In this article, I will be looking at xfer Serum versus Ableton Live 10’s Wavetable. In the article, I hope to lay out the major differences and similarities to help you decide which synth you want to invest money and more importantly time into learning.
When I first wrote this article I got a lot of comments on how these are totally different synths. Like Apples versus Oranges. Well… first of all, those are both fruits. They’re both round… lots of similarities here. Serum and Wavetable are both wavetable synths. They both do this through 2 oscillator wavetable synthesis. The difference is found in the different approaches and parameters you have to control and shape that sound. In this article, I hope to show those differences and where they’re strengths lie.
Video Walkthrough of Serum Vs Wavetable:
I made a video version of this article and you can watch it below:
Workflow and Speed:
If you can grab a synth and make a fairly similar sound but 2x as fast, you would probably always use that synth. Granted that usually means certain synths are much faster at certain sounds and every synth has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to workflow.
Serum has a lot of options. It has extensive routing options and quick controls for LFO’s and modulation. This does mean the workflow is a little complicated. It can take a while to find the parameter you are looking for. Setting up the Matrix can take longer, and so on. The click and drag nature of the modulators is pretty slick though.
I’d say Serum is has a fantastic workflow, but still complicated enough to be a little slower at certain things. My biggest pet peeve though is the load time! When switching between presets I have to wait up to 30sec. Seems like no big deal unless you spend 10 min just flipping through a handful of sounds. This slowly drives me crazy.
Wavetable is lightning fast. You can see most parameters on the first page, and in the expanded view you can see everything. The Matrix setting is really intuitive and fast to use. I find I can make a lot of sounds really fast without even questioning where a parameter is. And I am new to this synth!
Load time on presets is almost instant. Thank god!
The best sounding synth in the world will collect dust unless it’s easy to use. I find I slowly adopt tools that have a solid User Interface and a workflow that gets the job done. Both of these synths are extremely easy to use and their interfaces have a strong intelligent design.
Serum has a great design with many windows to choose from. You have the main tabs at the top and many smaller areas in each tab. There is a lot of power here and a lot of possibilities. Because of that, I would actually say that Serum is just a little to busy. Having small white text on off blue-grey, and all the different size fonts actually make it a little distracting. In part, this is due to the fact that Serum has way more options, but from a user interface standpoint, I think it’s just a little to busy. That being said, it is still pretty easy to navigate and find what you are looking for.
Wavetable looks pretty bland at first sight. There is very little flare or design to Wavetable. After using it a few months though I began to realize how smooth the design is. It has a clear minimal aesthetic. There are a few reasons for this. The first is having very few colors makes everything stand out clearly. It only has a few tabs and is easy to flip through the different areas of the synth. The last big win is that the how you view the synth can expand in Ableton Live by using the “Expand View”. This then gives you a clear one-page synth with bright yellow grey and blue on black. It’s easy to the eye and you can quickly learn the interface.
I think Wavetable is one of the best layouts for a synth I have seen outside of Reaktor’s Razor.
Routing and Potential:
Spoiler alert… Serum has WAY more options. Between these two synths, if you were looking for as many routing and modulation parameters as possible, serum would win hands down. Here’s why.
- Serum has the Matrix window with curve control, output, aux source and more. This is the most internal routing I have ever seen.
- Serum can be used in any DAW. I know… obvious but it’s a big deal.
- Serum has 8 LFO parameters and 3 Envelops. Wavetable only has 3 Envelopes and 2 LFO’s.
- Serum allows you to add your own custom Wavetables.
- Serum has more custom filter types to choose from.
That’s just what’s off the top of my head. Serum is a massively deep tool with so many possibilities it can blow your mind.
Now you will notice I didn’t say anything about the effects. That’s because Ableton Live has modular style effects you can add to the track. In that way it has more possibilities for effects then Serum, but that’s up to debate if that should count. If we were looking at just the synth’s and there options Serum is by far ahead.
Drawback on this though is that Serum is harder to learn and can be a little overwhelming.
Wavetable does have the Matrix, which is a nifty way of modulation. I find it quicker than the Matrix on Serum, but… honestly… Serum has many more options.
Reliability and CPU:
A synth is only worth it if it actually works. If it crashes and acts up a lot, what is the point? Both of these synths have been 100% crash free, but there are some other things to consider when thinking how reliable a synth is. To start out let’s look at Serum.
Serum has never crashed for me. I’ve never had problems with losing presets, or anything like that. However, Serum is beast when it comes to CPU. For instance, I did a stress test and found with 1 instance I was around 8% CPU and at 60 instances of Serum I was around 90% CPU and running into sound issues. I also have a MSI Ge62 Laptop with a Intel® Core™ i7-4720HQ, which is one hella of a CPU.
I have also had problems with Serum stuttering and crackling after I use a handful of other heavy synths like Reaktor or the like.
Wavetable has been made hand in hand with Live. Everything I have seen Ableton create has had reliability and CPU usage as their top priority. I have never had a crash or lost a preset when loading a file.
With the same computer with 1 instance of Wavetable my CPU was %6 and with 50 instances it was around 58% CPU. A side note is when I was duplicating Serum it would take a while to load up, but with wavetable, it was almost instant. I have also yet to experience Wavetable crackling or stuttering during playback.
This is what will probably make the decision for most people. Wavetable comes with Ableton Live 10 Suite. If you are already going to upgrade, you are in luck. If you have Standard the upgrade is around 300.
Serum is (currently) $189. Which is a great price as well.
When it comes down to it though, I think of Wavetable as free if you want the full pro version of Ableton Live. It’s another tool in a massive collection that is completely worth the money. But… Serum is a low price for what it is and can be used with any DAW.
Because of this, I would give them a tie in terms of price. It just depends on if you have Suite or not. If you do… then wavetable wins for sure.
Both of these synths are rad. I think both of these synths will open a lot of new sound design potential for people. When it comes down to it I will still be using Serum and Wavetable. Most sounds I can create faster and easier with Wavetable and I think I will find myself grabbing that synth more often than not. That being said when I get into some advanced routing and sound design I will go with Serum to open up my options.
If a student asks me which synth to buy though, I will suggest Wavetable. It’s easier to learn, it sounds great, and it’s stable. Besides, to me, it’s a free synth with live (check out the affordability section for more info on that).
What do you think? After using Wavetable are you sold? Love to hear a discussion on this since it’s such a new synth and we are all learning how to best utilize the tool.