This article answers one of the most sought-after questions about FL Studio, “Is FL Studio good for sound design?”. FL Studio has emerged as one of the most popular DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) in recent years.
It has become instantly popular among producers thanks to its interactive user interface, easy learning curve, and lifetime free updates. But what makes it different from other DAW is a series of great in-built plugins, each unique built and capable of the most complex sound design tasks.
Harmor, Harmless, Sytrus, Toxic Biohazard, Groove Machine Synth(GMS), Patcher, Morphine, Gross Beat, Fruity convolver, Vocodex, and Maximus are the most used plugins of FL Studio for sound design tasks. These plugins can be purchased as the complete bundle or as a separate unit from Image-line’s official website.
The basic principle behind FL Studio plugins is straightforward, using the concept of classic hardware and inventing something new using modern tech. For example, most FL Studio synth plugins use classic synths as their bass design, but the plugin is mixed with a modern touch. Let us look at each of these plugins, one at a time.
Is FL Studio good for sound design?
FL Studio is the best DAW when it comes to sound design; for music, films, games, animations, and more. Sound design is a topic of personal preference. While some people like a plugin that is easy to use and gives fast outcomes, others love to play around with the waveshapes, harmonics, and effects like a true audiophile.
Some people like analog-modeled synths, and others prefer physical modeling. Everyone can find their favorite plugin in the collection of FL Studio. While FL Studio triumphs over its fellow DAW in the synth category, it considerably lacks in the effect field.
Although FL Studio has the best dynamic processors, convolution, and effect chain(Patcher), it is far behind in the saturation, distortion, reverb, and delay category.
The over-emphasis on unique plugin designs have left FL Studio effect with only digital sounds, missing out on the character of the analog hardware.
Sound Design with FL Studio – Analyzing the leading synths.
Let us look at some of the most popular synthesizers of FL Studio. We will judge them based on sound engine, ease of learning, CPU usage, performance, and sound quality.
The leading powerhouse of the FL Studio’s native plugin family is Harmor. Harmor has an additive-subtractive approach to design sounds. More specifically, it combines many sin waves(known as partials) of different frequencies to generate sounds.
Then, the resulting waveform can be passed through subtractive units like Pluck, Filter, Local and Global EQ to filter out the unwanted partials.
Harmor has 4 oscillators, 4 filters, a global effect, and a series of modulators called mapping and envelops.
Sound Design capabilities of Harmor
Harmor is the best additive synth in the market. The basic sound quality is similar to Synclavier(The original hardware synth unit can cost around $25,000 and $200,000). Therefore, it is the best choice for sound design for not just music but also Films and games.
Furthermore, Harmor is the only plugin that allows sound designers to draw their filters and resonance, Equalize the waveshape, add harmonic content with desirable mathematical relations, and so on. These are some of the salient features of Harmor that set it apart from other synthesizers in the market.
- Custom Harmonic Mapping
- Harmor can create a custom filter, resonance, pluck, phaser, Eq, and modulation shape.
- It is the only synth plugin with an in-built linear phase equalizer.
- Harmor can produce inharmonic frequencies and move them in the spectral field thanks to the Prism unit. This feature makes Harmor the best generator for Film and Game sound design.
- Harmor has 6 timbre blending modes and 5 unison modes.
- The Resynthesis mode allows you to edit, reproduce and create new instruments from any sample or image file.
The ability to control the pitch, volume, phase harmonics, and unison voices make Harmor the best choice for sound design. But it has a severe drawback – Harmor is very hard to learn, especially if you are a beginner.
To understand Harmor, a person must understand the most fundamental aspects of the sound itself. That is why many producers do not often use it. Nonetheless, the results will be astonishing if you spend some time learning about this synth.
Another most popular synthesizer of FL Studio is Sytrus. It is a powerful synth capable of FM(Frequency Modulation), RM(Ring Modulation), Additive and Subtractive synthesis. The original plugin was designed after Yamaha DX7 but improved with the addition of many features available in modern synths.
Sytrus features 6 operators(not oscillators), 3 filters, and 1 FX channel. The plugin also has dedicated unison control. In addition, it has a modulation matrix capable of performing FM and RM modulation.
One of the most significant advantages of Sytrus is its compatibility with the Sysex files. This opens up a new world of thousands of presets and banks made by the best sound designers of all time.
You can get thousands of presets from websites like DX7 SYSEX. You can load these banks into Sytrus using the menu and further improve them using the sound engine of Sytrus.
Sound Design Capabilities of Sytrus
There is a reason why out of all the classic algorithms, only FM(Modular, Additive, RM, AM) is used widely in modern plugins. Unlike other algorithms, FM can change a sound’s timbre in any way, at any time. Apart from this, it can also reach all possible frequency values in the spectrum.
Sytrus takes those traits of an FM algorithm to the next level. Unlike the traditional FM hardware, where you have little control over the waveshape, Sytrus implements an FFT(Fast Fourier Transform) approach to break the waveshape into partials.
Furthermore, you can change the phase and level of each partial from the operator. It allows sound designers to get any possible timbre. These are some of the salient features of Sytrus that make it the best FM synth plugin.
- Sytrus can create custom harmonic and phase mapping.
- It has 3 dedicated filers capable of mutual series and parallel filtering.
- It has an in-built Unison unit in Sytrus, helpful in creating thick sounds.
- Sytrus is Compatible with DX7 banks and presets.
- Just like Harmor, Sytrus has advanced modulation envelopes and mapping windows.
Another great synthesizer from the image-line software. Toxic Biohazard is a simple synth with an FM sound engine at its core. The most noteworthy feature of Toxic Biohazard is its dedicated sequence builder. This function makes Toxic Biohazard an excellent synth for live performance.
The synth has 6 oscillators, 2 LFO modulators, 1 filter with its own dedicated envelope, and 2 FX slots. It also supports custom single wave cycles for LFO and oscillators.
Toxic Biohazard is an excellent plugin for people who find FM matrix hard to handle. It has the most straightforward user interface among all dedicated FM synthesizers on the market. The sound is fat, and Unison emulates the analog character.
Sound Design capabilities of Toxic Biohazard
With the help of a Modulation matrix, filter, and modulators, Toxic Biohazard is capable of blending FM and subtractive sound design approaches. In addition, the plugin has many unique single-wave cycles. These are some salient features of Toxic Biohazard.
- Toxic Biohazard has a great collection of single wave cycles.
- Each oscillator has a dedicated analog ADSR, frequency, delay, transpose, and velocity control. This allows sound designers to set up a unique expression of the sound.
- LFO supports universal wave shapes, allowing the most complex modulations.
- Toxic Biohazard has a dedicated sequencer capable of creating unique transpose and velocity for each step.
Although Toxic Biohazard has excellent sound design potential, it lacks in terms of effects; only two effects can be used in a single instance.
Groove Machine Synth(GMS)
Most people(Even FL Studio users) are unaware that Groove Machine Synth, popularly known as GMS, is an extracted version of the original Groove Machine. The original version(called Groove Machine) is actually a hybrid drum sequencer merged with a multi-timbre synth.
Although the plugin was released in 2011, it is still one of the best synth and drum sequencers for live performance.
The drum machine of GMS is excellent, but we want to focus on its synth part. GMS is the most straightforward yet best-sounding plugin on the market.
It features 3 analog oscillators, 1 analog filter with a dedicated envelope, 2 LFOs, 2 Envelopes, and an outstanding series of world-class effects for live performance.
Sound Design Capabilities of GMS
GMS is the best choice for beginners. It’s a great synth to showcase modern VST synths to new producers and sound designers. The best part of GMS is that its sound never goes out of control regarding harmonics and levels. No matter how hard you turn up the FM or RM, the balance in harmonic distribution will always be even. This unique feature of GMS makes it an excellent plugin for practicing sound design. These are some of the best features of GMS.
- GMS has a great collection of single wave cycles.
- It supports external waveshape as well.
- Designing sounds with GMS is extremely simple.
- The plugin is digital, but the sound and processing units emulate analog characters.
- The effect section of GMS is awe-inspiring. It allows you to control the fx perimeter while playing the pattern in DAW or live.
The only drawback of GMS is the lack of modulation variations. But since it emulates an analog character, that’s understandable.
FL Studio Patcher is the best option for designing the most complex sounds in a single interface and using it to control the expression using macro controls. It can host all native FL Studio plugins as well as external VST and VST3 units, effects, and synths.
Pather is one of a kind and does not have any use of its own. But it greatly enhances the power and usability of other plugins, like a catalyst. Patcher has 2 main windows, one for hosting the plugins and connecting them through parameters, events, and audio, and the other for macro controls.
Patcher can connect the plugins in series, parallel, or both.
Sound Design capabilities of Patcher
Although many multi FX and modular synthesizers exist in the market(Multipass by Kilohartz, HY Filter 4, Voltage modular by Cherry audio, etc.), they only allow a limited number of modules and units in the interface.
Furthermore, most of these modules are made by companies and must be purchased separately. Patcher, however, can host any synth or VST plugin. This allows producers and sound designers to design complex sounds in a single user interface.
In addition, the hybrid series-parallel audio signal processing gives the Patcher a flexible workflow capable of synthesizing and molding the sound in every possible way. These are some of the salient features of Patcher.
- Patcher can host and connect plugins in series or parallel.
- It can be used as both synths and effect host.
- The presets can be saved and used further in other projects.
- It is possible to control the pather macros using a midi controller.
- Patcher voice effect plugins(VFX) can create groups of generators of effects.
- The plugin comes with lots of excellent pre-made preset libraries.
- There are 3 main interlinks in Patcher; Audio(Yellow), Parameter(Red), and Events(Green).
Variable pitch is one of the most used effects in modern music production, especially for vocals. Traditional pitch shifting was achieved by increasing or decreasing the speed of the audio. Most samplers and plugins(Serum, Vital) still use time teaching as a pinch variation tool(since it’s less CPU intensive).
Pitch shifter by FL Studio is an effect plugin that can control the pitch of samples, vocals, and instruments without disrupting the original speed or time.
Pitch Shifter has 2 algorithms to control the pitch and formant of sound, Voice(best for monophonic sounds) and music (best for polyphonic sounds). The voice algorithm is best for sounds with a clearly defined pitch. Meanwhile, music is a granular pitch shifter.
Sound Design Capabilities of Pitch Shifter
Pitch Shifter is a great effect to use in both music and creative sound design(films, games, animation). The high-quality output, embedded granular engine, and delay do way more than just normal pitch variations. It can add an exciting color and granular effects to the sounds.
The formant engine of the voice section is terrific for film sound design, while the music section works wonders on instruments and drums(especially). These are some of the best features of the FL Studio Pitch Shifter:
- The Pitch Shifter has Granular and Monophonic pitch controls.
- It has an optional Pre and post-delay for polyphonic pitch shifts.
- FL Studio Pitch Shifter has one of the cleanest real-time formant control for vocals.
- Pitch detection is included in the voice mode, capable of detecting pitch within 28ms(Fast) and 56ms(Accurate).
- There is a relative and absolute pitch transformation mode in the Pitch Shifter.
- You can control the formant variation of the algorithm.
Among all the new plugin addition to the FL Studio updates, Distructor is the most popular. For a fair reason, Distructor brings all the popular effects from across the FL Studio plugins(Distortion from harmor, cabinets from hardcore, etc.) in a single user interface.
It has 4 effect slots that can use distortion, filter, chorus, and speaker effect. However, the most remarkable feature of this effect plugin is the presence of comb filters and guitar cabinets.
These 2 effects can add a great character and color to the sound. In addition, there is a 16x oversampling option for each slot, creating high-quality effects. However, the best part about this plugin is the CPU usage; despite heavy effects and oversampling, it does not put pressure on the machine.
Sound Design capabilities of Distructor
Destructor is a great sound design tool for music production. You can add unique color to the sounds by controlling different parameters with plugins like peak controller. It has a beautiful combination of digital as well as analog effects.
This combination of effect models is excellent for creative sound design. The positive and negative comb filters are great for sound design for genres like trap, future bass, electro, etc. These are some of the salient features of Distructor.
- New aperture and abrasive filters in Distructor are great for dynamic bass sounds(dubstep, trap).
- You can control the quality of effect with oversampling(16x).
- The comb filter in Distructor is capable of amazing feedback sounds.
- There are 22 filters, 18 distortions, 3 Chorus, and 55 speaker/cabinet types in Distructor.
- The order of the effect slots can be rearranged.
- The plugin has an input-output gain control and a dry/wet mix.
- Separate peat analyzer for each effect slot.
SAWER and PoiZone
SAWER and PoiZone represent the analog family of FL Studio. Both are made to emulate classic analog hardware sounds. The rich timbre, analog oscillator, filter, and FX are the salient features of these fantastic synths.
SAWER is a software copy of Polyvox, one of the most popular hardware synthesizers during the 80s and 90s. The resemblance of sound is uncanny. It can produce the same oscillator and filter sounds as the original hardware unit.
Furthermore, unlike Polyvoks, which was hard to tune, SAWER can be easily quantized thanks to it being an algorithmic synth.
PoiZone, on the other hand, is a pure analog subtractive synthesizer. The idea behind this plugin was to create a synth with minimum control but still give a rich timbre. It has 2 oscillators that can generate a saw and pulse, and the pulse width can be controlled.
The other functions of PoiZone are reasonably straightforward. 2 envelopes, one LFO, an arpeggiator, trance gate, chorus, and delay.
PoiZone can support up to 16 unison and 64 polyphonic voices. This is an excellent synth for anyone who wants to get an analog synth sound without going deeper into the modular world.
Audio Editing in FL Studio; An average score
One of the essential steps of sound design is audio recording and editing. With the release of FL Studio 12, the recording has become way easier in FL Studio compared to the previous versions.
In addition, with the option of recording audio directly into the playlist or into the audio editor(Edison, Fruity Convolver, Slicex), the workflow has become swift inside FL Studio. But what about the sample and audio editing?
Although FL Studio has excellent plugins and features that can edit the audio samples in depth and accuracy, it has a significant flaw; Efficiency!
Compared to other DAW like Ableton, Cubase, Logic Pro, etc., the workflow of FL Studio is very slow and lacking. For example, in Logic Pro, you can load a single plugin(iZotope Relay) on multiple mixer channels within seconds.
However, in FL Studio, you must do it manually for all channels. Similarly, switching from playlist to mixer is a real pain. This can quickly become a nightmare if someone does a lot of sample and audio editing. FL Studio is not built for fast sample editing; to be more specific, there are better options in the market.
Since Image-line often updates FL Studio and considers user feedback, hopefully, the workflow will get better in the later updates.
Sound design for Films, Animation and Games with FL Studio
Although FL Studio is not the ideal choice for audio editing, it is the best DAW for designing sounds for Film, Games, and Animation. FL Studio in itself is a big experiment. From a single look, one can say that FL Studio and its plugins are built differently from its competitors. This difference in the build makes it an ideal choice for a unique sound design.
Harmor, for example, can design the most complex sequence, metallic, and SFX sounds. The free nature of its modulations, controls, units, and partials allows it to go beyond the limits of regular synthesizers.
In many aspects, it even topples the best VST plugins in the market, viz Serum, Phaseplant, Massive, etc. Another great plugin that makes FL Studio an excellent choice for cinematic sound design is Fruity stereo shaper.
This underrated effect plugin can control the environment and sound source position. Stereo shaper and Fruity convolver can simulate the best unique and complex environments. Fruity FLangus can create a 360 movement of the sound while Destructor can control the harmonic property.
FL Studio comes with an in-built video player. This allows sound designers to perfectly time and quantizes the sound effect with the VFX and visuals. With Newtime, the most minute time efforts of the sound can be fixed. Harmor can control any sample’s time(speed, decay, and direction) and frequency aspect without affecting the original timbre.
FL Studio is an excellent software for sound design for music projects, films, Games, and Animation. However, it is not the best choice for audio editing. Hopefully, Image-line will improve the editing workflow of the playlist and mixer channel soon. Thanks for reading.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.