How many types of synthesis are there?

One thing that has interested me for a while is the different types of synthesis. It seems we can list the different types but that there is a fair amount of crossover between them. For example, is wavetable synthesis also subtractive synthesis seeing as it uses filters? And some FM algorithms are additive. Some forms of synthesis seem to have quintessential devices associated with them, like the DX7 or MiniMoog. But other forms, like granular or additive, maybe not.

It would interesting to have a conversation about how people categorize different types of synthesis and where the definitions break down or are inadequate for describing certain devices or software.


Fm, physical, additive and subtractive. And granular too, probably more

Wavetable, phase distortion, vector synthesis

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FM = 1, plus Additive = 2, then Subtractive gets you back to 1.



from google:

  • Subtractive
  • Additive.
  • FM
  • S & S (Sample and Synthesis)
  • Wavetable
  • Phase Distortion.
  • Physical Modeling
  • Vector Synthesis
  • Spectral Synthesis
  • Granular Synthesis
  • West Coast Synthesis
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Silly answers

Country AND west(ern) coast.

Also: thesis and antithesis.


Does wavefield count? (It’s got synthesis in the title :slight_smile: )

Not forgetting…



What about using living organism like plants to make some noise?



Thats my favourite one.

Using light to make energy.

Way smarter than digging holes in the ground to burn rocks to make steam to make electricity. Duh.



…there are the three basic concepts…subtractive, additive and fm…

while even fm is already a first hybrid combo…but also a basic common ground concept in the physics on the playground of all audible frequency design…

and all the rest use the same basic ideas in various/combos and pretty much countless variations of their very own kind and endless ways…

there’s no real difference if ur basic wave is nothing but a simple wave amplitude or plain white noise, that contains all audible frequencies at once, or a whole snippet of sampled content, containing heaps of various amplitudes…or the option to scan through various waves/amplitudes, or pick a single grain from that amplitude…

it’s all about stacking, reducing, blending and then carving or taming through various filtering and the overall chaining orders…

all the same, all the difference… :wink:


Three: Subtractive, Additive and “things known as FM”.

Everything else is just another word for it, a combination or marketing.


No-input synthesis.


FM is a huge part of subtractive and additive synthesis though.

Multiplicative and Divisive are my favorites.

Karplus Strong synthesis




I like the “things known as FM” phrase, but I disagree on the conclusion that there are only those 3 types of synthesis

Phase Modulation is usually known as FM, and are similar enough (they both require pairs of oscilators as carrier/modulator), but Phase Distortion is a completely different technique, not similar to the other 3.
Granular synthesis is also arguably different from the 3 groups you mentioned. Yeah, granular synthesizers usually step on the ground of the other techniques (they usually have filters and FM capabilities) but the source of the sound is completely different.
Physical modeling is another one thats different from those groups. It involves a number of different variants, one of them being Karplus Strong synthesis (a technique that’s also very different from the others).
West coast style synthesis could be grouped into the additive synthesis methods, but It’s also different from the traditional views on those. Traditional additive synthesis involves manipulating each partial of the resulting signal, but west coast synthesis requires waveshaping/wavefolding in order to create new partials, without that fine control over them.

Apart from those, I also believe the rest of them are little more than marketing catchphrases. For example, wavetable is not a new synthesis technique (it’s usually substractive or FM synthesis that starts with complex waveforms instead of simple ones).