Serum is a wavetable synth that has become probably one of the most used digital synths on the market. You can see it everywhere from sound design tutorials on YouTube to “in the studio” episodes with some of the biggest guys in the industry. But what makes it different from all the other thousands of digital synths that are currently available on the market? Well, let’s explore Serum and its features a bit.
Xfer Serum was released in September 2014 by the one and only Steve Duda (who people often associate with deadmau5 because of many different reasons). When Serum was released, it quickly became a success all over the EDM production forums and YouTube channels.
Probably the biggest initial selling point was the custom wavetable function. This function lets the user drag in their own audio file and convert it to a wavetable inside the plugin. Why is this such a big deal? Well most synths at the time didn’t have this function (although FL Studio’s own plugin Harmor did hehe) and this opened up for new cool possibilities and innovative sound design.
One of the most attractive features of Serum (at least for me) is the beautiful visual presentation of the plugins features and functions. Let’s just take one example; LFO’s, and envelope as well as the ability to customize them. If you compare the LFO feature in Serum to another big wavetable synth called NI Massive, you’ll notice a big difference.
Because of the drag and point system that Serum has, you have a lot more freedom to experiment with advanced LFO shapes than in Massive where the LFO shapes comes without customization. The envelopes also has the same kind of system, which to me is one of the biggest reasons to get Xfer Serum.
The design of the plugin overall is a big deal for me. Serum looks really nice and clean, without any unnecessary graphics that doesn’t make sense. It’s very intuitive and for this reason I feel like it’s a great starting synth for beginners. There are some things about the design that I’d like to see changed though (such as removing gradients and make the whole thing flatter). But what can you do about this? Well guess what; you can make your own skins.
Serum has a lot (and I mean A LOT) of extremely cool filter types that you’re able to up your sound design game with a bit. All the standard low- and highpass filters are there, as well as comb filters and bandpasses, but if you’re brave enough to check out the “Misc” folder you better be prepared to be surprised of the sounds you can make. One of the filters that probably is the most interesting is the reverb filter. It has a very unique sound and can make any basic wavetable sound like it’s out of this world. With a few simple modulations you can make the sound even more interesting.
As I wrote in the beginning, one of the main selling points for Serum is the ability to use you own custom audio files as wavetables. Why would you want to do this? Well, think about it. Let’s say you have recorded a xylophone and you want to sound a bit like Kygo. Just drag in a sample of the recording, add maybe a basic filter with a short envelope and you have your own custom made Kygo lead that no one in the world can replicate.
Also, if you’re one of those guys who are into Dubstep and other genres where the sound design is the most important part, you probably won’t ever run out of new interesting sounds to make. Synths like Massive began to be critisized a bit for being “overused” when people started to hear exactly what wavetable was used in a specific sound (which is the meme behind Knife Party’s album “100% No Modern Talking” where “Modern Talking” is a wavetable in NI Massive).
If you’re interested in the wavetable feature in Serum, you probably should take a look at Virtual Riot when he does his thing in Serum. You can learn a lot by watching him making crazy sound design in his live streams.
The effects in Serum is another favorite of mine. There are 10 different effects to be used as post processing directly in the synth;
SerumFX is an effect plugin that you get separate from the main Serum synth when buying it. This is an often overlooked plugin that I highly recommend you take a look at. All of the effects from Serum are made available to use any sound on any channel that you’re using in your DAW.
But why would you want to use these effects? Well some of them are amazing! I especially like to use the hyper / dimension to add some unison on sounds and samples that I feel need it. The only thing I miss in the SerumFX plugin is the ability to use LFO’s and envelopes on the effects in question. This would be a great addition to an already great effect plugin.
The electronic music production community releases a lot of content related to sound design and production overall. Because of the huge success that Serum was, and still is, there are a vast amount of tutorials and guides for Serum on every level and on most topic and function that the plugin is capable of doing. This is probably the biggest reason that Serums makes a great synth for beginners to learn from and start to dive into basic sound design.
I’m gonna throw in some shameless self promotion here, because I’ve got some videos regarding sound design in Serum that you can check out by clicking here.
So now I’ve written a lot of positive reasons to use Serum, but there has to be some cons to this plugin, right? Well yes, there are actually a few. One thing in particular that has been written about a lot on forums and communities is how heavy Serum is on your CPU. This is mostly a problem when you’re making sounds using lots of voices in unison and maybe a few too many effects on top.
I personally haven’t had a problem with this, but then again I’m using a pretty strong computer (i7 7700 whatever CPU) that is able to handle this kind of work load. If you’re using a cheaper and maybe a bit older computer, there might be some problem regarding your CPU. Before getting Serum you should check out their recommended specs.
Another thing that Serum is falling short on is that it only has 2 oscillators. While this is a pretty common thing in the digital synth world, there might be alternatives that let you play around with more oscillators for even more advanced sounds. These oscillators are also very clean sounding, which sometimes produce a very “digital” sound. This is not a problem per se, and can be fixed by proper post processing.
Does this make it a bad synth? Not at all. Just make sure to research as much as you can before making the purchase. Serum is indeed pretty expensive at $189.
There are so many videos, show reels, preset pack demos and other places to get a good feeling for what sounds Serum is capable of producing. I’ll link to a few videos down below that hopefully gives you a full picture of the versatile synth that Serum is.
“Are there any good, maybe a bit cheaper alternatives to Serum?” you may ask. Well, it totally depends on what you’re going for. If you’re big into sound design and want to make the most unique sounds ever, then Serum is probably a good plugin to pick for you.
Because of the beautiful easy to learn visual style of Serum, I would also recommend it for beginners who wants to dive a bit into sound design.
A few alternatives that are worth looking into are Image Line’s Harmor ($139) as well as Native Instrument’s Massive ($149). Another one is Sylenth1 ($139), which is another very popular synth especially for electronic dance music.
Even though all of these synths can produce pretty much the exact same results in terms of sounds as well as being a bit cheaper, I feel like Serum does have the upper hand because of its ability to drag and drop custom wavetables as well as the customizable LFO- and envelope shapes.