How to Record Synthesizers

Whether you’re making pure electronic music, indie-rock or pop, the humble synthesizer is near-indivisible from the modern music landscape. Since synths are only getting cheaper, it’s likely that you’re already busy twiddling knobs and pushing faders, but what if you want to actually record the sound of your synth? Here, our Guestblogger Melvin Rijlaarsdam explains what’s involved and how to get the best out of your synth in the studio.

Audio Ports

Pretty much any synthesizer works with line-level jack outputs, which could either be bigger 6.35mm jacks or the smaller 3.5mm mini-jacks, meaning that you can easily connect the line-outputs of a synth up to an audio interface without needing to use a DI box. These outputs are also unbalanced, which when you’re recording at home or in a studio isn’t an issue, because you’ll be using short cables, meaning that there’s little chance of signal loss. On stage, this can be a different matter, since you’re likely to need longer cables which, when using unbalanced outputs, can cause a bit of signal interference.

Some synthesizers come fitted with a single mono output while other models have one or more stereo outputs. Drum machines also usually have independent outputs for each sound – so a separate output for the snare, the kick and so on.

If you’re using a Eurorack or another modular synthesizer setup, then you’ll need to make sure that the output isn’t too loud. Eurorack module systems run at much higher voltages than most synthesizers, meaning that they can quickly overload the preamp of your audio interface, so it’s smart to use separate output modules that can attenuate the signal level.

» Audio Cables

How to Record Synthesizers


Most synthesizers will also have a MIDI port, which can either be a physical MIDI port or a USB port. Via MIDI, you can record every note that you play on the keyboard into your DAW software, and if you happen to hit the wrong note or your timing is a bit off, it can easily be corrected. Your edited notes can then be sent back through your synthesizer, leaving both of your hands free to tweak knobs and faders in real time.

With some synthesizers you can also record the position and settings of the faders and knobs via MIDI. This way, all of the parameters of your synth can be automated in your DAW, just like you can with a computer plugin.

Another handy feature of MIDI is that, with the help of a MIDI clock, the tempo of two different synthesizers can be synchronised. You can also use the same method to synchronise a synth or drum machine with the tempo of your DAW. This means that sequencers, arpeggiators, LFOs and delay effects can be set up to run perfectly in time with the BPM set in your DAW project.

How to Record Synthesizers

» MIDI Cables

Gain Staging

When recording, it’s essential that the output volume of your synthesizer is set to maximum, and from there, you can just set the recording volume via your audio interface. This method ensures that as little distortion as possible gets on the recording.

Besides a master volume control, some synthesizers feature a mixer you can use to control the volume of the oscillators, so if your model has one, make sure that they’re all set to a loud enough level to prevent noise. Digital synthesizers often also have adjustable volume per preset, which is designed so that the volume of different synth patches can be matched.


Earlier I mentioned that if you’re recording at home or in a studio, then you won’t need to use a DI box. This is because you’ll only need to hook everything up with short cables. But, if you are getting some hum or noise in the signal, then you can always solve the problem using a DI box. Most DI boxes will have a ground-lift switch which disconnects the signal/ground to prevent ground loops and clean up any buzz and hum.

» DI Boxes

How to Record Synthesizers

Guitar Pedals

Not all synthesizers come with built-in effects, but there are a few external effect pedals you can use that are specially designed for synthesizers. And if not, you can just use some normal guitar effect pedals – there are plenty to choose from.

In most cases, you can hook a synthesizer directly to a guitar effect pedal. But the signal of a synth is actually a touch louder than the sound of a standard electric guitar, so the resulting sound can depend on the pedal you’re using. Analogue effect pedals, like most distortions and overdrives, can handle more volume than digital pedals like some delays and reverbs.

If you are using a pedal that’s quickly distorting, then it can help to use a reamp box. This widget converts the line-signal of the synth into a signal that the pedal can actually handle. Because this method ensures that the signals are better tuned to one another, you’ll get far less unwanted noise.

» Reamp Boxes

Some Practical Recording Tips

  1. As soon as everything is connected up, you can start recording. Here, I always start by trying out a basic sound or selecting a preset that best fits the music.
  2. Then, I record the notes as MIDI and edit them wherever needed. This way, I can use quantization to fix any notes played too early or too late. Most of the time a 50% quantization is more than enough since the playing shouldn’t sound too restricted, tight and robotic (unless of course, the genre you’re working on demands this feel).
  3. Once you’ve got your notes recorded, send these back out through your synth so that you can start tweaking some of the parameters. The filter, cutoff, LFO rate and depth and the delay time are definitely worth playing with while you record.
  4. In most (if not all) DAWs, you can loop a few bars and repeatedly record the same section over and over until you have the perfect take. Once you’ve made a few recordings, you can then pick out the best takes and then do some comping – where you put together the best compilation take made up of the best bits of each take.How to Record Synthesizers

What kind of synthesizer do you use for music production? And how do you record it? Let us know in the comments.

See also…

» Audio Cables
» MIDI Cables
» USB A/B Cables
» DI Boxes
» Reamp Boxes
» Synthesizers
» Drum Machines
» Eurorack Modules
» DAW Software
» Audio Interfaces

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