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Among fans of electronic music, dubstep has exploded in popularity over the past few years.
Characterized by distinctive rhythms, deep bass and sub bass lines for warmth and depth, and a dark sound with heavy use of atmospherics and swing, dubstep is a quickly evolving art form.
Most dubstep relies heavily on synthesizers to produce its layered sounds. And if you want to produce dubstep, you need a synth that can perform a few basic functions.
First, you need a synth with at least two oscillators. This will allow you to play both the base line and a sub bass part, which can be simply produced by doubling the bass line an octave lower using sine waves.
For that sub bass line, it may be recommended to use a low-pass filter.
You’ll also want a synth with a variety of waveforms – most have at least saw, triangle, and pulse/square – as that will make your music more complex and interesting.
The main distinction made between different types of synths is between analog and digital synths.
Analog synths use electric pulses to generate and manipulate sound waves, while digital synthesizers convert those waves into numbers, manipulate them with computers, and turn them back again.
Analog synths have been around a lot longer, and some people still prefer them for their warm sound. Even the distortion that comes with the analog model is endearing for many people.
Digital synths tend to have a cleaner sound and can produce a wide variety of sounds.
There are even digital synths that mimic the sound of analog synths, which are called virtual analog synths (Massive and Sirin are two good examples of this).
But for this article, we’re going to focus on analog (not virtual analog) synthesizers.
Although deep bass lines are an essential part of dubstep, we’re not going to focus on those that only produce bass notes, since the higher lines are also part of the music.
And it’s also worth noting that with creativity most synthesizers will work for producing good dubstep.
Still, some synths will help you out more than others, and so we’re going to look at a few very good options.
Korg’s flagship analog synth, the Prologue is available in both an 8-voice and a 16-voice form.
The 8-voice Prologue has a full-sized four-octave keybed, while the 16-voice adds an additional octave. Apart from the difference in range, however, both Prologues have similar features.
The Prologue has three oscillators, the first two of which are identical and offer Saw, Triangle, and Square waves.
There is also a shape pot that lets you further alter the waves.
It’s worth noting the lack of a sine wave setting, but sine waves can be approximated by taking triangle waves and use the filter to remove the harmonics.
This leaves you with a single frequency, which is what a sine wave is.
The third oscillator is actually a digital oscillator (which makes the Prologue a hybrid synth, not strictly analog). Instead of wave forms, this oscillator provides three modes of sound generation.
Noise contains four noise-based sounds that can be adjusted with the shape pot. VPM (Variable Phrase Modulation) mimics the sound of a basic FM synth.
And USR allows users to upload up to 16 oscillator programs that can be used in patches. They do this using Korg’s free software.
The Prologue does ship with a few patches in place, including one that produces sine waves.
As for the interaction of the oscillators with one another, users can choose from four voice modes: poly, mono, unison and chord.
The Spread pot and shape control allow you to space out the VCOs, detune, and, most importantly for dubstep, bring out subtones.
The Prologue’s filter has a two pole design offering low pass and high pass filters. It has a switch for key tracking, which is applied in amounts of 0%, 50% or 100%.
Sometimes the filter cuts out some of the low end notes, but Korg has installed a drive switch, which applies distortion in degrees of 0%, 50%, or 100%.
This distortion puts the low tones back in, while also applying some nice depth to the higher notes.
At the end of the sound generation process, the Prologue can apply some nice effects, including a delay/reverb section and a modulation section, which can create effects that sound like an ensemble or a chorus.
The Prologue is a very classy looking synth, with wooden end cheeks on either side of the keyboard and a black arc-shaped control panel.
But the real advantage of the Prologue is the sheer variety of sounds it can produce, when you take into account the interaction of the three oscillators, the filter and the back-end effects.
Even more is available with the digital patches that you can create or simply adopt. But despite the digital effects available, it can still produce the distinctive sound of an analog synth.
Building on a 35+ year history of high quality synthesizers, the Prophet 12 brings incredible versatility and power to the table. It is composed of two, six-voice synthesizers called Layer A and Layer B.
This allows it to be played as a 12-voice polysynth, a six-voice bitimbral synth or just two six-voice synths.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to access all these functions from the main control panel, so you don’t have to be an expert to get good use out of the Prophet 12.
The Prophet 12 boasts four high-resolution oscillators per voice, with each one capable of creating saw, square, triangle and sine waves, as well as white, red and violet noise.
And each of the analogue-style waveforms comes with ways to shape the waves, such as by modifying the pulse width.
There are also 12 additional waves with names that tell you something about what they sound like, such as Nasal, Buzz, Ohhhh, and Ahhh.
On these additional waves, you can select a base waveform, put other waves to its left and right and fade from one to another to create new and interesting sounds.
The oscillator section also contains controls for amplitude modulation, frequency modulation, and hard sync.
The setup enables you to sync pairs of oscillators in a variety of combinations and route the oscillators within the modulation matrix, all of which exponentially increases the variety of sounds available.
That means plenty of fuel for your creativity as you try to create new and interesting music.
Before the sound passes through the filter section, it goes through another section labeled “character,” which offers five ways to alter the sound even before it gets to the filter.
The first two, “girth” and “air” bring out the low and high ends of the sound; “hack” drops the word length down, and “decimation” reduces the sample rate.
Last “drive” does pretty much what you’d expect. This creates the possibility of rough, grainy noise similar to the oldest analog synths.
The Prophet 12 has a low-pass filter that can alternate between a resonant, non-self-oscillating 12 dB-per-octave mode and a resonant, self-oscillating 24 dB-per-octave mode.
It also has a high-pass filter, to which you can route any of the modulators, and which can be pushed into self-oscillation to make a whole new class of sounds.
Once the sound gets through the filters, you have the option of sending it back to the character section again or of sending it straight to the output section, which has two more analog distortion units and a volume control.
The synth also comes with 792 Programs containing 1584 distinct patches. Some of these are factory settings that users can’t change, but the 396 programmable memories (792 patches) still give users a lot of room to play around.
With its capacity for creating a wide variety of sounds (including sine waves) the Prophet 12 gives players room to flex their creativity and create intense dubstep.
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