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How do you work out which one is best to have?

I'm mainly just doing recording in studio with it no live performances. And i plan to plug it into my DAW VSTi plugins to create my own sounds with the software i have.

But whats the difference with workstation and synthesizer and which one should i be getting for what I'm aiming to do ?

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audiokid Fri, 01/06/2012 - 19:50

When you say synth, what do you mean? Just a standard synth and no samples, sequencing etc? The workstation is a much more versatile system capable of recording and composing with mass library ability. But a synth, especially a fat analog one can be great for specalty sounds and solo's, bass lines, strings. I use a Nord Lead and love it but it would never replace a workstation. I would also love to own a Triton or Motif or something similar.

But maybe you are talking about a DAW (digital audio workstation) and this in on a completly larger scale. Welcome to Sequoia, Samplitude, Sonar, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic Pro ...

Kapt.Krunch Sat, 01/07/2012 - 05:22

Workstation: Normally, it's a synth that has sequencing capabilities (MIDI only, MIDI + audio, MIDI/sampling, etc.). You can arrange songs in them, and play the sequences back from them. You can generally transfer MIDI files to them that have been created in another MIDI device/computer sequencing program. The workstation normally contains it's own internal MIDI-triggered sound set. Some may be able to load in different sounds, and may be expandable. Some may be capable of audio recording/playback, and/or sampling to record something to play back from the keyboard (or triggered via MIDI from another device/computer.) The synth-section type could be different things. It could be sample-based, pure synth (using just sound-generating techniques) or both. It can slave to another MIDI device or computer, or it can be used as a MIDI "controller" (of sorts) to send notes and some performance data to a computer or other device.

With ALL MIDI devices, the extent of the data it can send and receive is based on the individual capabilities of the two connected devices. The "MIDI Implementation Charts" of each device will indicate what each is capable of. If one sends a certain type of message, but the other is incapable of responding, then it won't work. Also, the "MIDI "controller (of sorts)" comment means that they are generally capable of being used to send data, but the functionality is limited to how many knobs or sliders, etc. the keyboard can use for that purpose, and to what they can be assigned if using the keyboard to control, say, a computer DAW, etc. They can play back by themselves, start playback, and have other devices respond, or respond to playback instructions of other devices.

Synth: Workstations are synths, but not all synths are workstations. They both have some kind of sound-generating method when a key is played (or the unit receives an external MIDI-trigger/data). As with the workstation, the synth type could be different things. It could be sample-based, pure synth (using just sound-generating techniques) or both. These can't play back anything, by themselves. They can play back from external sources, be played real-time live, or be used as a MIDI "controller" of sorts (with the same caveats as a workstation).

MIDI Controller: Contains no internal sound engine. Used only to send MIDI data to other devices/computer. Some have lots of features and controllers, others less. They are only a sending device.

So, you have to decide how much functionality you need. If you need absolutely no external sounds, a "Controller" may be all you need. Keep in mind that many controllers may offer much, much more real-time button/knob/slider functionality than many synths/workstations to manipulate the data you send. I have an old M-Audio Radium that has 16 assignable knobs/sliders, as well as the pitch/mod wheels. While it may not be the studliest (in terms of build quality), it does allow a LOT of tweaking...more than I have hands for. (Actually, I can even use it as a rather clunky 16-channel DAW mixing interface, if I assign it to that. But, I don't.)

If you actually want the keyboard to have sounds, and just want to input data to the computer, and have the computer play the keyboard's sounds back, then a non-sequencing (non-workstation) synth may do fine.

If you want to play live, and you like the sounds of a workstation and wish to use those tracks (plus, possibly, audio recorded in), and it fills what you need for backing tracks live, then maybe a sequencing (and recording) workstation is what you want? That's if you don't want to use a computer live. If you use the computer live, anyway, a non-sequencing synth could be connected to play back keyboard sounds via MIDI from the computer, so you really wouldn't NEED the sequencing capabilities of a workstation.

And, once you decide if you want a synth/workstation, you want to decide which brand/model has the sounds (or expandability to obtain/create/load/tweak) the sounds that makes the sounds you want.

Anyway, that was just a (fairly) brief, kinda general explanation of the differences between "workstation", "synth" and "controller".
The terms are often mixed together, but GENERALLY, the workstation is presumed to have at LEAST some kind of MIDI sequencing capability, and possibly sampling and/or audio playback capabilities.

Did that answer the question?


BobRogers Sat, 01/07/2012 - 06:42

Great post by the Kapt.

Let's break down synths. As Kapt. said, these are the units that take a midi note and create a sound. Some come with a keyboard attached, but many (most?) are available as rack units or as a software program.

Analog synthesis: Take the midi note information and use analog circuits to create a basic oscillation (sine, square, saw) and modulate, delay, bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate that oscillation. Obvious example is [=""]Moog.[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]Moog.[/] (There are several different types of [[url=http://="http://en.wikipedia…"]analog synthesis[/]="http://en.wikipedia…"]analog synthesis[/]. That's worth a whole book or a course. I'm just trying to break down the hardware/software categories.)

Digital synthesis: Sometimes call virtual analog or VA synths. Here the sound is produced by digital programs that model the process of the analog synth. Examples include the Alesis micron and the [=""]Nord Lead[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]Nord Lead[/].

Sample based synthesis: Here the midi triggers a recorded sample from a library which is then edited for length volume and pitch. Quality varies widely from cheap and cheesy to dense and complex. My [[url=http://="http://www.sweetwat…"]Nord Electro [/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]Nord Electro [/]has great samples of B3, Rhodes, etc.

Soft synths: Both VA and sample based synthesis can be accomplished in a native computer environment. Generally the best and most sophisticated sample libraries are those available for a computer. Examples of these include[=""] Ivory[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"] Ivory[/] for piano, [[url=http://="http://www.sweetwat…"]East West[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]East West[/] for orchestra.

BobRogers Sat, 01/07/2012 - 07:26

I'm going to add some other points of emphasis to Kapt's post. Let's look at some separate components.

1. Keyboard/Controller: Takes mechanical information from your fingers and creates a midi code.
2. Synth: Takes a midi code and creates a sound.
3. Sequencer: Allows you to create, store, and edit a sequence of midi notes.

Now a lot of products contain one or more of these components.

A workstation has all three, plus a screen for using and editing sequences and choosing components and I/O for sounds and midi.

Most DAWs have a sequencer. (In fact, I'd say the best, easiest-to-use, sequencers are those found in DAWs.) Most DAWs also include some basics synths.

Many outboard synths have an option of a unit with a keyboard or a rack unit. Moog Voyager: [=""]with[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]with[/], [[url=http://="http://www.sweetwat…"]without[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]without[/]. Nord Lead: [=""]with[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]with[/], [[url=http://="http://www.sweetwat…"]without[/]="http://www.sweetwat…"]without[/].

So to return to the OP's question. You don't need a workstation because you already have the best sequencer in your DAW and you don't plan to play out. You need at least one keyboard and some synths. (A lot of people like different keyboards with different feels for different types of instruments. I don't like playing organ or synth on a fully weighted keyboard. I don't lake playing piano on an synth keyboard.) One way to go is to buy a "dumb" keyboard (with no synth capability) and start buying soft synths. (What soft synths came with your DAW? You could just start with the keyboard and use what you have in order to learn to use the sequencer.)

JohnTodd Sat, 01/07/2012 - 09:12

I use Cubase as my DAW. My MIDI is an Emu X-board 49, which is controller only, no sound of it's own. I play my parts on it into Cubase and do everything from there. For studio only work, I don't think I ever need anything else. It is worth the extra $ to get a controller whose keyboard feels nice, ie, weighted keys, sensitivity, etc., but don't spend money on sounds from it if you have VST or VSTi soft synths and samples in your DAW.

And my interface is a PreSonus FP10, so I run MIDI out form the X49 to MIDI in on the FP10; no need for separate drivers for the X49. Simple, really, for me, and I'm a non-MIDI person.