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I've been having a hard time figuring out function of these below music devices:

1. Beatstep sequencer 2. Launchpad | Ableton Push 3. Sampler 4. Sequencer 5. Synthesizer

  • For example, if I use pro tools for making music, can I replace and modify all the sounds that those devices produce by using a keyboard connected to pro tools?

  • Which of those devices can be recorded with new sound effects and which can only use system-default sounds?

  • Which of them use buttons and which use piano-like keyboard?

Your help means so much to me!

  • Beatstep is a brand name. You just want to ask what a “sequencer” is, not a “beatstep”l sequencer”. – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 at 8:11
  • The 'beatstep' I know is arturia.com/beatstep/overview, which is a controller that does seem to have some sequencing capabilities built in (including a CV out, interestingly...) – topo morto Jan 6 at 9:16
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Very very quick overview:

  • Synthesizer: A device or program that takes in note and other control input via MIDI messages and/or control voltages and produces electronic sounds based on the input. Synthesizers can make almost any kind of sound you can imagine, and have a wide range of controls. The most common hardware synthesizers include a piano like keyboard so you can use them all as one unit to make music. Software synthesizers usually work as a plug-in in some host software and the software may generate the note input or a controller may be connected to the computer to generate the note input.

  • Sequencer: A device or piece of software that you can program to send a predetermined set of note and other control information to a hardware or software synthesizer. Usually the information programmed is sent to the synthesizer over and over again, causing the synth to play a loop or sequence. Some synthesizers have sequencers built into them, so they can sequence themselves. There are many many different types of sequencers with different ways to program them.

  • “Ableton, Launchpad, Push” Ableton is a company based in Germany that is most famous for their software product called Live. Ableton Live (sometimes just called “Ableton”) is music production software that is based on recording and/or programming short (usually) loops of music or sequence data and playing them back in a synchronized fashion. Each loop can be played, looped, stopped, and edited in real time, meaning you can make and edit loops on stage during a performance (hence the name “Live”). The Novation Launchpad is a hardware device that you connect to your computer to let you control Ableton Live. The Ableton Push is a similar controller that has many more capabilities than the Launchpad. Both Push and the Launchpad do nothing if you don’t have a computer running Live connected to them.

  • Sampler: A sampler is a device or program that records short bits of audio, called “samples”, and plays them back when desired. One major use of samplers is to record the different sounds and notes made by real instruments and play them back based on note and control data from a keyboard or sequencer. This is a popular way to imitate real instruments without actually having the instrument and performer available. Another way samplers are often used is to record small bits of music and play them back at specific times. This was very popular in the early days of rap and hip hop because it made it easy to create entire songs without ever playing a musical instrument. This technique has become less common since a court case was decided that meant pretty much all samples had to be paid for, which means a single song could cost thousands in sample rights. Hardware samplers usually have some way to play back the samples, like a keyboard or pads, and also usually include a sequencer so the sample playback can be programmed and looped. Most popular music production software packages, including Ableton Live, include a sampler component. Some editions of Live come with two samplers.

Ableton Live is a complicated package that includes software synthesizers, software sequencers, and software samplers into one package. You can control Live with external keyboards, sequencers, and control surfaces, and Live can control external synthesizers, sequencers, and other hardware and software. You can link multiple computers running Live together to have them all operate as one huge system.

One way to learn more about these items is to do a web search for “famous synthesizers” and “famous sequencers”. The 60s, 70s, and 80s is when those devices were first developed and improved, and much of what we do today is influenced by what was invented back then.

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Todd and No'am have provided general answers, so just to pick up your questions:

For example, if I use pro tools for making music, can I replace and modify all the sounds that those devices produce by using a keyboard connected to pro tools?

Typically yes, you have a lot of control over your sounds (within the limits of the capabilities of the devices) when using a DAW like Pro Tools. A keyboard may or may not be useful, depending on exactly what it is you want to do.

Which of those devices can be recorded with new sound effects and which can only use system-default sounds?

These days most software synthesizers and samplers are very user-editable, but you have to read the details of particular software or equipment.

Which of them use buttons and which use piano-like keyboard?

Again, you have to look at the particular devices - there is so much choice these days. There are synthesizers, samplers and sequencers that have keyboards, and there are those that don't. Most synthesizers and samplers can be connected to a keyboard if you want to use them that way.

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A synthesizer is an instrument or a computer program which produces sounds. There are two basic types of synthesis: additive and subtractive. Old analog synths work by additive synthesis: they add frequencies to a basic wave form (normally sine waves, but also triangles) . Most digital synths and computer synths work by subtractive synthesis: they filter and thus subtract frequencies from a wave form.

A sequencer is a computer program which produces a sequence of (normally) MIDI data which is then passed to an 'instrument' in order to be 'played'. These were once hardware components with a certain amount of memory; a programmer or musician would load the memory with several sequences (like drum patterns) then trigger the sequencer to 'play' them. Since the 1990s (if not earlier), sequencers are more often software programs and can be compared to word processors. Instead of writing notes on manuscript paper, one enters them into the sequencer. This makes copy/paste operations very easy as well as facilitating insertions and deletions. Most (if not all) sequencers are able to produce output from the entered notes, although the sounds obtained depend on the computer's sound card. Most sequencers have the ability to import MIDI data as played on a keyboard; they normally have two types of display - keyboard and piano roll.

A sampler is hardware which records 'real' sounds and then converts them from analog form (what we hear) into digital form (for computer manipulation) by sampling the sound - 96 thousand times a second. The faster the sample rate, the better is the conversion.

Ableton is a DAW: one can synthesize sounds and play them via a sequencer. Pro Tools is basically a digital tape recorder which imports wave files, manipulates them, mixes them then outputs them.

I imagine that a 'beatstep sequencer' is a simple sequencer of the original type which one programs to produce drum sequences.

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    I'm not the downvoter, but there are a couple of tweaks you might want to consider - 1) there are quite a few basic synthesis techniques, but between additive and subtractive, it's subtractive synthesis that is associated with most old analogue synths. 2) Any sampling rate is possible, but 99.4K would be very unusual - 44.1K has probably been the most common until recently. 3) To say that sequencers are able to produce output from the entered notes seems to blur the definition - it's synthesizers that produce audio output; the sequencer's job is to control those synthesizers. – topo morto Jan 6 at 8:06
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    @No'amNewman so by 'output' there do you mean control / trigger information (such as MIDI)? In that case I'm still not sure what scenario you're referring to by saying that the sounds obtained depend on the computer's sound card... I remember back in the 90's there used to be some soundcards with onboard synths, but I would imagine their use is no longer common. On the synthesis types thing - even the link you've provided about subtractive synthesis states "the sound most commonly associated with the technique is that of analog synthesizers of the 1960s and 1970s"... – topo morto Jan 6 at 17:51
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    There are several basic types of synthesis: Subtractive, additive, FM, wavetable, physical modeling, granular, vector synthesis, and tons of hybrid approaches that combine those. There's also virtual synthesizers of many of those types, e.g., virtual subtractive synths are very common. As already commented, almost all of the classic analog synths (Moog, Prophets, CS-80, Oberheim, ARP, EMS, MS-20, Juno-106, etc.) are subtractive, not additive. – Todd Wilcox Jan 7 at 2:33
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    Not all samplers use a sample rate of 96 kHz. Certainly vintage samplers are unlikely to go above 44.1 kHz, and yes, vintage hardware samplers are still used and sold on the resale market. Software based sampling allows one to choose any sample rate supported by the audio interface and software, and many still choose to sample at 44.1 kHz for a variety of reasons, while other may sample at 192 kHz. Conversion quality is not merely a function of sample rate, and there are many cases of converters running at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz having better sound quality than others running at 96 kHz. – Todd Wilcox Jan 7 at 2:42
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    Pro Tools is every bit as much a DAW as Ableton Live is, in fact one could argue that Pro Tools is the archetypal DAW. Both support sampling, sequencing, recording, editing mixing playback, plug-in effects, hardware controllers, and a wide range of audio interfaces. Pro Tools is more geared towards music production for release and music and audio post production for film and TV, Ableton Live is more geared towards live performance and DJ style use, along with songwriting and idea generation, but there is a lot of overlap between their feature sets. – Todd Wilcox Jan 7 at 2:45

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