Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

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Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby holografique » 22:10, 30 December 2016

Loving my System-8. As an owner of many vintage mono/poly synths (JP6, System-100m, Original MS-20, Original Arp Odyssey MkIII, Oberheim Xpander), the System-8 is by far one of the best sounding VAs to date, only rivaled by my Origin. Which contrary to some, is a wonderful sounding VA that can be practically indistinguishable against my JP6 and other analogs. But that's for another thread/conversation.

The one thing I've noticed that really makes the System-1/8 engine sound analog is the gain-staging and overdrive/saturation that appears to be modeled within various areas of the voicing signal path. While Roland has yet to provide any discrete details or documentation on this, I'd love to hear what others think. For me it is a critical part of the magic of the System-1/8 sound, more so than the OSC/Filter modeling.

Here's where I hear the various areas of gain-staging/overdrive/saturation modeled into the signal path:

1. OSC Mixer Levels - You can induce overdrive/saturation to the Filter when raising individual OSC levels or as a result of the sum of all OSC levels mixed, thus creating many wonderful (and pleasing) variations of color, timbre and resonance response of the Filter. Push the Filter harder, the less chance it has of self-oscillating, push it less, and the filter becomes thinner and easier to self-oscillate. The 121 Dual VCF module in my System-100m behaves exactly like this, and is wonderful to see this behavior modeled in the System-8

2. AMP Level & Tone Controls - Sweeping the Tone control to the left (increasing bass response) can create warm saturation and overdrive by way of the increased low frequency boosts. Changing the Level control also appears to induce overdrive/saturation to the master output.

3. Master Volume Control - This is the one area that I have some trouble with. It seems that if you have the volume anywhere past the 12 o-clock position, you start to induce clipping, and not a very pleasant type of clipping. I have yet to figure out how (if any) this inter-plays with the "boost" and "output gain" parameters within the "system" menu options. This is an area that definitely needs more clarification and details from Roland. I love overdrive/saturation, but what you hear induced by the master volume tends to be more harsh than pleasing to the ears. I noticed this as well in the System-1, but it doesn't appear to be as harsh and tends to be more on the musical / pleasing side of things. The one thing that helps with the System-1 is that in the software System-1 plugin, you can visually see whether you are clipping the master outputs by way of the VU meters at the top of the plugin UI. Although they are not very accurate, you at least get a visual representation of when it's being induced. With the System-8 there is no way to tell except with your ears. And again the clipping in the master output is not pleasant like what you hear in the OSC/Filter or AMP sections.

I'd love for Roland to release an addendum to the user/reference guide with more info. Details such as what parameter values saturation/overdrive start to be induced would be helpful for those times when you want a cleaner, smoother sound without saturation/overdrive. Right now it's a bit of a "play by ear", which can be fun in itself, but sometimes you need clinical accuracy when you're trying to achieve a certain sound/mood/vibe. It could also help generate more awareness of just how analog the engine can really sound as a result of the great modeling they've done in this area alone.

Cheers.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby rsaintjohn » 01:31, 31 December 2016

THANK YOU for taking the time to write all this up! I haven't experienced any issues myself, but that's because I probably don't know what I'm doing, and/or not getting the most out of my settings. Really, truly appreciated.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby holografique » 05:14, 31 December 2016

All good.

And it's not soo much an "issue", but more so an annoyance with no real way to visually check your levels internally. Sometimes you want the dirt & grime created from saturation/overdrive, sometimes you don't. And especially not on the master output.

Adding some "digital metering" views in the menu options for the Mixer, AMP, and Master output sections could be a really nice way to give more feedback for keeping levels in check.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby rsaintjohn » 05:35, 31 December 2016

Your notes helped me realize that I was probably pushing the OSC levels too hard, and that I should examine all the levels overall. It also reminded me that I wanted to play with the self-oscillation, and I just lost 2 hours having a great deal of fun with that.

When I first got the System-8 (and this was September, OS 1.01), I messed with the Boost. Something changed in 1.02 (lots of things, for the better), and I found I didn't need it any longer. In fact, it seems to introduce a lot of noise, so it's probably not useful or needed in a home studio.

Anyway, back to it. Your post reminded me that I wanted to spend some time just finding that perfect level mix that has the Tone low for the warmth, enough volume that I feel it in my chest, but without the clipping. I probably need to spend some time examining the settings of a handful of the more impressive presets as well.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby holografique » 20:17, 31 December 2016

I will post some more details later, but at the moment, it appears that any values above 110-120 for the individual OSC mixer levels starts to get into overdrive/saturation of the filter and starts to change the overall response of the filter, resulting in some nice coloration and "dirt" added to the sound.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby rcmusic35 » 17:43, 23 January 2017

Approved! ;-)

i make a lot of sound design on system 8 and you have to be very careful with gain staging in this synth or a lot of your patches will produce distortion. Fortunately i almost always erase all the presets to made my sounds. I must say i'm pretty disappointed with the presets from roland sound design team. I'm not talking about the sounds themselves but their respective gain staging approach which is poor because a lot of presets , particularly Jupiter 8 ones are way to loud and sound distorted. It seems that some sound designers do not pay attention to gain staging.
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby Manic » 23:43, 8 August 2017

I can't seem to reproduce this saturation effect of the System-1m within the System-1 VST.. so they both sound a lot different when sending a patch to the VST or back with a lot of gain. So I'm wondering whether this is deliberate?
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Re: Gain-Staging / Overdrive / Saturation

Postby SepticUnderground » 19:07, 10 August 2017

Great post OP.

I was in the first few hours working with the synth complaining on the little headroom of the synth, sounded to harsch too fast when amp level over 50% and master volume on max (for max resolution)

It is really very imported to set the boost levels and output gain in the SYS menu to Off and I have the output gain on -3. This sounds the best to my ears.


The Sys8 is a great VA BTW, I really like its internal engine, didnt bother with the juno/jupiters inside, those are below par in sound to the SYS8 engine IMHO. And the OSCvar and filtertype3 options are great.
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