Patch Design for Diva

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Diva is already a near legendary software synth. Here we show you a couple of ways to make patches for it.  See just how easy it is to get started.


by Rob Mitchell, Mar. 2017


One synthesizer plugin that most of you have heard about by now (or maybe you bought it in their recent sale) is Diva by u-he.  Diva stands for Dinosaur Impersonating Virtual Analogue Synthesizer. This synth plugin covers a lot of ground in the subtractive-synth world, with its multiple oscillator types, several modeled filters, and it even has several envelope types. If you are a fan of the older mono or polyphonic subtractive synths from many years gone by, this is probably your best bet at getting that definitive sound. The reason I say that is it doesn’t just emulate one synthesizer. I mentioned “modeled” filters (and other components), because these parts of Diva were made in the likeness of some well-known synths. So it isn’t an emulation of one, but a combination of many classic synths combined together. For example, when you hear the sound of a certain 24 dB low pass filter, you might be thinking, “Now THAT’s the sound I remember…”. Or you might notice the envelopes you just loaded in behave just like a completely different hardware synth than the filter you selected. Well, that’s because that is just how it is supposed to work. It is that way for each of the components that you can swap out, and that mix-and-match functionality gives you a huge amount of possible combinations.

Zero delay feedback filters are included in Diva, and I won’t explain what they are in this article, but the manual will give you more insight on that subject. One thing you should be aware of is that Diva can use more of your CPU that many other synth plugins. It is a very precise type of emulation which can use extra CPU power. This has been improved on since the original 1.0 release, but it can still put a strain on your PC or Mac. The system requirements are listed as a “Current PC or Mac” with a multicore CPU. I’d say you should have at least a quad-core, especially if you want to stack up the voices. I had an older PC with a dual-core CPU a few years ago, and when I tried the demo version of Diva back then, it had a very tough time with it. These days I have an i7-based PC with 16 gigabytes of RAM, so it works fine now.

For the Mac, Diva works with OS X 10.5 or a newer OS. For the PC, it will work with XP or a newer OS. One gigabyte (or more) of RAM is also required. The best thing to do is try the demo version first, and just see how it holds up on your own system. One of the many good things about Diva is you can change its “Accuracy” setting. This will use less CPU on the lower settings (Draft, for instance), but if you have a more powerful CPU, you can try out one of the higher settings. Diva also has a multicore switch you can enable for newer PCs/Macs. This helps to spread out the workload across the cores of the CPU. If it is an older computer however, you may have better luck just leaving this disabled.

Recently u-he had a sale for Diva celebrating its five years in the spotlight. There have already been many rave reviews for Diva in several publications. Actually, SoundBytes Magazine had a comprehensive review for it in the March 2015 issue. If you’d like to get some of the more detailed information and background on this synth plugin, you may want to check it out:

Since we’ve reviewed Diva before, I thought I’d try something different. This will be more of beginner’s sound design article, so it is mainly for people who are still learning some of the basics in the world of synthesis. If you think of yourself as an intermediate synth programmer, you may also pick up a few ideas from this article. Usually when I want to get started with a new synth plugin, I just listen to some patches to hear how it sounds. But soon afterward, I initialize a patch so I can start from the beginning and build one of my own. This lets you hear it in a plain and simple way, and you can add only what you’d like to add, or modulate certain parameters to give it movement and depth. Also, my advice is this: The manual is your friend, so I suggest you read it. Some people just skip manuals, and they think they can just “figure it out”. You can only benefit from reading it, so you should definitely spend some time on that.


Designing a Mono Lead

In Diva, the quickest way to initialize a patch is to go to the bottom of the display and click “Patches”. From there, you can select the “Templates” directory and choose an INIT patch to start out with. Load the “INIT Minimono” template. Now you will have a good starting point with no added modulation or effects going on, and you can work from there. In the top left section are the VCOs (voltage controlled oscillators). This particular oscillator module has three VCOs, and you might recognize its basic look from a famous hardware synth. You may have also seen a similar look in other synth plugins. That’s no surprise, as it is one of the most emulated hardware synthesizers on the market. 

If you play a note right now, it will sound slightly boring because we haven’t really modified anything yet. Also, it is only using one of the possible three VCOs that are included. Let’s fix that. Towards the middle of the screen is the “Mixer” section with its three volume controls. These correspond to the levels for the three VCOs. You might have noticed that the first VCO’s level is turned up, but the other two are all the way down at zero. Change the first two so they are set at 50 (12 o’clock position), and the third oscillator to around 39. As you make changes to a control, you’ll see the numerical setting change near the top of the display.  The “Range” control will tune the oscillators in octave increments. I will change the Range setting of the third oscillator to 16′, so it will give it some nice bass underneath the other two oscillators.

Now when you play a note, you will hear all of the VCOs with a slight phasing between them. By adjusting the two “Detune” controls ever so slightly, you can get rid of some of the phasing you hear. I set the second VCO’s detune amount to -0.11 and the third VCO to 0.13, but that’s really up to you and how you’d like it to be. That’s part of the charm of the old analog synths, and I actually like some of that instability in the sound. You’ll probably want to adjust the master “Output” control at the top of the display, as we are using all three oscillators. The last thing I want to change in this section is the “Feedback amount”, and we’ll set this to 33. This changes the sound depending on the level you set it at. I wanted a slight amount of distortion added, and this will also give it a moderate boost to the bass as well. I don’t usually turn this up too much, unless I am going for a heavy-duty sound that could use a good amount of distortion.

The next thing I want to do for the sound is to have it glide from note to note. If one note is held down until the next note is played, it will glide smoothly to that other note that is played. The controls for this are down below the Mixer section, and are part of the “Tuning” section of the display. For this patch we are making, I want all VCOs to glide together. After some experimentation, these are the settings I used to get the type of sound I wanted: Glide control = 25, Glide 2 = 0, Range = 81, and “GlideMode” set to “Time”.  When it is set to Time, it will take the same amount of time to glide to the next note, no matter how far apart they are. Down below the tuning section, set the “Note Priority” to “Last”. You could switch this Note Priority setting to whatever you want of course, but I usually prefer the Last setting. The “Mode” setting is set to “Legato” with this template. We’ll leave it with that setting, as that’s what I wanted to use anyway.

Now we will jump over to the VCF (voltage controlled filter) section. It can be set to either a 12 dB or a 24 dB per octave slope. I am going switch it to the 12 dB setting, and you can just flip that switch to change it. We’ll set the filter’s “Cutoff” to 65. I also want to increase the filter’s resonance amount, so I will change the “Emphasis” control to around 21.

Sometimes when I design a patch, I like to use the modulation wheel to control the filter cutoff amount. For this patch however, I will just map the cutoff to one of the knobs on my MIDI keyboard. To do this, you click the gear icon in the upper-right, then just click on the control you want to map (Cutoff). Move one of the hardware controls until you see the Cutoff knob moving on the display, and then click the X at the upper-right to exit out of the MIDI assignment process.  I’d also like the overall sound of the notes I play to be affected by the filter by using an envelope. Turn up the ENV 2 control until it is around 54, and for ADS ENV 2, change the Decay control so it is around 57. When you play a note and let it sustain for a while, you will hear the decay of the envelope controlling the filter cutoff. You can hear the envelope better if you turn down the filter’s cutoff amount, and we already took care of that. 

I want to add some vibrato to this preset, and I’d like the mod wheel to control the amount. We will jump back down to the Tuning section for this. Turn up the “Vibrato” control so it’s all the way to the right. Then move your mod wheel so it is at the top most position (fully enabled). I am only setting the wheel that way temporarily, as it lets me hear its effect on the sound while making adjustments. Over to the left is the “LFO 1 (Vibrato)” section. For this preset, the initial speed is too slow. Adjust the LFO 1 (Vibrato) “Rate” control, turn it up to around 2.5 and test it out with the mod wheel while playing a note. This works well for this type of preset we’re making, but you can adjust the rate to whatever you’d like. For instance, it might be a little too fast if this preset will be used in a slower song. There are no rules here, just adjust it until it fits within the context of your music.       

The last thing I want to do before saving this patch is to add some effects. I know I want some delay for this, so I will click on where it says “Chorus” in the lower-right, and change it to “Delay 1”. I also have to enable it with the button that’s to the left of that menu. The default settings for the delay work pretty well as-is, but I want to decrease the amount of feedback it has. Changing the “Feedback” amount to 13 sounds much better for this patch. For the secondary effect, I will select the “Plate 2” reverb, and these are the settings I used for it: Dry = 100, Wet = 30, PreDelay = 70, Diffusion = 50, Damp = 50, Decay = 68, and Size = 50.

After that’s all set, make sure you click “Save” at the upper-left. You can give the patch a name, and add

your name as the author.  You’re also able to put in some notes to describe the patch, and how you might use it with the mod wheel, or mention some other settings which affect the sound.


Designing a Pad


The other patch I wanted to make for this article is a pad. These usually have slow attack and release times, and have some sort of movement/modulation in the sound. We’ll click on “Patches”, and select the “Templates” directory just like before, but this time we will choose the “INIT Digi-Uhbie” template. For pads, I happen to really like the sound of these oscillators and filters, so I thought it would be a good choice for this example.

In the upper-left are the oscillators and their controls. We will stick with the “Multisaw” waveform type that is already selected for this template, and keep the “Octave” and “Tune” settings as they are. The first thing we are going to change is the first oscillator’s “Detune” setting.  Set this amount to 55, and the second oscillator’s Detune to 60. Each Multisaw oscillator uses 7 stacked saw waveforms. When we increase the level of Detune, it fattens up the sound by changing the tuning spread amount. Over on the right side of the display are the envelopes. Since we want to fade in the volume of the sound for this pad patch we’re creating, let’s change the Attack level in “Analogue Env 1” to 65. We’ll change the Decay to 73, Sustain to 45, and set the Release slider to 50. This will give it a slow increase of amplitude during the attack stage, and a soft release amount for the envelope.

Next we will jump over to the filter section. Let’s change the Cutoff level to 122, and we will set the Resonance to 67. Now we’ll give it a bit of movement to make things a little more interesting. Set the Morph control to 35. Below it is the control for the amount of modulation from LFO 2. We will increase that one to 26. The source for this modulation we’re adjusting can be changed by clicking on where it says “LFO 2”, and you’ll get a menu that shows the possible sources you may choose from. We’ll just stick with LFO 2 for this patch. Play a note to hear how it sounds. LFO 2 is now modulating the Morph control, which can smoothly adjust the filter type from a low-pass to band-reject/band-pass, and then on to a high-pass. You could change the Morph setting to 50, and you’d hear more of the high-pass filter affecting the sound. For this patch however, we’ll just stick with the setting of 35.

Below the Cutoff and Env 2 amount controls is another modulation amount knob, which also happens to be set to LFO 2. Change the setting for this to -32. In the lower-left is LFO 2 and its settings. Change the Delay setting to about 20 (it delays the start of the LFO) and change the setting for the Rate to -2.90.   Now the Cutoff will be modulated by LFO 2. None of my settings are drastic, as I am going for subtle modulation in this patch. Of course, you can always experiment to hear how it sounds with more extreme settings, and/or different waveforms for LFO 2.

Now I’d like to add vibrato with the mod wheel.  Actually, it is set up for that already, so I just need to adjust it slightly to better suit this patch. In the lower-left, I will change the LFO 1’s “Restart” setting to “Single”, and change the Rate to 2.50.

One of the last things I’d like to do is make this play a chord when I play just one note. Click “Trimmers” at the bottom, change the “Voices” setting to 16 and change the “Stack” setting to 6. The Stack amount is what sets the amount of unison voices. Now you can use the “Stack Detune” controls to change the pitch of those unison voices. Here is how I setup the tuning for each of those: 1 = 0.0, 2 = 5.0, 3 = 9.0, 4 = 12.0, 5 = 0.0, 6 = 12.0.

You could change those around to your liking of course, but I thought this combination sounded just right for the sound I was going after. If you need to make it easier on your CPU, you can leave the Voices setting at 6, and just change the Stack setting to 3. Once that is set, use the same settings in the first three voices as before: 1 = 0.0, 2 = 5.0, 3 = 9.0.

The last thing related to the stack that I want to use is the “StackIndex” setting. It is located in the “Amplifier/Pan” section towards the bottom. To the right of “Pan Mod”, there is a menu to choose what will affect the Pan Mod. I want to use StackIndex for this, as it lets me change where the voices will be in the stereo field. Now I will turn up the Pan Mod to 100, as I want the voices spread out from left to right.  

For effects, I just added the Delay and Reverb, which you can adjust to suit your taste. I think their default settings worked well enough for this patch. One other note: Since we didn’t use the Env 2 amount for the Cutoff, you could switch that to “Pressure”, so you can make use of a keyboard that has aftertouch. If you don’t have aftertouch in your keyboard, you could map a MIDI controller knob to the cutoff if you’d like. There are no rules here, so it is up to you and your creativity.


What’s It Sound Like?

   Diva Sound Design Demo



Diva has many more possibilities for sound design than what I went over in this brief article. I only used two of the included templates, didn’t even use the “Modifications” section, and only used some parts of the “Trimmers” section. Sometimes that is all you might need, as it just depends on what you are trying for with the patch you are designing. One other feature you might want to use is Diva’s built-in arpeggiator. It is tucked away in the “Patches” section, and could easily be used with the first patch we designed in this article.

Another item I wanted to mention is that even though there are INIT templates you can use, you could make up your own templates. For instance, you might want to have the effects setup a certain way, and this can save you some time down the road. It usually takes a minute or two to get the delay set the way you want, and the reverb has a decent amount of controls as well. Since Diva doesn’t have effect presets, saving different templates with the effects configured in useful ways can be a time saver.

If you made it this far through this article, and for some reason you still don’t have Diva, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. The quality of sound from this beast is of such a high caliber, there’s no wonder why it is so highly acclaimed. Diva retails for $179 USD. For more information or to purchase Diva, to here:







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