There are many types of synthesis beyond traditional subtractive techniques, and there are plenty of synths out there that offer a whole range in a single unit or software instrument. The most common types are additive synthesis, which builds sounds by adding waveforms together, and frequency modulation (FM), which uses one or more oscillators to modulate the tonal and amplitude characteristics of another oscillator. These types excel at brash, digital-sounding bells and metallic sounds, and are also capable of creating more complex waveforms than subtractive techniques alone.

Native Instruments’ FM8 is a prime example of a modern FM synth and is capable of some incredibly rich and detailed sounds. Beyond this we have things like phase-distortion synthesis (which is fairly similar to FM), physical modelling, which uses a set of equations and algorithms to simulate a real instrument, and wavetable and sample-based synthesis. Things get more interesting, though, when you get into the realms of granular synthesis, which works on the same principles as sampling, but the audio file is split into tiny pieces called grains and replayed in a different order at varying speeds and volumes. Low-speed playback results in dissonant soundscapes or clouds, and high speeds in a note or unique timbre. There are plenty of granular synths and processors available, from the freeware HourGlass, by Xenakios, to Steinberg’s Padshop Pro, and these are perfect for creating dark soundtrack ambiences.

Some companies claim to have come up with new techniques, not least Tone2, whose recent inventions I include Harmonic Content Morphing (HCM) Synthesis, Impulse Modelling Synthesis (IMS) and Fractal Synthesis. Although these can seem like buzz terms, in Tone2’s case they are genuine innovations in design. That said, although the results could arguably be called unique, it’s not something that will leap out of the speakers like nothing you’ve heard before. And this is probably the most important point to remember when getting exited about the latest gadget or technique: ultimately, it’s your own skill at designing sounds that will create something interesting and new, not the technology that powers it.

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