CM101Subtractive synthesizers are as important today as they have been at any point over the last 30+ years. For many, they represent the true spirit of synthesis, having been the first mass-market attempts to create music electronically, and while there have been other synthesis types created, the subtractive method (often called Analogue as analogue synthesizers tended to use it) is an enduring method of creating sounds, by starting off with a harmonically-rich waveform, and then using an amplifier and filter (usually controlled by an envelope generator of some sort) to modify the sound.
Most people who first started playing around with synths in the 70s and 80s will have played with a synth such as Roland’s SH101, and learnt how synthesizers worked as a result of it; while it didn’t offer an enormous amount of facilities (particuarly by today’s standards), it was usable and could create a wide range of sounds.
Computer Music magazine commissioned an approximation of that synthesizer, and called it the CM-101. It is an excellent learning tool, as it provides lots of sound-shaping facilities, but not in a package that will let you get bogged down in complexity. Granted, it is missing some features, but those limitations mimic those of the SH101, and to learn how osciallators work (and, more importantly sound), and how ADSR envelopes can be applied to filters and amplifiers, there are few better tools. Before you rush off to create sounds on more complex beasts, get hold of the CM-101 and learn how to really program. If you can do it on the CM-101, then you can make amazing sounds with something more complex, such as NI’s Massive.