21st century synths

I just read on CDM about the Behringer modules and in that article, Peter challenges the general retro-focus of synth makers at the moment. He asks “what should a 2020 synth even sound like?”

And that made me wonder…if we let the past be, what would the next wave of innovative synths look like?

It’s so hard to break through the barrier of the known…So the idea here is for us to imagine and envision what next-level-tech synths might look like going forward and to harness the collective intelligence of this forum… :stuck_out_tongue:

What should be its sound sources? Its filters and modulators? Envelopes, LFOs? Fx? Structure? Never-before seen features? AI? Non-local sources & collaboration?

Fantasise away :slight_smile:


I would think in a world of overpopulation and noise pollution everywhere a Synth that could produce the sound of silence would be a godsend. Literally just removes every bit of sound around you with a press of a button or sweep of a filter.


Didnt they actually do some technology like this? I thought i read somewhere they were doing tech that generated sound frequencies that phased out “tinnitus” (inner ear high pitch noise). Just a thought.

This synth is called noise cancelling headphones.


For me i’d like a modern instrument that easily allows me to record nature , be portable /battery have a state varible analog filter , modular connectivity. Its focus would be on mindfulness and meditation by taking time to focus on the sounds of our surroundings. Something in our modern lives we lack a lot. Or more combination on mixed media. Like video synths and audio synths combined.

I would suggest two main fields … not surprising … analogue and algorithmic :wink:


May be there should be some more developers experimenting with analogue electronic circuits like Don Buchla did. Just try something - maybe weird - which in the analogue world manipulates a waveform.

Sadly that I am no electronics engineer to know, but I suppose there might be more useful circuitry out there than the famous waveshapers, wavefolders, AM, FM, ring-mod etc. to create interesting tones.

Algorithmic (digital):

Same as for analogue … experimenting with unusual algorithms, which generate periodical things, and have influence in the maths of which is supposed to become sound.

But what should be the next generation of synths? Good question.

I guess it should be about sound and user interface. Both giving us the opportunity to play an instrument in very different ways and with much expressiveness and as easy to use as possible.

Maybe after the synth market is saturated with all this “classic concepts” and “clones”, some inventors might have the courage to experiment more rather than to look into the past only and on maximizing revenue.

To search and develop new technology always is a risk. Maybe we musicians can encourage the inventors or even share the risk by supporting projects through crowd funding.


greetings. questions like these keep me up at night. personally i like what soma is doing with “organismic” synths,maybe take it further by electrode helmets picking up brain activity? or does that sound more like 2030 synth?


I really think that the future is FM.
There are so many different ways that frequencies can modulate each other and most synths that utilise FM do so in quite specific ways.
If Autechre have taught us anything I’m recent years (and I think we can all agree that they represent the sound of the future in much the same way that Stockhausen or Kraftwerk did before them) it’s that there’s a huge amount still unexplored where FM is concerned.
I think the Digitone will be remembered for being the first “user friendly” FM synth and, once the obsession with retro shit (not that I’m dissing it, I have a few boutiques myself) is over, we’ll see more manufacturers going in this direction. With all the advances in processing speeds and user interfaces it’s a matter of time before someone makes the ultimate FM synth, one that goes way beyond what’s currently possible with FM synths.


Yes, Vlad Kreimer is an inventor, who follows the path of the pioneers of electronic instruments. He had visions and ideas of his own and projected this into electronics. I found it very interesting, what his idea for the Lyra-8 was. After playing the Lyra-8 I would say, he’s got it right.


looking at the synths as a musicians (not as sound designer), i just don’t care.
existing synths are totally suitable for very wide range of musical ideas. but in so called reality, they are used mostly for producing boring music, and i guess it’s not due to the obsolescence of their architecture.


I love my Lyra 8, though I think I’m about 10% into knowing what I’m doing with it. I think Vlad’s success with the Lyra is making FM feel instinctive rather than mathematical.


IMO this retro synths - be their design as old as it is - have not been exploited to their full potential. There is much more possible as to use them for drums, basses, leads etc. and well-tried musical structures of the past and nowadays.

It’s interesting what pioneers of electronic music and instruments have to say in this video … watch … :wink:

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The trick is that it’s not a simple modulator-carrier relation as in the dedicated FM circuits of the analogue world (example the complex oscillators). There is much more fluctuation and uncertainty in Vlad’s circuits. But the complex feedback options - including the delay - and the touch plates, which are sensing more than the basic touch only, make a difference.

I think the future synth will be easy to use and smart. No innovation in the sound, but there is still lot of work for ergonomic and creativity.
Machines become too complex with too much possibility and do it all.
The future synth will know what you want to do, learn your style, and help you in this direction. And if you ask him, he will purpose you a new thing.

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Beware of “Alexa” like gear … :wink:

For me it is a very good visual feedback of what is hapenning. Elektrons e.g. are very bad to show what is actually being modulated internally. Have an LFO mapped to the filter cutoff? You wouldn‘t see anything moving. Only external or recorded/plocked control is displayed.

Also for envelopes: I want to see in which part of the envelope I am to adjust accordingly. Also for LFOs - show me how the function looks like and give me a relation to the stepsequencer (I don‘t want to look it up from a table I have saved somewhere on my iPad)

Also I‘d always want to have access to ALL parameters that are exposed to me to modulate them (like arps etc.).

No global send FX and if then only with seperat outputs for each track to add FX as needed with pedals.

Also maybe new concepts for envelopes with more options like e.g. predelay

USB audio.

MIDI 2.0 and a good implementation for NNPRs etc. (DT/DG eat up 4 of 8 MIDI values for setting one NNPR for example).

High resolution for recording filter sweeps in the stepsequencer.

Multitimbral with at least 16 voices.

A few synth engines.

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In terms of actual sound sythesis, I don’t think there’s that much more ground yet to explore. We’ve done analogue, we’ve done FM, AM, PM, wavetables, physical modelling, etc. The principles are all there. I think innovations as of this point will be down to sheer computing power and design:

Computing power
This is where we can expect to see further innovations in physical modeling by way of complex simulations, machine learning algorithms and the like. Really, AI (mainly in the form of machine learning) is the big thing at the moment, that allows us to apply complex pattern recognition to allow computers to understand contextual information. This could be used to aid user input, such as by predicting user intentions, offering automatic solutions based on other data such as sidechain inputs, or taking user input such as vocals, other audio sources or gestures and turning them into complex, meaningful results. We could see synths that can sing the words you type in a variety of voices, or can take your vocal input and develop entire accompaniments on the fly, or can take a sample of an instrument and create a virtual simulation of that instrument that you can play with various articulations.

This is where I’d expect to see more of a merging between hardware and software; creating custom physical interfaces to accompany the power of a computer. The intuitiveness and fun of hardware gear with the features and power of a computer. This could mean extensions of things like the Akai Force, or it could mean more novel control devices allowing gestural input. I’ve been yearning for an augmented reality virtual studio that I can control with simple gestural movements, for example. I expect to see more innovative sequencers, embedded IoT devices that can talk to each other and share data based on a single interface etc.

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Yep. I don’t want this kind of synth and I don’t want it exist, but I think this is the future.

Great thread!

  • One hand plays the keys/touchpad/pads/etc.

  • other hand manipulates joystick

The synth has no controllable parameters at all. It is a VA/FM/wavetable morphing synth with filters, envelopes, filters… that are randomly generated and streaming. And they aren’t stepped intervals like a sequencer. Always morphing. You just interact with this unpredictable endlessly morphing thing. Even FX like reverb and delay could be part of the randomly generated stream. The joystick morphs between the morphing layers.

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If that happens generations of musicians will persist in a state of musical toddlers rather than develop great musical capabilities.

If algorithms “suggest” how to make music accoring to “pattern recognition algorithms” based on formerly successful compositions, odds are that new ideas will be created only on a very rare basis … and if those computer based assistance features have had not the last word.

Just scrambling old stuff - in maybe a little different way - will create old stuff scrambled. There is no creativity in it, and no new music. The creativity or better the lack of creativity in nowadays pop music is a first indication of such doing … :wink: