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One synth challenge with approx 80 Albino 3 Legend synth instances

If you would like to skip the intro move straight down to the “fun electronic drums” title below. I made an early 2000’s sounding track with only Albino 3 Legend as the sole synth sound source used. Here is the track :

Introduction and concepts

On my daily walks I really like looking at the sky and at this time of year the low sun often casts a beautiful silvery light, at least in the northern hemisphere. This happens when it peaks through either grey cloud, or its edges or appears as a very clear and glistening type of low cast light that beams in. This was in part an inspiration for this tracks feel. The track was made on chilly evenings and weekends.

Firstly I could not resist, Albino 3 has the right colours, seasons greetings first of all :

Seasons greetings, Mr. Claus enjoying Yuletide in the forest with Albino 3 Legend.

 

As a mastering engineer first and foremost working with all genres of music from rock, folk, classical to dance music I need a bit of a creative musical outlet. In spare time I enjoy getting involved with production and creating compositions and sonic soundscapes. I love getting cosy in the evenings and weekends and getting lost in sounds and my DAW. Trance music allows me to experiment a lot with interesting sounds whilst still having a framework. I also like its technical challenges. I love the wide and deep mixes (that still work well in mono) it allows you to produce with copious yet tasteful use of effects processing.

 

Albino 3 personal background

This is an early 2000’s inspired track made with 51 live instances of Albino 3 Legend and about 40 bounced Albino parts and with many effects returns it made the Cubase track count 141. It’s essentially wall to wall Albino 3 Legend. (less effects processing and a few cut up ‘top loops’ and a formant filter plug in.)

I first purchased Albino back in 2005 and at the time I was unable to use it to make any music as I was neck deep in learning how to be a good audio engineer in a professional employed role. It’s 2023 and I thought it was appropriate to make up for lost time and make an entire track using Albino 3 which was recently re-released as Albino 3 Legend.

 

My spare time DAW visual life for the last month

The following entry will explain a fair amount about the synth itself and the production and mixing process I used. This is not so much a review of the synth but of course I will be touching on Albino 3 Legend’s facilities. I paid for my Albino 3 upgrade which makes it VST3 and adds a few small visual improvements. Given the age of the synth I am very pleased how the track sounds and worked hard to ensure I worked within the synths sonic sweet spots. This article will be doing some detail, when you synthesize your own sounds you often have to sculpt every sound specifically and that is quite a lot of work, very enjoyable and educational work. 3 images showing the DAW session (a couple of tracks overlap across the images):

Extremely fun electronic drums

All electronic drums (kick/snare/hi hats/cymbal) and base synthesis sounds, both melodic and SFX type sounds heard in this track are made using Albino 3 Legend. For drums I used sine, white or brown noise or combinations for the kick. These were great fun to make and get to sit right and took quite a bit of time. The cymbal type sound in particular was tricky and I used a compressor along with the envelopes to get the overall shape over time a little more like a cymbal.

In addition it was interesting to hear the effect of resonance on open high hats which produced some familiar hi hat characters reminiscent of Roland TR-808/909’s. In the end very little resonance was used. Resonance on white noise helps produce a more “whistle-y” character. I did try a compressor on the snare but felt it actually sounded more punchy without compression. Most of the time in trance the snare punch is a combination of the noise in the snare which is not tonal, overlaid onto existing, leading transient punch of the kick drum. This is another reason why the kick drum is so critical and why it often takes so long to become satisfied with it. (when synthesizing kicks which I always do irrelevant of what synth.)

For the hi hats and cymbal sound I found excessive very high frequencies above 15kHz which are not really required to be there. They could ultimately be fatiguing so I removed the excess with some eq. Even towards the end of the tracks production I had to go back to the mix and tweak the extreme highs.  Just so some of the noise based sounds, hi hats. risers/sweeps/cymbal did not turn into “ear burners”. This is worth noting when making your own drums. I tailored the HF response using low pass filters and parametric bell cuts. Ultimately all sounds need some EQ to work well, beyond getting the sound right at source.

Careful top end tailoring for hi hats, cymbal, risers and swishes

Broad sonic considerations

In a few cases melodic sounds used modified presets. I have used a few chopped up / filtered break beat top loops/rolls, some TAL Sampler time stretch effects and many different external effects processes, reverbs and delay to ensure extra richness to the composition and stereo sound field.

Main reverb selections, I enjoy using all of these reverbs and a few others.

I usually make my tracks using any and all softsynths I own and that comes in at around 30, yes that is quite a lot of softsynths but I love them as they are so varied and provide a lot of enjoyment. Using 1 synth was more challenging and was part of the tracks concept. I like some kind of concept for a track. It’s also an interesting way of working with and getting to know Albino 3 Legend in more detail.

Once again as I like the sound and feel of early 2000’s style.. ok I will have a go at pinning a sub genre….”progressive morning full on trance, retro 2004″ if ever there was such a thing ! So the broad sonics of the track and style come from the early 2000’s which of course is also stamped into time having used only Albino 3 (albeit with a rather less restrained production style for early 2,000’s). I used a reference but mainly for a starting point working in an untreated room (my creative composition room is untreated), less so for the track itself. Musically, I departed quickly from the reference with a generally lighter feel.

 

Let’s get stuck into Albino 3 kick and bass

I made a decision to commit the kick and snare drum made in Albino 3 Legend to audio. The kick was made using a swept sine wave from around 2.4kHz (quite low) and a second oscillator using white noise to add a transent tick for attack and punch. It took quite a while to make a good kick, about 1.5 hours in total (also getting used to the GUI). I am pleased with how it sounded and I am fairly sure it sounds quite like other kicks I have heard in the early 2000’s releases. I was hearing some variation between the kicks and snares that the synth played “live” (You can also see the slight waveform variations in the image – snare shown below) so wanted to commit one to audio for timing and sonic uniformity. I chose what I thought the best one was by ear. This is quite common in this genre, even with a very modern synth. Whilst soft synths are digital, there is often degrees of latency in the system (A function of DAW/synth used and processing and sample rate) but rest assured the kick and snare you hear is 100pct Abino 3 Legend.

 

Audible and visual variations, choosing the kick and snare for the track produced by Albino 3 Legend

The synth is generating the waveforms ‘live’ in the synth engine and using DSP to create each output sound (filters/envelopes etc) in as close to real time as possible. By locking it to audio all variations are removed and sometimes that is just what you need, irrelevant of the synth used.

The basslines are made using a saw wave and a enveloped low pass filter closing on each note. In fact 3 individual Albino’s were used for the 3 different basslines, so each is perfectly tailored for its hypnotic groove. However, whilst it is also common to commit bassline notes to a sampler or audio for these types of trance basslines (for 100pct perfect rigid timing) I actually liked the very, very slightly loose and alive feel to the bassline coming from Albino. They retain an organic sound to them which gave a little extra movement which sounded great with the super tight timing of the audio committed kicks. Hypnotic persistence from the kick and the bass dances, just a little.

The basslines were very carefully processed with effects that also took some time. Basslines back then often had a little bit of delay and reverb and these take time to set up, they give the basslines extra dimension, richness, width, it makes them vibrant. It has to be done with care as delay and reverbs on bass can cause a muddy mess so you want to walk the fine line of expanding dimension and vibrancy whilst maintaining definition.

 

Bass line dimension, delay and reverb, adding vibrancy.

Each bassline also had a top layer for every bass note (also running live triggered) which was high pass filtered to leave just the mid range, this was sent to a reverb to add a little depth. This is also quite a common technique and also adds just the slightest of stereo width to the bass without muddiness creeping in. There are many ways of doing this with the same broad goal. A little more mid range presence and dimension.

 

Sounds and signal paths

In the last track I made I spent quite a few hours trying to reverse engineer certain “progressive” trance sounds. Initially I might have found the right notes or chords, but the wrong sounds and then I synthesized the right sounds, but did not have the right chords. So I was quite proud of myself in managing to create these sounds with the right combination of both musical and sound design needs. I do not have a friend who can pass me over the synth presets of 2004 ! I like bell like tones so was finding such waveforms which could be further synthesized into bell like textures and pads. These were a common part of the early 2000’s trance and metallic sounds have always fascinated me and add extra textures and a sci-fi/futuristic feel to this music.

With so many Albino 3’s how could I add some characters beyond what the synth can manage itself ?

Albino 3 is a flexible synth capable of a lot of different sounds. I was also thinking about giving parts a little emulated analogue channel character of their own which I enjoy doing. Quite small in their own right but just making some small variations which I am hoping has made a little deeper and interesting sound field. Many small variations can go a long way in the grand scheme of things.

 

A little THD and console character EQ

Adding a few analogue style processes, that may or may not have been possible to have in reality in any given studio. Emulation of a Purple Audio MC77 (modernised 1176 comp) and a Neve ‘a like’ channel and a Focusrite SC desk channel here and there. Some analogue emulation to enrich and add seperation of different kinds, stereo image (eq / phase etc.), harmonically with any associated saturations and THD’s, all very subtle and low key. And also a little NEVE emulated EQ and compression. Not to forget Slate VCC using my trusty SSL E series emulation on almost every track. The ‘1176 a like’ was not doing what one would typically use an 1176 just to add some slight tonal and dynamic variations and very gentle compression.

 

A large purple classic compressor GUI. Model of an updated 1176 variant, a fast and heavy handed FET compressor.

Purple audio Website : https://www.purpleaudio.com/

Neve ‘a like’ channel strip, comp and EQ engaged.

 

Effects also play large part in this as having many unique effects per sound differenciates them from each other, different delay/reverb timings, decay and feedback and of course filtering/eq on the returns. I wanted a nice expansive sound field when and where desireable so I could get some nice movement going with effects.

I always tailor the width of the returns to make them sound just as I want them to and use a Nugen Audio plug in for that, sometimes a slightly wider and sometimes a little more narrow. For examples ping pong delays do not always need to be as wide as they often are and sometimes sound better when narrowed a little.

Tweaks to the stereo image of effects returns

Of course I used plenty of EQ (Pro-Q3 and DMG Equilibrium mainly) and a little compression along the way to keeps things in their place and make each sound work within the mix. I don’t use side chaining or multiband anything really. I have never felt the need to personally. Though I understand that for some more extreme effects in dance music genres this is quite common and achieves a particular modern sound.

All manner of reverb and delay effects were used and I continued with my bad habit/stroke of genius (I cannot decide which) of having many effects returns about 40 ! The big benefit is you have a much reduced chance of messing the carefully tweaked effects for any given sound. As long as your CPU can handle it why not ? I generally use quite a lot of well proven traditional engineering techniques in my mixing. (though I am no Luddite as evident making this ‘techy’ music.) However, a DAW has facilities and abilities along with effects plug ins that are rather different from 1980 on an SSL and with limited highly expensive rack effects. So I play to the DAW’s strengths where there are clear benefits.

 

 

Albino’s sounds

I used sample and hold LFO, the mod matrix, FM, VA sounds and also some of the digital waveforms available and some presets which were adjusted to suit this track. I also used some sample rate division from inside Albino effects. I automated the sample rate division effect and bounced multiple parts out and used the best versions for textures and atmospheres, these can create some formant/vowel like sounds if you get them just right. I was having some difficulty in making a specific sound I wanted that the Nord Lead II and also Access Virus can make.

Of note the balance slider between the 2 available ‘digital’ oscillator waves is not possible to modulate using the mod matrix. However, it is possible to automate a manual movement in the DAW if you wish to. I did not use this in this track but it is good to know.

The 2 op FM the Nord and Virus does comes from a saw wave being FM’d by “positive triangle” i.e. a triangle with only positive peaks (at least on the Virus). I could not quite manage it (as positive triangle does not exist in Albino as an FM modulator). I understand why Albino was used a lot on darker sounding trance as it can do the squeaky/squeezed/higher metallic/liquiddy style FM sounds (night time) very well. Though they are not appropriate for the style of this track so I simply moved on using what felt worked in context. . (in fact I read about a well known artist falling in love with Albino when researching the synth online. Albino falls in line with the sounds he uses.)

I did use a formant plug in as an effect on an Albino base synth sound that I had made so the strong an short vowel like effects in the track were coming from a plug in. I felt it fair to give disclosure on this matter. The filters can become slightly harsh at high resonance and as the track is quite smooth in nature I avoided high resonance settings. I did attempt a formant filter but did not manage, though my attempts were short.

The risers, sweeps, transitions and phaser whooshes as I fondly call them were created from the ground up courtesy of the noise oscillator and sometimes some saw mixed in. Noise can be underestimated in its atmospheric capability so I put this to work in the track. However, care must be taken to sculpt the extreme highs as outlined earlier. You may find lots of high energy peaking above 16kHz all the way to 20 kHz, too much of that can be tiring.

I also used my own voice and a sample with Tal Sampler time stretching but the very vast majority of sounds in this track are Albino 3 Legend. Voices cannot be made with a synth really so I think that’s reasonable. I was impressed by the synth itself and how I managed to make a nice soundscape. Especially since this is the total opposite way of how I normally work, using as many different soft synths as I wish to use.

I used oscillator spread on some sounds to give the simple waveforms a different texture and width. I was in and out editing envelopes all the time and they all worked as expected although it was a slightly tricky area to work the synth. I did not use layering (Albino 3 has 4 layers) as most of the sounds in this music are generally quite straight forward yet precisely set up with different parameters. I would estimate 80pct are my owns sounds and 20pct were adjusted presets and some noise based SFX sounds from Albino. I used both Albino’s internal effects at times and also all sorts of external effects.

Online it is very easy to say and not do. I always do, to back up and experience in reality what I write about. I finished complete and lengthy tracks that have used all the techniques I write about, so you can hear real world end results. There is a very big difference between actually doing things for yourself in practice and repetition. Anyone can repeat anything, but end results speak loudly. If I write about techniques I have used them, that brings about experiencial knowledge. If you want to finish more tracks yourself try this article it might help. I believe complete, finished works are crucial to real progress.

Inspiration, organization and the key to finishing your DAW music tracks.

 

Compressor on the mix bus ?

Sontec 432EQ sat on the master output I did not use any mix bus compression although I was having some interesting results with a few. I left that for mastering where I could fine tune it a bit more to ensure it was really adding something benefical. You have to be very careful with compressors that are not being used for specific and obvious effect. Not all compressors can truly enhance a stereo mix down. As I do not slam a stereo mix bus compressor for this type of music this is mastering territory. You must be very certain that they are improving the sound. Luckily, that’s my actual job so I have a good grip on what is really making something sound better and what is not.

I have a very well treated room as one might imagine, and housed within are PMC IB1S (36kgs each, 10 inch driver, 3 way design) high end monitoring. I use a Crane Song Solaris Quantum DAC and a 1 Kilowatt Hypex amplifier, that is where mastering is performed. I have an analogue rack with a MANLEY Massive Passive amongst other analogue/valve devices and an ear selected plug in suite.

I left compression for the final mastering stage which once again was all quite soft and gentle, just adding only what was needed specifically to enhance the overall presentation of the mix, which is ideally what mastering should be. And of course getting the perceived volume up whist retaining a sense of openness, clarity and dynamics using very high quality limiting (choosing the best from 7 limiting options). Its dynamics glued to give a balance between open-ness and drive. I used some of the best EQ’s that exist to do a little final tonal sculpting using the EQ’s that excel in specific parts of the audio spectrum, nothing exceeding a dB or 2.

I hope you enjoyed the track and some of the process behind it, each is a little mini journey and I usually discover something new and interesting with each one. Please feel free to like and share.

If you would like me to master your music I am very comfortable with every genre please do not hesitate to get in contact. I offer some of the lowest rates in the industry so everyone can afford real professional mastering and advice/feedback without sonic compromises. My professional audio engineering background/biog:

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