Opinions on Synth Building in Max/MSP?
I’ve been working with the demo of Max/MSP for a month now and it just expired. I’ve made significant progress on a project and I am now considering purchasing the software. Since the software isn’t cheap, I want to make sure I am choosing the right tool for the job.
The project is a Max/MSP remake of a synth that the original’s author calls "most average synthesizer possible". The original synth is called the "SCB Synth" and comes with a book called "Welsh’s Synthesizer Cookbook".
Screenshot of the original synth
"Welsh’s Synthesizer Cookbook" on Amazon
Screenshot of the interface for my remake in Max/MSP
I originally started this project because I run Mac OS X and the SCB Synth is Windows only. But I also like the idea of having a version that I understand completely, inside and out, and that I can expand on as my understanding of sound synthesis grows. Another advantage of this approach is I get to learn Max/MSP itself which I’ve found to be an excellent tool for creating various helpful audio tools. Basically I can justify spending $500 if I get both a usable soft synth and the ability to create these additional tools, but I can’t justify it if the synth itself isn’t going to turn out well.
My concern is that, from what I’ve done so far (I’ve created most of the individual components, the LFO, envelopes, low-pass filter, etc…, and tied them together very messy way) — it seems synth building is a very generic process, i.e. synths are basically created by tying all the standards components together.
The problem I have is reconciling this with the fact that people have favorite synths and wax poetically about the sounds of particular synths.
In other words, if these components all do a clearly defined thing (i.e. a 24db low-pass filter set to 10000Hz, on any synth will effect an incoming waveform the same way) — then what makes a "good" synth vs. a "bad" synth.
I figure there are two possible answers. One is that "good" a synth has other features *in addition to these features common to most synths.* I.e. people like a particular synth for the sounds it can make *in addition* to the basic sounds that most synths can make (if they are set the same way, with the additional feature turned off). (That and some great presets.) The second option is that there is some kind of "magic pixie dust" answer and that what makes a great synth is other behind the scenes processing. I could picture this being early processing, like the sawtooth of a "good" synth being a slightly modified version to make it sound more interesting. Or it could also be late processing, such as a last non-user definable effect that happens at the end of processing chain to make it sound "good". I am hoping the answer is the former and not the latter.
So first of all, thanks a lot for reading this far! I know it is a tough question so I’d sincerely appreciate any insight you might have!
One last point is that I know a potential answer to this question is "well does it sound good to you?" — To which my answer would be "I don’t know" I feel like it would take months of music making and experimenting in order to answer that question and it is an unfortunate limitation of software demos that I can’t do that before deciding whether to purchase the software.
A second last point: I am aware that Reaktor is a tool more streamlined for this purpose, but I have a variety of reasons I’d prefer to use Max/MSP (I won’t get into these now, since this post is already long enough!) However I would be very interested in hearing if there are specific reason Reaktor would be a better tool, i.e. I don’t care if it easier to use Reaktor, since this is what Reaktor is made for, but I would like to hear if Reaktor has more "synth-like" basic waveforms (if there is such a thing) than MSP for example.
Thanks again for any help!
Doh! Sorry about the double post, I got an error on the first submission and I didn’t realize it had actually gone through. Moderator?
Reaktor is like having a great supply of Legos. Max/Msp is like owning the factory that makes the Legos. Reaktor has ‘done the math’ for you, and you’ll get a lot farther a lot quicker; it’s designed that way. The components you built in Max/Msp (LFO’s, etc.) are standard objects in Reaktor. But from your screenshot, it looks to me like you got pretty far already. Why not take it the rest of the way? Your work looks way more impressive than anything I’ve pulled off so far, and I actually own Max–
So, to address your question, there’s nothing in Reaktor that would make it superior to Max (from what I know) aside from ease of use.
Ha, well I think your "work looks impressive" comment assumes that that screenshot is fully functional. That version doesn’t really do much yet, the real working version looks more like an explosion in a shingle factory.
Basically the point I had gotten is built a functional but really ugly version, then I created the final interface I wanted (the screenshot) and started moving things over to it when my demo ran out.
Thanks for the info regarding Reaktor, yeah I suspected that to be the case about there not being anything you can do in Reaktor that isn’t possible in Max/MSP. But I am still wondering what accounts for the passionate preferences people have for certain synthesizers, since for the most part they seem to all be built up from the same common elements.
Honestly I think I’ll end up purchasing Max since I’ve enjoyed working with it so much. The only thing that could deter me now is if someone has something to say along the lines of "you are doomed to failure and here is why…"
Well I would say that both answers are correct, it just depends on the synth. A minimoog doesn’t have a ton of features that cant be found on any other synth, but it does have a very classic sound to it. This has a lot to do with the patented filter used in the moog synthesizers, as well as the tone from the oscillators.
Even within Max/MSP there is are two different sawtooth oscilaltors- phasor~ and saw~. Saw~ happens to sound better because the wave is shaped differently, and therefore has different harmonics.
Are you ever going to make a synth in Max/MSP that sounds like a minimoog? I doubt it, because they oscillators and filters in MSP have their own sound to them. Similarly, native instruments do their own oscillators their way, and they have their own sound. People are going to prefer one thing over another, and you just have to decide for yourself.
But I would say that in the features category, Max/MSP wins hands down against just about anything this side of super-collider. Its is right on the edge between ease-of-use and absolute versatility (the ying and yang of synthesizers…and inventions in general)
I happen to own both Reaktor and Max/MSP. I like how Reaktor sounds, but every time I open it I always end up going to another program. The thing about Reaktor is that its too difficult to do something easy to make it worthwhile, and its also too difficult to do something hard. I say this because to even set up a basic synthesizer is enough trouble to make me just use another commercially-built synth. Also, it lacks the low-level debugging tools that make complex programming possible. To even get an oscilliscope in Reaktor is a pain, especially since I have to switch between views just to see the output of my patch. Spend some time in Reaktor and you will grow to appreciate Max’s print object!
One thing I can say in Reaktor’s favor is that the immediate (and stable!) handling of polyphony is a major bonus.
Of course, ask the same question in the Reaktor forum on NI’s site and you will probably get a whole different set of answers.
Quote: robenkleene wrote on Sat, 12 May 2007 15:32
> My concern is that, from what I’ve done so far (I’ve created most of the individual components, the LFO, envelopes, low-pass filter, etc…, and tied them together very messy way) — it seems synth building is a very generic process, i.e. synths are basically created by tying all the standards components together.
> In other words, if these components all do a clearly defined thing (i.e. a 24db low-pass filter set to 10000Hz, on any synth will effect an incoming waveform the same way) — then what makes a "good" synth vs. a "bad" synth.
> I figure there are two possible answers. One is that "good" a synth has other features *in addition to these features common to most synths.* I.e. people like a particular synth for the sounds it can make *in addition* to the basic sounds that most synths can make
the answer is something different.
sythesizers are not made of "standard components".
especially on the digital layer there are dozens of
methods how to create a sawtooth waveform, and there are
dozens of methods how to apply a lowpassfiltering on it.
this is at least 50% of the typical sound of a synthesizer,
i.e. that is what makes it sound "good" or "bad" to you.
Roben Kleene schrieb:
> My concern is that, from what I’ve done so far (I’ve created most of
> the individual components, the LFO, envelopes, low-pass filter,
> etc…, and tied them together very messy way) — it seems synth
> building is a very generic process, i.e. synths are basically created
> by tying all the standards components together.
This is true for the most average synth. (But only for that… ;-)
Other words for average: mediocre, boring…
But don’t get me wrong, this is a perfect project to get into
programming synths. From there you can turn it into something wild and
personal. Especially including the non standard components is fun…
But first get the average synth goin… ;-)
> In other words, if these components all do a clearly defined thing
> (i.e. a 24db low-pass filter set to 10000Hz, on any synth will effect
> an incoming waveform the same way) — then what makes a "good" synth
> vs. a "bad" synth.
Errors (distortion, nonlinearity etc…) combined with personal taste.
The quality of sound in this area is much more a question of personal
experience and history than something scientifically definable…
You can’t imagine how much the way of controlling an instrument defines
the way you hear it. If you setup two exactly identical synths, and
apply one controller knob, lets say for a cutoff frequency, once linear
and once logarithmic, you will perceive a difference in sound, though
its physically identical…
Of course there will be objective differences in sound if you use
different technologies. (defining a "24db low-pass filter set to
10000Hz" is not the whole story…)
> One last point is that I know a potential answer to this question is
> "well does it sound good to you?" — To which my answer would be "I
> don’t know" I feel like it would take months of music making and
> experimenting in order to answer that question and it is an
> unfortunate limitation of software demos that I can’t do that before
> deciding whether to purchase the software.
I think you know, its just that your perception of "sounding good"
doesn’t fit to that of others. I’d say if two different synth
implementations with basically the same settings, both sound good (or
bad), then the difference between those doesn’t matter for you. Your
focus, your interest is just on something else than that difference.
THAT’S GOOD (sorry for shouting… ;-)
I am pretty bored about the focus on aspects of music which I believe
are not that important for me (like digital versus analog sound). Either
I like it or not…
But still, IF it is important for you stay on that focus…
> I would like to hear if Reaktor has more "synth-like" basic waveforms
> (if there is such a thing) than MSP for example.
I guess a little abstraction could give you more "basic waveforms" than
Reaktor could ever deliver…
Quote: Nick Inhofe wrote on Sun, 13 May 2007 03:21
> One thing I can say in Reaktor’s favor is that the immediate (and stable!) handling of polyphony is a major bonus
My last encounters with Reaktor were with version 4. My experience is that if you try to make something yourself instead of using the factory ensembles, Reaktor suddenly is not stable at all.
I made some (pretty complex) ensembles and the more advanced they became, the more Reaktor started crashing, detecting event loops that were not there (Note: confirmed by NI support!) and acting very unreliable.
I had to give up on it, which cost me about half a year of work but is also a good thing because that’s how I ended up with Max.
that plug was made in synthedit, I think its free on PC.
the mac equivelant to that is sonicbirth, they both create vst and audio units and are free. If your looking for something easier then max then those might be the way to go, if your looking for having tons of options and real programming abilities then max /msp is the way to go but it may be more difficult as a result.
I like reaktor for synths but not for sampling and granular. Theres something I started to dislike about reaktor back in version 3 which made me invest alot of my time into max and now that I have I really don’t think Ill go back unless I have reason to. I love the reaktor user library as well, which also made it so I really didn’t have any need to make anything in there cause I have about 1k patches made by others that kick ass.
little trick to avoid clicks when playing notes (from ej, hehe).
#P window setfont "Sans Serif" 9.;
#P window linecount 1;
#P newex 320 231 50 196617 print;
#P newex 272 189 52 196617 route list;
#P newex 209 61 38 196617 sel 32;
#P newex 209 33 40 196617 key;
#P newex 272 209 32 196617 line~;
#P newex 124 241 27 196617 *~;
#P newex 124 177 61 196617 cycle~ 440;
#P message 42 234 67 196617 startwindow;
#P newex 122 272 31 196617 dac~;
#P user function 209 82 409 182 1 1 0 0;
#X frgb 82 82 82;
#X brgb 204 204 204;
#X rgb2 85 85 85;
#X rgb3 255 255 255;
#X rgb4 0 0 0;
#X rgb5 0 0 0;
#X add 0. 0. 0;
#X add 164.893616 0.946667 0;
#X add 441.489349 0.146667 0;
#X add 1000. 0. 0;
#X domain 1000.;
#X range 0. 1.;
#P comment 251 34 53 196617 space bar;
#P connect 9 0 6 0;
#P connect 9 0 10 0;
#P connect 1 1 9 0;
#P connect 8 0 1 0;
#P connect 7 0 8 0;
#P connect 5 0 2 0;
#P connect 5 0 2 1;
#P connect 6 0 5 1;
#P connect 4 0 5 0;
#P connect 3 0 2 0;
#P window clipboard copycount 11;
you should check out the gen objects in the Percolate package
they will do that kind of sine wave adding stuff for you in one object, as well as chebyshevs, and other things. essential, and super simple
Mark Chambers schrieb:
> I would love to see some of your synths. I have done a bit of work
> in Max but have yet to build a synth that I am happy with. I have a
> synth that "mimics" an FM synth. You can control the amplitude of
> the various partials. It was (is) intended for a very specific
> attempt at synthesis in a spectral context. Here is the text for it.
> If some of you folks who have some synths I’d love to see them.
Its not FM what you do, its additive synthesis with a calculated ratio
of the resulting frequencies if you would do FM. That’s really much more
expensive and complicated than just frequency modulation. You could
check out the fm example patch which come with Max. You’ll find it in
the examples folder…
But of course your patch can do much more than you can do with FM, you
can control each partial with the sliders….
Quote: Stefan Tiedje wrote on Sat, 19 May 2007 16:53
> Its not FM what you do, its additive synthesis with a calculated ratio
> of the resulting frequencies if you would do FM.
That’s why I said "mimics" FM :D
>That’s really much more
> expensive and complicated than just frequency modulation. You could
> check out the fm example patch which come with Max. You’ll find it in
> the examples folder…
I am not sure though where it is expensive. Looking at the CPU meter it doesn’t appear to be overloaded. Am I missing something here?
> But of course your patch can do much more than you can do with FM, you
> can control each partial with the sliders….
That was the original intention. I really haven’t used it though in work, either as a sample builder or within a working patch itself.