Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Keyboards, Synths, Samplers and Groove Boxes.

Moderators: MetroSonus, Plink Floyd

Post Reply
User avatar
MetroSonus
My style, is the best style.
Posts: 9628
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 6:20 pm

Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by MetroSonus »

Maybe we can discuss something other than LOLs.. lol.

I was in a chat on a group on Facebook about synthesis types and taxonomy. I was of the opinion, that back in the day, you had your analog oscillators, signal path and filter on the end and that was it. No other technology existed at the time and it was just called subtractive synthesis.

I personally feel that the subtractive part, just refers to the filtering of frequencies and it's an outdated term to apply to synthesis as a whole. To me, synthesis refers more to the sound generation (or oscillator section) than anything; sample based, granular, FM, analog / VA and so on.

Back in the day, I feel that it was most people's goal to emulate musical instruments or sounds electronically. This is why we see the typical signal path of oscillators, envelops and filters. For example, we all would assume that a bass sound starts with a sharp attack, short sustain and relatively quick release and the higher frequencies are filtered out for various reasons.

But today, for many people, the goal isn't instrument emulation as much as it is sound design. I may be talking more about software instruments than anything, but there are many synths that don't have filters or even envelopes. Yes we may be getting into experimental territory here, but in theory, you can run anything through anything these days. Granular audio through a filter if you wanted.. and since I've been using the SSL plugin, I've found I don't rely on the filter at all these days. I'm actually really enjoying just boosting frequencies with the EQ, which is kinda the opposite of filtering? I'm not 100% on that :lol:

But anyway, I argue that the term subtractive synthesis and the minimoog style arrangement of signal flow it brings to mind, has become antiquated and I think the focus today, is more on sound generation side of things and then filtering is more on the sound processing side of things.

I'm just curious what you all think about it. I had to sit there and realize I don't think I've used the phrase subtractive synth or synthesis in decades.
soundwave106
Posts: 872
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:09 pm

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by soundwave106 »

Most synthesizers these days are subtractive in architecture, and most pop synth sounds I hear are subtractive analog/VAish. So I don't think it's outdated yet.

However, the "subtractive" part of the architecture (the filter) becomes a little less important the less harmonics you have. So for things like wavetable oscillators and sample-based sources, the filter becomes a less critical element of the sound sometimes. Most sample based synths do seem to retain the Osc->Filter->Amp architecture of old, but the filter isn't always needed...

I think subtractive synthesis is a much easier architecture to understand than FM, granular, or additive. With the other three, it's more difficult to come up with "usable tones", some primitive additive architectures like the Hammond B3 notwithstanding. A person can know nothing about synthesizers and just wiggle some knobs on many subtractives to get a nice tone. That being said, computers have allowed for many FM, granular, and additive synthesizers to be used these days. A lot of them produce textures that would be impossible with a subtractive analog, and elements such as the composer world and ambient artists probably enjoy that.

I think some of the types that liked to nerd out over the nerdier side of synthesizers went over to modular synthesizers and its experimental wing. So maybe that's why you hear the term "subtractive" less. A producer who's just wanting to scan some (checks what is the EDM genre du jour) um... Serum wavetables for a nice pad sound for their Future Bass track (*) probably doesn't give a darn what it's called, as long as he or she gets that chill vibe with the big beat.

(*) Some producers apparently took that Skrillex harsh Transformers-having-sex dubstep style and made it pretty and melodic and kawaii and called it either "melodic dubstep" or "future bass", neat :) I'm a bit out of the loop on EDM these days, I think this is even not very new...
User avatar
ClavAnother
Posts: 6018
Joined: Sat May 01, 2010 7:28 am

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by ClavAnother »

Have you not heard my acoustic piano patch on my prophet 5? Subtractive is triving. I do have one friend that wants to see the world evolve into some new way to produce sound electronically, but shit.. I'm still good with friggin filter sweeps.
User avatar
MetroSonus
My style, is the best style.
Posts: 9628
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 6:20 pm

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by MetroSonus »

I just meant in a nutshell, that it was my argument that filtering these days is more a form of audio processing and synthesis refers to the oscillator section and the term isn't representative of all the options today, because it mostly calls to mind the minimoog format.

It wasn't my intention imply it was outdated as to mean obsolete or antiquated! Man you should know I love filter sweeps!

Take wavetable synthesis. Even though these synths have filters and technically that makes them subtractive, we call them wavetable, putting emphasis on the oscillator section because it's different than the typical analog and VA we associate with subtractive synthesis.

All I meant :lol:
User avatar
christianrock
has a runny bottom
Posts: 13719
Joined: Tue Apr 27, 2010 5:44 pm

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by christianrock »

Wavetable synthesis is subtractive, indeed...

Stuff like FM which of course is a totally different structure is a lot harder to master which is probably why subtractive is still way more common - it's not hard to get good sounds. Not everyone can do what Brian Eno does...
User avatar
topcat
Posts: 936
Joined: Thu Apr 29, 2010 11:37 pm

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by topcat »

and then there is always granular synthesis... :eek:
User avatar
MetroSonus
My style, is the best style.
Posts: 9628
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 6:20 pm

Re: Subtractive Synthesis - Outdated?

Post by MetroSonus »

I'm very biased I guess :lol:

These days, normally I just load simpler (Live's lite sampler) in Live, throw in a sample and go from there. Filter? If I want to, sometimes not. In my work flow, that's part of effects and audio processing. So I don't normally work with "subtractive" synthesis.

However, you can throw a filter on anything that way, even granular. :lol: It leaves a lot of room for debate / semantics. But I guess I'm the odd duck here ha ha.
Post Reply