A digital synthesizer is a synthesizer that uses digital signal processing (DSP) techniques to make musical sounds.
The very earliest digital synthesis experiments were made with general-purpose computers, as part of academic research into sound generation.
Early commercial digital synthesizers used simple hard-wired digital circuitry to implement techniques such as additive synthesis and FM synthesis. Other techniques, such as wavetable synthesis and physical modeling, only became possible with the advent of high-speed microprocessor and digital signal processing technology. One of the earliest commercial digital synthesizers was the Synclavier.
Some digital synthesizers now exist in the form of "softsynth" software that synthesizes sound using conventional PC hardware, though they require careful programming and a fast CPU to get the same latency response as their dedicated equivalents. In order to reduce latency, some professional sound card manufacturers have developed specialized digital signal processing hardware. Dedicated digital synthesizers frequently have the advantage of onboard accessibility, with switchable front panel controls to peruse their functions, whereas software synthesizers trump their dedicated counterparts with their additional functionality, against the handicap of a mouse-driven control system.
Digital synthesizers are generally more flexible than analog synthesizers, though aficionados claim that an analog synthesizer develops a personal sonic character as it ages.