There are four different kinds of synthesizers and they each have their own unique sounds and qualities. Analog, Digital, Moog, and Modular.
These were the earliest synthesizers created in the pre-1970’s. These machines used specially designed circuits that operated with electronic components to generate and modify sound. The sound comes from fluctuating electrical voltages inside the instrument using oscillators to provide the continuous sound. Today, analog synths have seen a resurgence of popularity, similar to vinyl records, for their more ‘pure and warm’ sound (Gaston, 2022).
The 1980’s was a decade of digital; and synths were a part of this wave of popularity. Previously, synthesizers used electric currents to create sound, but musicians and creators found that the machine itself could produce the sound through digital processes and this sounded the same as the oscillating currents. It went a step further in creating sounds that analog was unable to- leading to entirely new types of sounds (Gaston, 2022). Digital synths are essentially specialized computers that produce sound.
This is the only type that is named after the person that created the machine. Bob Moog developed his modular synth which consisted of modular parts that each created different sounds. These pieces are then connected through patch cords. These machines feature keyboards, joysticks, pedals, and controllers as well as voltage-controlled oscillators, amplifiers, filters of many kinds, noise generators, triggers, and mixers. They are some seriously in-depth machines and can take years to fully learn all the controls and achieve an intentional sound.
This can be any combination of analog or digital as there are all kinds of fun hybrid machines! They are comprised of modules, mirroring the Moog synth, or individual components selected by the composer to create a musical system. These systems are connected through patch cables, which carry the audio signals and control the voltages which allow for different patterns of sounds.
Looking for more synthesizer inspo?
Check out the documentary Sisters of Transistors, which follows the important stories of female composers who embraced and transformed the sounds of synthesizers as we know them today.