Torching semiconductors for fun and profit

The Master Synthesizer Book List r1.1

This is intended as a one-stop reference for analog and digital synthesizer design, covering both the specifics of design and the general fields that encompass them. Wherever possible, I have used books from Dover Publications because of their technical depth, illustrious authors, and budget-minded pricing. Embarking on a self-taught engineering path can be expensive, though not as costly as a formal education in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science. Newcomers often balk when they are presented with a tome that costs $150, however these books can easily provide much greater value in knowledge gained.

For every book outlined here, do not underestimate the power of used bookstores and clearing houses like Also look for previous editions of these books which can be purchased at a great discount from the shiny-new cover price. Some books, such as Chamberlin's, can only be acquired from these alternate sources since they are are out of print.

If you have any additional references that should be added to this list, by all means contact me! Topics I'll add encompass not only analog and digital synthesizer design, but discussion of devices and techniques that aid in the design of these instruments, and also historical and artistic references such as Vail's Vintage Synthesizers.

One final note. While there are some web sites linked in this list, I have no intention of cataloging all of the wonderful web sites available for DIY enthusiasts. There are far too many and have been covered plenty of other places. What there IS a dearth of, however, is a list of more global references - books, articles, papers and the like. So, if a web site has particular information about synthesis technology or engineering, it will be included.

The List:

Analog Tomes:

Title Author ISBN Description
Electronotes Bernard Hutchins, Et al. N/A The Source of All Good Bits. Expensive ($300 + S/H), but it contains over three decades of information from many synth pioneers. For the more budget-minded Electronotes offers condensed items such as the Musical Engineers Handbook and Preferred Circuits Collection.
Musical Applications of Microprocessors Hal Chamberlin 0810457687 Covers analog and digital synth design, as well as user interfacing. Out of Print, Mr. Chamberlin is selling photocopies of his manuscript for US$30, contact Hal directly for a copy. Jeff Dec also has a limited quantity of second edition copies he's selling for US$50 each. They're new-old-stock, with dust jacket, and in mint un-read condition.
IC Op-Amp Cookbook Walter Jung 0138896011 All about Operational Amplifiers. While not the best technical reference, it offers both breadth and an easy approach to design with these devices.
The Art of Electronics Paul Horowitz
Winfield Hill
0521370957 Included because it is a good reference and cookbook for beginners. For a more in-depth introduction to analog circuitry, refer to Electric Circuits and Microelectronic Circuits below.
Electric Circuits James W Nilsson
Susan A. Riedel
0131465929 While I am somewhat critical of this book, it is used in many universities as the introductory Undergraduate text for Electrical Engineering. It is quite comprehensive, going from basic DC and AC circuit analysis into phasors, Laplace transforms, and basic resonant and filter circuits.
Microelectronic Circuits Adel S. Sedra
Kenneth C. Smith
003051648X Another common undergraduate text that covers transistor circuitry both in analog and digital forms. If you want to know all the theory of differential amplifiers and exactly WHY an exponential converter does what it does, this is the book to get. While its emphasis is on designing Integrated Circuits, the theory is just as useful.
Electronics For Music Tom Gamble N/A This web site has a wide number of modular synthesizer schematics and Tom offers budget-minded PCBs for construction. While they are good for beginners, I feel that a few projects should be built before attempting any of Tom's designs because many rely on hand-matching transistors.
Synth.Net Various Contributors N/A This is one of the main synth-aggregators on the 'Net. Many well known DIY designers and projects are hosted here.
Cat Girl Synth Ken Stone N/A While this is part of the complex, Ken Stone deserves a special mention here. He's got a great number of projects on his web site, and is a great guy to communicate with.
YUsynth Yves Usson N/A One of the cornerstones of French synthesizer design, Yves Usson has many wonderful designs and recreations of older modules.
The Emulator Archive Rob Keeble N/A Rob may be known for his massive historical archive of all things E-Mu, but he's also working to recreate many modules from the old ARP and Eμ modular synthesizers. Many schematics and lab discussions are included here.
Music From Outer Space Ray Wilson N/A MFOS produces many DIY PCBs as well as what I consider to be a must for a first DIY project: the Sound Lab Mini-Synth It's a complete synthesizer that can be built with a minimum of expense, and isn't so complicated that it will throw off a beginner.
Elby Designs Laurie Biddulph N/A Laurie has a great number of projects on his web site, as well as many other resources. Take a look at the ASM series for a second single-board synthesizer project if the Sound Lab wasn't enough for you.
Electronic Music Circuits Barry Klein 067221833X Electronic Music Circuits was published in 1982, but quickly went out of print because interest turned to digital synthesis. Now that interest in analog synthesis has returned, Barry has re-released his books with Analogue Haven.
Electronic Music IC Databook Barry Klein N/A This book contains all of the datasheets for both the Curtis and SSM lines of electronic music-specific ICs. Additionally, it includes a set of issues of the CEM Synthresource application notes. This is also available at Analogue Haven.

Digital Tomes:

Title Author ISBN Description
A Digital Signal Processing Primer with Applications to Digital Audio and Computer Music Ken Steiglitz 0805316841 A good primer on DSP with an eye towards audio.
Digital Signal Processing Alan V. Oppenheim
Ronald W. Schafer
8178087537 The Source of All Good Bits with regard to DSP. Out of print, replaced by Discrete-Time Signal Processing on next row.
Discrete-Time Signal Processing Alan V. Oppenheim
Ronald W. Schafer
John R. Buck
0137549202 Updated version of previous book.
Digital Filters R.W. Hamming 048665088X One of the best books on Digital Filters. Dense, and very advanced.
Digital Signal Processing using MATLAB Vinay K. Ingle
John G. Proakis
0495073113 I just snagged this book, but it's already earning a tattered cover. While Oppenheim and Hamming are Lexicons, they dive 100% into theory and expect the reader to either be a mathematician or engineer with a large background in math. This is a Good Thing by many standards, but sometimes you just want to get into working and implement a solution. This book gives you that, straddling the boundary between pure MATLAB and pure DSP.
The Computer Music Tutorial Curtis Roads 0262680823 Another lexicon, this book goes over many forms of digital audio synthesis and signal processing systems, but more from an artistic and introductory background.
The CSound Book Richard Boulanger 0262522616 This book gives a good introduction to both the breadth and depth of what CSound can do. If you want to get into digital synthesis yet aren't up to programming FPGAs or writing your own plug-ins, CSound is a good way to start understanding theory as well as implementation.
CCRMA N/A N/A This is the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, one of the main global think-tanks for audio synthesis and technology. Many good things came out of this place - FM Synthesis, Bandlimited Interpolation, Physical Modeling and many many other things.
Julius Smith Homepage Julius O. Smith N/A Julius Smith deserves his own mention here, because he has many publications on things directly related to audio synthesis: Bandlimited Interpolation, an entire book on Digital Filters for audio, etc.
CNMAT N/A N/A UC Berkeley's Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, another major research center for all things in computer music. They did many things like packages for performing additive synthesis using inverse fourier transforms, Open Sound Control, and a ton of stuff with MAX/MSP.
IRCAM N/A N/A This is the final institute in the triumvirate of international audio research, l'Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique. That's Institute for Music/Acoustic Research and Coordination for all you English speakers. This organization helped popularize and develop MAX and MSP, among other things.
cSounds Dr. Richard Boulanger N/A CSound is loosely related to the MUSIC-N languages, and is a computer synthesis and score development toolkit. Consider it a programming language in which you can design a synthesizer, sequencer, digital audio effects system, and sequence all the objects you've developed.

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