Trying to make sense out of all the wave* variant synthesizers out there today in 2020
Ever since the introduction of the Waldorf Quantum, wave* variant synths have been all the rage. In addition to the Quantum, we now or soon will have the UDO Super 6, the ASM Hydrasynth, the Modal Argon8, and most recently the Korg Wavestate, the Nord Wave 2 and the Sequential Pro 3 were announced. Who knows, NAMM 2020 may yield even more wave* variant synthesizer announcements.
With prices over a wide range from $4299.00 to $799.99, what gives? Are these synths roughly similar? In a nutshell, no. Obviously, the Quantum is still king of the hill. Clearly there are other factors which determine value or desirability, such as build quality, keyboard size, other types of synthesis, sampling, touch screens or other interfaces, and so on. This post is about just the wavetable or wavetable-like synthesis in these or other synthesizers.
These are all great synths. Many of us would love to have all of them. There are differences and reasons why you might want to spend $799.99 or $4299.99.
8 stereo voices. Hybrid digital/analog, true wavetable synth.
Pretty much the original wavetable synthesis, evolved from earlier PPG and Waldorf hardware and software synths. The Quantum comes with 68 wavetables of 64 waveforms each, and 16 wavetables of 14-377 waveforms for a total of 6013 individual waveforms. Plus, with user supplied wavetables, the sky is the limit. Not only are there many pre-made wavetables available, but you can also make your own custom wavetables in the Quantum from samples or in the voice synthesis function, and in 3rd party wavetable building utilities. Depending on the number of samples per waveform, wavetables with as many as over 10,000 waveforms have been successful on the Quantum. There are also interpolation functions like smoothing or stepping.
6 stereo voices. Hybrid digital/analog synth, wavetables possible in future firmware.
I’m not sure why UDO calls oscillator 1 a ‘7-core super-wavetable main oscillator with waveform download’. Osc 1 has 4 standard waveform slots (sine, sawtooth, square and triangle) that can load individual alternative waveforms. Additionally, Osc 1 allows you to load 16 individual waveforms into the alternative waveform slots. UDO will make a collection of waveforms available for download and regularly add to it. A future firmware upgrade might have a system in place for users to load their own waveforms, and wavetables may be implemented as well.
8 Stereo voices. Digital, true wavetable synth.
From a selection of 219 single waveforms, the Hydrasynth builds an 8 waveform wavetable, with up to 10 points of interpolation between them, for a total of 78 waveforms per wavetable. There are also 7 types of mutator waveshapers that you can use 4 of at a time. Does not load user supplied wavetables.
8 Stereo voices. Digital, true wavetable synth.
There are 120 wavetables, split into 24 banks of 5 morphable wavetables. The wavetables are comprised of 5 single waveforms with 32 steps for each waveform for a total of 128 steps. The pure original waveforms that make up each wavetable can be found at 0, 31, 63, 95, and 127. Additionally, there are 32 static wavetable processors that can be applied to the 120 wavetables to give an array of permutations and new waveshapes. Does not load user supplied wavetables.
64 stereo voices. Digital, wave sequencing 2.0 synth.
This is not a wavetable synth. The Wavestate is an improved reiteration of the Korg Wavestation, a 1990’s wave sequencing synthesizer, which was derived from Sequential Circuits Vector Synthesis. Essentially, the Wavestate uses samples which can be longer than single cycle, and Pulse-code modulation (PCM), a method used to digitally represent the sampled analog signals. There are 6GB of PCM sounds, which I’m sure is a lot but not directly comparable to wavetable numbers. I don’t believe you can load user supplied PCM sounds.
48 voices, stereo or mono I am not sure yet. I think it is full digital.
There is no specific information at this time on the wavetable configurations that I know of. Nord so far has made the meaningless statement “A large number of advanced wavetables covering a wide range of tonal characteristics”. The ambiguity makes it sound like it would be the worst wavetable oscillator on the market, though I am sure it is a very nice synth, the wavetables are just a tiny bit of the flavor, not a core function. If I find more details, I’ll update this post.
2 stereo analog and 1 stereo digital, 3 paraphonic voices total
The 3rd oscillator is a digital oscillator that can produce 32 digital wavetables of 16 waves each with wave morphing, plus classic wave shapes (sine, triangle, saw, variable-width pulse) and super saw; can function as an LFO for complex wavetable-based modulation. Dave Smith says they are considering adding the capability for user supplied wavetables or Sequential supplied wavetables in a future firmware update.
As this page was last updated, only the Quantum and the Hydrasynth were actually shipping, so it remains to be seen what the full user reception is on the Super 6, Argon8, Wavestate, Wave 2 and Pro 3.
In online forums, every time another synthesizer gets announced with the word wavetable in its specifications somewhere, inevitably someone asks if it could be a Quantum for less than $2k or even less than $1k. This of course is silly. The reason Quantums cost what they do, is not only because the development and production costs are that high, but the synth itself has no rival. Nothing comes close to it. As an owner, I can tell you the Quantum is a sound design dream, the interface is unmatched in the industry and it is worth every penny. If you want the best wavetable synth money can buy, with more functions and capabilities than any other, buy a Quantum.
Otherwise, the Hydrasynth would be today’s affordable alternative to experience a wavetable oscillator. Soon, the rest of the synths above will be available and you will have a number of options to get the flavor of wavetable synthesis in your music.
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Last edited – 1/21/2020
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