Analog synthesizer  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An analog or analogue synthesizer (or analog synth) is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog computer techniques to generate sound electronically. The earliest analog synthesizers in the 1920s and 1930s such as the Trautonium were built with a variety of vacuum-tube (thermionic valve) and electro-mechanical technologies. After the 1960s, analog synthesizers were built with a variety of operational amplifier (op-amp) integrated circuits, along with potentiometer (pot, or variable resistor) to adjust the traits of the sound that is produced. Analog synthesizers also use low-pass filters and high-pass filters to modify the sound. While 1960s-era analog synthesizers such as the Moog used a number of independent electronic modules connected by patch cables, later analog synthesizers such as the Minimoog integrated them into single units, eliminating patch cords in favour of integrated signal routing systems.


Analog synthesizers were mostly replaced by digital synthesizers and samplers over the middle to late 1980s. In the early 1990s however, musicians from the techno, rave and DJ scenes who were interested in producing electronic music, but without the budget for large digital systems, began to take an interest in the then cheap second hand analog equipment available. This led to an increase in demand for analog synthesizers towards the mid-1990s, as larger numbers of musicians also gradually rediscovered their qualities. Thus the sounds associated with analog synths became more prevalent once again. Fundamental differences between analog and digital technology mean some of the characteristics of analog synthesizers cannot be wholly replicated by samplers or digital synthesizers.

This has led to increased demand for used units (such as the 1980 Roland TR-808 drum machine and Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer). The TR-808 built on late 1970s-era drum machines, which used tuned resonance voice circuits for pitched drum sounds and shaped white noise for others. The TR-808 improves on these designs, by using detuned square wave oscillators (for the cow bell and cymbal sounds) and analogue reverberation (for the handclap sound). The demand for the analog synth sound led to the development of a variety of analog modeling synthesizers which emulate analog VCOs and VCFs using samples, software, or specialized digital circuitry, and the construction of new analog keyboard synths such as the Alesis Andromeda, Prophet 08 and Little Phatty, as well as some modular units.

The lapse of patents in recent years, such as for the Moog synthesizer transistor ladder filter, has led to a small resurgence in DIY or kit synthesizer modules, as well as an increase in the number of commercial companies selling analog modules. Reverse engineering has also revealed the secrets of some synthesizer components, such as those from ARP Instruments, Inc. In addition, despite the widespread availability during the 2000s of relatively inexpensive digital synthesizers offering complex synthesis algorithms and envelopes, some musicians have been attracted to the sounds of monophonic analog synths. Another factor considered to have increased use of analog synths since the 1990s is weariness with the complex screen-based navigation systems of digital synths, with the "hands-on", practical controls of analog synths--potentiometer knobs, faders, and other features-- offering a strong appeal.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Analog synthesizer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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