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How to make a modern soft synth sound old

(Image credit: Future)

Modern soft synth plugins are known for their crisp and clear sounds, but what if you want something a little more 'vintage'?

Find out how to turn shiny synth signals into retro soundscapes with our handful of programming tips.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: One of the quickest ways to ‘age’ a synth sound is to mimic the instability of analogue oscillators. Try detuning two or more oscillators apart by a few cents, then modulating the pitch of one of the oscillators for ever-changing drift.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: Going further, try modulating the pitch of both oscillators with two completely different LFOs to achieve warbling, detuned synth sounds straight out of Blade Runner. Keep the modulation signals subtle and slow for a less obvious effect.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: Most synths have a noise oscillator, so blend this into the mix to emulate the noise of analogue circuitry. Certain modern softsynths even feature sampled waveforms of hum or vinyl crackle – use these for an authentic noisy vibe.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 4: Using a slow-moving noise or random waveform as a modulation source will add in more virtual instability to various parameters. Hook this up in order to gently wiggle dozens of parameters – eg, pitch, filter cutoff/resonance, amplitude, etc – and get a more subtle sense of motion.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 5: Aggressively filtered and distorted sounds scream ‘lo-fi’. Play around with ‘squealy’ filter types in your synth – for example, an MS-20 or Moog filter model –  and push signals hard  into the filter’s drive stage for some weird harmonic tones.