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This week, we are looking at a popular technique to breathe life into otherwise bland, basic wave shapes by slightly detuning oscillators, commonly called Unison Detune. One of the reasons some of us have fallen in love with analog synthesis is the raw power of the sound these instruments produce. One simple wave shape can have a presence that is difficult to replicate in the software universe. However, by combining a few of the same wave shapes and detuning them slightly, we can quickly generate bigger, fatter qualities to these simple tones.
This technique is often seen in software synthesis, where the only limitation on the number of voices in a patch is processing power of the CPU. In the analog world, oscillators are a bit less bountiful, but the same technique applies. Using two oscillators to demonstrate the desired effect, we can tune them to a specific frequency while outputting the same wave shapes, two sawtooth waves, for instance. As the oscillators come closer and closer in pitch, we start to hear the interference between the waves, which will grow slower as the frequencies converge.
The clashing of the wave lengths against each other causes an audible artifact, characterized by a slight change in volume similar to a tremolo effect. This natural modulation occurs when uneven points in the detuned wave shapes collide, creating the effect of motion. When the detuning is limited to a very small range, within a quarter tone, this modulation adds a richness to the tone.
We can combine more oscillators for a more dramatic effect. This technique tends to work best when one oscillator is tuned to a central frequency, and others are detuned in varying amounts above and below that frequency. This retains a tonal center to the sound, even as more oscillators are lumped in and detuned. With a number of sawtooth waves, this method shapes the now infamous EDM banger-friendly Super Saw. Some digital oscillators can achieve this effect, including Braids which includes a Super Saw mode, detuning a bank of 7 saw waves using the Timbre control.
Unison detune is simple and effective way to beef up any sound. For bass tones, use fewer layered oscillators to keep things from getting muddy. Try layering in oscillators an octave above or below the rest, or mixing in different wave shapes, for a deeper color to the sound.
How do you beef up your sounds? Let us know in the comments!
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