Review of Massive by Native Instruments
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Review of Massive by Native Instruments

A Powerful new Software Synthesizer

by Tweak

 

Massive is a software synth for those who want to program their own sounds.  Sure you can just use presets, and hundreds are supplied, but I think that would be missing the point.  Even though you can find sounds amazingly fast, thanks to the "Kore style" browser, why hunt when you can make and bake?  Massive is, for those who want to program, massive fun.  Notice I said "those who want to" rather than "those who already know how to".  Those who do know how to program synths are going to have a blast with Massive.  There are few softsynths that you can tweak harder than Massive; it's implementation, in terms of synthesis is wonderfully complete.  Yet its amazingly easy to learn, for those who have never programmed a synth, as easy as a simple analog synth to get started on, with its straightforward Oscillator-->Filter-->Envelope--Amplifier signal flow that the vast majority of synthesizers on the planet use.

 

This is the main Synth screen in Massive.  You can see how the oscillators, Filers, Effects and Modulators all have their own section of the screen.

 

In a few short days I have programmed a lot of sounds.  The process is faster than any synth I have used.  The controls are nice and big, the text is a decent size and the ease of use is fantastic.  Left and right mouse click do different things, there are context menus that work on every fader an knob, and the numbers scroll on parameters with simple click and drag motions or can be entered numerically for exacting precision.

What Massive is NOT

Native Instruments Massive Software Synth (Macintosh and Windows)

Massive is a sonic monster. The analog concept belies the cutting edge, contemporary sound it generates. The high-end engine delivers pure quality, lending an undeniable virtue and character to even the most saturated of sounds. The interface is clearly laid out and easy to use, ensuring you will have Massive generating earth-shuddering sounds from the very first note.
 

First lets get down to what it is not, so you can cross it off your list if you are looking for some other kind of synth.  Its not a sampler; nor can it use audio files of any type.  Want string quartets and drum kits? None here, at least not in the conventional sense.  Is it multi-timbral?  Nope.  One sound per instance.  Is it light enough for use on a laptop?  It better be a strong laptop.  Even the simplest patch takes about 15% of my Apple Dual G5's CPU, and I can easily tweak to the point where one key uses 60% of my computer's resources.

What Massive is

Its a powerful, yet easy-to-use, easy to learn software synthesizer based on wavetable oscillators, filters, modifiers that allow you to create new sounds from scratch.

Oscillators: While it looks and can sound like an emulation of an analog synth, it is at heart a wavetable synth.  Each oscillator, rather than being a static waveform can be "swept" through a series of waveforms which gives each oscillator the ability to transform itself over time.  These wavetables are nothing new to those familiar with synthesis; it's the core concept underlying vintage synths like the Korg Wavestation, Wave PPG, and more recently the MOTU MX4.  You can use the oscillators as simple analog like waveforms if you want and the sound is analog sounding.  Or you can alter the pitch of the waveforms and use Massive as a simple FM-like synth, which makes it sound like a Yamaha DX9/TX81Z.  This is all to say that you can make the oscillators sound like Analog, Wavetable or FM synthesis all under one hood.  You get 3 complete oscillators, an additional modulation oscillator (which most notably can do sweepable ring modulation), a dedicated noise oscillator and a Feedback amplifier.  This goes beyond the number of sound sources of the majority of synths.

Modulators:  True synth programmers don't just stick an effect on a waveform and save a patch, they know that real time modulation of the waveform provides sonic animation that brings sounds to life.  Massive is absolutely joyful in this domain.  You have 4 envelopes and 4 LFOs (Low frequency oscillators).  The LFO also have a "performance" mode where they can be can be looped, drawn, or selected from a list, can be synced to tempo over 16 divisions (with a different LFO for each division) or can be replaced by step sequencers, which can be applied to anything--pitch, filters, FX parameters.  You can also modify sources with all the usual controllers--velocity, aftertouch, key tracking, wheels.  As a result, you can make your sounds evolve over time, from slow transformations for pads to rapid fire blips for effects.

 

Note the 4 envelopes and 4 LFOs (which can be setup as a performance or as a step sequencer).  The tabbed interface makes it easy to get to the advance functions of the synth.  Shown here is the step sequencer.

Filters:  All the usual suspects are here.  Lowpass, HiPass, Bandpass, band reject, comb, and some ones you have never heard of--scream, daft, double notch.  Naturally, you can modulate these filters over time with the extensive modulators above. That can give you classic filter sweeps to outlandish chemical effects.  You get two filters with Massive and you can crossfade/modulate/sweep them too.  The resonance of the filters is outstanding here and can have a gritty whistling texture like the old analog beasts had, especially when you mix it with the noise oscillator.

Alternatives to Massive

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) MX4 MultiSynth Software Instrument (Macintosh)
Meet the new instrument plug-in powerhouse for your studio. Inspired by legendary subtractive synthesizers, MX4 combines several core synthesis techniques in a unified, hybrid synthesis engine that delivers fresh and vintage sounds alike.
 

Korg KLC1 Legacy Collection with MS20 Controller
This virtual instrument/effects pack includes soft synth versions of Korg's popular MS-20 and Polysix analog synthesizers, the Wavestation advanced vector synthesizer, a slew of high-quality effects, and a fully-functional, special-edition MS-20iC USB-MIDI controller.
 

Korg KLCDE Legacy Collection Digital Edition
Introducing the Korg Legacy Collection -- Digital Edition; stunning software versions of 2 Korg digital synthesis masterpieces -- the M1 and Wavestation -- plus the MDE-X multi-effect plug-in. Now you can get the classic sounds of these 2 ground-breaking synth legends updated for the 21st century and ready to rock your computer, in VST, Audio Units and RTAS-compatible formats!

Effects:  All the standard synths FX--reverb, flangers, chorus, phase, delay, expander, and tubes.  No rocket science here.  Personally I think the preset sounds suffer from overuse of FX.  But that seems to be the trend these days.

Coolest feature:  The Randomizer.  Massive can selectively randomize groups or parameters or all parameters.  The process is fast and effective and is outstanding for coming up with your own presets.  Just click the randomize buttons till you get something cool sounding, then tweak to taste.

 

Who Needs Massive?

I have to say it one more time.  Massive will give your CPU a run for its money.  Make sure you have a robust computer to get the most out of it.  Even those with strong machines will be bouncing and freezing tracks with Massive, so get used to the idea. 

Sound programmers will love this synth, and so will those who want to learn synthesis.  Its all about crafting your unique sounds here.  Those who will be most disappointed with Massive are those looking for clean usable sounds for compositions, like basses, EPs, strings, horns, etc.  You can make some great synth basses and strings, etc, but they are really not supplied.  I think the programmers got into making super hyped sounds, which Massive can do quite well.  (Great for writing those over hyped commercials for Hummer SUVs.)  For me, Massive can do space sounds and textures to a degree unmatched by other synths, do to the strengths of the FM like capabilities and infinitely malleable wavetables.  Those who want more analog sounds won't be disappointed.  Those making sound FX, like explosions, pitch ramp ups and down, dives, bubbles and gurgles, metallic noise, distorted guitar like tones, complex melodic sequences are going to like Massive.  Its a synthesizer in a truest sense of the term.


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