NATIVE INSTRUMENTS MASSIVE Extended Online Review

PRODIGIOUS SOFT SYNTH ECLIPSES SOME OF THE HARDWARE ELITE
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This is an expanded, online-only version of the Native Instruments Massive review. The extra "Have It Your Way" section on customized routing and modulation did not appear in the print magazine.

Review author Jason Scott Alexander made a couple of Massive presets exclusively for Remix readers to try. Download the KSD format preset files here, or simply listen to the MP3s demonstrating the presets.
Remix Destructo.ksd (Right click to download this file)
Remix Destructo.mp3
Remix Summer Glare.ksd (Right click to download this file)
Remix Summer Glare.mp3

2. Here are some more examples of the author improvising with the filter and wavetable settings
of some preloaded Massive patches.
Carbon II (1 Oscillator).mp3
City Groove.mp3
HYAX Beat 1.mp3
Knick Knack.mp3
Metal Pray live arpeggiator.mp3
Monocular.mp3

Telling you to stop reading and just go buy this thing now would be too easy—as easy as programming the most brutally twisted, animated, menacing and captivating sounds you've ever heard from a software synthesizer within Massive. Its familiar interface completely belies its ability to spew supersaturated analog tones infused with contemporary digital pungency.

Running stand-alone or as an Audio Units, VST, DXi or RTAS plug-in, the box suggests a 1.4 GHz Mac or PC, but my dual 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 machine topped out with just six instances of Massive running. Massive uses an integrated KoreSound browser/search engine for finding and categorizing sounds based on sonic characteristics, moods and attributes. All of the 460 presets are categorized and parameter mapped for Native Instruments Kore controller.

SCANNERS AND MODDERS

At its core, Massive is a scanning wavetable synthesizer. Implementing three parallel oscillator modules, wavetables consist of 24 "basic" analog flavors, including square, saw and triangle variants, polysaws, sinarmonic, inharmonic, additive, sinformant and more; 24 "analog/electric" waves, which focus on more harmonically rich synced and PWM tones; 30 highly evocative and complex "digital/hybrid" waves; and four "FX/chords" tables. Many of the analog wavetables are designed with the ability to sweep from pure sine or square wave to pure saw or triangle, much like the oscillators on the Access Virus, for example.

The close interaction between Massive's wavetables is pivotal to its distinctive sonic character. Individual wave positions and intensities can be static, dynamically swept, modulated and cross-modulated or mixed between oscillators for unlimited timbral transformation over time. A dedicated sweep-mod oscillator, noise generator and feedback amplifier round out this section.

Massive's filters are things of beauty. The dual, multimode filter slots provide lowpass, highpass, bandpass, all-pass, band-reject (notch), comb filter and three special types: Double Notch, Scream and Daft. With oscillators weighted between each filter, you can further crossfade between the filters in parallel and serial configuration for some outrageously unique blends. The aggressive self-oscillating resonance of the conventional filters is particularly awesome, but two of the nouveau response curves are absolutely deadly. Daft is based on a special FM routing that is capable of "talking," while Scream is essentially a 2-pole lowpass filter with an integrated distortion unit that interacts smoothly with input and resonance levels for a warm, dirty-analog curve capable of ferociously biting into a sound. The comb filter is Massive's secret weapon; when applied to the noise generator, it can be exquisite.

A tabbed interface makes flipping through Massive's eight programmable modulation screens a snap. Four envelopes feature advanced loop modes, where a part of the envelope loops and morphs between transitions or crossfades for the defined start and end points. The envelopes are free-form, not hardwired, so implementing a generic ADSR shape, for instance, is as easy as calling it up from the provided templates.

Of the four LFO modules, two are special, configurable varieties; while Stepper acts as a 16-step level sequencer with glide, Performer allows each envelope step to be shaped individually, drawn or selected from a list. That is ideal for building advanced rhythmic structures, and because each step is itself an LFO (which can be assigned to parameters and step sequences), you can create incredibly complex polyrhythms.

In addition to typical master effects (reverb, delay, chorus/flangers/phasers and tube emulations), dual insert-effects slots can be patched anywhere to provide delay, sample and hold, lo-fi bit crusher, frequency shifting, filtering (separate from the regular filters), compression and EQ.

HAVE IT YOUR WAY

Flexibility is the cornerstone of Massive. Every module and parameter can be bypassed and relocated in the signal chain within the routing-matrix window. For example, insert a micro delay that feeds the signal back to introduce phase interferences, and use the insert filters to reduce obstructive frequencies from the feedback signal. Routing an oscillator's signal directly to the output is great, for instance, for letting the true, raw punch of a suboscillator cut through a densely layered sound, bypassing all filters and effects.

Dynamic knobs control a primary parameter and as many as three modulation sources via surrounding color-coded rings. The longer the ring, the deeper the modulation. Multiple parameters can be assigned to any of eight performance knobs. This is similar, yet infinitely more powerful, to the morphing feature on Clavia's Nord Lead 3. Assigning modulation sources to parameters is a simple drag-and-drop process, and you can assign many sources to one or one to many. For tweakers, Massive leaves all other soft synths in a cloud of dust.

MASSIVE ATTACK

Massive sounds fresh for any category of electronic music. I concocted fierce, grinding electro beats, brutal techno basses, raunchy hip-hop leads and grimy house sounds. Massive's digital bit crushing on cross-modulated wavetables and morphed feedback filter returns could reinvent the trance genre. The pads are engulfing-some of the most image-filled and soul-moving that I've heard in a single preset. Even the pretty sounds are incredibly organic, rich and gutsy. In the Bellclarinet preset, a brilliant bell and a physically modeled clarinet intertwine into a gorgeous dreamscape. Holz is a physically modeled reed that morphs into a haunting bowed cello model that any experimental rock band would kill for.

I couldn't have designed a synth more to my liking than Massive. The more destructive you get with it, the more attitude and character it delivers. You won't find a meaner-sounding, faster-to-program, more tweakable synth. The user interface is immediately tangible; I made some of my most inspired sounds ever in my first 10 minutes with Massive.

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS
MASSIVE > $339

Pros: Raunchy, brutal, twisted and vicious sounding. Suits every style of electronic music. Brilliantly intuitive yet deep user interface. Oozes character.
Cons: Processor intense. Cannot import samples to create user wavetables. Contact: www.native-instruments.com

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
MAC: G4/1.4 GHz (Intel Mac-ready); 768 MB RAM; OS 10.4.x
PC: Pentium or Athlon/1.4 GHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP