A synth which produces its output using digital computing and processing techniques. In a typical modern digital synth, the signal is not converted to analog form until it is ready to be output, although some early designs were digital-analog hybrids. Unlike analog synthesizers, nearly all of which employ subtractive synthesis, digital synthesizers may employ a number of different synthesis techniques, depending on the design.


Digital synthesis has roots in the 1950s, when programs had to run on large mainframe computers all night to produce a few minutes' worth of output. See Computer music.

It was not until the 1970s that real-time digital synthesis became practical. Yamaha built the first prototype digital synthesizer in 1974, based on frequency modulation (FM) synthesis.[1] Released in 1979,[2] the Casio VL-1 was the first commercial digital synthesizer,[3] selling for $69.95.[2] Another early commercially produced digital synthesizer was the Fairlight CMI, introduced in 1979.

Yamaha eventually commercialized their FM synthesis technology and released the first FM digital synthesizer in 1980, the Yamaha GS-1, but at an expensive retail price of $16,000.[4] Introduced in 1983, the Yamaha DX7 was the breakthrough digital synthesizer to have a major impact, both innovative and affordable, and thus spelling the decline of analog synthesizers.[5] It used FM synthesis and its price was around $2,000, putting it within range of a much larger number of musicians.[6]


  1. Chapter 2: FM Tone Generators and the Dawn of Home Music Production. Yamaha Synth 40th Anniversary - History. Yamaha Corporation (2014).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mark Vail, The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording the Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument, page 277, Oxford University Press
  3. Impact of MIDI on electroacoustic art music, Issue 102, page 26, Stanford University
  4. Curtis Roads (1996). The computer music tutorial. MIT Press. p. 226. ISBN 0-262-68082-3. Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  6. Le Heron, Richard B.; Harrington, James W. (2005). New Economic Spaces: New Economic Geographies. Ashgate Publishing. p. 41. ISBN 0-7546-4450-2.