With the announcements of the new ASM HyndraSynth and Modal Argon8, it appears Wavetable synths are definitely back in vogue. It’s not unexpected, trends are cyclical right? Analogue’s been redone to death now, FM synths made a few appearances over the last few years like they did in the ‘80s, so now it’s on to wavetables. Fortunately, this is a style of synthesis that doesn’t require reverse engineering and remanufacturing ancient circuitry like the analogue revival did. Wavetables synths require digital processing power, heaps of it! And in 2019, we’ve got plenty of that, so we’re seeing manufacturers actually forging new ground, instead of rehashing it (hallelujah!)
To understanding how best to utilise a synthesiser, it always helps to understand its core principles. So what is a wavetable synth? Well, the hint is in the name. The noise source, or oscillator, is a table full of different wave shapes that have different harmonic structures. No, not like a dining room table, a table like a spreadsheet. The idea is that the oscillator oscillates through the table’s cells, slowly morphing between the waveshapes creating evolving timbres. There may only be subtle differences in the waveshapes making for a lively but controlled sound - or extreme differences, for wilder results.
Now add a second oscillator and use a different wavetable. You now have two complex morphing sound sources interacting in key. Get some panning happening for a nice stereo spread. Listen to the sounds swirl around you. Have I painted a sonic picture for you?
There’s huge scope for interesting textures with wavetables, you can morph between from a basic sine wave to a vocal-sounding formant wave shape to a hollow sounding square wave with any amount of variation you desire. Needless to say, wavetable synth excel at ambient pad sounds, but are certainly not limited to it. Xfer’s software synth Serum is one of the most popular VST plugins of all time - drum’n’bass producers love it for its monstrous foundation-shaking bass strength and sound-design options.
The new generation of hardware wavetable synths take the ideas of the past and bolster them with modern hands-on control, seamless high resolution wave samples and morphing, additional wave shaping effects and modulation, analogue-style filters (and unusual digital ones) and high quality FX engines. Plus, modulation options everywhere! The HydraSynth has five LFOs. Five. All available at a fraction of what the uber-hi-tech wavetable synths of the ‘80s and ‘90s were. Making music in 2019 is pretty awesome huh?
Read more about the ASM Hydrasynth before it lands in the country this month here.