Xfer’s Serum and Native Instruments’s Massive are arguably two of the most powerful and popular soft-synths in today’s market. Both offer a range of amazing possibilities, but if you can only have one, which one should you choose? Keep reading to know more and make an informed decision.
Both Serum and Massive are wavetable synthesizers. The synthesis technique, which utilizes “morphing” oscillators instead of static shapes such as sawtooth and square, is called wavetable synthesis. This was developed in the ‘70s to primarily produce better outcomes when emulating instruments and musical tones.
Absolute powerhouses, both synthesizers will be great additions to your musical lineup. However, each comes with a set of key selling points that are enough to tip the scales in Serum vs Massive.
Serum: A brief overview
Serum was made by Xfer Records – a brand known for many tools, including Cthulhu. The company manufactures plugins for both Windows and Mac users and has managed to make a name for itself in the industry.
This wavetable synthesizer is incredibly versatile and innovative and produces stunning sound. Its uncompromising workflow is one of its best features. The synthesizer is capable of producing virtually every electronic sound your mind can imagine while being relatively user-friendly.
Serum comes with a lot of great features that every producer would love having. Some key features include the 450 presets, a sampler, and 10 built-in effect patches.
Serum also works as a sampler. New and different sounds can be created along with taking samples from instruments or vocals and changing them with the wavetable editor. You can create new sounds from your surroundings.
Serum has a super cool real-time wavetable animation which allows you to customize designs or use imported waveforms. It also comes stocked with a wide variety of top-notch presets if you aren’t comfortable with doing your own sound. You can edit the oscillator’s sound quickly with the convenient easy-to-use visual features.
It is very easy to comb through the presets and come up with quick sound manipulation. There are 144 wavetables and 450 presents that have been compartmentalized for your comfort.
Serum’s “drag and drop” routing parameter assignments give it a class of its own. Therefore, making your own sound is easier than you can imagine. You can also add envelopes and/or LFOs to manipulate and animate the effects and sounds. Serum can also manipulate waveforms during playback in real-time. Despite the intricacy, the modulation panel is fairly easy to use. There are 3 envelopes, 4 macro controls, and 4 LFO models on the panel.
The 10 built-in effect patches include delay, reverb, compressor, flanger, distortion, EQ, chorus, phaser, hyper/dimension, and filter. Hyper/Dimension produces a unique dual effect, merging two individual delay effects that highlight different ways to change the effect. The signal chain can also be rearranged to elevate the effects of the audio with the simple drag and drop feature. You can add a variety of cool spatial dimensions to the final sound.
With dual wavetable oscillators, Serum allows users to create a whole range of sounds. In terms of sonic quality, these oscillators are amazing. There are around 100 factory presents.
Now let’s take a look at what Massive X has to offer.
Massive: A brief overview
Released about 15 years ago, Native Instruments’s Massive revolutionized the market. Perhaps even the German developers couldn’t gauge how popular it would get. The heavyweight soft-synth packs a punch and was the top wavetable plugin for years.
In fact, Massive helped create a bunch of new sub-genres for EDM as well. One can safely say that it has been one of the most influential synths of all time. To this day, EDM producers swear by this.
It’s no surprise that the successor of Massive, Massive X has managed to live up to the hype. This isn’t just any other update; NI has managed to bring a totally new synth for users. Best features include over 10 oscillator modes, multiple filters, and unison voicing.
Oscillators and Noise Modules
The heart of Massive X’s sound lies within its dual wavetable oscillators. There are over 10 oscillator modes and 170 wavetables. However, when you add the sub-modes available, you can further customize the sounds.
You can then switch in 2 extra phase-modulation oscillators before assigning them to mains to allow movement. In addition, an external sound source can be used too. Sources such as voices, choirs, machines, rain, and other synthesized sounds can be used. The possibilities are endless with the Massive X.
Massive X Filters and FX
Apart from enjoying all the new filters the Massive X brings, there is a sub-mode under each one. All controls are a part of the flexible modulation layout. Along with the signal chain, the Insert FX could be patched in for polyphonic signal processing. Don’t forget to add a little refined Stereo FX to give your sound the pizzazz it deserves! Shape your sound into what you wished for.
Why not include a little musicality to the synth patch you are working on? Create voice variation in mono and polyphonic modes alike. You can also adjust it to play a chord and melodic sequences of a maximum of 8 bars using the performers.
When put against the OG Massive, the Massive X’s routing is simply leaps and bounds ahead. The software is very intuitive and the functionality of the drag and drop is unparalleled. The soft synth is quite easy to use, which came as a surprise given the details you can add to the sound.
Massive X Modulation
Thanks to the 3 performers, you can draw a maximum of 8 bars of modulation. 9 slots are there for envelope and LFO modulations. Depending on the note you wish to play, the Trackers allow you to modulate it. Moreover, the Voice Randomizer can add randomized modulation to all sources. You can go any way you want with the Massive X.
With the features out of the way, we move on to the best segment: Serum vs Massive.
Comparing Serum and Massive
From our experience, we have found that it is hard to objectively claim that one soft-synth is better than the other. It is more of a matter of “Serum is better in Massive in this region whereas Massive takes the lead in another.”
Pros of Serum compared to Massive
These are the reasons why we find Serum to be a great soft-synth perfect for all EDM producers:
Not only is Serum’s simple arrangement easy on the eyes, but it also offers a lot of practical use. It’s equal parts good looks and remarkable visual feedback.
Serum is loved and appreciated for its great oscillators. With Serum, there are almost no flaws in the waveforms. Put those in the wrong hands and the sound will become a bit robotic. However, for ones who wouldn’t like an analog simulator, Serum is the way to go.
Serum allows you to import your own audio files, opening up many possibilities for sound design.
Cons of Serum compared to Massive
Nothing is without drawbacks, and that applies to Serum too.
“Too Clean” Oscillators
A double-ended sword, the oscillators produce a sound that may be “too pristine/clean” for many. It’s difficult to make it warmer without additional help.
Pros of Massive compared to Serum
Massive X is an actual beast when it comes to performance and power. Let’s see where it is superior to the Serum.
Both Serum and Massive are powerhouses in the department of modulation, but we have to give the nod to Massive X here. With nine independent and customizable envelope/LFO options, Massive X allows you to let the creative juices flow! This is the versatility you will love.
Great effects go hand in hand with a good synth engine. Massive X offers a substantial number of effects in comparison to the Serum. Although the latter allows more individual control, Massive X wins this round.
Cons of Massive compared to Serum
Despite the many features, the Massive X does tend to lag in some aspects.
It’s off how the layout of the Massive X seems too average yet too crowded at the same time. The developers crammed all things on one page with changeable tabs, denting the user-friendliness.
Serum vs Massive: Conclusion
All the information has been laid out in front of you. All you need to do now is decide which one is for you between Serum vs Massive. Get Serum if you like a customized sound design and aren’t afraid of the technical aspects. Choose Massive X if you want to add a dynamic element to your workflow.
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Josh is the founder and main author of Songwriter Nation. He has played music for over twenty years and even studied music at university earning a minor in music.