Main 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Final Quiz


Lesson 16 - Subtractor

In This Lesson: How to use the Subtractor Synthesizer

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How To Use This Lesson

Watch the video below and take the quiz at the bottom of the page. If you need a bit of extra help with the videos, then by all means read the accompanying written content (the written content on this page simply restates what was said in the video).

Make sure you set the video below to at least "720p HD", if not "1080p HD", and then set it to Fullscreen as well. Otherwise the video won't display properly, and it will be quite difficult to follow the tutorial.

You can set it to 1080p HD by clicking the little Gearbox icon at the bottom of the video, and clicking "1080p HD". You can set the video to fullscreen by choosing the very bottom-right button in the video.

Subtractor Overview

The Subtractor is a complex polyphonic synthesizer. I highly recommend you watch the video intently and without distraction.

The following Subtractor units are covered in this lesson, in the order that sound runs through the Subtractor, are:

Oscillator 1 + 2 (Waveforms - Your Sound Starts Here)

Choose which Waveform you are using. Some common Waveforms are Sine, Square, Pulse, Triangle, or Sawtooth. There are many more available by using the "Mode" button.

Use the "Mix" knob to get more or less volume from either Oscillator.

  • Straight up and down will give both Oscillators equal volume.
  • All the way to the LEFT will give you Oscillator 1
  • All the way to the RIGHT will give you Oscillator 2

You can change the Octave, Semitones, and Centigrade that each Oscillator produces - These are all units of pitch, so they will only change the pitch.

Unchecking the KBD track will stop the Oscillators from tracking the MIDI notes played on the keyboard, but will only track the Rhythms. This results in a single raw tone that the oscillator produces. To be honest, I can't see why anyone would do that, but it's there.


Noise will add distortion and graininess to your synth. It's a simple setting that requires only 1 minute of experimentation to understand the functionality of it. Play around.

Filter 1

Filter 1 changes the Frequencies and Resonance that are filtered before your sound goes to the next part of the loop.

  • Use the "Type" button to cycle between the various Low/High-Pass filters. There is also a "Notch" filter setting, which only reduces the gain on one variable tight set of frequencies (In other words, it has a High Q-Factor).
  • Use the frequency Fader to decide where the Filter cuts frequencies.
  • Use the Resolution Fader to change the resolution of the filter.

Filter 2 (Additional Frequency + Resonance Changes)

This one is very self explanatory. I often don't use it, so to keep this already complex lesson more simple, let's just skip it.

ADSR Settings

In 3 separate Subtractor Units, you will find the ADSR Faders. Each fader corresponds with a different parameter that you can work with.

A = Attack (how quickly the note reaches peak velocity)
D = Decay (the amount of time it takes to reach the sustain level)
S = Sustain (how long will the note continue playing while you are holding down the key?)
R = Release (how long the note plays after you let go of the note)

Both the Amp Envelope, and the Filter Envelope, both use ADSR to define their properties, so there's no need to go in-depth on those settings when I've already explained ADSR.

Mod Envelope

The mod envelope uses ADSR to modulate the units within Subtractor, such as:

  • Osc. 1
  • Osc. 2
  • Mix
  • FM
  • Phase
  • Frequency 2.


LFO's have been covered in an earlier lesson.

  • The "amount" knob controls how present the LFO is in the mix
  • The "Rate" knob controls how fast the LFO plays.
  • There are 6 LFO shapes available in LFO 1.
  • You can use the "Dest" button to control which effect is being "LFO'd".


The 2nd LFO uses similar concepts that I've previously explained about LFOs, except it doesn't use a physical shape to graph how the sound will be altered. There are simply 4 self-explanatory knobs that you can use to shape the parameters of the LFO.


  • Use the "Pornamento" knob to create a drag from the last note played. It's similar to a "slide", or an orchestra playing in "Legato" style.
  • If you have a keyboard attached, you can control the "Bend" (Bending the pitch of a note up or down) or the "Mod" wheel (Controls frequency modulations on the synth.)

Main 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Final Quiz


  1. Exercise: Follow along with the video, and use all the features that I use in the video.
  2. What does ADSR stand for? What does each parameter do?
  3. The following units are out of order, put them back into order based on the order of the sound loop that Subtractor has. (Filter 1, Osc1, LFO 2, Filter 2, Osc 2)



  • A = Attack (How quickly the note reaches peak velocity)
  • D = Decay (The amount of time it takes to reach the sustain level)
  • S = Sustain (How long will the note continue playing while you are holding down the key?)
  • R = Release (How long the note plays after you let go of the note)

3. Osc 1, Osc 2, Filter 1, Filter 2, LFO 2.

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