25th Anniv. Moment: Native Instruments Massive – Sept, 2007 [Breakthrough Product]

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Originally published: January 2007

Native Instruments takes a giant step forward with their creation of Massive—a soft synth that’s packed with features and possibilities, yet is still easy to program. Powerful wavetable oscillators, a variety of filters, multiple routing possibilities and extensive modulation control contribute to the ocean of sounds within this beast.

I tested Massive on a Dual 2.0 G5 running Mac OS X 10.4.8 in both stand-alone mode and within Logic Pro 7. One of the first things I noticed was the CPU drain. On some presets the CPU usage was in the neighborhood of 20-percent and this was when Massive was the only plug-in open. As with most soft synths that are capable of producing sounds of this caliber, the processor has to take a hit. Performance can be improved, however, by using the Eco quality setting or freezing tracks in your sequencer.

The Browser is the place where you can search for and choose sounds. Using the database view, a five-column chart appears broken down into categories: Instrument, Source, Timbre, Articulation, and Genre. Each category has almost 20 attributes to describe a sound. For example, you can begin your search by choosing “Bass” in the Instrument column. On the far right you will see all of the basses in the database, both presets and user.

The search can then be narrowed by picking a Source like “Analog” or “Digital.” Further on, options can be more focused by selecting “Warm” or “Noisy” in the Timbre column and terms like “Sustained” under Articulation. You could even try looking for a “fat pulsating detuned sample-based house piano.” The search can begin in any column and multiple attributes can be picked per column. Choose your adjectives, then preview the results. All sound files can be loaded into Native Instrument’s host application Kore. When saving your own patches, you also apply attributes to help locate them later.
Synthesis within Massive begins with up to three morphing wavetable oscillators. There are 89 different wavetables built from 2 to 128 waveforms. Each oscillator has a wavetable position control knob which cycles through all of the waveforms. Turning or modulating this knob causes the oscillator’s shape to morph into new raw materials. This gave exciting results and that’s still before any filters or effects are applied.

Massive upgrade version 1.1 adds virtual analog oscillator sections complete with pulse width modulation and oscillator sync. These modules not only have classic and modern analog sounds, they also take up much less CPU power than their wavetable counterparts.

Next is a modulation oscillator which can be used for ring, phase, wavetable position and filter frequency modulation on any combination of the three oscillators. The oscillator section is complete with a noise section and feedback section. There are 12 types of noise with color and amp controls. The feedback section routes signal back to the filter section for added diversity and control of your sound.

The filter section continues Massive’s philosophy of flexible signal routing and modulation. Going back to the oscillator section for a moment, there is a fader that determines a blend of which filter each oscillator is routed to. The two filters then can be routed in serial, parallel or somewhere in-between using what is called the Input Fader. Each filter has its own output control as well. There are 11 different filter types including the standard high, low, and band-pass. Acid, Daft and Scream are custom low-pass filters with distinct characteristics. There are also comb, notch and inverted all-pass filters. Every filter has cutoff and resonance controls and some have bandwidth knobs.

The modulation section, while being the most powerful I’ve ever seen, is actually easy to use and apply to all parameters within the interface. There are eight total modulators. Four are ADSR envelopes and four can be either LFOs or step sequencers.

Each parameter, knob and fader within Massive has small empty boxes below them. By dragging a modulator number into that box and setting a range, that parameter is now affected by the corresponding modulator. Imagine one LFO turning every knob in the synth to its rhythm.

The LFOs can be the basic sine, saw, square and triangle or 31 unconventional shapes. There is an option to choose two shapes at once and crossfade between them and they also have their own attack and decay envelope. They can run independent or be synced to MIDI clock. Playing with the step and performance sequencers was some of the most exciting time I spent with this synth. While the sequencer is running, holding down a note and adjusting the parameters of the sequencer produced incredible rhythms and timbres. For example, you can assign the step sequencer at each 16th note (or any other division) to open and close the filter or detune an oscillator. The rhythmic and arpeggiated filtering sounded beautiful. This was also incredible adjusting the wavetable position and the FX-sends. These techniques can all be fine-tuned and subtle. In addition to all these features, some parameters even feature a sidechain box where the modulators modulate each other. Brilliant.

There are two different effects sections within Massive: insert effects that can be placed within the signal path and master effects which are global and come last. Insert effect devices include delay, sample & hold, bitcrusher, frequency shifter, EQ, and two waveshapers. The master effects can be reverb, chorus, flanger, phaser, a more complex delay, and tube modeling. There is also a Dimension Expander which is a delay/chorus combination.

Within the global menu there are the very interesting and useful copy, paste and randomization features. Copy and paste allows you to copy one preset’s oscillator, filter, or effects settings to another. The randomizer allows you to pick a percentage of change and then applies that to the related section. For example, it is possible to randomize the filter settings 10-percent and the oscillator 25-percent. This technique is great for giving song sections different sounds based on one patch but with variety. I was very pleased with the results.

Massive ($169 MAP) provides huge sound and tremendous variety through a deep but very accessible architecture. The internal routing and organic modulation possibilities create sounds that are very alive. Well done, Native Instruments.