Presets & Precepts

I picked up a secondhand copy of Native Instruments FM8 recently & figured I’d have a look online for presets as my free time can become a little scarce & learning to create sounds from scratch with a new synth might be an evolving process rather than an imemdiate one & I wanted some instant gratification now! Or at least soon…. So I hunted around & came across…

Don’t worry, the ‘blog’ had been suspended/deleted long ago. But you have to wonder? What actual use are 14,000 presets? Is the point of a musical instrument to make music or to browse presets?


via GearAddicts

I have an instrument with just one, maybe two presets, four oscillators & I couldn’t be happier with it because when I play it, its all about music – its a double bass. On a slightly more complicated level (still monophonic, less oscillators, more variables, no presets) my Roland SH101 is still intuitive & immediate. On the scale of instruments, lastly my modular synth (multivoice, complex, no presets) still feels intuitive.

But these softsynths? More complex, far less immediate & a zillion presets. So why all the presets? Is it to compensate for the complexity? Or the lack of ready access to controls? Or it is a symptom of the inherent bottleneck involved in building up an intuitive relationship with it?

Theres an article in Electronic Musician from a while back which is worth a read in that it discusses some approaches for getting past using presets, and one of the first methods is telling: Persing recommends Roland’s classic Juno 60 synthesizer as a good launch pad for learning to program sounds. “If you look at the spec for the Juno 60, it doesn’t have anything,” Persing says. “It has one oscillator, a sub oscillator, one Moog-like filter, a preset chorus with two switches and one envelope generator. That’s it. There’s a finite amount of things you can do with a Juno 60, but it’s much more than what most people realize. So you turn off all of the effects and see how far you can go with one oscillator. Then you start to build onto that.”

In my case I learned to use synths as hardware – first a Korg MS20, then a Pro One and then a Juno 106, and when it comes to using softsynths I tend to hunt for a preset that is in the territory of what I’m imagining and then I relate back to the Juno and think about what controls on it I would alter to get the sound I want. So for example if the tone is right but its the envelope bugging me I then have to hunt around in the particular softsynth to find where it has its envelopes buried.

Now on the Juno I could just grab those envelope controls immediately, but the softsynths require me to remember how this particular synth has them organised… So is the layout the problem? Would they be easier to use if ALL the controls were onscreen ALL of the time? Because with my Juno all the controls are accessible all the time.

What would you pick as the best designed softsynth interface in terms of use? Would it be easier to use if instead of cramming it into the multiple layers of its little graphical box onscreen, it could actually be resized & reorganised like a real hardware synth? All parameters onscreen all the time & more ‘realistic’ sizes?

Heres a link to that EM article again – its worth a read!

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