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Massive

Massive is a wavetable synthesizer that truly lives up to its name. Created by Native Instruments in 2007, it became one of the most popular plugins during the rise of EDM. Massive is a powerful virtual instrument that can be used to make just about any kind of sound you want, while remaining simple enough to be used by beginners.

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Native Instruments Massive Review

Native Instrument’s Massive is one of the most widely used software synthesizers in contemporary music production and for good reason. The Berlin based music company is known for creating excellent plugins, and Massive is a shining example of this.

At the time it was released, Massive had something new to offer. It was an affordable wavetable synthesizer with endless modulation possibilities, all wrapped up in an easy to use interface.  

And as American audiences began to embrace dubstep, Massive became the most sought after tool for bedroom producers looking to strike it big in dance music.

Skrillex is even known to use the synth in his productions, while Knife Party’s 2011 EP 100% No Modern Talking referenced one of Massive’s most overused wavetables.

In a way, Massive became the Moog of the Brostep generation. Preset packs flew off the shelves, YouTube filled up with sound design tutorials dedicated to it, and top producers repped it in interviews.

But despite blazing trails as one of the most iconic software synthesizers of all time, no reign lasts forever. Over the last few years, Xfer Serum has replaced Massive as the go-to wavetable plugin.

This begs the question: now that it’s been around for a decade, is Massive still a plugin worth having in your arsenal?

To answer that question, we’ve put together this in-depth overview covering the following topics.

  • Pros & Cons
  • What Makes Massive Unique
  • How Difficult Is Massive To Use?
  • Important Features
  • Massive vs. Serum

Pros

  • Includes 85 powerful wavetables
  • Versatile drag and drop modulation system that can be used to modulate virtually every parameter
  • Cheap enough for practically any budget
  • Can be used to make just about any kind of sound, from cutting edge basses and leads to pads and even drums
  • Easy on the CPU
  • Includes high quality effects units such as distortion, delay, reverb and more
  • Dual filter module with twelve filter types such as lowpass, highpass and scream

Cons

  • Does not allow you to add more wavetables, so what you see is what you get
  • Graphical interface is not particularly pleasing to look at
  • Can be tricky for beginners to get a hang of the modulation controls
  • The plugin has become somewhat outdated over the years compared to newer wavetable soft synths like Serum
  • Limited frequency modulation capabilities, making it hard to keep up with current sound design trends

Unique Features

When Massive was first released, it revolutionized digital music production. It was a powerful wavetable synthesizer with a next generation sound, but it was also a very affordable and accessible software plugin.

But the thing that makes Massive special even to this day would have to be its modulation capabilities. You can modulate practically every knob or parameter you can see.

For its time, this was pretty revolutionary and played a big role in shaping the kinds of sounds we hear in electronic music today.

Underneath every knob in Massive is a slot that can be connected to a modulation source. You simply drag and drop a modulation source to assign it to a parameter. Then control how much it affects the sound with Massive’s trademark rotary dials.

For instance, you could assign an LFO to the envelope filter to create a classic wobble bass sound. The possibilities become endless once you really dive into Massive’s features.

Massive has a total of eight modulation sources, four of which are envelopes and an additional four that can be used as LFOs, step sequencers or performers.

The performer is another unique feature to Massive that offers more complex shapes than you will find in the LFO. It’s essentially a 16 bar step sequencer that allows you to work with curves.

cymatics-massive-stepper

This is a really useful tool for designing complex bass sounds and is one of Massive’s defining elements.

We also get eight macro controls that allow us to have manual control over important parameters in a patch. The included macro controls are the simplest way to manipulate parameters and have become a staple in Native Instrument plugins.  

Another feature that is unique to Massive is its feedback module. With one knob, you can send some of Massive’s output back through its filters, allowing you to truly add some mass to your patches.

It’s a simple parameter, but feedback can be used to subtly warm up your sounds or to totally decimate them with overdrive.

Another thing that sets Massive apart from the herd is just how completely packed with features it is. Native Instruments truly designed it as a one-stop-shop, multi-purpose synth.

From a full selection of oscillators, modulators, and filters to top notch effects units, Massive has it all.

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Skill Level

Massive is a plugin that appeals to beginners and experienced producers alike.

While many of its more advanced features have a learning curve to them, there are plenty of producers who got their start in sound design using Massive.

Veteran producers will find that Massive is capable of creating practically any type of sound using a variety of synthesis methods. However, the interface is streamlined to make work flow speedy and straightforward once you know how it works.  

But if you’re brand new to producing, digging deep into Massive’s complex modulation system can seem daunting at first.

The good news is that because Massive has been around for so long, there are literally thousands of tutorial videos on YouTube that can be used to master sound design with the plugin.

There are also tons of commercial preset packs available for Massive. And while it’s always a good idea to learn how to create the kinds of sounds you want to use on your own, presets can be a great way to see how the pro’s design their sounds as well as to get inspired to make your own.

The sheer number of presets available also means that beginners can start making music right away without getting discouraged by the plugin itself.

Other Important Features

Massive features three oscillators for you to work with, and each can be be loaded with one of 85 wavetables.

Each oscillator features controls for tweaking the wavetables. You have a knob for cycling through what part of the wavetable is being played, a knob to adjust its intensity, and a drop down menu that lets you select different modes for the wavetables.

One great feature that flies under the radar with beginners is the modulation oscillator. This can be used to apply frequency modulation (FM) to other oscillators in a patch and is a great way to dial in some gritty tones with ease.

There is also a dedicated noise oscillator with 12 different noise options to choose from, ranging from basic shapes like pink and white noise to more complex ones like tape and metallic noise.

Dual Filter Module

The filters are another high point with Massive. What we get is a dual filter module with a total of twelve filter types to mix and match.

 cymatics-massive vst-filters

You get a classic selection of lowpass, highpass, and bandpass filters. But you also get some more interesting options like scream and acid.

The strength of the dual filter system lies in its ability to be customized by the user.

You can individually send your oscillators to whatever filter you want, and there is also a cross fader that lets you adjust how the two filters are mixed together.

What’s more is that you can control the routing of the filters. This means that you can send one filter through the other or have them both affect the sound equally.

Effects

Massive also boasts some impressive effect devices that can be used to treat your sound further within the plugin.

One of the most notable ones would be the dimension expander, which can be used to widen your sounds. This is especially popular with bass music producers, and you only have to watch a few YouTube tutorials on Massive to get a sense of how commonly used this effect is.

We also get a number of very useful distortions to work with which help to dial in that ‘massive’ sound. Additional effects include reverb, delay, frequency shifter, and EQ.

Semi-Modular

Producers who want to get “under the hood” of Massive, so to speak, will be pleased to find that it is semi-modular.

This allows the user to tweak the order of operations within the synth and have greater control over how it processes sounds.

cymatics-massive vst-filter routing

Each element of the synth is treated like a separate module within a larger system, so rearranging the way each piece is connected can drastically change how it sounds.

For instance, you could change your sound by moving an effect insert in front of the filter. This would mean the effect would be added to your sound before it went through the filter, causing the effect itself to be filtered.

A good deal of producers won’t want to go this in-depth, but it’s nice to know you have the option.

Massive vs. Serum

With Serum taking Massive’s spot as the most popular wavetable soft synth, a lot of producers question whether it is necessary to own both.

The fact of the matter is, Serum expands on most of Massive’s core functions while offering several new features it doesn’t have. Massive appears somewhat outdated because of this, especially if you’ve already been using Serum.

But before you make a decision, let’s take a look at some of the key differences and similarities between the two plugins.

Comparing Features Side By Side

Aside from audio quality, Serum and Massive have some notable differences when it comes to their features.

In Massive, we are stuck with the wavetables Native Instruments gave us, while in Serum you can add as many custom wavetables as you want.

Serum’s noteworthy “FM from Oscillator” feature has helped bring frequency modulation to the forefront in sound design, but Massive’s FM capabilities are much more limited.

Serum has a total of 75 filters to choose from, topping Massive’s twelve by a long shot.

In Serum, you can also use two filters at once, but the second can only be used as an effect unit. Massive’s filtering is more flexible due to the fact that you can route both filters within the dual filter module.

Massive is also a lot lighter on your CPU, meaning you can use more instances of it in your project without running out of processing power.

Another big difference lies in the interface of each plugin.

Massive’s interface isn’t hard on the eyes by any means, but it’s not as inspiring or educational to look at as Serum is.

Without being able to see the wavetables and modulations in action, it can be difficult to grasp just what is going on in Massive. Serum’s dazzling interface gives it a major advantage in this regard, especially for sound designers who are just starting out.

Serum may outweigh Massive in terms of features, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using it in your productions.

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Conclusion

Massive may not be the most advanced plugin out there anymore, but there’s no doubt that it’s a powerful addition to your toolkit.

Native Instruments designed a solid virtual instrument with Massive and its features still stack up today.

Even if you don’t plan on using it as your primary soft synth, Massive is still a must have for electronic music producers.

Head on over to Native Instruments now to check out a free demo of Massive.


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