A synthesizer (often abbreviated "synth") is an electronic instrument capable of producing sounds by generating electrical signals of different frequencies. These electrical signals are played through a loudspeaker or set of headphones. Synthesizers can usually produce a wide range of sounds, which may either imitate other instruments ("imitative synthesis") or generate new timbres.
The beginning of a synthesizer may vary with the definition of "synthesizer". Some people tend to confuse sound synthesizers with electric/electronic musical instruments, however, the former is distinguished from the latter by the capability of imitating sound/generating new timbre. Also the origin of sound synthesizer is often confused with the origin of electric/electronic musical instruments.
For example, one of the earlier electric musical instrument was invented in 1876 by American electrical engineer Elisha Gray who accidentally discovered that he could control sound from a self vibrating electromagnetic circuit and in doing so, invented a basic single note oscillator. This musical telegraph used steel reeds whose oscillations were created and transmitted, over a telegraphy line, by electromagnets. Gray also built a simple loudspeaker device in later models consisting of a vibrating diaphragm in a magnetic field to make the oscillator audible.
During the 1970s, Jean Michel Jarre, Larry Fast and Vangelis released successful electronic instrumental albums. The emergence of Synthpop, a sub-genre of New Wave, in the late 1970s can be largely credited to synthesizer technology. The ground-breaking work of all-electronic German bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, via David Bowie during his Berlin period (1976–77), as well as the pioneering work of the Japanese Yellow Magic Orchestra and British Gary Numan, were crucial in the development of the genre. Nick Rhodes, keyboardist of Duran Duran, used various synthesizers including Roland Jupiter-4 and Jupiter-8. OMD's "Enola Gay" (1980) used a distinctive electronic percussion and synthesized melody. Soft Cell used a synthesized melody on their 1981 hit "Tainted Love". Other chart hits include Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" (1981), and The Human League's "Don't You Want Me". English musician Gary Numan's 1979 hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars" used synthesizers heavily Other notable synthpop groups included Visage, Japan, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Eurythmics and Blancmange, and synthesizers became one of the most important instruments in the music industry. Other notable users include Giorgio Moroder, Howard Jones, Kitaro, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, Frank Zappa, A Flock Of Seagulls and Devo.