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HOW TO: Master Class: Xfer Serum

January 13, 2017

In just over two years, Xfer’s Serum has gone from clever indie softsynth to desert island must-have, thanks to its extremely intuitive design, massive array of synthesis features, and creator Steve Duda’s commitment to insanely high audio quality. Originally designed as the ultimate wavetable synth with world-class filters, Serum’s ever-expanding feature set has grown to include sample playback, image import, audio processing, and eight programmable LFOs that can serve double-duty as both multi-stage envelopes and step-sequencers.

Between Serum’s features, ubiquitous user base, and the fact that you can now rent-to-own the software via the network, it’s high time we did a Master Class on making the most of this wündersynth.


Figs. 1-5, Top to bottom: Create a PPG-style sound in Serum’s wavetable editor.
Synth historians know that Wolfgang Palm’s PPG Wave 2 started the wavetable phenomenon, so as an homage to Palm’s original innovation, here’s a quick way to recreate the general character of the PPG sound. The overall approach is to create a series of additive waves that become progressively more complex as the wavetable evolves.

1. Open the wavetable editor (in an initialized patch, sawtooth will be the default) and raise the volume of two lower-numbered harmonics. Here I selected the first and fourth bins (harmonics). See Figure 1.
2. You’ll immediately see the results in the wave view and in the tiny lower window for the first index. Click on the plus sign to edit the second index (Figure 2). Note that this copies the first index to that slot for further manipulation.
3. In the second index, add a few additional lower-range harmonics. Here, I added bins 6 and 9, for some organ/bell character (see Figure 3).
4. Repeat this process a few more times, adding 2-3 additional harmonics for each successive index (figure 4).
5. By the time you reach 6-8 indices, you’re ready to create your wavetable. The “morph” pull-down in the wavetable editor offers four modes, each subtly different in their technical properties (Figure 5). This type of wavetable works beautifully in the “crossfade” mode. Select that and the result will be a classic PPG-style wavetable.

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