I currently own a wavetable synth with the ability to create custom wavetables within the vst, and I understand the basic principles behind subtractive and fm synths. But what I'm more concerned about is the type of sounds they can create in the end. It seems like most comparisons are between a non-wavetable subtractive synths and fm synths, and favors fm synths for creating a wider array of sounds. How does a wavetable subtractive synth compare, though?

It's too early for me to tell as I'm still discovering unfamiliar sounds with a wavetable synth. Can someone share some insight?

3 Answers 3


Subtractive means you just have filters on the synth. Additive means you add oscillators or sound lines. FM means you multiply the frequency of one oscillator by the signal of another.

Wavetable uses a sample bank as an oscillator, that's all, and it can crossfade oscillaors it's super powerful because it can emply the FM sound-timbres from the FM and its'generally simpler to control and program. what wavetable can't do is emulate the effects of LFO on Frequency modulated sounds, which are pretty confusing even i dont understand them, i haven't studied FM8 synth yet it didnt seem worth the hype.

All good synths use filters so all are subtractive. all have multiple oscs so all are additive. FM synths come in two types... ones with a modulation index like FM8 and ones without. FM is very difficult to control and program.

FM doesnt create a wider array of sound, it creates more timbres for the same number of oscillators, but LFO's and additive detune are what actually create the real synth richness.

So with a given number of oscillators, FM can logically make more crazy sound, but in reality that doesnt totally play out, because you dont need a wide variety of sound to make good sounds. It's like using pixels versus using paint. both can do awesome stuff.

A synth is a technological barrier to your creativity, you can think in terms of how fast it is to find an array of sounds from a system, so as a practical tool for scanning alot of sounds fast and modding them funly, rather than something that with study can make more sounds... practical fastness and flexibility is a balance that is more crucial than depth of sound.


Both Wavetable and FM synthesis can offer rich sounds. Subtractive synthesizers take some engineering to reach similar results, since they rely on summing other oscillators together.

FM would be more variable in terms of brightness and dependent on the source wave, mod wave, the FM Index and mod frequency. However it is one technique of synthesis that tends to enrich the wave by rapidly modulating the frequency.

Depending on the number of harmonics and data, a Wavetable could store a range of harmonics directly, including those derived from FM, as well as Timbres like Organs and "formants", which may have distinct partials. Additionally, some Wavetable synths allow morphing or scanning between two Wavetables, like NI Massive or Absynth.

Therefore Wavetable synthesis has potentially a greater variation of sound to offer, limited by the technology and data that make up the wave. FM tends to create bright and metallic sounds, sometimes bell-like, but it is more of a mathematical process.

Subtractive synthesizers can offer a lot of freedom by providing different oscillators, tunings and then filtering.


Just to synthetize.

Additive Synths:

Poorer sounds, needs a lot of modulations/filters to sound expressive and organic.

FM Synths:

Sound produced by operator's algorithms, they can get (as said before) really metallic but they have the advantage to produce modulations in a more natural way and logical way. The more operators and connection ways between them you have the more modulations you get. From what I know, you can make rythmic patterns with an FM synth but this will hardly feel acoustic compared to a wavetable synth (as explaines below)

Wavetable synths:

This approach is closer to using audio samples. it's a bit like an animation software using vectorized shapes.

For example, with the Serum synth you can "vectorize" an audio rythm (or other audio sample) and easily play it by travelling through your wavetable at a certain rate.This give you the good tone, And sounds a bit like a timestreching effect, but this will modulate your original tempo from a tone to another.

you can have two strictly different sounds that will/won't produce interesting results.

You should definitely check for the Serum, which from as far as I know looks like one of the best wavetable synth with a huge amount of possibilities.

Hope it helped.

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