June 26, 2023

Recording the legendary Synth that helped shape the Sound of Star Wars

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Hi everyone! The following article will explore the process behind creating my latest library ARP 2600: Droids, Blips, Drones & more. You can find this library and others in my Sound Effects Store.

Anyone who has been following my sonic endeavors for a while will know that I'm a die hard fan of legendary New England synth manufacturer ARP. Even thought the company struggled through its final years and ultimately went under in 1981, the instruments produced by ARP Instruments in Lexington, MA have endured as legendary synthesizers that would shape music and sound design forever.

In 1971, a particular synth went into production that found a much broader audience than ARP mastermind Alan R. Pearlman would have anticipated: The ARP 2600. The original concept behind the 2600 was for it to be a synth that combined the flexibility of a modular system like original Moog Synthesizer with an interface that was easy to learn and able to produce sounds even without any patching.

As such, the 2600 can be called a semi-modular synthesizer as there is a predetermined signal path that is fully wired internally that can be bypassed by patching its many control voltage inputs and outputs. It also features pre-labeled inputs that suggest which patch points can be wired together to get the synth to output a sound as quickly as possible.

This streamlined approach to modular synthesis resulted from its original intended use being that of a teaching instrument - one that would allow students to grasp the concepts of sound synthesis and electronics. It quickly became clear however, that musicians really liked the 2600's sound and relative ease of use. Not much later, you'd see legends like Jean Michel Jarre, Pete Townshend, Joe Zawinul, and, last but not least, sound designer Ben Burtt swear by the 2600.

The Voice of Droids

It was Ben Burtt in fact, who utilized the 2600 in its most recognizable role: The quirky and lovable bleeps and chirps made by R2D2. These were most likely achieved by utilizing the self-oscillating capabilities of the synth's brilliant 24 dB/Oct low-pass filter and modulating it in a way akin to human speech.

Spending any amount of time with this synth is an instant eye opener as to why it's such a sound design powerhouse: The built-in sample and hold generator, adjustable noise generator, 3 oscillators, and awesome filter (especially in the rev. 1 model used here) make for immense sonic potential that reaches far beyond musical applications.


Having access to a pristine, fully restored ARP 2600 Model 3620 (1974) is something I consider an immense privilege as these instruments easily command upwards of $10,000 these days. Thanks to the Alan R. Pearlman Foundation, Boston area nonprofit studio The Record Co. is hosting the ARPS 4 ALL collection of beautifully restored ARP instruments provided by donors and maintained through ongoing donations and studio bookings. It is thanks to the Foundation that I am able to create these libraries and packs and any amount of financial or social media support goes a long way in keeping this collection of amazing synthesizers accessible to music makers and creatives from all walks of life.

The Recording Process

When capturing this pristine instrument I wanted to cut no corners. That's why I committed to recording everything in 192 kHz to capture as much of the analog circuitry's ultrasonic harmonics as possible. Capturing the session in 32 Bit also prevented losing any valuable material to digital clipping while keeping the noise floor to the lowest possible level.

The ARP 2600's VCA outputs were connected to a Radial Pro D2 Stereo DI Box which I connected to my Zoom F6 recorder using Rheingold Music MHC cables, arguably the best XLR cables in the galaxy.

To capture any interesting mechanical sounds that may result from the physical act of patching TRS cables, flicking switches, and sliding faders, I mounded a pair of LOM Uši Pro microphones to the ARP's case latches using the LOM magnetic mounts, The resulting mechanical sound effects are included in the "Mechanical Sounds" subfolder.


After around 8 hours worth of patching, experimenting and iterating, I ended up with around 45 GB of audio recordings that were even more rich in ultrasonic energy than I even expected. In fact, viewing some of the files in RX10 revealed certain patches to contain high-end that reached up to 90 kHz. This means that these sound effects will hold up extremely well to pitch shifting, many of them can be shifted down 2 octaves before starting to lose top-end information.

This library contains a plethora of sounds that will reveal unique characteristics the more you process them. More and more overtones will appear the more you pitch-shift them down, and previously unheard sonic nuances will reveal themselves, creating sound effects nothing like what you would expect.

From retro SciFi computers, weapons, and spaceships, to classic droid vocalizations and various broadband noise patches, this library provides a vast resource of versatile source material which can be used to craft an infinite variety of sound effects or used as-is to lend distinct analog flair to your projects.

To make sure that the total size of the library stayed compact without sacrificing audio quality, I diligently normalized all sound effects to a unified loudness value before converting them to 24 Bits. Any SFX not containing significant energy above 40 kHz where also converted to 96 kHz, saving space while still maintaining their resilience to intense processing.

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