Review (Revisited) – Syntorial from Audible Genius
Syntorial, the superb computer-based synth sound creation teaching course just got even better. We return for another look at the new features.
by David Baer, Mar. 2017
Syntorial is the inspired creation of Joe Hanley, the CEO of and creative force behind Audible Genius. We reviewed Syntorial in our July 2016 issue. That review may be found here:
We are back for another look, because since that time Joe Hanley has added some valuable new features that make what was already a great product even more attractive. This will be a somewhat short review, but don’t infer from the brevity that the new features are of limited value. The new features simply don’t take very long to explain.
Before we dive in, though, here’s a brief recap of what Syntorial was at the time of the earlier review and why the earlier version excelled at what it set out to do. Syntorial is a computer-based teaching course in how to do sound-design/programming with a basic subtractive synth. It is available on PC, Mac and iPad.
Syntorial includes an integrated full-function, albeit basic, subtractive software synth. Using a carefully planned exposition, Joe Hanley takes the student through all the key stages of synth sound design using a combination of audio lectures and challenges. The challenges include “pop quizzes” in which the student answers multiple choice questions, sometimes based on a sound being played.
But the real learning experience is driven by challenges in which the student must match an unknown preset with one the student programs. These challenges can be quite … well, challenging. Using the embedded software synth, they involve switching between a preset, the programming of which cannot be seen, and a blank canvas preset upon which the student must select parameters to match the challenge preset.
More and more of the Syntorial synth is exposed as the course progresses. Initially we see only very basic synth modules like a pair of oscillators with only four waveforms (saw and pulse of three different widths) and a basic low-pass filter. As the course progresses, we get more and more functionality in play: modulation sources, effects, audio-rate modulation options like FM, etc.
Like many things, subtractive synth sound creation can be learned through self-teaching (as opposed to a formal classroom experience), but like most such experiences, one must apply the knowledge for it to be retained. Doing nothing but reading a text tutorial or watching a video tutorial will not result in long-term retention of the subject matter.
Syntorial has two key things going for it. First of all, the teaching mechanism using an embedded synth with formal programming challenges is highly effective. The other is that Joe Hanley is a natural when it comes to teaching. The lessons are exceedingly well planned and Professor Hanley is a gifted lecturer. These two qualities are carried over in the new Syntorial features we’ll discuss below.
What’s new (currently) is the inclusion of one real-life hardware synth and three software synths as extensions to the course. These extras are called Lesson Packs, and they are included in the basic price of the product – they do not need to be purchased separately.
The hardware synth is a Minimoog Voyager. The software synths currently include Z3ta+ 2, Sylenth1 and Massive. At least one more lesson pack (Serum) is in the production stage.
The Lesson packs consist mainly of a series of video tutorials, the total lengths of which vary from just under three hours to nearly five hours in the case of the Massive Lesson Pack. At the time I’m writing this, I have just completed the full Massive lesson pack and will describe how the lesson packs work based on my experience with that one (but I have every intention of going through the full Z3ta+ 2 Lesson Pack when time permits).
Note: the core Syntorial lectures are videos with which interactive exercises are seamlessly integrated. For the lesson packs, integrated interactive exercises are not an option, so full video presentation is used instead, an example screenshot of which can be seen above.
A lesson pack can be used “inline” as part of the initial Syntorial learning process, or the student may take the basic Syntorial instruction and return later for training devoted exclusively to the synth featured in the lesson pack. This merits further explanation.
Anyone familiar with Massive will be aware that, while it can create the basic repertoire of subtractive synth sounds using fundamental waveforms like saw, square, etc., it can do much, much more. When including a lesson pack, at the end of each section of the Syntorial training program is an added entry. This will launch the video dealing with the subject of the current course section. All the extra bells and whistles of the lesson pack subject synth are ignored for the most part.
At the end of the course, there is much left to be discussed about the lesson pack subject synth. So, a number of additional videos are offered in which the rest of the synth’s features are explained. These videos can become quite involved and tend to be quite a bit longer than the ones intermingled in the course.
Let me just say in no uncertain terms, the quality of the “extras” videos easily rivals that of the best synth videos you might have previously seen. Joe Hanley is a superb teacher and has a deep understanding of synth sound production. I found, at least with the case of the Massive videos, he did a better job of explaining this synth than was done is several other Massive tutorials I’ve seen elsewhere from outfits like Groove 3 (of which I am rather a fan, so don’t take this a slight to Groove 3).
With the Sylenth1 and Massive lesson packs, challenges are also included in the form of Syntorial synth presets that must be duplicated in the lesson-pack synth. While not trivial, these exercises are considerably easier than those in the basic Syntorial training since we get to fully see the Syntorial preset that we are challenged to duplicate. An accompanying set of presets has suggested challenge solutions.
One bit of advice in use of the lesson packs. Be sure and download the optional standalone (VST 2) version of the Syntorial synth. It’s called Primer and is easily located on the Syntorial web site (URL below). Although the Syntorial synth has a virtual keyboard, the lesson pack synth may not (Massive for example). So, when you want to rapidly switch between listening to a challenge preset and the one you are working on, having both synths in a DAW host will facilitate doing this without the annoying requirement of constantly turning the volume on one up and turning the other down while programming your solution to a challenge.
So, there you have it. Syntorial is a great way to learn subtractive synthesis sound design. If you happen to own Z3ta+2, Sylenth1, Massive or a Moog Voyager, your return on investment in a Syntorial purchase goes way up. Shortly Serum will be added to that list. Most highly recommended.
A generous number of sample lessons of the basic Syntorial training can be downloaded to help your evaluation process. Sample videos from the lesson packs are also available for your perusal. For more information and to purchase, go here: