Xfer Records Serum still reigns EDM production land. Its sounds and workflow set an almost impossibly high-bar for other VSTs. But there may be many reasons fo you to be looking for Serum alternatives. You might be searching for a cheaper (or even free) wavetable synthesizer. Or Serum’s workflow is just not for you. Or you want a more versatile software synthesizer. We might have just what you’re looking for.
9 years of Serum – The definitive EDM VST
Serum was released in 2014, ages in electronic music production. It succeeded Native Instruments Massive, which up until that point was the most popular software synthesizer. Serum was almost entirely developed and coded by Steve Duda, friend, and collaborator of EDM heavyweight Deadmau5. It became an almost immediate success upon release.
In terms of included sounds, it surpassed Massive or any other VST of the time. Serum’s workflow and GUI were much more streamlined, modulation was easier to use, and its envelopes were super snappy. With its two wavetable oscillators, the insanely detailed and capable wavetable editor, and a great-sounding selection of filter emulations, Serum alternatives had a tough time since then to match the VST’s versatility and quality.
And Xfer Records, the moniker under which Duda distributed Serum, has maintained and updated the soft synth quite regularly, with the latest update from March 2023. In addition to Serum, Xfer Records also offers the brilliant sidechaining effect LFOTool, the chord sequencer and arpeggiator Cthulhu, and the drum machine Nerve. Serum is available at Xfer Records’ webstore for 189 USD. Alternatively, there is a rent-to-own plan for 19 Months at Splice for 9.99 USD a month.
What do the Serum alternatives need to bring to the table?
It may be Serum’s price, as Xfer Records never, ever do sales. It may be Serum’s lack of a granular oscillator, or a more fleshed-out preset browser, or of a particular genre of sounds, that you’re missing. Additionally, while Serum’s GUI is very accessible and its workflow for designing sounds is extremely easy, its optics are still stuck 9 years ago.
But no matter which of our Serum alternatives you choose, do try the original! The VST comes with 450 presets, 144 Wavetables and a free demo! It is limited to 15 minutes per session, which isn’t a lot when you are a beginner at designing sounds. But it is more than enough to browse through the available presets and familiarize yourself with them.
Also, there is the possibility of Serum 2. Duda has been hinting at a successor for years. There are not a lot of details known about it, except that VST effect heavyweights DMG Audio are collaborating. And Duda has stated numerous times that the update will be free for owners of version 1!
The best free VST of our Serum alternatives – Vital
Few other plug-ins mimic Serum as close and as successfully as Vital does. The plugin was released three years ago and offers a lot of the same features. It does Wavetable synthesis, it offers similar ways to modulate and scan through individual wavetables, its LFOs and envelopes work in a very similar manner.
Vital also offers more of everything. The VST has three instead of two oscillators, two instead of one filter, up to six envelopes, and up to eight LFOs – it’s a modulation monster. There are also unique features like stereo modulation where an LFO modulating a source is essentially doubled and slightly delayed in the stereo field, making it a Pad machine deluxe.
The best thing about Vital is that you can get it for free. That’s right, you get all the features we mentioned, Vital’s more modern GUI, for the price of nothing. In this basic version, you also get 75 presets and 25 wavetables, which makes Vital our best free VST of the Serum alternatives. There are two additional paid offers, both with more presets and more wavetables, and a subscription package for $5 a month.
Arturia Pigments – More features, better GUI
Few VSTs have been received as well as Pigments from Arturia. In terms of workflow and user interface, it set a new standard for software instruments. Synthesizers with all their knobs and cables can be a bit confusing, but Pigments managed to create a workflow that made modifying and designing sounds that much easier.
The VST also offers additional synthesis types. Its granular engine is regarded as one of the most versatile, albeit CPU-heavy, on the market. In its last update, Arturia also added a “Harmonic Engine” with additive synth capabilities. Oh, and you get over 1,400 presets with it. Arturia Pigments is available at Thomann* right now.
Phase Plant from Kilohearts is the most versatile of our Serum alternatives
Both sound designers and YouTubers have been raving about Phase Plant from Kilohearts ever since the VST came on the market. The plug-in combines a familiar synthesis workflow with a modularity that makes it much more powerful than any of our Serum alternatives.
While most synth plugins come with a fixed architecture, you can add as many oscillators, filters, envelopes, and LFOs as your CPU can handle to a single synth patch in Phase Plant. Kilohearts also recently upgraded the VST with more modulators and a streamlined workflow. They also added a granular modul. You can get Kilohearts Phase Plant at Thomann* right now.
Native Instruments Massive X – The unsung hero
While Massive X from Native Instruments (not to be confused with the OG Massive that Serum took over from) is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of its user interface, it is one of the best-sounding wavetable synthesizers on the market, both software and hardware.
Make no mistake, NI sure has taken its time to slowly update and fix Massive X towards the plug-in they promised it to be from the get-go. And it’s still not quite there yet. But in terms of sheer sonic capability, MX is the king of the hill. Its many different wavetable modes and its excellent effects make it one of the best Serum alternatives when it comes to 808s, synth leads, and organic pads.
U-He Hive 2 – Everything on one page
It might not be the most glorious feature to offer, but being able to design a sound without flipping through a dozen tabs and pages in a plugin is a godsend. And Hive 2 is ticking all the boxes in this regard. In addition, it offers a huge variety of sound and modulation options.
Plus, you can be assured that Urs Heckmann and his dedicated team are absolutely on top of things when it comes to new technologies. From MPE to VST3 to native Apple Silicon compatibility to the new plug-in format CLAP, U-He were always among the first developers to offer updates. You also get over 2,400 presets from renowned sound designers with Hive 2. It’s available at Thomann*.
We’ve only really scratched the surface here with our list of Serum alternatives. From much more complex alternatives like Omnisphere or Kontakt to other free options like Surge, there are plenty of other options for you, if none of these peaked your interest. It really goes to show that nine years after its release, Serum is still regarded as one of the best software instruments, so you might just check out the OG.
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- Native Instruments Massive X: modulation madness!: gearnews.de
- pb: Plugin Boutique