Free Online Synthesizers (Part 3)

free online synths
Standard

This is the third and final part of my posts detailing the best free online synthesizers I could find. There are plenty of awesome browser-based synths out there waiting to be played. In this final part, I’ll be sharing a few really awesome modular synthesizers. Of course, there are regular synths too. A little something for everyone.

Sympathetic Synthesizer

Here we have a surprisingly simple yet intuitive synth interface. It’s bright and colorful, and it contains all the basic features you would expect from an electronic sound machine. It’s got an envelope, filter, noise generator, LFO, and three oscillators. Effective and deep, but not too complicated.

If you’re new to synthesizers and sound design, this can be a fun starting point.

sympathetic synth

 

Patchwork Modular Synth

Patchwork is a full-fledged online modular synth. If you’re not familiar with what the signal chain of a synthesizer looks like, you will have a bit of a learning curve with this synth. The options are endless though, and you can create music using their oscillators and sequencers or your own audio files that you upload. There are multiple FX options available, and theoretically you could have a twelve oscillator synth if you feed mixers into more mixers. Check it out and get creative!

patchwork synth

 

PatternSketch

PatternSketch is a hybrid. It features emulations of famous drum machines like the TR-909 and TR-808, but it also adds in synth and bass notes so you can make a rudimentary song. The layout however, is reminiscent of the Tenuri-on instrument.

patternsketch

And that concludes part three of this series. Click here for part two, or go back to part 1 if you’d like!

Free Online Synthesizers (Part 2)

free online synths
Standard

Today we have part two of the free online synthesizers post series. There are a couple awesome drum machines and vintage-esque synths that I recently discovered, and they all produce thick, rich sounds. If you’ve got a few hours to kill between classes, or you want to get as little as possible done at work, check out the following synths.

WebX0X

This little creation is basically just a four voice synthesizer. There are four oscillators, four noise generators that you can use to color your sound, and a sequencer for each voice. Each section has its own tweakable settings, so it’s worth at least fifteen minutes of your time. Some of the parameters you can adjust:

  • Pitch Decay
  • Cutoff Frequency
  • Color (for the noise generators)
  • 16-step sequencer

If you’re new to synthesizers and sound design, this can be a fun starting point.

webx0x

 

WebModular

The WebModular synth is a simple little experiment created using HTML5 and Javascript. It provides six different patches from which you can manipulate and edit. There’s also a sequencer, but it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen before. You type in the notes in a text box and it plays those notes. There are two each of VCOs, VCFs, VCAs, and envelopes. If you’re new to modular synthesis, this synth makes for an easy introduction.

webmodular

 

MZ-101

This free online synthesizer is, like many others, purely an experiment with coding and programming. I had trouble getting the thing to make any sounds, but on the web page it specifically says you probably need the latest version of Google Chrome. That aside, it looks rather intriguing. With all the classic features like an LFO, modulation envelope, an amplitude envelope, and filter, it appears to be a well-rounded monophonic synth. Check the screenshot below.

mz-101

 

AudioTool

AudioTool isn’t really a free online synthesizer, but rather a full production suite. I believe there’s a paid version as well, but the free version has more than enough to keep you occupied for weeks. The best part is it features a drag-and-drop interface so you can just plop down new instruments or effects and connect them how you want.

The names of some of the synths are awkward (Pulverisateur and Machiniste?), but you’re provided with a decent selection. From their own take on the classic 808, 909, and 303 sounds to more modern synth noises in their Heisenberg synth, you’re sure to find something of interest.

audiotool

 

And that concludes part 2 of this series. Check out part three here, or go back to part one!

Free Online Synthesizers (Part 1)

free online synthesizers
Standard

As I continue to make music, I look for new ways to produce and create fresh sounds. Sometimes a break from Ableton can work wonders for me. But of course I don’t want to just stop making music. Instead, I find new outputs. What I decided to share today is a list of browser-based synthesizers and drum machines. These are free online synthesizers that are perfect for chipping away at your free time. They’ve successfully ruined my work productivity. I have no regrets. They also happen to be a great solution for whenever you want to step away from your typical producing routines and just mess around with no goals in mind. I’m referring to those occasions when you’re tired of trying to finish that track and you just want to twist some virtual knobs and tinker with sounds.

The list below is by no means an exhaustive one, but I’m confident you’ll find pretty much anything you could want. Whether it’s a modular synth, a drum machine, or a vintage analog emulation, it exists out there in the depths of the internet and I’ve got it all right here in one convenient location. They’re all entirely free, and most are pretty easy to get the hang of. So go ahead, waste the rest of your week playing online synthesizers. That’s what I did.

WebSynths

If you want deep and complex, load this thing up in your browser. It’s chock full of features and tweakable settings, you can adjust the BPM, and there are 125 preset patches. The user interface isn’t the prettiest, but it’s easy to look past that when you’ve got gazillions of sliders you can manipulate in order to get the sound just the way you want it. Oh, and there’s an on-screen keyboard you can play with your actual keyboard. Some of the parameters you can adjust:

  • Volume (there’s gain, a limiter, and a meter)
  • Effects (compression, distortion, delay, modulation, reverb, and EQ)
  • Amplitude (attack, decay, sustain, hold, release)
  • Filters (two filters, each with many settings, an LFO, and more)
  • Oscillators (there are three, and each have many variables)

If you’re new to synthesizers and sound design, there will definitely be a learning curve. But it’s worth it. This alone could probably consume 50 hours or more of your time. Check it out below!

WebAudio Drum

I love drum machines. And so should you. What better way to spend your afternoons than by crafting intricate drum beats? This virtual drum machine features a kick, snare, hihat, and three toms (low, mid, high). With this particular drum machine, I’m blown away by how many kits you can pick from. The flexibility in setting your BPM and adding swing to your rhythm is pretty awesome too. You can even choose between soft and hard velocity on each note. And if that’s not enough, you can apply effects and adjust the pitch of each channel. Despite the great attention to detail, I do wish that there were more elements. Offering just one hihat is limiting when most drum machines offer both a closed and an open hihat sound.

webaudio drum

Plink

Plink is a much more casual approach to making music online. It also implements multiplayer functionality pretty well. Plink works like this:

  1. Enter a nickname and join for free with no signup
  2. Choose your instrument by selecting a color from the sidebar menu
  3. Move your cursor up and down to raise and lower pitch (the interface is basically a giant piano roll)
  4. Click with your mouse button to play a note

It’s really that simple, and it expands the notion of jamming with others to an online realm. There’s something fun about synchronizing your efforts with someone you don’t know to make awesome improvisational tunes.

Plink

WebSID

This synth boasts rich tones, yet a simple interface. Play notes with your computer keyboard and use your mouse to drag some of the faders up and down. It’s supposed to be a replication of the Commodore 64 style of music, but I’m not sure it does a great job emulating it. Regardless, it’s still fun to mess around with the LFO and Echo while playing fat saw wave notes. You can also record what you play and loop it.

WebSID

 

Infinite Jukebox

This application isn’t really a synthesizer, but I wanted to include it because it’s just so unique. Essentially, you upload your favorite song and then the Infinite Jukebox dissects the song, breaking it down beat by beat and splitting it into many numerous parts. It then jumps around and keeps the song going. Since I’m doing a terrible job of explaining what this app does, I’ll quote their FAQ page directly:

  • How does it work? – We use the Echo Nest analyzer to break the song into beats. We play the song beat by beat, but at every beat there’s a chance that we will jump to a different part of song that happens to sound very similar to the current beat. For beat similarity we look at pitch, timbre, loudness, duration and the position of the beat within a bar. There’s a nifty visualization that shows all the possible transitions that can occur at any beat.

The nifty visualization they’re referring to is below. It changes with each song.

Infinite Jukebox

 

And that concludes part 1 of this series. I’ve found so many free online synthesizers that I think it’s worth it to split the full list up into a few different posts. Go experiment with each of these tools and by the time you wear your ears out I’ll have the next post finished and published. Check out part two here.

7 Great Reverb Plugins

7 great reverb plugins
Standard

Watch any seasoned electronic music producer in the studio and I’ll bet money that they make use of reverb. It’s one of those effects that many producers can’t live without. You can take a painfully dry sound and breathe life into it with some subtle use of reverb. It can help blend a raw hihat into your song better or add that slight touch to your lead synth line, making it sound fuller and fatter. There are plenty of uses for reverb plugins, and I’ll discuss that in a later blog post. For now though, I want to shine light on some of the great reverb plugins out there in the music world today. How do I define the term ‘great’? Any plugin that allows me to achieve desired results fast, or that I find myself coming back to time and time again.

Out Of The Box

It should be noted that some of the standard reverb plugins that come packaged with your DAW are brilliant. You can do a lot with Logic’s and Ableton’s reverbs, and it’s probably best to experiment with those units before venturing into paid software. But, sometimes we’re looking for a specific sound that you just can’t achieve out of the box. Alternatively, it could be that everything is starting to sound the same. If you use the same plugin on every track, eventually you’ll be making songs that sound similar in tone. Whatever your reasons, the following plugins are worth at least a look. Keep in mind they’re in no particular order.

1. Voxengo OldSkoolVerb – Free

If you’re on a budget, nothing beats a free reverb. In my years of producing, I’ve come to really appreciate Voxengo’s software, and it just so happens that they offer a free reverb plugin called OldskoolVerb. The plugin offers the standard plate, hall, and room sounds, and provides a variety of parameters to tweak, but not so many that it becomes confusing. Download it here.

voxengo oldskoolverb

 

2. Softube Spring Reverb – $99

There are times where the only effect that can do your sound justice is a spring reverb. Unless you happen to love that twangy guitar sound, you probably won’t be using a spring reverb everyday, but it pays to have a great one in your mixing kit. Look no further than Softube’s Spring Reverb plugin. At only $99, it won’t break your bank account. Here’s the link to buy and listen to audio samples.

softube spring reverb

3. Waves Renaissance Reverb

Waves has made a name for itself with making high quality plugins. Of their reverb effects, the Renaissance plugin works wonders. It’s effective, sounds professional, and is simple enough that you can slap it on a channel and get the desired results in seconds. It sells for $99, get it here.

waves renaissance reverb

 

4. 112dB Redline Reverb

This particular reverb uses only one algorithm, yet the selling point is how much you can tweak the particular sound. It’s a beauty, and the reverb itself sounds clean and airy. Buy it at only $149 and see for yourself.

redline reverb

 

5. Softube TSAR-1

This reverb unit was made to sound specifically like vintage reverbs. The name comes from its True Stereo Algorithm, which apparently is what makes it sound so full of character. It boasts a load of presets as well. Here’s a link for more information as well as audio samples.

tsar-1

 

6. D16 Group’s Toraverb

This reverb is cheap. Only $35! And it’s a steal because the sounds you can get out of this plugin are worth at least double the cost. The Toraverb offers a lush, dense reverb that makes wonderful tails for pads, drums, and many other elements. More info here.

toraverb

 

7. Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Plug-in Bundle

Lexicon is the name many producers think of when discussing professional sounding reverbs. There are seven reverbs included, and each of them sound incredible. If you’re on a budget, you may struggle to pay for the $599 price tag, but the sounds you’ll get from each plugin are top notch. The seven units are Chamber, Room, Hall, Random Hall, Concert Hall, Plate, and Vintage Plate. Buy the bundle here.

lexicon pcm reverb bundle

 

That rounds off this reverb list. If you like what you are seeing, be sure to go pick up some of these reverb effects.

Bonus: One of my favorite reverbs (and one that was also recommended to me by a respected mastering engineer) is the Valhalla VintageVerb. Every reverb by Valhalla is only $50, and all of them sound incredible. For adding atmospheric textures, try the Valhalla Shimmer.valhalla vintageverbYou can buy the Valhalla VintageVerb here, and the Shimmer here.

Creating Atmosphere and Ambience

atmosphere and ambience
Standard

Listen to any commercially-made song and you’ll notice it’s full. I mean that literally – the frequency spectrum is filled out and, even in a track where there are minimal elements, it still sounds complete. Now think about your own efforts. Chances are, at some point in your producing career, you’ve created a track that just doesn’t quite sound complete. In other words, it’s missing something. It feels empty at certain points, and even if it was mixed well, your song still lacks something. If only you knew what was missing…

Enter atmosphere and ambience. As producers, our job is to ensure a full, complete, finished product. At early stages in the journey, an incomplete sound is mistaken for not enough elements. You might think there should be more going on. More drums or more synth lines perhaps. But when you add these elements, they muddy up the song and it starts to sound like crap. The clarity and brilliance that once existed now has disappeared.

If you find yourself relating, then the answer is found in creating atmosphere and ambience. Knowing is only half of it, though. Just how does one create ambience in a track? How do you set up an environment or atmosphere? How can you build a living, breathing world for your music? This can be a hard nut to crack, considering your entire world will exist for only 5-10 minutes (depending on your genre). The goal is to create a dynamic, evolving, breathing world that you can layer behind your elements. For example, when the break arrives, and everything gives way to just a simple kick-and-bass combo, you need to make sure suddenly things don’t seem empty and vacant.

I know the struggle for attaining atmosphere and ambience quite well. That’s why I’ve put together a list of solutions for creating a backdrop for your tracks. These have all helped me at one point or another, and depending on the style of music you’re creating, they should help you too!

Atmospheric Samples

Here are some links for readily accessible atmospheric sounds.

NASA’s Sound Library – They’ve got everything from the Shuttle program and the International Space Station to sound clips from the Mercury program in the early 1960’s.

FreeSound.org – This site contains a huge collection of audio recordings and samples. As the name suggests, they’re completely free. You can find practically anything on here, from machines to revving engines to vocals!

Creating Your Own Ambience

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Create your own noises. Below are some ideas to get you started on making some of your own atmospheric effects.

  • Vinyl Sounds – Use a vinyl emulation plugin. Ableton has one called Vinyl Distortion. Similarly, Izotope has a free plugin called Vinyl. You could also sample a record from your collection.
  • Tape Effects – Again, there are plugins for this. You could try the Waves’ plugin called Kramer Master Tape. Alternatively, try the plugin PSP Vintage Warmer. A third option is to watch this video about recreating tape effects in Ableton modeled after the method Boards Of Canada used. I find the video to be very informative about creating a tape machine right in your DAW.
  • Noises – A more common option is to apply some noise in the background of your songs. You can use a synth with a noise generator or simply a recording of white, pink or brown noise. Experiment by running the noise through a filter, phaser, flanger, or some other effect until you’re satisfied with the results. Then just lower the channel fader until your noise sits comfortably in the background.
  • Field Recordings – This is a great option. Whether you’ve got an actual field recorder or just an ordinary iPhone, you can go out into the world and record the sounds you observe all around you. Record them and import them into your DAW.
  • Pads and Synths – You could also take certain airy pad or synth sounds and mess with them until they sit softly in the background. Try adding a hi-pass filter all the way up to 15kHz. Or, add a long reverb tail to your pad and set the dry level to 0% so the original sound is muted and all you get is the reverb.
  • Time Stretching – Here’s a unique approach. Take an audio sample and time-stretch it. For example, a 30-second recording becomes a 30-minute recording. That by itself will sound like a very atmospheric noise, and you can then add reverb or a delay to it.

Once you’ve got some atmospheric effects, you can mess around even further by side-chaining your background noises to your drums or some other instrument.

Frequency Range Charts

Standard

All great songs fill out the frequency spectrum. It is one of the three major dimensions that every producer should utilize to ensure their track sounds professional, full, and complete. When there are gaps in the frequency range, your song will sound thin, as if it’s missing something (because it is).

Since the frequency range is so crucial to achieving a professional sound, I’ve scoured the internet for the best resources I’ve ever found. Some are recent, others I first discovered years ago. But if it’s on this page, it’s highly useful and can help you learn where the instruments tend to sit. Once you know where instruments go in the frequency range you can begin choosing sounds that play well together, as well as learn how to EQ problem zones that interfere with each other.

An Interactive Chart

Some years ago, I stumbled upon a frequency chart that you could mouse over and it would show you the varieties of instruments and what part of the frequency range they covered. The chart detailed fundamental frequencies for different instruments, what range overtones and formants resided, and what areas to boost or cut depending on the result you wanted. The full chart can be found at independentrecording.net, and below is a screenshot. Much attention to detail!

Freq. Chart

 

As you can see in the image above, different instruments occupy different frequencies. When using different instruments together in a composition, you need to be cognizant of whether your sounds will overlap or not. If they overlap, you will hear muddiness, and your song will lack clarity. By carefully choosing your sounds at the source, (in our case, probably a synth patch), you can prevent your elements from interfering with each other and you’ll have a much easier time getting a clean mix.

EQing Cheat Sheet

Another great resource for understanding frequencies and working with them via EQing is this cheat sheet created by Frederic Villemin. It includes a glossary of terms, what bands to cut or boost for a desired effect, and helpful suggestions.

EQ Cheat sheet

 

EQ Cheat Sheet Pt. 2

 

Yet Another Chart

Last but not least, there is a third frequency chart which I’ve come across, though I’m not quite sure where I found it. It’s simply another look at the frequency range and where instruments sit, and how to EQ them to bring out their sounds.

Yet Another Freq Chart