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".
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!