So what is exactly is an envelope?

Think about tapping a key on a synthesizer — besides the electronics required to emulate a specific voice or keyboard sound, there are certain factors that change how long it takes the note to rise, how long the note rings-out, etc. Most commonly, these are controlled through attack, sustain, decay and release (ADSR). An envelope filter set to modulate simply the amplitude of a synthesizer voice: Attack time is the time taken for initial run-up of level from nil to peak, beginning when the key is first pressed. Decay time is the time taken for the subsequent run down from the attack level to the designated sustain level. Sustain level is the level during the main sequence of the sound's duration, until the key is released. Release time is the time taken for the level to decay from the sustain level to zero after the key is released. A common variation of the ADSR on some synthesizers, was ADSHR (attack, decay, sustain, hold, release). By adding a "hold" parameter, the system allowed notes to be held at the sustain level for a fixed length of time before decaying. Another common variation in the same vein is the AHDSR (attack, hold, decay, sustain, release) envelope, in which the "hold" parameter controls how long the envelope stays at full volume before entering the decay phase. Multiple attack, decay and release settings may be found on more sophisticated models. Certain synthesizers also allow for a "delay" parameter, which would come before the "attack". Modern synthesizers like the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet '08 have DADSR (delay, attack, decay, sustain, release) envelopes. The delay setting determines how long there is silence after a note is hit, before the attack is heard. Some software synthesizers such as Image-Line's 3xOSC (included for free with their DAW FL Studio) have DAHDSR (delay, attack, hold, decay, sustain, release) envelopes. Some electronic musical instruments allow the ADSR envelope to be inverted, which results in opposite behavior compared to the normal ADSR envelope. During the attack phase, the modulated sound parameter fades from the maximum amplitude to zero then, during the decay phase, rises to the value specified by the sustain parameter. After the key has been released the sound parameter rises from sustain amplitude back to maximum amplitude.

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