Timbre, also referred to as tone color or tone quality, is the characteristic sound of a musical instrument or voice that distinguishes it from other instruments or voices, even when they are playing the same pitch and at the same volume. Timbre is what makes a violin sound different from a flute or a guitar, despite playing the same note.
Timbre is a complex attribute of sound that arises from multiple factors, including the unique combination of harmonics or overtones, the attack and decay characteristics of a sound, and the modulation of frequencies and amplitudes over time. In the context of synthesizers, timbre is shaped by various components, such as oscillators, filters, envelopes, and modulation sources, which together define the unique sonic character of the produced sound.
In synthesis, timbre can be manipulated and altered using various techniques and tools, such as:
- Waveshaping: Choosing different oscillator waveforms, such as sine, sawtooth, square, or triangle waves, as the foundation of the sound.
- Filtering: Using filters to remove or emphasize certain frequency ranges or harmonics, which can dramatically change the timbre of the sound.
- Envelopes: Adjusting the attack, decay, sustain, and release (ADSR) parameters of a sound to alter its temporal characteristics.
- Modulation: Applying modulation sources, such as LFOs, envelopes, or sequencers, to various parameters of the synthesizer, like oscillator pitch, filter cutoff frequency, or amplifier gain, to create movement and evolution in the timbre over time.