Working With Synthesizers - Part IV

Part four: Different types of synthesis – Wavetable and Granular

In this article series we are going to have a look at synthesizers! We will start with the very basic knowledge and use it then to understand complex sound design, unique workflows and different types of synthesis. 


Wavetable Synthesis 

One of the more modern types of synthesis. We talked about the limits of waveforms before, as there are only a few common ones used in almost all synthesizers. That’s not true for wavetable synthesizers though! The idea of wavetable was found around 1970 – digital synthesizers using more complex waveforms in a greater variety. They are kind of similar to subtractive synthesis in terms of other parameters and general workflow but the difference of the oscillators themselves is massive! 

They are like the 3D version of 2D waveforms. Wavetable Oscillators feature a number of single waveforms that you can morph between. If those wave forms are just slight variations of each other the sweep through the wavetable might sound soft and pleasant, while if the differences are bigger you can get very crazy sounding sweeps. Since there is countless wavetables available, because you can literally make your own or use any audio signal as a wavetable in synthesizers like Serum, the possibilities of sound design in wavetable synthesizers are endless. There is a number of famous and often used VST synthesizers like x-fer Serum, Vital, Arturia Pigments, Ableton Wavetable … 


Granular Synthesis 

Granular Synthesis works in a much different way than everything else we talked about and is just one example of many other types of synthesis that work in an unconventional way. Granular is not using oscillators but works more like sampling. Unlike when using a sampler, the sample is not played regularly but rather split into tiny parts that are called grains. If you would play them all in right order at the right speed it would sound like the original sample, but the fun start when we don’t do this! 

Re-arranging the order of the grains, changing their envelope, varying the speed we play grains in general and many more little tricks can be done with granular synthesis. Those effects result in almost unpredictable audio material. Especially when you consider that you can use ANYTHING as a sample to start from! A recording of a guitar … a voice saying “hi” … the sound of breaking glass. No limits! Granular synthesis might not be used to often for leads but is perfect for creating rich and breathing atmospheres or even pads and fx sounds. Just try it out yourself – Arturia Pigments features a granular section for its sampler, but there’s also a free max for life tool called Granulator for Ableton! 

In the next article, after going through all the basics and fundamental knowledge, we will talk about complex sound design! Get ready for the deep stuff …