Filters (LP, HP, BP, Notch) #

Low Pass Filters #

Low Pass filters do what you think, they let the low frequencies pass and cut out the high frequencies. As with most filters, this will typically not be a sharp cutoff but instead be a gradual fading of the higher frequencies. Despite this, there is still a point called the cut off frequency, which is defined as the point where the signal is cut by 3db (what this means is discussed below). It’s also pretty common for Low pass filters to have some resonance, where the frequency right at the cut off has a bit of a bump, as can be seen in this gif:


Slew Limiting #

Slew, in a circuits, is usually a bad thing. When working with digital circuits - circuits that operate on binary values, 1’s and 0’s - we want our voltages to be either high or low, so we really, really want clean square waves.

Unfortunately, in reality we can’t get perfect square waves. When transitioning from a low signal to a high signal or a high signal to a low signal, there’s a bit of a curve. In digital circuit a lower slew - longer transitions - is almost universally bad.

What does this have to do with synths and filters? Well, a basic tool for making the slew rate lower (longer transitions) is… a low pass filter. They’re the same thing.

But, some slew rate limiters can let us set the rise and fall times independently!

In synthesizers, we can use slew to our advantage for a lot of things. For audio, it can be used as a very strange kind of filter, sure, but for control signals it can be used for much more.

One common use is legato - how long it takes to go to a new note when you press a different key on the piano. If you use a slew limited with individual controls, you can make it really neat slow rise to a higher pitch but an instantaneous fall back to a lower pitch (or vis-versa)

High Pass Filters #

High pass filters act pretty much the same as low pass filters, except they do they cut the lows and pass the highs. High pass filters are, ironically, often actually used to give a bump in the bass using the resonant peak.

Note, one use of high pass filters is to remove “mudd” and/or DC offset. This is VERY useful, but should be done with some care, as while we may not hear it, audio content bellow 20Hz can matter: Undetectable very-low frequency sound increases dancing at a live concert.

Band Pass Filters #

There are two kinds of bandpass filters:

  • First, is a “fake” band pass, where a Lowpass and Highpass filter are placed in series, where there’s only a band left that can pass, giving two distinct resonant peaks at the edges of the pass-band
  • Then there’s band pass filters which are true band pass filters that have a resonant peak in the middle.

Usually if someone is talking about a bandpass, they mean the latter. Bandpasses tend to be ignored outside of using them in an EQ, but they can be fun in their own right. Definitely give them a shot. If you’re playing around in VCV Rack, many, many filters have a “BP” output or input for this. Stabile and Tangents from Vult are good free options with a lot of character.

Notch Filters #

Again, as the name implies, notch filters create a notch in the sound. Often used to correct for an issue in the sound, such as removing a 60hz hum. In Notch filters the resonance control actually changes how steep the notch is, so low resonance (Low Q) will cause the notch to be wider as the slope isn’t very steep, but a high resonance (Q) will let you really pick out a specific frequency.

Peak Filters #

These do what they sound like. You pick a frequency and add a peak there. Typically these are used in an Equalizer and can have a negative Q to allow for something similar to a notch, only they dip in instead of totally annihilating the frequency range.

Low and High Shelf Filters #

Unlike all the filters until now which have a resonant peak, shelf filters actually boost or lower the volume all the way to the cut off frequency. In the image below, (1) is a low shelf filter, boosting all the lows (by a lot more than you’d ever actually want to) and (8) is a high-shelf set to cut the highs.

Additionally, (5) is a peak filter.

Contrast this to a normal Low/High pass filter, adding resonance, (dragging the point above the +0db line in this graph) would only make a spike like this at the cut off point, before falling off, not make a shelf. To clarify, in the image below, (1) has been changed to a low-pass filter with the same settings, with the line being a different color.

This new (1), where the line before it is still centered around 0 and it peak up to the ‘dot’ and then falls off quickly, makes the frequencies after it silent so that (5) and (8) do nothing - the lines falls off far before it gets to (5).

Obviously, This is dramatically different than the low-shelf at the same point.

Comb Filters #

A comb filter produces a series of equally spaced notches or peaks in the frequency response of the filter. This creates a characteristic “comb” pattern in the frequency domain, which is why the filter is called a “comb” filter.

While most of the filters up until now require some intention to bring about, it’s fairly easy to make a comb filter on accident, which can cause problems.

All-Pass Filters (Phaser) #

An all-pass filter is a signal processing filter that passes all frequencies equally in gain, but changes the phase relationship among various frequencies. Most types of filter reduce the amplitude (i.e. the magnitude) of the signal applied to it for some values of frequency, whereas the all-pass filter allows all frequencies through without changes in level.

- Wikipedia “All Pass Filter”

So… it’s not really a “filter” in the traditional sense. Rather, it just changes the phase after the specificed frequency. By moving that frequency around, you can get an effect called a “phaser” which can add a lot of movement to a sound.

The Phaser (Effect) Wikipedia page has some nice audio examples of this.

Famous examples of phaser effects include the MXR Phase 90 pedal and the EHX Small Stone and Bad Stone.

Filter Circuits #

Electrical jargon incoming. You don’t need to understand everything here.

Passive Filters #

By combining a single capacitor and resistor, you can make either a single-pole low pass or high pass filter, depending on which one is going to ground.

This really means they’re dirt cheap to make, but don’t have steep slopes or any resonance. Still, they’re literally everywhere, often they’re included just to block DC signals or to avoid really high frequency noise from getting in (or out, to avoid your music gear from accidentally becoming a radio jammer!)

Sallen-Key #

This is usually baby’s first active filter - adding resonance and a sharper cutoff - the things musicians want. Making one requires a single Op-Amp (a common, cheap component - but not as cheap as resistors and capacitors) and a handful of resistors and capacitors. It creates a 2-pole filter, which is a fancy way of saying it only slowly attenuates frequency above the cutoff. Sallen-Key filters can be built as Low Pass, High Pass, or Band-Pass.

Sallen-Key filters are capable of self oscillation.

At high resonance values, the two poles sometimes are obviously separated, causing the slope to have a second peak part way down.

State Variable (Steiner-Parker) #

State variable filters

They tend to sound a smidgen brighten and smoother than Sallen–Key filters. They have a 12dB slope, so nice and gentle still.

Transistor Ladder #


Moog Filters

Diode Ladder #

The Diode Ladder filter is most famous for it’s use in the TB-303 synthesizer which is the sound of Acid music…

A bit confusingly, if you look at a 303’s schematic you’ll see that the “diode ladder” is actually made up of transistors. There’s some historical context here, but the TL;DR version is that today, if you make it using diodes, the difference should be minimal because if you look closely at one transistor in that ladder, you’ll see two of the pins on each are connected to each other, which effectively turns the transistor into a diode. Yay, electronics.

If you’re into electronics, see Designing a diode ladder filter from scratch (Moritz Klein, YouTube).

Operational Transconductance Amplifiers (OTA Filters) #



Chebyshev #


Wasp (CMOS) #

The filter from the EDP Wasp is extremely famous for being a typical state variable filter where, to save money, they replaced the Operational Amplifiers (Op-Amps) with digital-logic inverters, which creates a crazy heavily distorted filter sound unlike anything else.

Polivoks (Поливокс) #

Again, a famous filter from a particular synth, and again just another State Variable Filter with a twist:

The Polivoks filter is just an SVF but the integrator capacitor is actually the stabilising capacitor right there inside the OTA (it’s a funny implementation of an OTA at that).

- u/erroneousbosh

The end result is a fair amount of distortion and multiple peaks down the filters slope. It’s aggressive as hell and super fun. Plus, it can self oscillate.

Formant Filters #

If you play with some band-pass filters for long enough, you’ll accidentally make something that sounds like a human making a vowel noise. This is known. The frequencies of the peaks for each vowel can also be googled, but if you’re just making music, you can usually just drop a formant filter that will let you pick (or morph!) between the vowels.

Slope, Pole-Zero plots, dB #


Filter Resonance (Q) #


Self Oscillation #

Filters with resonance can often be put into self oscillation by turning the resonance above a threshold for normal operation. In digital filters, you may need to give the filter some sort of brief input before it starts oscillating. With analog hardware, noise in the system, even if not normally noticeable, is typically enough to start the process. Most filters will output a pure sine wave when self oscillating.

Here I start by feeding this filter an input from an oscillator module which is off screen, and sweep though the frequencies. Then I turn up the resonance a bit, do another sweep. Then I unplug the oscillator and sweep frequencies, you can see that it is silent. Finally, I turn the resonance above the self oscillation threshold, and you can hear the output.

Note, this module is a multi-mode filter, it’s top 4 outputs are various poles of a low pass filter and the bottom four outputs are a highpass, ‘band bost + notch’, Phase-shifter, and Band Pass, respectively. Here, you’re hearing the output of the band pass filter. The sound of self oscillation will be a sine wave for any of the outputs, though.

Pinging Filters #

This filter module actually has a dedicated ping input, which is why I can ‘ping’ it with a square wave, but typically you’d want to ping filters with a trigger (a very short pulse) rather than a square wave (which is high as much as it is low). You can think of this as the difference between striking a drum head and slapping a drum, but keeping your hand pressed on to the drum’s skin when you do. Clearly the latter is going to mute the sound.

Auto Wah #

an Auto Wah or Envelope filter uses an envelope follower to control a filter’s cut off. Essentially, this means how loud you play will change the filter. These are normally used on guitar, but you can put them on anything really.



Finite Impose Response, Infinite Impulse Response- ref Signals from Engineering

Equalizers #

Parametric #

Graphic #

Dynamic #

Fixed Filter Banks #

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