General Q about modern analog polys

Hey,

I’m pretty much scoured every corner of modern analog Poly synths and have always asked this. Why don’t they make fat sounding polys anymore? The OB6 and Prophet 6 are not was warm as the originals. They all lack the rawness in the lower midrange, and the prettiness of the highs, instead the new ones can be harsher. Even the Omega 8 sounds more sterile when put next to a CS80 or OB Xa. Is it because the makers want a modern brighter sound for radio ready patches, or are they truly unable to recreate the richness and perfect frequency balance of the older synths. Most vintage analog synths have more sonic euphoria tied to their sounds. Three dimensionality is also what I’m talking about. The 008 is the closest thing today that impresses me, but I don’t like to admit that I would like an older oberheim, not because it’s vintage, but because I truly connect with its sound much more.

OB6
Prophet 6
Parva
Deepmind 12
Omega 8
008
Minilogue
JDXA

This is a list of analog polys (no digital oscillators) with recallable presets, midi control, which qualities I’m quite fond of for convenience.

Ive been keeping my eye on Behringer’s future OB Xa clone. Out of all the products they… shared/stole with us… Im hoping they get this right, really.

If anyone has other synths the add to the list, please post!

Some of the desired sonic qualities were due to what is considered nowadays bad design, and that is sometimes impossible to recreate. Manufacturing variability, component tolerances etc are lower as they were. Paradoxically, it’s much easier to fake all those things digitally.

Also, people tend to attribute more charm and character to ancient things.

You make it sound like the people who designed the OBXa were masters who got everything absolutely right. Wrong! They were just decent engineers trying to get something to work with the technology of their times, in a very practical manner. The result is considered “rich” and “frequency balanced” just because it has been there long enough, and has been heard in enough music, for being consider the benchmark to compare other synths to.

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Don’t forget that a huge part of your appreciation for those sounds has to do with your emotional connection to them. :slight_smile:

Here’s a decent introduction to some of the research into this: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/08/musical_nostalgia_the_psychology_and_neuroscience_for_song_preference_and.html

aka “Music never sounded as good as when you lost your virginity”.

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Assuming that was a nice experience, yes.

EDIT: Of course I know that’s just a saying intended to be funny. :slight_smile:

The interesting thing however is that this is explicitly not what happens. The emotional connection you feel for specific sounds and music from those years isn’t there because your brain created associations between nice things that happened back then and the music you were listening to at that time. It’s there because the neurological development that happens in those teenage years makes your brain create very strong cortical and subcortical pathways for the music it processes during that time.

Recommended read: https://www.amazon.com/Behave-Biology-Humans-Best-Worst/dp/1594205078 (there’s a whole chapter about teenage brains).

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Didn’t work for me and Tyrolean folk music. :smiley: My brain was exposed to a lot of it when young (thanks to mum and dad!) but it did fortunately not carve any pathways, at least not in a positive way. Still can’t stand it, the same as I did back then.
Or maybe only things you like do have that effect? Hmm… need to get my hands on the book Olivier linked, sounds very fascinating!

Ah just a little background on synthesis in my life, I grew up in the 90s, so vintage synths were not in the type music I was listening to at all. I still never listen to 70s or 80s electronic records. In fact it was video game music. The electronic instrument in use was an extremely low fidelity OPL3 FM synthesis common in the day through a computer Sound Blaster 16 bit card. In my opinion, it lacks everything needed in a synth. Richness, dimensionality, random ness, smoothness, clarity, etc… unusable today. But, that didn’t matter, I loved it. Fast forward through my musical education years, I discover synthesis as not a listener but a musician. My 1st synth was my DSI Tetra. I learned subtractive synthesis on it. I was rediscovering textures, at the same time as creating new ones. I was 100% satisfied with it. The only reason i bought other synths was because I didnt understand the difference in filter and oscillator tones. It’s still a part I’d my rig and I’d never part with it. So up until then, I had never heard a vintage synth in person before. NOW, enter a vintage synth, with no nostalgic feelings or bias, in blind tests, as well as instinct, I usually go for a vintage synth. The way they sit in the mix is perfect. As well as less synth layering is required because of a thick sound. For me, not a fact of memories or synth ego, but a purely technical reason. And that reason is the sound is so much more sonically improved; no low midrange flatness, less high midrange harshness, sonic details revealed because of “compression”, and that it makes the waves almost able to be touched.

While not relating to the comparison of new Sequential and Oberheim models vs. the original, I think there is also an element of survivorship bias at play. People remember and revere the standout vintage instruments, and tend to ignore all the other less stellar gear from he same time period.

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Most people going on about the sound of synths have never heard the originals first hand (ie. owning them) and are talking about a record they have heard them on, usually from 70s or 80s.

The recording process adds a lot of colour to the sound, especially when using multitrack tape, good analogue outboard and a very skilled engineer.

If you’re judging the quality of the modern synths through youtube videos then naturally you’re listening to horrible lossy audio which won’t do the synths justice.

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Many clever and insightful things has already been stated in this thread. I’d just like to add that much of this “synths where better back in the day” comes from myth and legend. We humans are very susceptible to such powerful phenomenons.

Also, sound is really hard to judge fairly. Our ears aren’t good enough and our minds play us a trick or two now and then. It really isn’t hard to set up a blind experiment where someone gets to listen to two sound sources and will say, with absolute conviction, that one of them sound better even though it turns out that they are the same.

I’d say out of the gear I’ve owned, the only one’s I’d say have a vintage tone are the Dominion 1 and the Matrix Brute. But that’s because they need to warm up and tuning all the time. Nobody who is touring and using a synth on stage wants that level of inconvenience. They’re also a bit hard to fit into a mix due to their power.

Really the dominion? Hmm, I avoided that because I didn’t like it’s demos. Though i heard a polyphonic version may be coming. That would be interesting. If someone is making a midi controlled Moog Prodigy, I’d love that. My sub phatty sometimes gets too narrow, and the filter actually doesn’t open all the way when the cutoff is full. I would love that extra buzz on top.

That must be why I still appreciate the Nord Micromodular that I got almost 20 years ago.

We also have to consider another thing: every synth sounds a bit different. Synths made back in the 70s sounded different because the technology was different, the economic conditions were different, hey some of these synths were made in very low quantities and cost a fortune, hard to compare with a mass-produced Minilogue, plus they sound different now because they are old.
Now since sound is a subjective thing made up of lots of factors, even if you have no nostalgia or other emotional attachment, you might still like a certain sound better than another, and it might be that of a 70s synth, or a characteristic of it that is recurring in many synths made in that time. It might sound richer to you, or it might sound warmer (etc.), it might sound a lot of things, because that’s how we humans are.
This still does not mean that one is better than another, you just like it better. If the Yamaha CS80 sounds better to you than anything else, and you can afford and find one and afford to keep it running, get one, or get something that sounds close to that. After all your ear and taste is what matters and I guess it does matter very little what the reasons behind are, as long as it makes sense to you and keeps you happy making music.
So to answer the question "Why don’t they make fat sounding polys anymore?"
I’d say: because we’re in 2018 and things are different, just like they don’t make a lot of other things anymore. And second I’d also change the question to: "why do the polys of the past not sound like the ones they make nowadays to my ear?"
And the answer would still be: “because we’re in 2018, and things change, and change can be good or bad and usually we’ll always disagree about it”

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A fascinating thread, thank you all!
I tend to side with the point of view that nostalgic associations play a huge part in our perception of the sound of synthesizers. I’m old enough that I was a teenager playing in bands when the Jupiter 8 was new, and I was there when the DX7, JX-3P, Juno 106, Xpander etc. etc. were released. Because I could never afford a Jupiter 8 I revered it, and at the time we thought the Juno 106 was a cheap synth (as the SH-101 and TB-303 most certainly were!)
When I was older I worked in studios and got to hear session players and engineers talk about how difficult the JP8 was - unstable, always needing a bunch of EQ or compression to sound good in a track, etc. The digital wave rolled in and the analog stuff was out because people genuinely believed at the time that the digital synths were better - in my experience it took at least 10 years before people started saying they missed the warm, “fat-sounding” (read: “slightly out-of-tune”) analogue sound.
And now the scarcity of working units of those older instruments makes them even more revered.
I believe the same psychology is at work in the classical instrument world as well as electric guitars; the scarcity itself becomes a factor in our perceptions.
It’s interesting to observe ourselves in relation to that psychology - I try to stay connected to the enjoyment of making the music.

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Think about what synths were supposed to do according to keyboard players. Most wanted a piano, a violin, realistic strings, clav and so on.

Analogue synths were rubbish at most of these things, FM made some of these possible, PCM make it even more possible. I remember hearing that film director John Carpenter mention his favourite synth was a Korg Triton, because it created realistic instruments. JC used all the classic synths over the years, Oberheim, Prophet VS and so on, but ultimately he wanted a string orchestra, piano in a form he could use solo.

So it is only a fairly recent phenomenon for people to actually want synths to create non-realistic sounds.

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And now John Carpenter is a touring musician with a bunch of analog synths.

True. I almost saw him live in Manchester UK. I had a ticket, I was at the venue on the night, but the venue was that rubbish I could not see him much or hear the music clearly.

As for him using synths live, naturally he wants to recreate the original sounds faithfully. Although I imagine his classic synths are long gone. Some artists like Howard Jones have tried to use the original synths live, I think he used a Jupiter 8 or some other vintage poly and it broke down, someone in the audience went home and fetched theirs?!

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