How To Better Your Soft Synths - Pt 2

Posted by The Audio Hunt

Three more techniques to enhance your software synths making them sit inside the mix or poke out just like those heard on commercial records.

How To Better Your Soft Synths - Pt 2

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Artists make music on the fly, and I mean literally – on long flights, between gigs, in bars and cafes or wherever inspiration strikes. It makes sense for the modern producer to make full use of the plethora of digital tools available for portability and convenience reasons. Depending on the production, budget and numerous other factors these parts can then be re-tracked through classic units in the studio or – what tends to be the case more and more these days – to apply a combination of ‘studio trickery’ to infuse some life and character into the already printed digital performance. In this article we are presenting our top workarounds used by pros around the world [either post-performance, in the production or sometimes during mixing stage] to enhance the sound of soft synths to a level where they will make it onto the final record print.


Racks, Stacks & Strips

Taking microphones out of the equation, our next digital synth processing option involves using traditional outboard equipment. Anything from compressors to EQs to harmonic enhancement and aural exciters can be used creatively to alter the sound of synthesisers whether these are leads, basses or poly patches.

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While compressors and EQs can be used for their intended purpose – to limit or enhance the dynamic range of the part or the frequency content respectively, valve-based devices for example can be used as a coloration device. Simply passing the dry signal though any such units at unity settings will colour the sound by adding varying amounts harmonic distortion which usually help where the digital performance may sound sterile or lack character. One of the main sonic differences will be a subtle rounding of the overall tone of the part – this is what most people commonly describe to be the sought after ‘analog sound’. We recommend trying out Neve’s 33609 or the 2254, a good ol’ 1176REV A whenever possible – or a modern classic – the Distressor. When it comes to EQs, as is the case with compressors, it really depends on what you’re looking to achieve – the Michelangelo is great for shaping the overall tonal balance, Pultecs are great for broad strokes and for thickening up the low end, the GML 8200, Neve 1073 and Maag EQ4 are great for adding air and an API 550B will help you control the mid-range.

Harmonic enhancement units can bring life back into any digital performance helping them stand out in the mix, where such an effect is desired, while also rounding off some of the harshness often associated with soft synths. In this category, the main culprits you should look for are the Culture Vulture, the Aphex 602B or the CraneSong HEDD 192.

Channel strips will give you the best of both worlds – these units usually feature a combination of compression, eq and sometimes harmonic enhancement. These can also feature a variety of designs ranging from transformers to valves. Some of the more notable mentions include the likes of SSL, Neve, API, UAD, Manley and Chandler.


Passing Audio through other analog synths

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If processing a sound through guitar amp is called reamping, one could argue this approach should be called resynthesizing. And indeed they won’t be far off – passing a synthesizer part through the circuitry of another synth gives you a whole new palette of options.

The main advantage of passing a digital synth through an analog one is that you can apply classic filters. While Moog are famous for their filter design, there is no harm in being creative and trying other options as well. The ARP 2600, VCS 3, Jupiter 8 and SH-5 are all great candidates for getting creative with your own soft synths.

Another use for re-synthesis would be to apply new layers of modulation. Everything from envelopes to LFOs can be used to creatively alter the original part, although this will depend on the design of the hardware unit used – we recommend checking with the owners first. 


Time-based Effects

You can’t go wrong with reverbs or delays – these will work on practically everything you throw at them. Whether you’re looking to better position your synth in a mix or to create interesting effects, nothing quite compares to the sound of an analog time-based effect unit. 

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, feel free to check out Adrian Utley’s Arturia MiniBrute going through an Echoplex unit:


Delays are great for a number of things but they really shine on plucked sounds when used as an audible effect. We recommend trying stereo or ping-pong matched to the BPM of the song.

Also, when a larger than life sound is required for your power synth patch, the AMS RMX 16 or the H3000 will widen your part like nothing else would. Short delay times work best, usually under 30ms in length, panned hard left and right and mixed back with the original will do the trick. Another trick is to use a stereo delay with individual channel mix control – leaving one channel 100% dry and the other one completely wet with a short delay will widen the synth while leaving space in the middle for other elements in the mix.


How To Synths