. 

One possibility that remains is the forthcoming Vermona 14, although it has only two oscillators, plus two subs.  This would still work for me if paired with a module version, but I doubt Vermona will produce one.

At this point, my first preference would be to combine a Pro 2 with a good analog module, perhaps the forthcoming Oberheim SEM, a Boomstar 4075, or even a Vermona Perfourmer Mk. II.  This combination offers flexibility of tone, a manageable cost, and opportunites for expansion.  I'd like to "grow" this monophonic instrument over time by adding hardwired modules.

My second preference would actually be to use either a Prophet-6 or an OB-6 as the base for this instrument.  Their keyboards are an ideal length, and the polyphony would be a handy option when needed.  I would then have to combine the instrument with two panned modules.  This could result in a superb synthesizer, but it would also be quite expensive.

If I can't find the instrument I'm searching for, then the last possibility would be to create it through hardwired modules.  But the obvious shortcoming in this is that I would have to sacrifice one of my other instruments as a keyboard controller.  I would prefer the keyboard-module combination so as to have an independent monophonic instrument.

This is a rather complicated concept of an instrument.  Any serious suggestions?

« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 05:21:18 PM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2016, 10:08:00 AM »
Not really the standalone synth you're askign for, but if you would like to combine something with a Pro 2, the Analogue Solutions Nyborg 12 looks like it would be right up your alley. I mention it in favor of the Nyborg 24 because of your filter preference.

http://analoguesolutions.com/nyborg-12/

Marc Doty also did a great review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV23siPjkLM

I think this and the Pro 2 would be a killer combo as far as mono synths go.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 10:17:36 AM by Paul Dither »
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2016, 10:27:40 AM »
The Nyborgs look interesting and I've never seriously looked into them.  Thanks for the reminder.

Besides the Pro 2, what also interests me is using either the P-6 or OB-6 as a base instrument, and eventually adding two panned modules.  I like the idea of an ongoing project, of adding pieces to the instrument over the next one or two years.

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2016, 10:30:45 AM »
Whoops.  The Nyborg has only one LFO and three-stage envelopes.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 10:32:46 AM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2016, 10:34:02 AM »
Whoops.  The Nyborg has only one LFO.

That's right. But it also has CV Ins, which you could connect to the Pro 2. That's at least why I picked it.
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2016, 10:35:57 AM »
The Nyborgs look interesting and I've never seriously looked into them.  Thanks for the reminder.

Besides the Pro 2, what also interests me is using either the P-6 or OB-6 as a base instrument, and eventually adding two panned modules.  I like the idea of an ongoing project, of adding pieces to the instrument over the next one or two years.

I think - just based on the facts - the OB-6 would add greater variety to your setup, simply because of its state variable filter that covers timbres you won't get from an Evolver or a Prophet '08. Plus: You seem to have a soft spot for 2-pole filters and I think it would suit the tones you're looking for just fine.
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2016, 10:38:41 AM »
Whoops.  The Nyborg has only one LFO.

That's right. But it also has CV Ins, which you could connect to the Pro 2. That's at least why I picked it.

Good point.  But the Nyborg has only three-stage envelopes.  Plus, for the purpose of multi-timbrality, I'd like the instruments to be able to be used independently of each other. 

And you're right, the OB-6 would be the better choice...except for the extra $200.

Sorry to be so fickle, but I'm envisioning the ideal synthesizer.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 10:44:56 AM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2016, 10:49:50 AM »
The usual feedback I give in these situations and when doing voice architecture rants:

  • We are long overdue for a complex voice based on the voice architecture ingredients developed for Prophet-6 and OB-6.
  • Such complex voices will have the DC modulation source making it possible to pan the voices on a polyphonic instrument.
  • Making a duophonic instead of a monophonic instrument will have the advantage enabling stereo panning of the voices using layers.
  • One day DSI could release an eurorack module based on Pro 2's digital controls with hopefully at least 16 CV outs. Using this one can craft ones own voice using desktop modules and eurorack modules.

In other words I think the same kind of complex two/four voice module can serve both of our voice feature needs, Sacred Synthesis. Is it a demand that it should be three analog oscillators or could you live with two analog oscillators and two or four digital oscillators? My current wild dream is four analog and four digital oscillators per voice!

Side note: Would be cool if Prophet-6 and OB-6 had a stereo pan mode which plays the voices in stereo panned pairs.
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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2016, 11:03:04 AM »
A 44-key multi-oscillator two-voice panned instrument would be interesting, but I can achieve this with the Prophet '08.  It's the super-analog character that I'm after.  The Pro 2's digital waveshapes are only of secondary interest to me.  I'd be happy with a straight-up all analog instrument, as long as it had the six or seven features I described above. 

I think it's safe to say I'll have to create this myself, but even finding the right building blocks is a challenge.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 11:05:14 AM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2016, 11:09:04 AM »
A useful starting point would be good digital control of analog eurorack modules.

Have to repeat my oscillator question again in a different way: Would digital oscillators work for you with the sounds you are after as long as there are enough analog oscillators as well?

. o O ( evolved oscillator section )
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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2016, 11:15:35 AM »
Yes, that would be great.  I have uses for specific digital wave shapes.  It's just that I consider my digital needs to be served well by the eight-voice Poly Evolver.

As for module types, I'd prefer not to go the eurorack route.  When I say "module," I mean the non-patchable hardwired knobby type, as in a SEM.  I'm trying to keep the set up tight, neat, and orderly.  I prefer my spaghetti on the dinner table.

At this point, I'm happy simply to have a clear picture of what I'm after.  Figuring out how to achieve it will be the fun part.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 11:17:56 AM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2016, 11:24:25 AM »
Sounds like DSI must up their game in the complex voice polyphonic module department including stirring in plenty of the new Prophet-6/OB-6 ingredients!

. o O ( ::) )
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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2016, 11:27:42 AM »
One more reason for the OB-6: With the updated FX section of the Prophet-6, I recognized one cool thing. You can use Flanger 2, which is a very mild Flanger, in order to produce shifting pitches. If you use it subtly, it is as if you would modulate the VCOs' pitches with a LFO. So in that regard you can use it as a supplementary LFO (in case you want this as a constant effect).
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 11:29:19 AM by Paul Dither »
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2016, 12:42:56 PM »
Egads!  Am I trying to re-invent the Evolver?  It meets more or less all of my requirements.  But I'd like to boost the mono analog portion.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 05:16:52 PM by Sacred Synthesis »

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2016, 12:48:02 PM »
Egads!  Am I trying to re-invent the Evolver?  It meets all of my requirements except the quality analog tone, which it meets about 75%.

Same for the Prophet '08?
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

chysn

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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #15 on: March 10, 2016, 02:03:33 PM »
Doesn't the MatrixBrute tick off pretty much all the boxes? Except for the semi-optional "Module" part? But you're dismissing it because you expect it to be riddled with bugs? Maybe it won't be.

The difficult bottleneck to get beyond is the 3-oscillator requirement. That's an industry-wide Strange Thing. Like... Minimoog comes out in 1970 or whatever, and everyone loves it for how huge it sounds. So but then nobody replicates that salient feature for decades, including Moog. If the Minimoog appears in the #1 spot on every Top Synth List ever, why do we live in a world where two oscillators is the norm?
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Moog Little Phatty w/ CV Outs, Arturia MicroBrute, KMI QuNexus
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Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #16 on: March 10, 2016, 02:08:47 PM »
Doesn't the MatrixBrute tick off pretty much all the boxes? Except for the semi-optional "Module" part? But you're dismissing it because you expect it to be riddled with bugs? Maybe it won't be.

I mentioned it earlier too. The MiniBrutes once got bad rep for the build quality of the first batch. It's kind of like how it was with the early encoder issues DSI had. Costumers are unforgiving (I still read comments about the encoder issue these days, as if it just happened yesterday). I never had a bad experience with my MiniBrute though. It was built like a tank and the keyboard even felt better than the one on the Sub 37.

In fact, I believe that if Arturia gets in right in terms of build quality and editor/plug-in support, this could become pretty threatening for Moog.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 02:11:29 PM by Paul Dither »
Ableton Live 9 Suite & Push 2 (macOS) | Arturia BeatStep Pro | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Model 15 App | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition | Sequential Prophet-6

chysn

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Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #17 on: March 10, 2016, 02:26:46 PM »
The MiniBrutes once got bad rep for the build quality of the first batch. It's kind of like how it was with the early encoder issues DSI had.

I wasn't aware of that. I've always been pretty impressed by the build quality of my MicroBrute. The knobs are tightly-affixed and smooth, the case doesn't creak nor flex. I wouldn't have any reservations about buying another Arturia product, if my needs were to warrant it.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Moog Little Phatty w/ CV Outs, Arturia MicroBrute, KMI QuNexus
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #18 on: March 10, 2016, 02:45:34 PM »
Egads!  Am I trying to re-invent the Evolver?  It meets all of my requirements except the quality analog tone, which it meets about 75%.
I wasn't going to say anything but... Yes!  ;)

The P-6 (and presumably the OB-6) is a really good monophonic synth. Of course it falls down on your need for a second LFO and third VCO but ticks a lot of other boxes. Pan spread with an even number of unison voices gives a good stereo image, particularly if you have a little slop/detune to differentiate them. Also the effects are stereo and the chorus, phasers and flangers give a pleasingly stereo swirl to the sound. Much like a more subtle and controllable Juno chorus. Overall I find the P-6 feels a lot more lush and stereoscopic than the Pro 2, which is great in many other ways but decidedly monophonic. You would certainly need a second one to get that wide soundstage.

Re: One Man's Quest for the Perfect Mono Synth
« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2016, 03:48:20 PM »
The difficult bottleneck to get beyond is the 3-oscillator requirement. That's an industry-wide Strange Thing.

How would a voice with four analog oscillators with pairwise 1+2/3+4 sync work?

Given the requirement for stereo signal path would two analog oscillators per channel be enough? Or are we talking about three analog oscillators for each side in the stereo field?

Egads!  Am I trying to re-invent the Evolver?  It meets all of my requirements except the quality analog tone, which it meets about 75%.

Well, seen from a technical standpoint the Evolver do not have an analog signal path like the Prophet '08 and friends have. On Prophet 12 and Pro 2 we do have better handling of digital effects and a full analog signal path after the digital front end but there are no analog oscillators.

What I am after in a next generation Evolver like voice is both analog and digital oscillators plus an analog signal path but with both digital oscillators and digital effects mixed in to preserve the analog signal path as much as possible. This would combine the best results so far in DSI designs while taking advantage of the voice architecture ingredients developed since the Evolver was designed.

There are certainly plenty of room for improvement compared to the Evolver and all the ingredients are already there.

Project codeword: "Best of all so far".
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