My (early) impressions with Vital

It’s a great and a sad day. Great in the sense that we have no finally Vital, but sad in the sense that I don’t really see much of a future for wavetable synths after Vital that doesn’t involve rebranding same old things into a new package.

I’ve never really understood the popularity behind Serum. Even now, Vital is seen as a free alternative to Serum - and sure, that’s one way to look at it. But Vital competes in a different league - for me, Serum always was a subpar softsynth that had a marketing genius behind it, and that’s it.

Synth architecture

First things I look for always are architecture. Signal path is polyphonic until the effects section - thus it’s mostly outclassed in that regard by Phaseplant, although arguably polyphonic effects section is a gimmick. Massive X has also polyphonic effects, but most of them (such as RM) are easily implemented through other means and usually with more robust alternatives. Would love to have polyphonic distortion, though.

But then Vital sets itself apart from many competitors by having thorough stereo routing from the osc level. This is great and honestly a feature that many synths lack - understandably so given that it can almost double the required processing power which is an issue every now and then.

The strain on CPU, while hard to quantitatively measure myself, seems to be better performing than competitors such as Massive X or Pigments. On high quality settings with 3 oscillators maxed on unison, my 4790k starts choking a little. On other alternatives, it typically takes 2 oscillators with 16 voices on big block chords with extensions to do it. In a realistic usecase, this thing will never hurt my 4790k. And this is a big deal when it comes to WT synths, because I rarely prefer them over VA / analog emulations for any other reason than the milder CPU consumption due to either none or far less non-linear DSP being involved.

I also don’t know whenever stereo path is used all the time even without any modulation that affects it - if it is never disabled, then that is really impressive CPU consumption and makes it significantly better than many of the competitors that often do not have stereo path before filter and sometimes before effects section. But I suspect the design is smart and recognizes when stereo information is actually needed.

Modulators!

Modulators to me are always a big deal. While I can’t test the MPE capabilities unfortunately, there’s still the LFO’s and noise generators. And here is where I think Vital really took the right direction: keytracked, audio rate modulators. Here you are not required to take extra steps to introduce keytracking of any kind; it just is there.

The two points of criticism I have about the modulators: lack of key-track scaling and otherwise editing own curves (I believe there is a workaround though - haven’t yet tried it in practice) and the weird problem of not being able to adjust the phase of the LFO modulators. It’s weird because Massive X had similar design and I just always felt like not being able to modulate the phase of the waveform never made any sense. Perhaps it requires some kind of overhead to avoid clicks and pops?

Nevertheless, modulators are very good and I’m happy that Vital opted in for the same kind of design as Massive with audio-rate modulators all the while having also the mod matrix option where you can assign per modulation destination the curve.

Oscillators

This is probably where I have the least to say, because… I’m not really the kind of person that cares much beyond the simple waveforms. But still, the spectral morph section is really nice feature and I suspect I’ll be using it a lot in future for transitional sound effects and probably also do various phase cancellation trickery.

The basic waveforms sound exactly as they should to me, so I’m happy with them. The only thing I wish is the ability to invert the waveform quickly. Inverted waveforms are really useful for me for phase cancellation purposes. It’s just nitpicking though, as if we weren’t spoiled enough already.

Filter section

And once again, another synth with a strong filter section. My personal litmus test to tell about the quality of a synth simply involves the filter section - it’s arguably among the hardest aspects of getting right with modern synths. The biggest crime is to make a filter section that has millions of options but none of them are good. Even PhasePlant, with its single filter type, makes Serums filter section pale by comparison for me.

First of all, there’s a uniform design of lowpass/highpass blend slider. While the design isn’t new necessarily, I’ve never seen it used across all the filters. On standard filters it’s a highpass/lowpass blend, on non-standard (comb, formant) instead it seems to affect the distribution to varying degrees. It’s great design and we should have more of this.

The selection of filters is fairly tame - but all of them are very good and very useable. Would love to see additional filters in future though - all the filters as they are were fairly tame, so I think having couple oriented for heavier distortion would be a nice addition even though I personally don’t use anything but tame filters. And I would never say no to LPG, personally. I’m surprised how rare LPG’s are - out of mainstream synths, only Pigments has it so far!

I was also initially afraid about the lack of that one dearest knob to me; “FM”. Luckily, I realized later that LFO’s can be used for this purpose and I don’t have to dedicate main oscillators for it. Still though, I wonder if something is lost without the ability of using main oscillators as the source for FM since presumably LFO’s do not have band-limiting in them.

Special mention also goes to the comb filter. I can appreciate a good comb filter when I hear one and here we definitively have that - often comb filter implementations are just awful and exist for no other purpose than being able to say “yeah, we have that”. One thing I wish we had is an impulse generator meant to specifically work in conjunction with the comb filter - akin to that in Massive X. Or, at least some sort of impulse sample selection meant to work in conjunction with the comb filter to inspire people into trying it out.

And last mention (again, filters are my focus always): great job on actually tuning the filters AND defaulting at the middle range of the keytrack. Only the dirty filter seems to go varying degrees of flat when you crank the resonance to the max and seems to have somewhat inconsistent behavior (I presume on purpose?). It’s somewhat annoying that there are countless synthesizers which require some actual work done before you can play their filters in tune - and yet here it works out of the box like a charm.

FX

Another one where I don’t have that much to say. All the effects sound solid from the get-go, I especially love the chorus with its filtering possibilities that I’ve rarely realized I could (and should!) use. And also, the reverb sounds surprisingly good!

While arguably it’s a gimmick, it would have been nice if there was any chance for this section to be polyphonic as well. The only reason I’d ever want that is due to keytracking reverb. I’m fairly certain that this will always be monophonic and I’m 100% fine with that.

UIX

The design is fairly functional, little bit busy and not-so-flashy, reminding me of past stuff like Z3ta+. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the looks, but luckily that’s also one of the least important factors to me and there’s no pleasing everyone when it comes to UI design. Out of recent synths, Massive X has my favorite UI vote, and it seemed to upset a whole lot of people.

But things are where you expect them to be and interactions (such as drag & dropping modulators) work exactly as one wants. There’s nothing to complain about.

Overall impressions

Vital is like a recapitulation of all the wavetable goodies in one tight package and does it mostly better than any other WT-focused synth. It’s really hard for me to imagine how to improve from this and I suspect (and hope even) that we won’t get many more wavetable synths anymore. Even $80 for this thing would be a bargain (considering its competitors cost at minimum twice as much), and I’ll end up upgrading myself in next month to plus at least. Don’t need the presets (although am curious), but I definitively will end up using this even though I don’t hold favorable views on WT-synths.

And I suspect personally that Vital becomes the “new Serum” so to speak - the standard for most people. While the reasons for that will probably lie within the fact that there’s a free edition and also successful marketing, it’s still good to see a synth that actually deserves the reputation, to get the reputation.

And I can only hope that Vital will have even more somehow going for it if the development continues further. Best of luck to Matt and everyone else involved in this, you folks truly made an amazing synth if even I vouch for it despite being somewhat pure wavetable synth!

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