Wavetable synthesis has recently made an impressive comeback. After spending decades in the shadow of analog and virtual-analog synthesis, the versatile digital synthesis technique is suddenly incredibly popular again, as proven by the many interesting wavetable synthesizers available today. We’ve compiled a list of the best wavetable synthesizers in 2022.
The best wavetable synthesizers
For a long time, it looked like no other form of synthesis could match the popularity of analog synthesizers. Analog was obviously the magic formula that promised warm and punchy sounds straight from the golden age of synthesis. With the exception of large workstations like the Korg Kronos, Yamaha Montage and Roland Fantom, which continue to be popular especially among live performers, hardly anyone seemed to care about digital hardware synths, which seemed tainted by distant memories of the gray nineties.
However, we all know that history tends to repeat itself. As a result of renewed interest in the sounds of the 80s and 90s, the characteristic synthesis techniques of that era made a comeback, too. Besides FM and lo-fi sampling, that’s especially true for wavetables, which helped to shape the sound of 80s new wave and 90s techno with instruments like the PPG Wave and Waldorf Microwave. And that’s great, because those techniques deliver sounds that are difficult or impossible to achieve using analog synthesis – which was the reason for their development in the first place.
The return of wavetable synthesis
If you’d like to have as many creative options as possible, investing in at least one wavetable synth in addition to your analog and virtual analog synths is a great idea. Luckily, the selection is bigger than ever. Along with traditional names like Waldorf and Korg, our list includes a few younger manufacturers, which played a big part in driving the further development of the technique. And if there’s one obvious improvement in comparison with yesterday’s synths, it’s this: Modern wavetable synths are for the most part much easier to use and much more intuitive than their ancestors from the 80s and 90s.
In this list, we’ve compiled the best wavetable synthesizers available today. It should be noted that we’ve skipped synths that offer wavetables only as a minor addition to other synthesis techniques. We’ve also left out software synths, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any interesting wavetable-based software options available (the opposite is true). But we’ll save those for another list.
It’s impossible to talk about wavetables without mentioning Waldorf. The German manufacturer is associated with the technique like no other company and gave us classic synths like the Wave, Microwave and Microwave XT. The M is Waldorf’s modern take on the legendary Microwave in a contemporary desktop format and with a much improved user interface. Classic wavetables from the Microwave I and II meet analog filters and VCAs, four versatile envelopes and two LFOs. The M is compatible with Microwave I sound data and can load user wavetables.
The Waldorf M is available at Thomann*.
In Korg’s trio of compact digital synths, the modwave handles the wavetable part. The 32-voice synthesizer offers two wavetable oscillators with more than 200 wavetables, along with a multi-mode filter with 12 different filter types and a huge modulation engine. There’s an abundance of ways to creatively morph and shape wavetables in real time. Moreover, features like Kross Physics and Motion Sequencing 2.0 help to create movement and allow for intuitive control. There’s even a software editor that lets you load your own samples and wavetables.
The Korg modwave is available at Thomann*.
Ashun Sound Machines (ASM) is a young manufacturer that turned its vision of a modern wavetable synth into reality with the 8-voice Hydrasynth. The sound engine boasts three oscillators per voice (two with wave morphing), complex waveshaping capabilities, two versatile filters with flexible routing and no less than five (!) envelopes and LFOs each. Despite the abundance of possibilities, the Hydrasynth features a pretty straightforward user interface that provides quick access to most parameters. There’s also a huge modulation matrix, flexible macro controls, and, last but not least, polyphonic aftertouch. In addition to the standard version with 49 keys, ASM makes the compact Hydrasynth Explorer, a desktop module and the bigger Hydrasynth Deluxe with 73 keys and twice the voices.
All four different versions of the Hydrasynth are available at Thomann*.
Modal Electronics Argon8
Like the Hydrasynth, which appeared around the same time, the Modal Electronics Argon8 stands for a new generation of wavetable synths. With four wavetable oscillators per voice, 32 wavetable modifiers and extensive modulation capabilities, it absolutely offers all the tools for creative sound design. It’s also got state-variable filters with four different types, three envelopes, two LFOs, and a polyphonic sequencer with four tracks for recording knob movements. With MPE compatibility and optional remote control via the Modal app, the comparatively inexpensive Argon8 represents a great value. Besides the 37-key standard version, Modal makes the Argon8X with 61 keys and the Argon8M desktop module.
The Modal Electronics Argon8 family is available at Thomann*.
Calling the Waldorf Iridium a wavetable synth doesn’t really do it justice. That’s because it offers a bunch of other synthesis techniques besides wavetables: virtual-analog waveforms, granular sampling, resonator and kernel synthesis. For further sound shaping, it’s equipped with two digital stereo filters, six envelopes, six LFOs and a modulation matrix with 40 slots. Altogether, this means that the Iridium is capable of an impressive range of sounds. A large touchscreen and a good amount of knobs also help to keep things manageable. A few weeks ago, the manufacturer finally added a keyboard version with polyphonic aftertouch to the line-up.
The Waldorf Iridium and Iridium Keyboard are available at Thomann*.
Waldorf Iridium Keyboard
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1010music nanobox fireball
The 1010music nanobox fireball is obviously the smallest synth on this list. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pack some impressive features and clearly deserves a mention among the best wavetable synthesizers. In addition to two wavetable oscillators, the pocket-sized synth offers a third oscillator with standard waveforms and two filters, LFOs and envelopes each. It’s also got a versatile modulation sequencer and integrated effects. You can even load your own wavetables onto the microSD card. If you’re looking for a powerful and great-sounding wavetable synth for on the go, the nanobox fireball has got you covered.
The 1010music nanobox fireball is available at Thomann*.
Novation Peak / Summit
Admittedly, wavetables are only half of this duo’s sonic potential. The digital oscillators of the Novation Peak and Summit also offer virtual analog synthesis. But the integrated wavetables are what make these two polyphonic synths so versatile. There’s also an editor that allows you to create your own wavetables. Analog filters complement the digital oscillators, making the Peak and Summit hybrid synthesizers. The Peak is an 8-voice desktop variant, whereas the Summit boasts 16 voices and a five-octave keyboard.
The Novation Peak and Summit are available at Thomann*.
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Like the Iridium, the Waldorf Quantum offers versatile digital oscillators with no less than five different forms of synthesis. In addition to wavetables, the synth is capable of virtual analog synthesis, granular sampling and resonator and kernel synthesis techniques. Contrary to the Iridium, however, the Quantum is a hybrid synth with analog filters. Waldorf clearly didn’t skimp on anything when they created this impressive instrument. This means that the Quantum carries a hefty price tag – but you’ll get an instrument that leaves nothing to be desired and offers sound designers almost limitless possibilities.
The Waldorf Quantum is available at Thomann*.
Amazingly, the Waldorf Blofeld has been around for 14 years now. While that isn’t quite as long as the Microkorg, it’s certainly an impressive achievement. The Blofeld isn’t a pure wavetable synth, as it also offers virtual analog synthesis. But it includes the original wavetables from the Waldorf Wave, Microwave II and XT, which is why it deserves a spot on this list. Besides the wavetables, it inherited the matrix interface from the Microwave, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Overall, the M is the more modern and contemporary synth. But the Blofeld still holds its own as a compact desktop synth capable of a wide range of sounds.
The Waldorf Blofeld and Blofeld Keyboard are available at Thomann*.
Videos about the best wavetable synthesizers
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