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Where would you add saturation?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion  
Author Where would you add saturation?
Mr. Aloud
While there are many places in a modular synth to add a little saturation, which ones do you think make sense:

Keeping it simple with a structure like "VCO, VCF, VCA, FX", would you add saturation (tube based mixer or overdriving a unit that can handle it)

a) post-VCO?
b) post-VCF?
c) post-VCA?
d) post FX?

The right answer may be "e) All of the above", but what is your take?
Rex Coil 7
Yes Powder
Best Practice would tell you to add it either post-VCA or post-effect (depending on the effect) but anyone with a decent amount of practical experience will tell you that "best practice" and "the best way to achieve a specific goal" don't always line up.
The Moog sound is often attributed at least partially to the filter saturating. Some oscillators even have drive controls that allow the audio coming out of them to be pre-saturated. As far as pre/postFX, I would more inclined to put saturation before a delay or reverb, but after something like a phaser, octave-down, or some kind of granular/FFT processor. That's just me though, and even I don't always do it like that.

tl;dr: Get to know how it sounds each way, and do what you need to get the sound you want.
Rex Coil 7
If a properly suited instrument interface is used, something like the Deco may be placed anywhere in the audio chain. In Euro, I've been very happy with the Bastl "Hendrikson" for that purpose. I bought two of them. I can now place any type of effect in any place in the audio chain of my modular (which only requires one instrument interface to do so).

This is the most useful way of obtaining saturated sounds ... or any other type of processing. Bring the audio out of the modular ... apply the effect ... and bring it back into the modular.
naturligfunktion
Saturation is always nice, so my advice is that you try applying it in different parts of the signal chain, observe the difference and then use the method that best suit what you would like to achieve smile
Plattform
Another vote for the experimentation here ! Saturation can sound nice everywhere in the chain thumbs up
Keltie
Plattform wrote:
Another vote for the experimentation here ! Saturation can sound nice everywhere in the chain thumbs up


This. Although personally I’m quite fond of saturation pre filter...but not to the exclusion of other ways of patching it.
Pelsea
Mr. Aloud wrote:
While there are many places in a modular synth to add a little saturation, which ones do you think make sense:

Keeping it simple with a structure like "VCO, VCF, VCA, FX", would you add saturation (tube based mixer or overdriving a unit that can handle it)

a) post-VCO?
b) post-VCF?
c) post-VCA?
d) post FX?

The right answer may be "e) All of the above", but what is your take?


Not likely all of the above, but definitely any of the above. Each will sound different:
a) post-VCO-- The effect of saturation is to add upper harmonics (brightness) to the waveform. These will be modified by the filter-- in fact extreme filtering will negate the effect of saturation.
b) post-VCF-- The result will be constantly bright- a lot of saturation will negate the filter.
c) post-VCA-- Since the sound of the saturation usually depends on the amplitude of the incoming signal, it is difficult to adjust post VCA. Done in the usual way, this will produce a sound that is bright when loud but "purifies" on the tail of the envelope. With an ADSR envelope (S less that 100%) this will give a punchy attack.
d) post FX?-- Nah, this just makes the effect sound cheap.
In all cases, saturation makes a voice stand out in a mix, so the balance of saturation & level vs. everything else that is going on needs close attention.
Dave Peck
There are lots of other options besides those listed in the first comment. For example, you could apply saturation to only a certain portion of the oscs' harmonic spectrum by doing something like this:

1. patch the oscs to a mixer and send the mixer output to a mult.

2. Send one branch of the mult to a band pass filter that is tracking the keyboard at 1V/oct, and tune the BPF so it's output is predominantly a certain segment of the oscs' harmonic spectrum, like the 3rd 4th and 5th harmonics.

3. Send that BPF filtered group of harmonics through the saturation module.

4. Mix that saturated signal back together with the full-range osc mixer output (from another branch of the mult), and send that mixed signal to the 'main' LPF that you would typically use in the OSC-VCF-VCA patch.

Or, do the same thing but saturate only a certain portion of the harmonics in the signal AFTER the 'main' filter, and mix the saturated BPF and unsaturated 'main' filter signals back together just before the VCA.
Rex Coil 7
Dave Peck wrote:
There are lots of other options besides those listed in the first comment. For example, you could apply saturation to only a certain portion of the oscs' harmonic spectrum by doing something like this:

1. patch the oscs to a mixer and send the mixer output to a mult.

2. Send one branch of the mult to a band pass filter that is tracking the keyboard at 1V/oct, and tune the BPF so it's output is predominantly a certain segment of the oscs' harmonic spectrum, like the 3rd 4th and 5th harmonics.

3. Send that BPF filtered group of harmonics through the saturation module.

4. Mix that saturated signal back together with the full-range osc mixer output (from another branch of the mult), and send that mixed signal to the 'main' LPF that you would typically use in the OSC-VCF-VCA patch.

Or, do the same thing but saturate only a certain portion of the harmonics in the signal AFTER the 'main' filter, and mix the saturated BPF and unsaturated 'main' filter signals back together just before the VCA.


Rex Coil 7 wrote:
If a properly suited instrument interface is used, something like the Deco may be placed anywhere in the audio chain. In Euro, I've been very happy with the Bastl "Hendrikson" for that purpose. I bought two of them. I can now place any type of effect in any place in the audio chain of my modular (which only requires one instrument interface to do so) ...



cool
Parnelli
I'd probably try to squeeze it in just before the saturation point!

No really in all seriousness I would appreciate it if someone would drop a quick sentence on what "saturation" is when applied to modular. I looked up saturation modules and have no experience with any of them, so now I'm curious as to what I am missing out on! It looks to me like something akin to distortion looking at the modules.

Thank you in advance...
Parnelli
Hey... I did a little research for myself and I think I have a grasp on the subject now, thanks!
Pelsea
Parnelli wrote:

No really in all seriousness I would appreciate it if someone would drop a quick sentence on what "saturation" is when applied to modular. I looked up saturation modules and have no experience with any of them, so now I'm curious as to what I am missing out on! It looks to me like something akin to distortion looking at the modules.

Thank you in advance...


Transistors pass current between two of their terminals at some multiple of the current through a third terminal. The ratio is not steady, but a curve. The middle of the curve is linear enough to give a high fidelity amplification (other components in the circuit improve the linearity).

Saturation is the input level where a transistor starts passing all current available (up to a point anyway). A scope display of a saturated signal looks like grass after a visit from the lawnmower. We also call this condition clipping. Many transistors show a gentle transition from linear operation to saturation— if we operate in that region, we get a condition called soft clipping. Clipping is definitely distortion.

Interestingly, a clipped signal produces a cochlear pattern* that is very similar to a very loud clean one. Thus we perceive clipping as loudness, and can use this effect to emphasize a particular instrument in a dense mix without actually overloading anything. Conversely, neophyte engineers often push good studio monitors well beyond safe listening levels because they are used to judging loudness by the distortion produced with cheap gear.

*That is a map of the nerves in the ear that are excited by a sound.
Parnelli
Ok, cool, then it is a reference to the "sweetening" of sound through various means of saturation techniques which can be through adding transistor saturation, tape saturation, or drum saturation, each with their own sonic characteristics, to your sound.

I understand the transistor gain curves and such, long ago I used to design audio circuits, I just wasn't exactly sure what was being talked about.

Thank you for clarifying it Pelsea!
milkshake
Pelsea wrote:

Interestingly, a clipped signal produces a cochlear pattern* that is very similar to a very loud clean one. Thus we perceive clipping as loudness, and can use this effect to emphasize a particular instrument in a dense mix without actually overloading anything. Conversely, neophyte engineers often push good studio monitors well beyond safe listening levels because they are used to judging loudness by the distortion produced with cheap gear.

*That is a map of the nerves in the ear that are excited by a sound.


Very true.

I'll try to explain it more.
Loudness and signal level are not the same.
If you have a perfect sine wave, then level and loudness are connected by the Fletcher-Munson curves. This is because only 1 critical band is exited.
The more a critical band is exited, the louder it is perceived. But also when more critical bands are exited, the perceived loudness is increased. Just turn up the cutoff of a low pass filter, signal level stays the same but the perceived loudness increases.

This is the exact reason why adding distortion to a signal can increase the perception of lower level sounds.


So my advice is to add distortion everywhere. In modest amounts.
Rex Coil 7
Parnelli wrote:
I'd probably try to squeeze it in just before the saturation point!

No really in all seriousness I would appreciate it if someone would drop a quick sentence on what "saturation" is when applied to modular. I looked up saturation modules and have no experience with any of them, so now I'm curious as to what I am missing out on! It looks to me like something akin to distortion looking at the modules.

Thank you in advance...
If you watch that video I posted the narrator demonstrates what "saturation" sounds like, and he actually does a pretty good job of describing what it is. It is a form of harmonic distortion, yes. But it's not like hard clipping or heavy distortion like you hear rock guitars doing. It's "softer" (for lack of a better description). And if the saturation is a good match with whatever instrument/signal it will bring forth some upper harmonics that compliment the original sound.

cool
Parnelli
Cool, thanks everyone! I'll have to train my ear to hear it, this computer is no good for hearing audio examples, but I'll dig in and learn.
saint gillis
Pelsea wrote:

Not likely all of the above, but definitely any of the above. Each will sound different:
a) post-VCO-- The effect of saturation is to add upper harmonics (brightness) to the waveform. These will be modified by the filter-- in fact extreme filtering will negate the effect of saturation.
b) post-VCF-- The result will be constantly bright- a lot of saturation will negate the filter.
c) post-VCA-- Since the sound of the saturation usually depends on the amplitude of the incoming signal, it is difficult to adjust post VCA. Done in the usual way, this will produce a sound that is bright when loud but "purifies" on the tail of the envelope. With an ADSR envelope (S less that 100%) this will give a punchy attack.
d) post FX?-- Nah, this just makes the effect sound cheap.
In all cases, saturation makes a voice stand out in a mix, so the balance of saturation & level vs. everything else that is going on needs close attention.


+1
Yes Powder
Pelsea wrote:
d) post FX?-- Nah, this just makes the effect sound cheap.

I wouldn't necessarily agree. Saturation after phaser can make for a very prominent and aggressive sound. And gentle saturation after a granular processor can make it bloom!
something wonderful
saint gillis
Sure the rule is no rule, but the rule that doesn't matter is distortion before effects..
mookmoof
Usually the crotchal region
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