The recently released Ableton Live 10 includes a brand new synthesizer called Wavetable. In synthesis terms, a wavetable is a collection of different waveforms, which you can scan through. The most famous wavetable synthesizer is probably Xfer Serum. In this article we’re going to go through Wavetable’s features and see how the two synths compare.
Before we jump into the features it’s worth mentioning that this synth is meant more for live performance than complex sound design. It’s meant to integrate well with Ableton and deliver you interesting sounds without overloading the CPU. It doesn’t have all the crazy features other wavetable synths have but you should be able to run multiple instances of it with no problem and be able to control it live, for instance with a midi controller.
Wavetable hosts two wavetable oscillators and a sub oscillator for extra low end. Unfortunately you’re limited to the preset wavetables - there’s no way to import them like in Serum. The selection is very nice though - includes basic shapes, complex distorted tables, ones with harmonics and even vintage tables. A really cool wavetable type here is Instruments, which includes tables made of acoustic sounds like strings, marimbas, bells or pianos.
You can also apply one of three effects to each oscillator - FM, “Classic” or “Modern”. All of this happens on waveform level. For every oscillator effect and you can adjust two parameters - when using FM you can adjust the tune of modulation and its amount. “Classic” gives you control of Pulse-width modulation and oscillator sync. The “Modern” mode gives you “Warp” and “Fold” controls to dial in some phase distortion.
Ableton’s new synth includes 3 envelopes which you can map to anything using the mod matrix. The envelopes not only give you control of standard ADSR values, but also allow you to adjust the slopes of Attack, Decay and Release - just like in Sampler. A new feature is a loop function which you can use to transform the envelope into an LFO.
Wavetable is the first native Ableton synth to include two low frequency oscillators. Each of them hosts five LFO shapes: sine, triangle, saw down, square and sample-and-hold. The LFO can be synced to the tempo of the track. There’s also a Shape control which allows you to skew the LFO shapes in interesting ways.
Video: Making an Air Pad with Wavetable
Wavetable has two filters which you can run at once. Just like in Auto Filter they have switchable modes which include analog modeled algorithms by Cytomic.
A nice feature is that you can either use them separately for each osclillator (“Split” mode) or run all oscillators through both filters independently (“Parallel” mode) or even use one filter after another (“Serial” mode).
5. Mod matrix
Wavetable’s Mod matrix allows you to assign envelopes, LFOs and MIDI values to pretty much any parameter in the synth. This gives the synth a lot of flexibility and it’s the first time something like this has been implemented in a native Ableton synth. An example of what you can do could be mapping the LFO to the filter cutoff or wavetable position.
Wavetable allows you to dial in global unison on the very right side of the synth. There’s 6 types of unison you can use: “Classic”, “Shimmer”, “Noise”, “Phase sync”, “Position spread” and “Random note”. You can adjust the spread of unison voices with the “Amount” control at the bottom. Unfortunately you’re limited to just 8 voices of unison.
Other nice features
The Sub oscillator has a “Tone” knob which allows you to warm up the sub sinewave and give it some harmonics.
There’s a very nice looking 3D representation of wavetables and to make it look even cooler you can switch to a circular view.
What the synth lacks in comparison to Serum:
- Polyphony is limited to 8 voices
- Unison is limited to 8 voices
- You can’t create custom wavetables
- You can’t edit wavetables
- You can’t create custom LFO curves
- No way of using additive synthesis
- No FM/AM Mod routing between oscillators
- Way less filter types
- No way to modulate audio effect parameters directly from the Mod Matrix
Wavetable probably won’t beat Serum, but it’s certainly a cool and simple synth which could be very useful for live performances.
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