The ADSR Envelope: 4 Volume Parameters of the Virtual Synthesizer

Have you ever worked with a synthesizer before?

If yes then clearly you have heard about the ADSR envelope control.

This system is used in all types of synthesizers.

I personally haven’t found any synthesizer that did not have these elements, and the reason behind this is that they are very important.

They can be found with different settings, some having their settings in milliseconds, other in percents. For me the percent is a bit abstract and I do not understand how it does work.

Some synthesizers have even a 5th parameter, called Hold, meaning that instead of having an ADSR envelope they have an AHDSR one. Hold is a parameter that keeps the sound at the same volume.

I don’t believe that it is necessary, but it has been added to some synthesizers.

I believe that I should have begun the blog with subjects like this.

These are some introductory pieces of information which the beginners might find very useful.

What does ADSR envelope control mean?

As I was saying each letter represents a word.

I will tell you what each of this letter means if you are paying attention:

A – Attack – represents the amount of time necessary for the sound to get from 0 to max

D – Decay – represents the amount of time for the sound to get from maximum to minimum

S – Sustain – represents the volume at which the sound will remain after the decay has ended (usually in per cents)

R – Release – represents the duration of the sound after you stop pressing the key

As I was saying, these are the 4 essential parameters.

If you want to progress in sound-engineering you will not be able to do so without knowing this.

The truth is that even the oldest synthesizers have these parameters.

They are very deceiving.

You believe that you have learned how to use them, but you will reach the conclusion that you don’t know enough about them.

They might seem simple, but you need to experience it yourself to truly understand them.

Theory without practice is irrelevant. This is what I was told by many people that gave me advice.

Elements with long and short duration

It is very important to know how each long and short sound can be classified as.

Short types of sounds ( small decay, reduced sustain): drums, percussive sounds, plucks, kicks.

Long types of sounds (which have a bigger decay and a lot more sustain): leads, pads, background effects, white noise.

The shortest ones are the drums. They all have the tendency of being short.

They would not sound as dynamic otherwise.

The best example for long sounds are the pads which are background harmonics. These types of sound do not have transients, and are usually pushed in the background.

The background elements have the role of enveloping the mix and giving it that special aura.

A mix that has background elements will seem more refined.

The ADSR control is very important in a mix.

If your elements are not balanced from this standpoint, you will encounter problems when mastering.

It’s easier to make a professional mix and to master it than to try to master an awful mix.

Ok, but now you might ask yourself: what about the human voice?

It is a longer element, but will it be sent to the background?

No, it won’t. The human voice has many variations.

A sound that has variations of pitch and volume can be kept in the foreground.

When you bring a long sound in the foreground you might make your track sound hypercompressed.

In this case, reduce the sustain.

You can even set it to 0, but the decay must have at least a few seconds.

It depends on the sound and on context.

The context is the most important factor when it comes to choosing or modeling sounds.

Please don’t forget this because it is very important!

I will return to this subject in a future article, because it requires a lot of attention.

Absolutely everything does matter in a song, so you must pay as much attention as possible to each detail.

If in this article I’ve written about ADSR envelope control, in a future article I will tell you how to use these parameters in certain contexts.

ADSR in primary types of frequencies

For example, the high frequencies need a smaller decay. Why?

Because they have more vibrations per second.

To balance this density, they must be shortened or made less powerful in some way.

Medium frequencies need a medium duration.

Here everything depends on the context. If we are using a pad, then it will be longer.

If we are using a lead, then the duration must be shorter. Usually pads have a bigger duration compared to leads.

High frequencies are debatable. They must be shortened.

They have a low vibration density, and from this point of view, they don’t have as much energy.

I hope that you now have an idea of what the ADSR control is.

It is a classic subject of discussion in music production, but still a very important one.

This is information that can not be overlooked.

I want you to participate by telling me what is your opinion regarding the ADSR parameters.

Are they important in sound synthesis? I’m waiting for your response!

Thank you!

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