14 votes

Help a Tilderino find a good synth?

Hi folks! I've been doing computer programming as study subject, job, side hustle, and hobby for way too long now, and both fortunately and unfortunately, I've been bitten by the synthesis bug.

I never was very good at playing music as a kid, but I'm slowly learning to play piano again, and I really like analog electronics, so masking my inability to actually play a tune by doing wacky stuff with a reverb and Plaits is a natural fit. That said, I'm not at all experienced and have little money, so beyond just screwing around in VCVRack, I'm a little lost.

Currently, I'm looking at the Behringer Neutron (mmm yummy patchbay) alongside the Arturia KeyStep - am I going down a bad path for someone who wants to get into this as a hobby and maybe expand to modular in the next few years?

15 comments

  1. [3]
    weystrom
    Link
    Get a Nektar 61 key MIDI keyboard for like $250, download a free DAW, Synth1, some reverb and delay VSTs, map EVERYTHING onto the controller then label the knobs with masking tape. Now put on your...

    That said, I'm not at all experienced and have little money

    Get a Nektar 61 key MIDI keyboard for like $250, download a free DAW, Synth1, some reverb and delay VSTs, map EVERYTHING onto the controller then label the knobs with masking tape. Now put on your headphones and turn off your PC screen.

    You've just saved potentially thousands of dollars and got yourself a fully functional polyphonic synth. I promise you, it will be just as fun as the "real" thing.

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      As I mentioned in the OP, I'm coming to this from knowing analog electronics more than I know music; if I set things up this way, will there be any way to add on my own designs to the signal path?...

      As I mentioned in the OP, I'm coming to this from knowing analog electronics more than I know music; if I set things up this way, will there be any way to add on my own designs to the signal path? For instance do DAWs support round-tripping through an audio interface, and if so, what's the latency like?

      1 vote
      1. weystrom
        Link Parent
        Depends on your OS and drivers, MacOS would add around 30ms, i'd say.

        Depends on your OS and drivers, MacOS would add around 30ms, i'd say.

        1 vote
  2. [3]
    kevbot
    Link
    I don't think you'll go wrong with the Neutron assuming you've seen videos and like the noises it makes. I haven't played with one, but have seen a demo of it. The patchbay does look yummy, and...

    I don't think you'll go wrong with the Neutron assuming you've seen videos and like the noises it makes. I haven't played with one, but have seen a demo of it. The patchbay does look yummy, and will be great for making wacky sounds, and would also help familiarize you more with how to patch together a fully modular system if you ended up getting one.

    Personally I have a Korg Minilogue XD, Keystep, looper pedal, and a Volca Sample. I definitely recommend getting a Volca Beats or Sample to add percussion to your jams. At that point though you'll need a mixer of some sort to handle the multiple audio sources, but it's endless fun. I'm very happy with what my setup lets me do, but the synth bug is real and am planning on picking up a Moog Grandmother at some point hopefully this summer!

    3 votes
    1. joplin
      Link Parent
      I'm not up on modern synths, but absolutely agree with the bit about having percussion and a mixer! Rock out!

      I'm not up on modern synths, but absolutely agree with the bit about having percussion and a mixer! Rock out!

      2 votes
    2. tindall
      Link Parent
      I'll definitely look at getting a Volca Sample, thank you!

      I'll definitely look at getting a Volca Sample, thank you!

      2 votes
  3. [2]
    Akir
    Link
    On one hand, I am marveling at how inexpensive the Behringer Neutron is. But if you are really scrapped for cash and are inexperienced with synthesis, nothing beats software synthesizers....

    On one hand, I am marveling at how inexpensive the Behringer Neutron is. But if you are really scrapped for cash and are inexperienced with synthesis, nothing beats software synthesizers. Especially because there are so many free ones.

    Since you're new and just looking to experiment, I would recommend just starting with Caustic on your phone. The free version lets you do everything except export. It comes with several different kinds of synthesizers (including a modular synth) and has a sequencer and effects built in. Even better, it has support for MIDI, so you can use it with just about any controller or keyboard. There is a PC version that works for Windows and Mac, but it's an unsupported side project.

    3 votes
    1. tindall
      Link Parent
      I'm pretty happy with VCVRack as a software synthesizer, and I'm on Linux anyway. But it might be a good idea to stick with software for a while and just get the keyboard.

      I'm pretty happy with VCVRack as a software synthesizer, and I'm on Linux anyway. But it might be a good idea to stick with software for a while and just get the keyboard.

      2 votes
  4. [2]
    knocklessmonster
    Link
    If you want to expand into modular, particularly EuroRack format, you've got a good plan. I don't know a whole lot about modular, mostly intentionally because I don't have the money or space for...

    If you want to expand into modular, particularly EuroRack format, you've got a good plan. I don't know a whole lot about modular, mostly intentionally because I don't have the money or space for it right now, but having a method to introduce midi to cv squencing would be something I would want in my system, and it looks like you'll be able to do that. Have you considered getting that keyboard first, and using it with VCVRack? It'll open some doors for you to see if you really want to pursue this while not adding two pieces of hardware to your space yet, while also allowing you to experiment with workflows From there, you can then determine if you want the Neutron. Also, you'll need a way to connect the Neutron to some sort of sound input to record anything coming off of it, be it headphones, or an audio interface (plan on spending >$100 for a decent, budget one of these).

    If you like programming, or at least don't mind it, I would definitely recommend learning SuperCollider, it uses a pretty straightforward object-oriented language for real-time synthesis. No cost up-front, except for learning the system (here's the guide that got me really started with peforming in just SC. SuperCollider can operate as something of a modular system, allowing you to program functions for signal generators as LFOs across objects, and all sorts of good stuff. With regards to live coding music, you get similar instant feedback like you can with a modular system. I'm just recommending it as another frontier to explore, with much lower overhead. You could also pair it with a (free) system like tidalcycles, foxdot or Sonic Pi, which essentialy function as sequencers for SuperCollider, with easier access to many of its features.

    2 votes
    1. tindall
      Link Parent
      SuperCollider looks really cool! You're right, it might be better to just get the keyboard and keep using VCVRack, at least until I get my own place. Thank you!

      SuperCollider looks really cool! You're right, it might be better to just get the keyboard and keep using VCVRack, at least until I get my own place.

      Thank you!

      2 votes
  5. [5]
    skybrian
    Link
    I got a Launchkey Mini because I thought it might work well with my accordion synthesizer project. I wish I got something different because the LED's are very bright and you can't easily turn them...

    I got a Launchkey Mini because I thought it might work well with my accordion synthesizer project. I wish I got something different because the LED's are very bright and you can't easily turn them off. (Also, I prefer a keyboard that starts on F or G rather than C, but I bought it anyway.)

    This isn't what you asked, but I recommend getting a melodica to anyone who is into keyboard instruments. They are cheap and breath control is fun to learn.

    1 vote
    1. [4]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      Thank you for that warning. I really hate overly-bright indicators and I was looking at the Launchkey Mini.

      Thank you for that warning. I really hate overly-bright indicators and I was looking at the Launchkey Mini.

      1 vote
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        You can set all the buttons to blue and then it's not too bad, but it's still annoying how little control there is. I wonder if there is any MIDI controller with open firmware?

        You can set all the buttons to blue and then it's not too bad, but it's still annoying how little control there is.

        I wonder if there is any MIDI controller with open firmware?

        2 votes
      2. [3]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [2]
          tindall
          Link Parent
          I think you commented twice?

          I think you commented twice?

          1 vote
          1. skybrian
            Link Parent
            Yeah, network problems at home confused me about whether the post was published.

            Yeah, network problems at home confused me about whether the post was published.

            1 vote