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Sound Design with Charlatan VSTi

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The Charlatan VSTi synth is top quality, and totally free. In this tutorial I'll show you how to make bass, lead, pad and rhythmic noise sounds with it. We'll also create a basic sampled kick, and create a pumping effect on the bass and kick using sidechain compression.

Ableton Live project view

Charlatan first appeared in 2011. It has two virtual analogue oscillators, and comes in both 32- and 64-bit versions for Windows. This instrument is coded in C++ and is very CPU efficient. You can download at

Charlatan VST instrument

Prepare the Ableton Live Project

The song is at 130 BPM, and uses the usual 4/4 rhythm. Put a Spectrum, an EQ Eight and a Limiter on the master channel, using the default settings.

Every sound comes from custom programmed and recorded MIDI clips. Use MIDI quantize.

Basic settings for the project

This is our master chain.

Master chain

Create the Patches

1. Kick

The kick is a simple looped and programmed MIDI clip, and the hits are on the downbeat. Load a kick sample into Simpler, and then an EQ Eight with a 4x times low cut at 50 Hz. Change the volume to 0 dB. It should sound like this:

A sampled kick is loaded into Simpler

The EQ should look like this:

Kick EQ

2. Bass

This is a basic electro house style bass sound with a rhythm used commonly in trance. It sounds like this:

Bass MIDI notes

Synth settings:

  • OSC1: triangle, volume 75%
  • OSC2: narrow square, volume 100%, tuned below OSC1
  • 2OCT: on
  • Filter: 4 pole, cutoff at 66%
  • Envelopes: default
Bass synth patch

Mixer settings:

  • Sidechain compressor (with the kick as the trigger): ratio 2:1, threshold -12dB,
  • EQ Eight: to make some space (relative to the base frequencies of the lead and pad) we need some cuts—4x low cut at 50Hz, -6dB cut at 150Hz (Q 1.09), and -7.86dB cut at 270Hz (Q 5.23)
  • Limiter: default settings
Bass EQ

3. Lead

The idea is to create a tune with a pitch bend sound, like in some house records. An Amp is used to create more presence and analogue touch to it.

The lead track should sound like this:

Lead MIDI notes

Synth settings:

  • OSC1: square, volume 75%
  • OSC2: saw, volume 66%, tuned a bit higher than OSC1
  • Ring Mod and Sync: on
  • Filter: 4 pole, cutoff at 66%
  • Envelopes: default
  • Filter: default
  • Glide: 33%—this is important for the wobbly pitch
Lead synth patch, part1
Lead synth patch, part2

Mixer settings:

  • Amp: Rock mode in Mono, volume 7.14, dry-wet 27%, gain 5, bass 2.38, mid 3.49, treble 3.33, presence 1.83
  • Reverb: decay 2sec, dry-wet 40%, size 3.29
  • EQ Eight: low cut at 160Hz, -6.9dB high shelf cut at 5kHz
Lead EQ

4. Pad

Here comes a solid, pumping, thin style pad, playing chords:

Pad chords

Here are the settings for the pad:

Pad patch, part 1

Synth settings:

  • OSC1: triangle, volume 75%,
  • OSC2: square, volume 66%,
  • Pitch detune: just a little bit in the higher domain,
  • Filter: 4 pole, cutoff at 49%,
  • Amp envelope: attack 10%, decay 0%, sustain 100%, release 40%,
  • Global: Poly mode—we need this for playing chords
Pad patch, part 2

Mixer settings:

  • Reverb: decay 7.15 sec, dry-wet 46%, size 100
  • Sidechain compressor (with the kick as the trigger): ratio 2:1, threshold -19.6dB,
  • EQ Eight: low cut at 198Hz
Pad reverb

5. Rhythmic Noise

Small, high-pass-filtered noise hits (auto panned) are used to create a wider mix:

Noise synth patch

Synth settings:

  • OSC1: volume 0%,
  • OSC2: volume 0%,
  • Noise: shape 70%, volume 55%—this is the most important step for the sound
  • Envelopes: default
  • Filters: default
Noise EQ

Mixer settings:

  • Simple Delay 1: synced to /4 and /6 feedback 66%, dry-wet 25%
  • Simple Delay 2: synced to /4 and /6 feedback 29%, dry-wet 25%
  • Reverb: decay 1.68sec, dry-wet 29%, size 100
  • EQ Eight: low cut at 660Hz, +5dB high shelf boost at 5kHz

Add Effects

Creative Effects

Use some reverb and delay to add a sense of depth for the lead, pad and noise sounds. For the reverbs I generally use the Eco setting in low quality mode, because it tends to give a more natural feel.

Eco setting for Reverb


Use subtractive EQ to make space for the masking frequencies (except for the noise, where it's okay to boost some frequencies). If your ears are untrained, it's a good strategy to first boost the wanted part, then invert it into the negative domain (first boost, after cut).

Big EQ picture


Synths photo by boboroshi / flickr

In this article we have learned about making synth sounds with Charlatan, and using both creative effects and mixing effects.

For further learning, check out the preset banks at the BlauKraut Engineering website, or at the KVR database. I recommend trying out deconstructing and modifying the presets.

Happy experimenting!

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