ADSR or how I learned to love the transient

Before we dive further into the world of synthesis I’ve decided to spend this week writing a post on volume envelopes and try to breakdown the one of the fundamental building blocks of sound manipulation.

The ADSR curve is a term you’ll hear all of the time and if you trying to improve your production skills it will be something you will come into contact with almost daily.

ADSR: stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release

Attack Decay Sustain Release

Something like this...

Attack: We define as the time from start point (0db) to the highest point of volume. (peak)

Decay: The time from the highest point (peak) of the signal to the average volume.

Sustain: Time of average volume.

Release: The time it takes the signal to move from average level down to zero.

Every sounds source can be broken down into this form…

ADSR over audio sample

Told you...

Why this is awesome…

One of the biggest problems I hear from people starting out is “I can’t make it the way I hear it in my head”. I think that a large percentage of this has to do the fact audio 101 concepts are often abstract and explanations by jargon wrapped in jargon.

Problem is, understanding these very simple (often overlooked) ideas  is one of the critical steps to moving forward in your production skills.

Being intensely visual, I find that the above method of understanding the ADSR curve  a useful tool in the design / manipulate process. Now, when you stare at the knob instead of inside your head you hear:

what does this do? yeah, that sounds cool

it can be little more…

“Okay the attack, that’s front portion of the sound. I need it to be “X” close, closer. There is the sweet spot, stop”

Or when editing the chorus of the song, you know something is not quite right. By understanding the ADSR curve you may make the connection that the keyboard sound is over staying it’s welcome and that by reducing it’s release time it will tighten up the sound.

This process for most people is automatic, you probably do it already. But for those of you who are just getting started or trying to refine your creative process. I found this to be one of the cleanest cut ways to think about this idea.

(important side note)

The byproduct of fiddling with stuff :

Now that we are starting to move deeper into sound production inevitable the question will arise in your brain “What does the perfect snare sound like?” “What does the perfect X sound like?”

At this point, I want to stop and tell you. You CAN go real deep on this question and explore all sorts of tangents but the important thing to remember is…

Writing music is very similar, if not the same as a painting. It’s not about how the sounds sit in isolation, it’s about how the sounds sit next to each other in track. The perfect kick drum in this song could be the worst kick drum in the world for that song.

Getting our hands dirty:

Open up your DAW, go into your library and drop in a couple of contrasting samples on to individual channels. Kick, Pad, Keyboard stab and an Whoosh style effect.

Now zoom in real close on the kick.

Play it.

Play it again and listen real close. You want to be asking yourself critical questions. Would you say it has a long attack? or short attack compare to another kick? to a pad?

Take your volume envelope tool and re-draw the ADSR curve. How does that affect the sound?

Try a long attack, so the front of the kick isn’t clicking it’s more of a womp.

Try shorting the release, try reducing the DSR in different combinations to make the kick drum a tiny click.

Repeat the process with the other sound sources. Making sure to listen to the way altering volume can dramatic change the tone and perception of the sound itself.

That’s all for this week. Next post we’re going to move into Subtractive Synthesis. As always stay tuned, subscribe and share.



About Braydon Zirkler

Currently based out of Melbourne. I'm dividing my time up between this blog, teaching, a radio show that's in the works and working on a live performance project with physical theatre performers. Get in touch here:
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2 Responses to ADSR or how I learned to love the transient

  1. Pingback: Tone generation and Subtractive Synthesis 101 | Blind Man Bass

  2. Pingback: Subtractive Synthesis 102 – Filter and ADSR | Blind Man Bass

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