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Many synthesizers that are marketed as "four voice" instruments visibly feature four similar, independent sets of controls, giving impression that each voice could be tuned separately. However this means that the note sounds differently depending on which channel plays it! Is this problem somehow addressed?

For instance, if I press C and E on MIDI keyboard connected to the synthesizer like this, the synthesizer will pick a couple of its four channels to play these two sounds. What happens if I press E and G then? Will E be played by a different channel now?

The problem looks even more obvious for monophonic synthesizers that can be "cascaded" like Moog Minimoog Voyager: "connect up to 16 of them to achieve some serious polyphony." But each device obviously has its independent set of controls! Should the performer then care to tune all 16 boxes identically or I am just missing some piece of knowledge?

  • Actually different synthesizers have different ways of doing this. Many try to get all the oscillators to sound the same, many let you do whatever you want with them, and how notes are assigned to channels can vary. Common methods of that are: randomly assign channels to notes in sequence, sequentially assign channels to notes in sequence, or assign channels in a priority queue to notes as they are available. Many artists will also detune the oscillators to give an "analoguey" vibe to the sound, because traditionally old synthesizers had detunement issues. – Darren Ringer Jan 29 '15 at 22:51
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    I think you are confusing polyphony voices with multi-timbral voices. In polyphony voices, like in the synth you linked to, there is no channel switching among notes, the notes can be triggered on the same channel. In multi-timbral voices, you use different MIDI channels (or kayboard ranges) to trigger different timbres/instruments at the same time (like say, a piano in channel 1, a violin in channel 2, and drums in channel 3). – Lyd Jan 30 '15 at 1:22
  • Well some synths let you use each oscillator for a different note/channel, or combine them into a monophonic synth with 3 voices. In general there are as many variations as there are synthesizers ;p – Darren Ringer Feb 2 '15 at 23:43
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Should the performer then care to tune all 16 boxes identically or I am just missing some piece of knowledge?

Yes! A big PITA and hence a darn good reason why polyphonic, microprocessor controlled synths like the Prophet 5 (oooh 5 voices!) in the late 70's were developed.

For instance, if I press C and E on MIDI keybord connected to the synthesizer like this, the synthesizer will pick a couple of its four channels to play these two sounds. What happens if I press E and G then? Will E be played by a different channel now?

If you meant voices when you wrote channels then yes, if you have a four voice polyphonic instrument, then each key press will use one voice. You can play up to four notes simultaneously. That is the traditional way of thinking about voices. However, the PerFourMer talks about channels:

this means that the note sounds differently depending on which channel plays it!

From the product's description:

PERfourMER MKII’s clever voice assignment allows choosing between six operational modes. Coupled synthesizer channels can either be played polyphonically, duophonically or monophonically. This way, you achieve expressive, lively sequences that may use a rotating voice assignment where each note addresses an individual synthesizer channel.

:)

Is this problem somehow addressed?

RTFM. The perFourma lets you sync channels/generators/oscillators. There are multiple play modes that let you decide how you want your notes to sound. Channels may be played in parallel or sequentially. Mono, poly, duo, Et. al.

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