DAW expansion; clash or coop ?

Most DAWs provide a massive range of musical possibilities which I’m pretty sure no one will fully master in a year or so. Yet even despite that fact I think many of us (myself included) are often looking for “other” expansions to do things. In other words: looking to expand our current gear with even more options or presets.

But how well do those expansions play with our current gear ?

Now; before I go on let it be perfectly clear that I’m talking about my sole passion here: synthesizers. So this isn’t about grabbing a sample library to expand on your work or something, instead I’m focusing on how another (software) synthesizer can expand or maybe even impact your current setup.

Sound and anti-sound.

This term ‘Anti sound’ is something I once read in technical (based) magazine several years ago. Although sound didn’t interest me as much as it does now I still gave that article some thought. The idea was interesting; blasting diverted sound towards a sound source in an attempt to nullify (at least reduce) the entire source. (for those of you interested; I’m referring to a Dutch technical magazine called “Kijk” which I used to read around the 80’s last century).

With todays synth environment setting something like this up is peanuts:

In this screenshot I’ve put an mp3 file in the first clip of the first audio track and started to play it. Then I added a utility effect on the A Return track and set it to invert both left and right channels. And if you setup something like that and then raise the Sends A on the audio track playing the music you’ll notice the effect demonstrated here.

The inverted signal generated by the return track is actually cancelling out the original. So the more signal I send to the return track the lower the master volume will become. Would I turn up the Sends A to its maximum the result would be silence.

Analog vs. Operator

The heart of the synthesizer is basically the (one or more) oscillator(s) it has. These create the basic waveforms which are then “bend” into shape by the filters and / or (filter) envelopes. So far, so good. But what really happens if we put them together ?

I know there are many people out there who are merely interested in finding and using the right preset for their work, and many don’t really care where it comes from but instead solely focus on the sound or music itself. Nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong here, but I do wonder if going the extra mileage might give you the edge on getting better matches.

For example; here you see two different signals being displayed by my M4LScope. On the left you see Analog which generates a basic sawtooth waveform whereas on the right you have Operator doing the same (Saw D type, with AntiAlias turned on (hence the ‘wobble’ you see at the top)).

Both are approx. 4 ‘squares’ large yet they appear to be each others opposite.

So what happens if we were to combine both signals ?


This would probably have been better displayed in an animation or such, but as you can see both synths aren’t fully “in sync” with each other. As such both sawtooths create a square wave but due to the signals being out of sync they eventually cancel each other out after which the whole cycle starts again.

Oh, and for those of you who want to know all the details, this is an impression of how I setup both instruments:

Both were set to use sawtooths and also using a single voice in order to keep things as clear as possible.

My point?

Well, simple.. the next time you use both Analog and Operator together and experience some “loss” in sound volume then could  this perhaps be caused by what I’m demonstrating here?  No matter what preset you’re using; the synths generate the sound so there will always be a possibility for cancellation given the original change in signal.

Max for Live being put to work

One of the reasons that I’m very pleased with Max for Live – besides the programming environment – is that it also provides a totally different sound engine than the one being used by Live. I’ve been fascinated by sound for quite some time now, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the first Max for Live (“M4L”) patches I’ve created was a tone generator.

One of the first things I’ve eventually discovered is that the M4L sound engine, as mentioned above, is completely different to that of Live. This is also what got me drawn to start using Max as an individual product more (writing Max patches and then using rewire to embed these in my live set).

Here you can see the signal which the ToneGen device which I’ve shown above produces.

If you scroll back up you’ll notice that it somewhat matches that of the Analog synth. Approx. 3 ‘squares’ long and start the cycle at 0. Yet the ‘wobble’ at the bottom (caused by anti-aliasing) is a little more extreme here.

Now; the beauty of Operator is that you can use it to produce tones yet can also easily make it generate specific frequencies:

Here you can see that I’ve set it to generate a 322Hz frequency, matching that of my ToneGen. I’ve hidden the parameter window in the middle to preserve space, but Osc. A has been set to use the Saw D waveform just like shown above. So, when you combine these two you’ll get even more drastic results than Operator and Analog since these two signals can really cancel each other out:

You may wonder why I presented just 2 screenshots. Simple; because both synths tend to keep in sync a whole lot better than Analog and Operator (which ‘shifted’).

So your end result depends a lot on timing; the moment when you hit a key in order to make Operator produce a signal. I’ve shown both ‘extremes’ to the left and right.

Adding the mighty Thor to the equation

One of the main reasons I eventually decided to pick up on Reason 4 is the Thor synthesizer. I can’t claim to have “seen it all” but in my opinion the amount of tweaking which Thor (and basically Reason as a whole) provides you with is in my opinion something unmatched by any other product on the market today (I’d love to be proven wrong!  Not because I think to ‘know it all’; but because I’m really intrigued with the kind of flexibility being provided here).

Alas; Thor provides many different oscillator types and as you can see to the right I focused my attention to Analog and Phase Mod. Analog should be a given, I also decided to add Phase Mod into the equation because this oscillator basically does what I’m demonstrating here, yet all by itself.

One of the key strengths of Thor is its routing section, as you can see at the bottom. I’ve basically set it up so that the oscillator outputs are one on one being send to the specific audio outlets.

The downside to this is that I really need to lower the volume quite dramatically as you can see on the left. The original sound signal as being generated by Thor’s oscillator is well enough to send Live’s signal indicator way over the top.

So keep well in mind that all my experiments with Thor involve an ‘External instrument’ device which Gain I’ve lowered quite a bit in order to keep the signal ratios a little matched (I used my M4LScope to keep the amplitude of the signal somewhat the same).

So, what does the Thor signal look like?

You’ll notice that it matches Ableton’s Analog signal as well as the signal produced by M4L very closely, yet without the ‘wobble’ (Thor does not provide any protection against aliasing). Many people consider not being able to address aliasing a limitation. To be honest I tend to describe it as putting your effort into producing a signal as clear and real as possible.

If you by now wonder what I mean by that then please scroll up and look at the other screenshots of my M4LScope. All the wobble you see there (either at the top or bottom) is caused by anti-aliasing. Don’t believe me huh?

Here you see what it looks like when I use the same Operator as shown above yet this time with the “Antialias” option turned off.

Personally I’m tempted to say that the wobble also effects your eventual sound. Therefor I don’t consider it to be a limitation that Reason’s Thor doesn’t provide anything against aliasing. Either you want a clean sound signal or you want your hand held all the way to your production..  I personally prefer a clean signal.

Thor surprises

When looking at the signal generated by Thor’s Analog synthesizer I don’t think there’s much reason for surprise to learn that it basically behaves in the same manner as Live’s Operator does (when it goes to signal cancellation; obviously Thor’s oscillator approaches the analog-kind of signal much better).

To be honest the one thing surprising me was using the PM Osc. (Phase Modulation) and showing how things looked like using my M4LScope.

While the Reason manual tells you that the PM Osc. will modulate one signal with the other it does not tell you that it will always use a Sine “carrier wave” no matter what kind of waveform you chose. This can be seen to the left; I set the left (1st) osc to sawtooth and kept the PM amount to 0.

Yet when I raise the PM amount to 127 (maximum value) you get the result shown on the right. That sure looks like a wave combined with a sawtooth to me!

But that’s for later…

The main point of this blog post is basically; have you ever wondered how (“if”) your sound material would coop or clash if you brought it together by either using rewire or a sample export ?

I can’t help feel that this influences people’s material, yet I am surprised not having found anything of this sort when it comes to combining one soft-synth (DAW) with the other.

Personally I think people who experiences “oddities” (like drops in sound volume) should check up with their basics. Could it be caused by combining “opposite” oscillators ?  And in addition to that: what happens if you try to inverse one of the signals ?

Just my 2 (M4L powered) cents here!



  1. No way!

    NO WAY it can be this simple.. I see you used a rack for testing, would you care to put this up for download?

    No way that it can be this obvious.

  2. We’ll do.  Do keep in mind that you need M4L for this, but I’ll try to come up with 2 versions next week.

    And good morning !  I assume its morning where you are (?); I’m about to head off to bed

  3. there is truth in your story but.. as you said yourself; a lot depends on timing, signal source, and so on. chances of clashes are slim.

    still interesting to dive into. it cant hurt to know!

  4. i’ve always brushed it off as frequency masking in general rather then operator and analog having inverted phase’s of each other. infact, if this is true that is quite stupid and is begging for problems as is O.o

  5. Just read ur post on synthtopia. never knew aliasing did that. i thought it was caused by analog signals.

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