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Ableton Analog Synth: Full Guide for Beginners

 

Hi, my name is Boris, and in this tutorial let’s take a look at one of Ableton’s most underrated stock synthesizers - which is called “Analog”.

This synth is so often overlooked because of its rather poor set of presets - but my goal for today is to convince you that this little guy is in fact a really versatile beast.

Not only can it produce a really wide range of sounds, but also has the most amazing character. It’s modeled after several vintage analog synthesizers, which gives it an amazing tone.

This synth might look a little bit confusing at first because of its typical Ableton layout - you don’t see everything at once, but instead everything is put in tabs. If you click on each tab of the device, the center display shows the corresponding parameters.

If you are coming from a more visual synth, this might be a disadvantage for you, because it's going to make designing patches slightly harder at the beginning - but in fact I find it really nice to work with. It is really tidy and it fits perfectly into the workflow of Ableton. You don't have any floating windows like with a VST. 

Another amazing advantage of Analog is that it's really lightweight, so you can stack multiple instances of it. You don't have to freeze and flatten tracks and it shouldn't overload your cpu.

This tutorial is also going to be a little bit of an introduction to subtractive synthesis, so if you're a beginner at synthesis as a whole this is also going to work for you.

I'm going to just explain how basic synthesis works and if you're new to Analog, I'm also going to go over essential features of the synthesizer. 

 

Just to give you a quick preview, here are two sounds I’ve designed with Analog: 

- this cool “keys” patch (just some typical analog keys with a bunch of effects on top)

- and this synthwave style bassline (sounds a bit heavier - as you can hear, analog sounds really powerful, really big for bass sounds

Let's get started!


1. The Basics

So this synth basically consists of 3 main parts:

An oscillator (to the left) - which controls the basic timbre and pitch of our sound,


An amp (to the right) - which controls how loud you want the sound to be,


And a filter - which is between the oscillator and amp - but more on that later.


First of all, you can disable all the features of Analog by just clicking and disabling everything. Let’s leave the first oscillator running and put it down one octave to zero.

Let's choose the sine wave first here, because we've got four shapes, and the sine wave is the most basic one.

We are going to get no sound, even if I arm this track and I play on the keyboard. That’s because the oscillator on its own does not generate sound.

We need the amplifier, which controls how loud the sound is going to be. I'm going to enable this component and now we should get sound:

That is a basic sine wave - it's not very bright, it's quite subtle, and typically fits more in the background than the foreground if you're going to use it. 

 

2. The Amplifier

Each amplifier section on a subtractive synth is going to have something called an Amplifier Envelope

An envelope basically controls how loud the sound is over time.

Instead of for example moving the volume knob of the synthesizer, we can have the amplifier envelope doing that for us every time we press a note.

Basically, there are two basic parameters of an envelope that are most frequently used - and that's attack and decay. Both of these parameters you can see right here:

If we increase the attack, the sound is going to come in gradually instead of abruptly. 

Decay basically controls how long the sound is going to stay with us until it fades out.

Let’s analyze a simple envelope:

As you can see, when we press the note we have the “attack time” portion which makes our sound as loud as it can get, and then it fades out according to the “decay time” parameter.

There are also two more parameters which can make this shape a bit more elaborate - and that’s “Sustain Level” and “Release Time”.

If we add sustain, the sound won’t fade out completely and will be sustained as long as we’re pressing the note.

If we add release as well, we add some additional fade-out time when the note stops being pressed:

We can now try to change the oscillator from the sine wave to something brighter - like the saw or square. 

3. The Filter

Because the saw wave and square wave are so rich harmonically (piercing bright harmonics), they sound best if their frequency range is limited with a filter. 

That’s where the filter section comes in (between the oscillator and amplifier).

Limiting the frequencies is really simple, just use the Freq (frequency) knob and bring it down.

If you bring it down enough, the sound will become very muffled.

If you have a MIDI controller with knobs, there are some automatic mappings for Analog, and the first knob is dedicated to the Frequency knob.

That’s because the majority of magic with creating synth patches comes from the Freq knob.

We can move it around to create different timbres manually:

But if we want the knob to move automatically in the same way every time we play a note, we can just use something called the Filter Envelope.

So the Filter section has the same envelope as the Amp and it usually just moves the Freq knob for you (instead of changing the volume like the Amp Envelope).

Let’s just add a bit of that envelope (short decay):

The amount of the envelope is controlled with the “Env” control. 

We can add more decay as well:

With different settings of the Filter Envelope combined with the Amp Envelope, you can easily create different types of patches, and even imitate acoustic instruments - like brass or strings.


Okay - we won’t get too much in depth here in this blog post, but if you’re looking for plenty more details, as well as a deconstruction of two really cool patches in Analog, feel free to see our Youtube tutorial:

 

That would be it for this tutorial guys, thank you very much for checking it out and i hope you learned something today.

Make sure to check out our PML Academy - we've got a lot of start to finish courses for both beginners and more advanced producers.

I will see you in the next tutorials!

- Boris

 

See Also:

11 Mixing Tips in Ableton Live - Mixing Problems Every Producer Will Face

How to Make Organic House with Ableton Live and Built In Plugins

How To Create A House Beat in Ableton Live 11 (Beginners)

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