Pro Audio Files

The Basics of Wavetable Synthesis

Wavetable Synthesis “in its simplest form consists of playing a table that contains a single cycle complex waveform with an oscillator.” In more sophisticated manifestations, a table-based based technique sometimes referred to as Table-lookup Synthesis, “involves dynamically modifying a complex waveform in realtime by evolving multiple wavetables (in a manner similar to vector synthesis)”. (Cipriani, 2016, p. 228)

There can be dozens or hundreds of wave shapes in an indexed table. As a note or sound is triggered, sweeps can occur that move from one wave shape to the next with digital interpolation occurring between shapes. This process can be modulated by an LFO, triggered by an envelope that relates to the ADSR stages of a MIDI event or even manual sweeps by means of a continuous controller. Control voltage (CV) can also be used to modulate parameters in hardware wavetable synths like the Waldorf NW1 Eurorack module.

Wavetable synthesis differs from subtractive processes that filter sounds to create new wave shapes, additive processes that sum waveforms, or FM and AM synthesis where modulating oscillators are used to manipulate carrier oscillators to create sideband frequency content. In wavetable synthesis a collection of waveforms already exist in a table as indexed single cycles that can be randomly accessed directly or via dynamic sweeps. The interpolation between wave shapes is what creates the characteristic sound of a wavetable synth.

(source)

This type of synthesis can be used to create complex drones and pads that evolve in sophisticated ways as a note is sustained. Similarly, more abrasive or percussive events can be created by accessing several angular waveforms over the course of a shorter envelope.

Side note: Kristoffer Ekstrand (aka Adventure Kid) is a composer and technologist based in Sweden that “uses obsolete personal computers, handheld gaming consoles and video game consoles in conjunction with modern synthesizers, sequencers and instruments to create music, games and art work.” For several years he has offered a free collection of single cycle waveforms that can be used for wavetable synthesis. These are definitely worth checking out, as is his work in general here.

Wolfgang Palm (founder of German-based PPG or Palm Products Gmbh) is known as the originator of wavetable synthesis in the late 70’s. Read more here and here.

 

Software Wavetable Synths

Below are just a few of the soft synths available that use Wavetable Synthesis to some degree. Prices range from $59 to $479 depending on feature set, interface design and multi-functionality.

Codex Wavetable Synthesizer (Waves) – $59
Demo

 

Synthmaster One (KV331) – $69
Demo

 

Icarus (Tone2) – $179
Demo

 

Serum (Xfer) – $189
Demo

 

Omnispere (Spectrasonics) – $479
Demo

To learn more, check out my other articles as well as my in-depth synthesis training course.

Notes

Cipriani, A and Giri, M(2016). Electronic Music and Sound Design: Theory and Practice with Max 7, Volume 1. ConTempoNet.

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Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at philipmantione.com


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  • Marc Hoppe

    You missed Synapse Audio’s DUNE 2. Wavetable and Wave-sequencing.

    • Philip Mantione

      Indeed. There are quite a few out there. Just mentioned a select few at various price points.

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