Welcome to our introduction to the wavetable synthesizer that took the industry by storm and left its mark on EDM forever. We’re talking of course about Serum by Xfer, the company created by industry powerhouse Steve Duda. When the plugin releases back in 2014 bedroom producers around the world were given one of the most powerful production tools to date, packed with features that made the sound design more accessible that offered infinite possibilities.
In this article, we’re going to introduce you to each section of the OSC tab and break it down. By the end, you should have no problem understanding everything this tab does!
In this article about Xfer Serum, we will cover the following topics:
So, let’s get into it…
An Introduction to Serum Synthesizer
What is the Sub oscillator in Xfer Serum?
The sub-oscillator is there to serve as a dedicated sub-bass layer. It boasts a total of 6 soundwaves and 5 controls to manipulate them Let’s take a look at its parameters:
In order, you have sine, rounded rectangle, triangle, square, saw, and pulse. Each sound has a strong bass foundation and they increase in harmonics as you go in order.
This option lets you send the sub-oscillator directly to the master signal avoiding the FX chain. This allows you to keep the signal clean whilst you can apply reverb, delays, or other OSCs if you wish.
Holding the left click and on 0 and moving up or down will move the signal to the desired amount of octaves, an octave is a total of 12 semitones.
Moves the signal left or right
What is the noise oscillator in Xfer Serum?
The noise oscillator offers an array of soundscapes and some nifty transient sounds for you to manipulate into percussion, sound fx, or texture layers. There are 5 parameters that can be programmed and automated to your desire so let’s take a look at each one:
Every noise and wavetable is essentially a loop with a start and a finish, this parameter determines what the start time of that loop.
This feature randomizes the start time of the loop giving variation in colors and tones so no two keys pressed are the same which is great if you want a sound with an analog or more natural feel.
Rather a self-explanatory parameter but as you can see the parameter starts in the 12 o’clock position. Turn left to pitch down or right to pitch up.
Pan can move the noise signal to the left or right side of your track.
Master volume control of the noise oscillator.
Oscillators A and B
What is oscillator A and B in Xfer Serum?
Oscillators A and B let you choose from preset wavetables, alternatively, you can create your own from drawing tools, sound files, or even drop in your pictures! Needless to say, is one of the most diverse wavetable synths on the market for this reason. Let’s take a look at its parameters:
You can cycle through wavetable presets by clicking the arrows, alternatively, you can cycle through a menu of options by left-clicking the name of the wavetable directly. The pencil button on the wavetable selector lets you edit the wavetable further with an array of morph options for you to explore. Dropping pictures and wave files over the wavetable lets you convert them into wavetable presets so you can create your own sounds with.
The oct tab lets you turn the signal up or down up a total of 4 octaves and works just like the sub-octave tab.
the sem parameter allows you to cycle up or down a total of 12 semitones
The fin parameter lets you fine-tune your signal up and down in cents for a total of 100 cents (1 semitone)
The coarse pitch parameter allows you to sweep the signal up and down in semitones useful for making fx, sirens, and pitch drops.
Unison is a voicing option that lets you clone the signal up to 16 times as a layer, be mindful of your CPU as this tallies up usage pretty quickly and can cause latency issues on low-end devices.
Detune is linked directly to the unison tab and detunes each voice slightly of from the next causing a widespread Reese bass-like quality.
A dry/wet mix for the unison voices but mixed with the original signal
Similar to the phase parameter in the noise oscillator, it dictates the start time of the wavetable cycle.
Random phase for random start times on the wavetable cycle creates variations in texture.
Wavetable Position lets you set a start point to modulate from and creates movement within your sounds.
With over 22 different modes to explore this is one of the most powerful features Serum has to offer with infinite possibilities at your fingertips. FM, AM, RM Sync, bend, flip, mirror, ASYM, remap, and quantize all offer interesting modulation options to make your sound your own.
Pan can move the oscillator signal to the left or right side of your track.
Master volume control of the oscillator.
What is the filter in Xfer Serum?
The filter is a tool that lets you modulate the frequency spectrum of your wavetable with an arrangement of shapes and multi filters to choose from. Each filter has its own set of options but you can get a brief description by hovering over every dial. Let’s take a look at the lowpass filter controls::
Similar to the wavetable selector you can cycle through different filters with the arrow buttons or select from a drop-down list by left-clicking the named filter bar.
Is the start point of the filter which you can set manually at any point in the frequency spectrum.
Resonance creates a peak at the cutoff point of the filter creating a sweeping effect as it modulates. This can give vowel characteristics on the low registers.
Moves the signal left and right
A distortion feedback gain that can increase volume and add harmonics.
Adds variations to some filters in particular the multis.
Filter Routing Options
The filter has 5 routing options, oscillators A, B, Noise, and Sub can all be checked to send their signal to the filter. The final option is key tracking which adds a filter to your sound that opens higher up on the keyboard. Play notes low for a darker sound and high for a brighter which can add variation and emotion to your melodies.
What are Macros in Xfer Serum?
Macros are parameters that can be routed to hardware or automation patterns in your DAW. They offer more freedom in terms of the variety of shapes you can make in one synth compared to using LFOs and envelopes. The mod section contains 4 macros all routable to most parameters in Serum giving you the freedom to control multiple parameters however you wish.
What are envelopes in Xfer Serum?
Envelopes are shapes used to modulate any parameter in Xfer Serum, you do this by dragging and dropping. By default Envelope 1 is routed to the master amplitude so keep that in mind when altering it! All of these shapes can be morphed using 5 parameters which act as programable time markers moving one to the next. Let’s take a quick look at each one and break them down:
This parameter is the start point of the envelope, a slow time will take longer for the signal to reach max amplitude which is handy for fading sounds in without them being full volume when a note is pressed.
The hold is a manual time setting for your envelope that will dictate how long your signal will maintain max amplitude before moving on to the decay settings.
The decay setting is how long it takes the signal to fade to the sustain settings.
Sustain in the amplitude you want your decay to fade off to before being sent to the release settings.
The release is how long it takes to fade the signal to zero amplitude
What are LFOs in Xfer Serum?
LFOs are shapes that can be triggered to loop in sync with the BPM of your project, this modulation type is the staple of the wobble bass popularized in Dubstep. Let’s take a look at the setting they offer:
The blue shape is free for you to manipulate in any way you wish. Double-clicking the line will create new points which can also be removed by double-clicking on them directly. Holding alt whilst you move the points will snap the shapes to the grid in the background. Another feature of holding shift allows you to add steps along the grid which can be used to program arp notes.
The grid slider lets you add more lines to the background of your shape making it easier for you to modulate complex patterns in time with your beat.
Selecting trig will make the modulation restart from the beginning of the shape every time a new note is triggered
Selecting this option will make the shape act like an envelope and only play the shape once.
This option sets the behavior of the rate parameter to free time or fixed ratios. Automating the free time from slow to fast or vice versa creates interesting effects for sweeps and risers
Anchor finds your DAW’s BPM and then sets Serum’s LFO shapes to sync up in time with them.
This activates triplet time offering more variables on the rate for a little swing in the shape.
Dotted offers a polyrhythm groove by playing the shapes in 1.5x the ratio.
Allows you to set a speed based on free time or fixed ratios.
Similar to an attack on an envelope it delays the time the shape reaches its peak based on your global bpm.
Delays the start time of the shape
Smooths out the peaks of the shape so there are no jumps in amplitude and just a smooth steady motion.
What is Velo in Xfer Serum?
Velo is a velocity trigger that maps to whatever you assign it to.
What is Note in Xfer Serum?
Note will open the cutoff the higher you play on the keyboard offering darker lows and brighter highs.
What is the pitch wheel in Xfer Serum?
The pitch wheel lets you pitch the entire signal up or down and how far that bends is set by the values on the left. The values are measured in semitones and reach 2 octaves either way.
What is the mod wheel in Xfer Serum?
The mod wheel offers controllable movement handy for stuff like detuning and vibrato. It’s active by dragging the MOD control above the macros on any parameter you want to use it with.
What is the piano for in Xfer Serum?
Serves as a way for you to hear your synth by left-clicking notes.
What is the voicing in Xfer Serum?
What is the portamento in Xfer Serum?
Portamento slides the signal from one note to the other. This is activated by checking “always” and the time the notes take to slide is controlled by the “Porta” parameter. Alternatively, you can go with “scaled” mode which takes longer for the notes to reach their destination the further away notes are played. This is controlled with “curve” as negative values accelerate the speed and positive ones decelerate it.
And that about covers it!
That is our brief overview of everything the OSC tab in Xfer Serum has to offer! If you would like us to delve further into this synth with an overview of the FX chains, Matrix, and Global setting then leave a comment below and let us know! Share if you think it will help someone out and give us a like if you’re feeling generous.