Forums > MaxMSP

Opinions on Synth Building in Max/MSP?

May 12, 2007 | 9:29 pm

Hello,

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

http://synthesizer-cookbook.com/SCBsynth.gif

"Welsh’s Synthesizer Cookbook" on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Welshs-Synthesizer-Cookbook-Programming-Universal/dp/B000ERHA4S/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-1726805-4057642?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1178999218&sr=8-1

Screenshot of the interface for my remake in Max/MSP

http://1percenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/blog/soundbox/soundbox.png

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!

-Roben


May 13, 2007 | 2:02 am

On May 12, 2007, at 2:29 PM, Roben Kleene wrote:

> 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".

You can make "the most average synthesizer possible" in Max/MSP, and
make it well. The larger beauty of this giant audio playground is
that you can then make the most non-average, esoteric, unbelievably
arcane device you can imagine and everything in-between. Throw in
Jitter and some of the third party add-ons and you’ll forget you need
to sleep. (And when you do sleep, you’ll dream of patching. I’m not
kidding.)

> 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.

If we limit the playing field to only the basic set of audio
generators and controls in your most average synth sbove, then I
think it’s magic pixie dust… not really in the sense of a specific
type of processing to make it sound good, but a cumulative difference
in sound created by the many differences in design and materials that
vary from hardware synth to hardware synth, even within the same
models. You can play around with various random and chaotic
functions in Max to make slight alterations in your component pieces
to emulate this feel, and swap in differently designed filters,
waveforms, etc. until you get it just right.

> 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.

This is pretty much the truth of it. But, as you can make anything
in Max, you’ll definitely be able to find what qualifies as "sounding
good" to you over the course of those many months (years?) of
experimentation.

Good luck! Max changed my life… I’m still experimenting, with no
end in sight!

Vlad

Vlad Spears
Urbi et orbi

http://www.daevlmakr.com

http://www.2secondfuse.com


May 13, 2007 | 2:20 am

hey roben,

while i think, its well worth going the max-route, it might turn out steeper
then you think now ;-)
to give you an idea, maybe check out the discussion on this list about analogue
vs. digital (modeling of analogue synths in max/msp):
http://www.cycling74.com/forums/index.php?t=msg&goto=97674&rid=0&srch=analogue+vs+digital+%2F+Real+Modular#msg_97674
(try to copy/paste that link in one continious line)

but, as i said, you will discover much more, than you can think of right now.
hans

http://www.hans-w-koch.net
25052 walnut st., newhall, ca-91321
cell (661) 310-4160

Zitat von Roben Kleene :

>
> Hello,
>
> 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
> http://synthesizer-cookbook.com/SCBsynth.gif
>
> "Welsh’s Synthesizer Cookbook" on Amazon
>
http://www.amazon.com/Welshs-Synthesizer-Cookbook-Programming-Universal/dp/B000ERHA4S/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-1726805-4057642?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1178999218&sr=8-1
>
> Screenshot of the interface for my remake in Max/MSP
> http://1percenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/blog/soundbox/soundbox.png
>
> 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!
>
> -Roben
>


May 13, 2007 | 9:27 am


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