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Instrument Review: NI Massive X

I - like many of us in this industry - am a creature of habit. I have my go-to instruments. Which is not to say that I don't absolutely have an open mind with regards to new things. I love new toys, and I love experimenting outside of my comfort zone when it comes to my tools. But I do balk at change in my template. If it's not broken - don't fix it. With that said, I've been a Massive® user for the better part of 11 years. It was an integral part of my sound when producing rock and pop records, and remains an integral part of my sound design workflow today. So it was a bit surprising when - after almost 13 years on the market and no change - Native Instruments decided to not just update it, but give it a complete overhaul.

In direct reference to my being a creature of habit, I sat on this thing since June. It was a quick and easy update, if I allowed myself to do such a thing. But I didn't. I continued in my ways with the OG Massive. Which wasn't a problem. The original and unchanged Massive was a monster. However, if you didn't know a thing about synthesis, it seemingly required a degree in quantum physics to figure out. Namely in signal flow and modulation. Which is why - at least trying to view this update from the standpoint of a synth newbie - is a more than welcome overhaul. As I've said before, I'm all about ergonomics. As trivial as it may seem, a beautiful GUI can mean the difference between unhinged creativity and existential crisis. However, in my case, some of my most beloved plugins (almost entirely in processing), have GUI's that look like they came straight out of the DOS era. Again, aging myself here. But that's a different conversation for a different day.

I'll start with visuals. This thing is gorgeous. It's smooth, it's well laid out, it's intuitive. The original left you menu diving, sub menu diving, and if working with a track pad on a MacBook Pro, wanting to burn your whole room down at times. Massive X is to Soft Synths what FabFilter is to processing. It's just pretty. LFO's are easily identifiable, as are Envelopes, Tracking, and other fun goodies. And the coolest part? They gave it EuroRack feel with all the dope module options. It really is something to look at and even better to dive in right out of the gate and make something happen.

Next, on to the most important part. The sound. Now... I'm not entirely a synth snob. I do however hold very near and dear to me my growing collection of hardware. And it goes without saying that those things sound incredible. Because that's what they do. Perhaps not half as capable as most software in the features department, but then again, unless you can afford to drop $8K on Moog's ONE, or better yet $100K+ on a wall of modular stuff, point to point wiring needs to fit in a box, and ones and zeros are much easier to cram a lot more of them into a tiny little space. With that, I have a couple of deserted island soft synths that I lean hard on. And unsurprisingly, all three of them aim to mimic their hardware counterparts. Zebra2, Omnisphere 2.6, and Arturia's V Collection. All three are incredible, and I can use as many instances as I need to or want to - which is the other downside to hardware. One synth = One track. Unless you want to start bouncing in place, and being married to a sound once it's in audio.

Massive X is way more than I had even hoped it would be. The original sounded incredible. And I used it extensively. But again, this is where ease of use and efficiency come into play. GUI's have a tendency to play a bit of a head game. The better they look and easier they are to navigate, the better you feel about whatever you're trying to create because it comes more naturally and with a bit more velocity. The level of on deck control that Massive X carries gives you everything you need at your fingertips. From thin and airy to Massive (haha) poly bass lines - its all right there and easily modified. It's just fun, and encourages creativity. And as far as quality is concerned, it sounds great. It doesn't sound cheap. If that's what you're aiming for, it'll do that too. But in a general sense, this thing is a beast, and beyond fun to just play with. To give you an idea on what can be done within just the instrument itself, below you'll find a quickie demo, using nothing but Massive X. Some level control and light panning involved, along with some conservative control compression and side-chaining (kick/bass), and then my demo mastering chain to bring it up from my typical -18dB ballpark operating peak. But in essence, this is Massive X in its rawest form utilizing about 8 tracks of data and created from an INIT patch. Disclaimer: For all you EDM Purists out there - I am not now, nor will I ever be that guy. So Let's try and keep the bashing to a minimum. It was 30 minutes of fun and some dope sounds. I'll absolutely keep the day job my dudes.

At the end of the day, Massive X rocks, and it's now a solid part of my limited scope of soft synths that occupy a huge template. Massive X is (and has been) available at Native Instruments | Massive X. Check it out now!

About the Author


Brett James is a film composer and sound designer based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Having been brought up within The Bay Area’s legendary music scene, Brett's craft has evolved into scoring to picture and other visual mediums, drawing inspiration and influence from his roots as a touring and studio rock guitarist, along with his childhood favorites in some of films greatest themes. Also a self-proclaimed Gear-Geek, he strives to share his adventures and gained insight in this industry, as it pertains to other working composers and those that aspire to be apart of such a wonderful and rewarding career.


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