In this Synth Secrets, we create a Don Diablo-inspired detuned lead synth that emulates his uplifting and dance-inducing style.
In this Synth Secrets, we create a Don Diablo-inspired detuned lead synth that emulates his uplifting and dance-inducing style on ‘Bad’ released earlier this year. The Dutch future house pioneer’s big leads have been heard all around the world and they showcase Diablo’s ability to keep things simple but powerful. Having recently been ranked the fifth best-selling artist of all time on Beatport while performing over 150 shows a year, he shows no sign of slowing down.
To mimic his style, we will use Kilohearts’ Phase Plant synth. This versatile piece of software offers great-sounding oscillators, effective modulation options, and more than enough internal effects to make a patch sound complete without any additional processing. You can, however, use any synthesizer you have to repeat the process.
Synth Secrets is a series of programming tutorials in which we show how to make a range of classic and new synth sounds using plugins such as Massive, Sylenth and Diva.
Here is the lead part we will be creating with a kick and bassline for context:
You can download the MIDI file for the synth lead [popup_anything id=”79876″]. The BPM is 124.
Load up an instance of Phase Plant. We will be using all three main sections of the synth to create the patch:
- The Generators
- The Modulators
- The Effect Lanes
Click on the Generator section and select “Analog” to bring up a classic analog-style oscillator. This will also create the main out/amp envelope.
Select the saw wave option in the oscillator and copy the following settings for the amp envelope:
Attack: 54 ms – Decay: 250 ms – Sustain: 45% – Release: 20 ms
In Phase Plant, the audio is routed from the generator section to the amp envelope and then through the three effect lanes.
Click on an empty section of the Generator section to add the Filter and then do the same to add the Distortion effect. Make sure to place these two new modules above the amp envelope by clicking on the left side of the modules, where their names are written, and dragging them up or down.
For the distortion module, select “hard clip” from the wave shape dropdown list and raise the drive to +0.75 dB and the mix knob to 60%. This will add some grit and pleasant harmonics.
For the Filter module, leave it in low pass mode, bring the cutoff to 400 Hz and adjust the Q to around 0.630.
Set the polyphony to 1 voice in legato mode in the lane right below the generator section, as we want the patch to be in mono.
Now we journey into the Modulators section. The first goal here is to slightly detune the lead by adding modulation to the pitch.
Click on an empty space in the Modulators section to create an LFO.
Map the LFO to the pitch by clicking on the orange “+” at the bottom right of the LFO and then selecting the orange “+” that appears right below the oscillator’s “Semi Cent” section.
Once you do this an orange circle will appear in the bottom right of the LFO. This is the LFO depth knob. Bring the value up to +1.18.
Next, edit the LFO curve by clicking on the pencil icon in the LFO. Draw the curve so that the value is modulating very slightly between 0% and 25%.
Set the rate to 6.55 Hz and make sure the LFO is in Unipolar mode by clicking the blue arrow at the top right of the LFO and clicking Unipolar. This mode ensures that the modulation starts from 0.
Our second goal with modulation is to create a filter envelope so that the filter cutoff opens up every time a note is played. This will add a clickier transient, along with more of the high frequencies.
Create an envelope by clicking on an empty part of the Modulators section and selecting Envelope. Then click on the “+” at the bottom right of the envelope to map it to the filter cutoff by selecting the orange “+” that appears below the cutoff. Set the envelope depth in the small orange circle that appears at the bottom right of the envelope to 15% as we don’t want the envelope opening all the way!
Set these envelope settings:
Attack: 0 ms – Decay: 200 ms – Sustain: 100% – Release: 340 ms
Using Phase Plant’s effect lanes, we are going to add a wide array of effects or “snap-ins”—as Kilohearts calls them—to complete the patch.
Phase Plant’s default routing for the effects is Lane 1 to Lane 2 to Lane 3 and we can leave this unchanged.
Insert the Delay and Reverb effects on Lane 1. The reverb creates a space for the lead, while the 1/4 note timed delay has a call and response effect, filling in the gaps when notes are not playing.
On Lane 2, insert the Phaser and Distortion and on Lane 3 add the Stereo effect. The phaser makes the sound more silky, the distortion adds even more harmonics to make up for those previously lost to the filter low-pass, and the stereo widener adds width, fattening the sound.
With effects there are no laws and creativity is paramount so tweak the parameters to taste!
Finally, insert the Compressor, Slice EQ and Carve EQ. The compressor evens out the signal while adding some sustain, while the EQ’s are used to cut the lows and emphasize the upper frequencies.
Here is the final result with the beat and bassline for context: