Learning Ableton Live’s Wavetable – Basics

Ableton Live has come out with an amazing new synth, Wavetable. This thing has been blowing my mind.  In this article, I am going to be going over the basics of Wavetable, using the synth in Live, and some tips.

Picture of Ableton Live 10’s Wavetable Synth

What is Wavetable Synthesis?

Wavetable synthesis is a sound synthesis technique that employs arbitrary periodic waveforms in the production of musical tones or notes. The technique was developed by Wolfgang Palm in the late 1970s and published in 1979. Ok… that is the heady version. Simpler version… It allows you to pick a waveform, and then cycle through an entire collection of waveforms in an easy way. Thus morphing and changing the sound. It is a totally different approach to synthesis.  Keep going… this will be made clear below. 

Wavetables and Waveforms

Wavetable Synthesis has also been called “Sample-Based synthesis”. That is because a wavetable is a collection of Waveforms in one Wavetable.

So… most synths you pick your waveform in the oscillator. Let’s say with Operator you pick the Sine Wave. You can also pick the next waveform, Sine 4bit and so on. Each one of these is a separate waveform. If you were to manually pick between them you will notice it makes a click or some strange sound as you switch. This is because it is loading and playing a whole new waveform.

Image of the possible waveforms in Operator.

Wavetables are different. A wavetable is a collection of those separate waveforms in a single file or sample. A Wavetable Synth loads up that sample into its oscillator.  Here is a picture of Ableton Live’s Wavetable. The default is the Basics -> Basic Shapes.  This Wavetable has 4 different waveforms. Then using the Wave Position you can smoothly cycle between those 4 different waveforms and it will automatically change the shape between each one.  

 

What that means is you can smoothly move between those waveforms as compared to the clicky… jumpy… or not smooth nature of most other synths trying to do that.  Watch how smoothly the OSC 1 in the wavetable scans through those different waveform shapes. 

 

Evolving Sounds with Wavetables

Scanning through those basic sounds is just the beginning. The real fun begins when you scan through more complicated Wavetables. Here is an image of the FM Fold wavetable (under basic shapes).  As I scan the wavetable I get ever morphing harmonics and honestly a really cool evolving sound. Each grey line represents a single Waveform and when I scan them, I get this smoothly morphing sound.

Now, how often do you head a pure 100% same tone from an instrument? Like just a square wave or whatever. Like… Never. The sound morphs and changes over time. It naturally cycles and has a changing quality to the sound. Be it a horn, a string, or whatever. This is one of the massive advantages of Wavetable Synth in Live. You can map changes to the Wave Position giving it that same evolving sound and a more analog, or natural quality.

 

That Was Just The Oscillators!

What makes a Wavetable synth different from an FM or Additive synth is those wavetables you can cycle through. You will get a Wavetable for each oscillator. Now, there is much more to Ableton Live’s Wavetable Synth then just the two oscillators. You have a Sub oscillator, LFO’s, Filters, Modulators, and the rad Matrix for mapping.

The unique part is how Wavetables work, and hopefully, you have those basics down. If you want to learn more about the Wavetable Synth by getting your hands dirty, follow the link below to collection of articles and videos on making presets with Wavetable. It will demonstrate how to start making amazing sounds with Wavetable in Ableton Live.  Links to more below:

All things Ableton Live Wavetable

Making Future Bass Pads with Wavetable

Serum Versus Wavetable

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