Circle Tutorial 3 - Creating a Classic Synth Lead Sound

What is Covered?
An intermediate level tutorial on creating a classic synth lead sound.
Having covered the basics of sound design in tutorials 1 & 2 we move on to adding vibratro, filter modulation and multi effects to creating more dynamic sounds.


Building recreations of classic synth patches is a great way to familiarise yourself with Circles interface.
We have already looked at a classic synth brass sound and a bass patch, so now lets build something with a slightly different character and a few more modulations.
Artists have been making lead sounds with synths since their conception. Circle is capable of producing a great lead sound with relative ease and its intuitive modulation system can really help to make the patch playable and dynamic.
So let's take a look at the lead patch being built step by step. Notice how we are using similar techniques to those in the previous tutorials but that the use of more modulators and effects really take things to the next level.

Step 1 - From the top

As always we are starting with a blank initialised patch. This is created by hitting the 'new' button at the top of Circles interface. You will now be presented with a patch that has a single saw wave oscillator and some basic envelope settings. There are no effects or modulations set up so this is a great blank canvas to start from.

In the more advanced tutorials that will follow, I will miss this step out completely and assume you have mastered the process.

The initialised patch

Initial patch

Step 2 - Choosing your oscillators

As with the majority of patches we create, the first step is selecting the appropriate oscillators. In the past couple of tutorials only two oscillators were used but this time around, for a little extra flavour, we are going to use three oscillators in total.

I have used two standard analogue modelled saw waves for the first two oscillators and the third is from the wavetable menu. Wavetable oscillators generally contain more harmonic content and can add real texture to a patch. They are not as 'fat' as the analogue modelling waveforms but can be very interesting.

Two saw wave and one wavetable oscillator

When using a wavetable oscillator, you should click on the waveform name and choose from the long list of available wave shapes. There is a pretty vast choice here but you can click on each one to audition it. You can have two wave shapes per wavetable oscillator and mix between them with the small internal fader. This gives you massive scope and some pretty diverse sounds can be achieved using this method.

Selecting the wavetable

The three oscillators

Step 3 - De-tuning and mixing the oscillators

As we have seen in the previous patches de-tuning is a perfect technique for adding width to our patches. I have only de-tuned the first two oscillators in this case. The third will be modulated in a later step.

The wavetable oscillators tend to have less apparent volume so I have used the mixer section to strike a nice balance between the three sound sources. The saw waves are mixed at around 50% while the wavetable oscillator is mixed at 100%. Using these levels all of the oscillators can be heard.

The de-tuned oscillators and mixer section

De-tuned and mixed oscillators

Step 4 - Filter and envelope settings.

I have used a low pass filter with a pretty steep curve here and plenty of resonance. This will result in a bright sounds with a high harmonic content, which should be perfect for our lead patch. Ive set the cut off frequency pretty low here as it is going to be modulated in the next step.

Initial filter settings

At this point I also edited the amplitude envelope a little. I have used a very basic envelope profile here as the lead sound we are aiming for doesn't really require any special dynamics. A small amount of release ensures that there'll be no clicks and pops when moving between notes in a performance.

Amplitude envelope

Initial filtering and basic amplitude envelope

Step 5 - Modulating the filter

So now we are ready to modulate the filter. We are going to use a few different sources here and create some movement. First up I have used a filter to create a subtle downward sweep as the sound is played, this is achieved by dragging the circle from the envelope area and placing it on one of the three empty 'slots' below the cut off frequency in the filter area.

Filter envelope

The second modulator is an LFO that creates a slight 'wobble' in the filter's frequency. I have also used the filter envelope to slow the LFO down slightly as the sound develops. This use of multiple modulators can really bring a sound to life and you will see how it can generate complex sound-scapes as we get into more advanced tutorials.

Filter LFO also modulated by the filter envelope

Filter modulation

Step 6 - Extra modulations

There are other modulations going on in this patch other than just those acting on the filter. I have also created a vibrato by using an LFO to modulate the fine tuning of the first two (saw wave) oscillators. There is also a second LFO set with a very slow rate modulating the pitch of the wavetable oscillator very slightly.

Oscillator routing

Further pitch modulation LFO

Pitch modulation

Step 7 - Adding effects and legato

To add some extra sheen to the patch I have added some effects, courtesy of Circle's three effects processors. I decided to use some chorus, delay and reverb to add space to the sound. This really brings out the effect of the pich modulations and will make the sound generally easier to play.

Adding effects to the patch

Some adjustments were also made the voicing of the patch to further enahnce playability. The amount of voices was reduced to 1, so that the sound is monophonic and legato mode was also enabled to allow notes to blend. The final touch was to add some glide to the sound.

Altering the voicing

Adding glide

The final lead patch

All these modulations and subtle changes amount to a very expressive lead sound, that should sit nicely in the mix. As we move into more complex territory in later tutorials we'll see how even more modulations can be used to create mind bending effects.

Download Tutorial 3 Files

Tutorial 3: Creating a Classic Synth Lead Sound
Download the tutorial in plain text format, the associated audio files and the completed Circle sound/patch.