Thursday, February 2, 2012

4 Reason Why Synths Without Memory are a Good Thing

A recent trend set forth by two of the new analogs from NAMM is the lack of presets.  Presets, as you know, are when a synthesizer is able to store specific settings to make a sound digitally.  Presets and memory have been pretty standard since the 80s, yet these two brand new synths are bucking the classic trend for a cheaper price tag.  The Arturia Minibrute and Moog Minitaur sport menu and memory free interfaces with knob-per-function sound creation.  I know you'll miss calling on your old favorite presets, but here's 4 reasons why memory-free synths are good for our generation.

1. You'll no longer rely on presets.  If you're like me, you may typically sit down with your synth and click through the presets until you find a sound you like.  In order to create your own unique sound, you might have to click through menus to initialize the sound, and some of my synths don't even have an initialization button, which means you're always locked in editing existing sounds, which is a serious creative buzzkill.  Without the presets, you're on your own.  You're forced to be create every time you play it.

2.  You won't lose your sound from computer error.  I've found sometimes when recording if I've forgotten to press store, my computer will change the patch and my recent sound and tweaks will be lost.    Sometimes, the MIDI messages sent from the computer change the sound to an unwanted preset as well. With hardwired knobs and sliders, this can't happen.  The only downside to this approach is that if you have to go back to a sound later and change it, you may have already repurposed the synth for a new sound.

3.  You'll develop a signature sound.  You may not realize it, but building your own sounds is pertinent to your personal sound as an artist.  Using presets makes choices for you, even if you edit them.  With a synth that has to be freshly programmed each time, subtle nuances you might not normally change-- like making a filter envelope decay change ever so faster or slower-- are going to be edited.   You'll start to notice that you have your own stamp on your sounds, and that the manufacturers haven't influenced you.

4.  You'll master synthesizers quicker.  With only your eyes, fingers, and brain to guide you, you'll have to recreate some of your older sounds eventually.  With practice, this will teach you how to understand how to make each type of your sounds,  and what makes them unique and functional, giving your brain an easier way to dream up new sounds.  For example, that snappy bass you laid on the track two weeks ago is needed for a different track?  You'll know exactly what made it great and all components to it, and you'll be able to make it again.  It won't be exactly the same as the previous patch, but that's even better-- no one likes reused identical sounds.

Of course, the obvious downside is that you won't be able to recall your sounds on these synths, but I think the trade off in creative flow and ease of use is pretty great.  Watch out for the Minibrute and Minitaur in the coming months.


  1. You left off one good thing about no pre-sets: You don't have to make up, or read, goofy-ass names for patches. No dogDuckBssThmpPoly or dogDuckBssThmpLead or stepOnCatHndrx or strBcksTrance or judyScrmChrs etc. Not seeing and working with those names like that is a buying point for me.

  2. I _like_ patch names. starting off with a Korg Poly-800 with just 2 LED's was frustrating; if it had knobs like the modern synths (or older ones) it would have been easier to program. Having preset memory doesn't mean you cannot make your own sounds; I created over a hundred sounds for my Korg DS-8 without the use of a fancy computer-editor program.