Xfer Records Serum VS. Native Instruments Massive - Flawless Victory
Over the last few weeks, I've heard more and more about everyone's two favourite wavetable synths, Massive. and Serum. So what's the best bang for my buck? I know it's only about $20AUD difference, but what goes under the hood to justify these sale prices?. My curiosity as a person who honestly doesn't know much about or have any experience in electronic music can be limiting, but I'm hoping to put together a comprehensive analysis of the two most popular wavetable synths, so you can choose for yourself. If you're already an expert in this area, I hope you can read this and learn something new or even send me some constructive feedback in the comments. On the other hand, if you're like me, I hope this gives you some informed advice on where to start when using wavetable synths and understanding these two powerhouses of EMP. Let's get into it!
What is a wavetable/wavetable synth?
a whole bunch of waveforms all coming together to create 'the wavetable'
variations are applied using modulation from LFO's, Envelopes and Filters
The workflow is very similar to modular synth, but without the patch cables
a way to create new sounds with an easy user interface in either stand alone or DAW view
So what are these beasts and how do I work this magic into a power I can harness myself? You might ask. Well, the first step is to choose one and buy it. I won't go any further without saying, people spent a lot of time putting these together and you should show homage with your cash. Ok, now to the business end.
Xfer Records Serum
Serum is in all respects the most modern and aesthetically pleasing wavetable synth on the market. It has an enormous amount of functionality, and has it's own unique sound. If you're after top shelf clarity and tone, look no further, this is it. The history of Serum is very interesting, and when I first heard the creation story I was pretty keen to know more about this company that had had some success with brands like LFO Tool, OTT and Cthulhu. I won't get into all that but the tools are out there so check them out. Serum is incredibly easy to use, and it is easy to buy too. Xfer Records allow you to rent to own Serum for $9.99 a month, which is very worth the two coffee a month price. If you can sacrifice those two cups of joe, you can afford Serum. Another thing that gets this monster growling is the seamless workflow that connects to Splice, allowing you to upload your work straight to the cloud without even thinking about it. Magic! I do like the idea of data management made easy, they always say you should use the rule of three's when saving your work, and this just changed the game. Don't throw away those hard drives any time soon, this is still new and it's only in one place. I'm not quite sold on it taking over yet, but watch this space.
I was worried when at first glance I saw Serum only had two oscillators, but looks are deceiving. Yes it does only have two, technically...but they have the ability to create 16 voices each with advanced unison function with warp, it's possible to stack those voices and create a variety of interesting sounds and sonic textures. Similar to stacking oscillator voices in modular, but with way less work. To go with those great sounding oscillators, there is a sub oscillator and a noise generator. The noise generator is something I personally love, it gives you the opportunity to add a beat or a simple white noise sound underneath your clean oscillator. It is definitely something I need to experiment with more, but I think the value in this product without a doubt comes from the easy to use interface. It was marketed as a 'Dream Synthesiser' by Xfer, and they have created something not many wavetables on the market can come close to in regards to the quality of sounds. The filters are great, and like everything else in Serum it's easy to use and loaded with functionality (Hot Tip - There is actually two filters, one located in the effects rack). The modulation functions are pretty basic, with all the envelopes and LFO's laid out in a great looking visual display, allowing you to easily route them back into the oscillators or wherever you please.
They always say you should save the best for last and they are right, whomever they are. The effects rack comes with 10 modules and has so much in it. The distortion rack has more than 12 modes, if you're into that type of thing. As someone who's only just beginning to understand the concepts of electronic music production, I'm not sure what a distortion plugin can do for you in that genre, but it's there and sounds great. Obviously, there is a lifetime of great modes and functions to discover with this wavetable synth, and I'll keep on using it in my future productions. it's a great synth and perfect for anyone who is starting out as well as those more advanced producers looking for a boost.
Native Instrument's | MASSIVE
Massive is something I've been trying to learn over the last few weeks and I've found you can get very close to a modular workflow through routing options and even emulate those same sounds to a 98th percentile, but still not perfect. It's over 10 years old now, so it's the old kid on the wavetable market but it has been used by artists like Jay Z, M.I.A. and Wiz Khalifa to name a few of my favourites.
I've been using the Lynda course available online, which has loads of information throughout and have gone through the various functions that the 3 oscillators, filters and envelopes have. In order to grasp some of the concepts I would recommend doing some research on modular synth before diving in. I don't expect this wavetable synth to be anything even close to Serum, but I do think it's worth talking about in context and to maybe see if there are any pros that beat Serum hands down. One thing I would say is that, when recording I find looking at a waveform can really mess with your head and can make you perceive a sound differently. Massive doesn't allow you to have as much viewable data on your waveform, but simply relies on it's very basic layout of knobs and buttons for you to tweak. I think there is merit in both, but the old school recording nerd in me kinda prefers it.
One great function of Massive is, that it can be played as a stand-alone instrument. Perfect for live performance if you don't intend on recording through a DAW.
Massive has a substantial list of wavetables to choose from, but not a huge amount. It seems to be that if you want to use Massive, it's more about how you modulate those wavetables after the fact not from the start, which can sometimes be the case in Serum. To do that you can use a number of different routing parameters, including the interactive signal flow diagram and filter cross faders, that allow you to determine how much level you want to send to each filter. To demonstrate some of these parameters I have made this short video, which contains no musical talent at all, but simply put, is just a walk through with no words. Enjoy, and see you on the other side.
The modulation of LFO's and Envelopes works pretty similarly to Serum, where you can use a drag and drop method to patch the type or rate of modulation you want to add to whichever module in the rack. I noticed while using this modulation in Massive, you could drag your mouse up and a coloured wheel would appear, which is the same in Serum. This seems to be the best way of indicating level without adding more to the landscape of the plugin.
I could definitely see myself using Massive in a live setting or even to experiment at home. It has great functionality for an old plugin, but it's good to see that this type of plugin can stand the test of time as long as the fidelity stays high and the functionality is basic.
Who Wins The Battle Of Wavetable Synth?
Sorry Massive :( Serum just outperforms Massive in nearly every way, and the interface is just so slick and nice to look at that I think it is the better plugin. Even down to the sound that the oscillators create, it just gives a little more tone and allows you to shape that tone to do whatever you want. It is seamless and is really a Dream Synth. I'm looking forward to getting to know the wavetables more and creating some new exciting electronic music in the future.
Prime Loops. (2015, June 12). How To Use Xfer Serum: Synth Tutorial (Part 1) . Retrieved March 21, 2017, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNNGkaBRpec
Nagle, P. (2015, July 1). Xfer Records Serum. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Sound on Sound: https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/xfer-records-serum
Plugin Guru. (2014, September 19). This is Xfer Records Serum. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYhnSuuVqBE
Xfer Record. (2017, March 21). Serum. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Xfer Records: https://www.xferrecords.com/products/serum
Splice. (2017, March 21). Xfer Records Serum. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Splice: https://splice.com/plugins/15493-serum-vst-au-by-xfer-records
Lynda. (2018, March 21). Envelope Setting and Routing. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from Lynda.com: https://www.lynda.com/Massive-tutorials/Envelope-setting-routing/383042/411235-4.html?autoplay=true
Price, S. (2007, February 1). Native Intruments Massive. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from Sound On Sound: https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/native-instruments-massive