"Create sound > Alter its sonic qualities > Automate the sonic alterations"
That's all a synthesizer really does! I know a lot of synth manufacturers like to create complex-sounding technologies, but that's just marketing tactics. Fear no more.
Just learn to find these three basic components and you will be able to manoeuvre your way around any hardware and software synth. The rest is just more subtle ways to achieve the basic formula highlighted in bold.
Fire those presets away!
P.S. This oversimplification will sound like synth heresy to some. I care not. The keepers of the grail always hid the truth behind parables and metaphors. Heads up: the truth is always staring you in the eye. The grail was always inside of you to begin with.
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You don’t need anything. You can achieve incredible mixes on your white iPhone earbuds for all I care, given that you understand their frequency response (what they sound like at each crucial frequency bands). So my short answer to the question in the title is: headphones. Plain and simple. Oh… and here are 5 reasons why.