Wednesday, June 10, 2020

TECHNICAL: Synthesizer Basics with UHE-Tyrell N6

U-HE is a popular German VST developer founded in by Urs Heckman. It's instruments are reknown in computer music circles and used by artists around the globe. 

As an introduction to it's larger instruments, they product a number of freeware products either direct or via a number of computer music media organisations. Here we'll focus on Tyrell N6 from German technology media publisher (don't leave the 'a' off the end, if you do you'll get a completely different website)

Here's the link with the download, etc:

All of the instruments offer original and innovative sound design, don't require huge computer power, come with large preset sound libraries and have worked flawlessly throughout the time I've used them. 

As ever when dealing with freeware, I would encourage users to check out a company's larger 'commercial' offerings. Zebralette is a powerful freeware synthesizer but a demo version of it's 'parent product' Zebra 2 is downloaded with it. Be sure to check it out. 

U-HE/Amazona Tyrell N6

Learning synthesizer basics with Tyrell N6

I've chosen U-HE as the first stop on our freeware 'safari' largely because Tyrell N6 is the perfect instrument to learn the basics of synthesizers and, as such, this will be our most detailed look at a VST synthesizer. 

Tyrell N6 is a powerful, great sounding virtual mono/poly virtual analog synthesizer that has much to offer the experienced computer music artist but it would perhaps also be the instrument I would recommend to anyone wishing to learn the basics of synthesizer sound development, to understand the basics of oscillators, filters, envelope generators and the concept of modulation. 

Named after the super-realistic synthetic/robot 'replicants' in Phillip K Dick's novella 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' and Ridley Scott's film adaptation 'Bladerunner', N6 presents an analog synthesizer 'model' all in a single page, easy to use graphic interface. Although modeled using standard analog synthesizer components, N6 does offer some genuinely innovative features which we'll take a look at in detail shortly. It's closest hardware/real world counterparts might be considered to be Roland's popular JUNO 6/60/106 series of polyphonic analog synthesizers. It closely resembles, and has the components of, hardware synthesizers even down to the 'distressed' look of the control panel.

So head over to and download your freeware copy of Tyrell N6, put it into the VST instrument folder of your DAW, open it and take a look. If you don't yet have, or haven't chosen a DAW then you can open, use and hear it with Nanohost:

This will allow you to run Tyrell N6 as a 'standalone' synth. 

On opening, you will see N6's single page GUI or 'graphic user interface', showing all the components and elements of a 'typical' dual oscillator plus sub virtual analog subtractive synthesizer. There are elements of N6 which are not 'typical' and are rather innovative but all the elements of an analog synth are here so let's take a stroll around.  

Tyrell N6 Oscillator Section:

In any analog synth the oscillators are the sound source. This is where 'harmonically' rich waveforms are generated. The rest of the synth is where they are shaped, filtered and modulated in many different ays to produce thousands of combinations and possibilities. 
The oscillator section of an analog synth generally produces basic and familiar waveform shapes. Examples would be sine, square, triangle, pulse wave, etc. 

In most analog synths, these different waveforms can simply be selected using a switch or two, but one of the rather innovative featured of N6 mentioned above is that it's waveforms are 'continuously variable' allowing you to 'morph' from one waveform to another and select points in between so the possible waveforms generated from N6's oscillator sections are almost endless. 

N6 has two oscillators, one that is continuously variable between four waveform shapes and one that has two. N6 actually has a third oscillator known as a 'sub' oscillator an we'll take a look at this a little later. 

To check out the different waveforms, select the N6's default patch and move the waveform selector knobs to hear the changing sound. 

Tyrell N6 Filter Section:

Next find the section marked 'filter.' This section filters out certain frequencies generated by the oscillator section. Which frequencis are passed is determined by the filter mode and the cut-off frequency control. .With the VCF mode swith showing LP/HP move the cutoff frequqncy fader up and down. With the fader at the bottom the filter is fully open. As you move it upward you will begin to hear higher frequencies being filtered out until at the top of the fader you only hear the very lowest frequencies. 

Most analog synthesizers have a resonance contorl that 'emphasises' frequencies around the cut-off frequqncies by using a feedback loop. Move this fader in conjunction with the cut-off frequency to hear it's effect. 

N6's filter is equipped with another rather innovative feature which is the 'mixspread' control. the filter of the N6 can essentially work as a low pass and high pass filter wired in parallel with the output level of each being 'mixed' by the mixspread control to further expand N6's sonic possibilities. 

Envelope Generators:

The next section in our journey around N6 and analog synthesizers generally would be to take a look at N6's envelope generators. Envelope or envelope generators deal with 'shaping' sound into an 'envelope' of a particular shape. 

Envelope generators add a slight complication to our journey through an analog synthesizer because they can be applied to different aspects of our sound. The best way to demonstrate envelopes is through an envelope applied to the 'amplitued' of our basic analog synthesizer sound. 

The basic envelope generator consists of four stages. Modern variants of envelope generators can consist of more stages but for our purpposes we'll use the basic 'ADSR' version which is used by the hardware analog synthesizers on which the N6 is based. 

The best wat to demonstrate an envelope generator is to play with it. So let's start with the 'A' of ADSR. It stands for 'attack'. If set to '0' your sound will play instantly at full level. If you gradually bring up the attack of the VCA envelope then you will gradually hear your sound gradually fade in. It will gradually rise. 

At the opposite end of the envelope generator is the 'release' parameter. Again, play with the release fader. At zero your sound will instantly stop the moment you release the key your playing. If you bring up the release time your sound will fade out gradually after you've released the key. 

So you can see how this sound shaping 'mimics' musical instruments in the real world. You can think of the release time parameter mimicking the sustain pedal of a piano. 

Similarly, the attack parameter can reflect real world instruments. Plucking a harpsichord would have an instant attack. The bowing of a cello might have a more gradual 'rise'. 

That's an envelope generator dealing with the 'amplitude' factor of a sound, but an envelope generator can also be applied to the 'filter' section to shape the timbre of the sound over time. 

So an envelope applied to a synthesizer's VCA will 'shape' it's sound in terms of level over time whilst an envelope applied to a synth's VCF (filter) will control a sound's timbre or brightness over time. 

And so this basic concept of an envelope can and is applied to all kinds of synthesizer both virtual/software types as well as their real world/hardware counterparts. 

We'll finish off our look at analog synthesizer concepts in general with two more concepts that you can try out on the N6.

LFOs and the Concept of Modulation:

LFO stands for low frequency oscillator. This type of oscillator differs from the source/waveform oscillator we looked at earlier in that this type of oscillator is used to modulate another partof the synthesizer typically the source/waveform oscillator or the filter over time. 
Unlike the envelope generator(s), an LFO applies a repeating modulation. A typical example would be to rapidly modulate a source oscillator's pitch to create a vibrato effect. It can be applied to filter cut-off to repeatedly open/close a filter. It can usually also be applied to the amplifier section to apply repeating variation in level. Most modern virtual synths have complex modulation routing so LFOs can be applied to almost any synth parameter. You can use an LFO to modulate and move filter resonance up and down, for example. 

Ring modulation is another modulator found on the N6. Ring mod takes a signal and both doubles and halves the signals frequency and then combines the result with the original sound. This is often used to produce metallic type sounds. 

The concept of modulation can be further enhanced by the possibility of cross-modulation. In the case of the Tyrell N6 these functions are carried out within the 'matrix' section. 
A classic example of cross modulation would be an LFO modulating the source oscillator pitch but only when the mod-wheel' of a controller keyboard is applied. The LFO modulates the oscillator via the keyboard's mod wheel. 

So that's kind of a quick tour of the basics of analog synthesis using the U-HE Tyrell N6 as our 'archetypal' software recreation of an analog synth and if you understand the N6 then you have a pretty good understanding of all analog monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers, both hardware and software. 

For 'technical purity' it should be pointed out that a virtual VST software synthesizer is not in any way an analog synthesizer. It simply applies the familiar concepts of analog synthesizers and recreates them as a software instrument. You are not really dealing with VCOs, VCFs and VCAs, nothing is 'voltage controlled' it's all controlled by numbers. But every concept you've learned with the N6 can be applied to it's hardware voltage controlled counterparts. 

I hope you found this post useful. I you did, then why not follow/like me at my Facebook page for loads more music technology stuff including technical posts, free samples and patches and reviews and opinion. 


The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 

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