It’s The Envelopes, Stupid!
Sometimes a solution to a problem is so simple, it makes you feel you totally forgot about the basics of sound design. Today, I needed a synth to be snappier, and as I was pondering what plugin to pick (Compression? Enveloper? Or even go multiband?) I decided to check the synth’s envelopes.
“It’s the envelopes, stupid!”
After all the techniques I have been covering on this blog about working and enhancing attack phases and transients, I totally overlooked the most basic option, which should be at the very top of your checklist: go straight to the source of the sound and work those envelopes. After all, working the envelopes is very similar to what you’re doing when you’re applying compression to a sound, or when you’re enhancing transients with plugins like Enveloper (hence the name!).
I’ll be using EXS24 for the examples. My Amp envelopes (ENV2) are set to this:
Zero attack, full decay, full sustain, little release.
On a piano, that setting sounds like this:
That could work just fine, but let’s make it a little snappier. A good way to do this, is to set all sliders to zero, and increase the decay first, until you like how the sound ‘ticks’. I’m sliding decay up in this audio example:
There. Now bring the sustain back up, but not all the way. I’m sliding sustain up in this audio example:
Right about there. One more time, the altered piano waveform:
Drawback: Lack of Precision
In EXS24’s case, the only drawback is that the sliders aren’t very precise. They have a rather rough scale (when moved only slightly, jumps in value are quite big). It depends on what virtual synth or sampler you are using. Some are very precise, others are rough on the edges – that’s when plugins offer far better precision. So, that’s about it: transient manipulation in its most basic form. It’s not a trick that will solve all your challenges, but definitely one that should be in your little bag of audio enhancement tricks.