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In my last post I showed you how to synthesize kick drums with Native Instruments’ Massive. What I didn’t mention in that post is that I actually personally prefer to use the Waldorf Largo synth instead of Massive for that purpose. I made the video for Massive because it’s simply more popular. And as a result, I had to do some contortions around the envelope management in order to get a clean initial attack on the kicks, which is not a problem with the Largo.

Both Largo and Massive are competing for the same basic place in your plugin arsenal: the all-purpose synth. And they both have very similar features overall to that end, so much so that I think a detailed comparison really makes sense.

The oscillators. Both Largo and Massive gain much of their power from their wavetable oscillators. Massive has three of them, Largo has two plus a simpler oscillator. However, Waldorf has been doing wavetable synthesis in hardware synths for a long time and knows a thing or two about doing it right. Largo’s oscillators have more detailed controls, sub oscillators to mix in, and a variety of ways for the oscillators to modulate each other (see next.) To be fair to Massive, they have done a great job at providing a lot of interesting wavetables so each synth has its benefits. Both synths have a noise generator but Massive has a variety of odd and interesting noise types to choose from.

Inter-oscillator modulation. Largo can do true FM on all three oscillators, and ring modulation and hard sync between two of them. Massive falls short here. It gets by with a single shape (sinusoidal?) “modulation oscillator” than can be used for limited purposes such as phase modulation, ring modulation, and filter FM for some filter modes. There’s no hard sync and no real FM. While the modulation oscillator in Massive can definitely create some rich textures, Largo is definitely the winner here.

Filters. Both synths offer two multi-mode filters which can be routed in series or in parallel. Massive has more numerous and interesting types of filters, but the ones Largo does offer sound better. Largo’s filters have the feeling of of high-end kitchen knives: sharp, powerful, clean, and dangerous whereas Massive’s filters feel more like a Leatherman tool: very versatile and do-anything but a sacrificing some edge for their utility. Largo’s filters can both accept FM modulation from any source oscillator and get really brilliant and aggressive in that setting, but I think Massive’s filters don’t quite perform as well under FM from the modulation oscillator. Largo’s comb filter offers both positive and negative feedback, a very high frequency range, and tunable keytracking. Tuned to very high frequencies it actually acts as an amazing tone shaper for bass sounds that reach deep into the bottom end. Full resonance on the Largo filters can also be used as an oscillator all by itself.

Filter drive. Each filter in Largo has a drive stage with 8 selectable distortion flavors, some of which are really quite nice. Massive sacrifices some of that distortion variety for two general purpose effect inserts that can be placed before the filters or in a number of other positions in the signal path and they can do a lot more than distortion (bitcrushing, frequency shifting, etc). Massive’s routable inserts are a big plus but Largo’s hard-wired filter drive really does kick ass.

Envelopes. Largo’s primary envelopes are more flexible and precise than Massive’s and offer extremely fast attacks down to one sample, a benefit when dealing with those critical initial transients on your synths and percussion. Both synths have four primary envelopes, but Massive also has the ability to run four “performer” LFOs that can act a lot like envelopes. Besides the attack and decay time issue, for most synthesis tasks you can ultimately get what you want out of either synth.

LFOs. This is one area in which I think Massive has done a bit of a better job than Largo on all fronts. Massive’s four LFOs all have more shapes, are easier to use, and have the “performer” and “stepper” modes. Compare this to Largo’s three LFOs, only one of which can have the equivalent behavior of the stepper, and the joy of “performer” is unique to Massive.

General modulation assignments. Massive has some great UI innovation with their drag and drop interface between modulation sources and destinations. That counts for a lot. However, the downside is that the number of sources that can modulate a single destination is limited. For instance: only two sources can modulate an oscillator’s pitch in Massive, and they’ve been kind enough to allow three sources to modulate the filter cutoffs. With the Largo, you sacrifice the drag and drop for an expansive “anything to anything” modulation matrix, and the freedom really does matter. Additionally, Largo’s modulation assignments can have very subtle and extreme settings, whereas Massive’s ranges are little more focused on the “reasonable” – but sometimes being unreasonable is a good thing. Largo also has four “modifier” sources which combine any two other sources in interesting ways (add, subtract, multiply, min/max, etc).

Effects. Both offer two tailing effect inserts for things like chorus, reverb, delay, distortion, etc. Largo has fewer effect options but like we’ve seen in other areas, the ones they do implement sound quite good and have more control. The reverb is nicer and the chorus outcompetes almost any dedicated chorus plugin. I find the overdrive quite useful and tend not to like the character of Massive’s final stage “tube” distortion effects. Largo also has a much more flexible (4-band) and significantly better-sounding final EQ, which becomes a very powerful tone shaping tool. Plus, Largo has a magic “bass boost” button on it’s filter stage that is really sweet.

There are two additional major features to the Largo that are not present in Massive: the arpeggiator and the sound layering. Largo’s arpeggiator is pretty flexible and can help you easily create beautiful movement in your synths. One Largo instance can also stack four independent sounds simultaneously. Doing this with Massive would require four instances and MIDI routing to send the same notes to each one. To be fair I tend not to use the layers but definitely do on occasion.

A final plus on the Massive side: the feedback circuit. Largo has no comparable feature, which for Massive adds an element of grit and unpredictability that can open up some unexpected directions in the sound.

In summary, Largo puts more decisions and control in the hands of the user at the expense of some usability and ease of access, whereas Massive has tried a little more to put things on auto-pilot for a streamlined experience. Largo’s underlying audio processing is audibly more raw, brilliant, and deep than Massive’s with the ability to do more extreme maneuvers – at the cost of it being a little easier to end up with sounds that don’t work, overload the headroom, or have wildly different behaviors at different pitches. I tend to reach for Massive when I’m feeling a little bit lazier, and reach for Largo when I have a very specific sound in mind or am willing to put in a little extra effort for some extra edge. If I were to have only one of the two, I would probably choose the Largo but it would not be a happy decision!

Just Get both.

  • movek

    nice walk throught these two great synthesizers 

    can you maybe post a new video about 
    a kick drum in Waldorf Largo .. the massive tutorial is great
    but i want to see it happen again this time in largo :)

  • Arnold Stallone

    cool and interesting review, thanks.
    yesterday i finally bought waldorf largo.with their 25% namm coupon, i was able to grab it for 128 euros, instead of the 170, or 200, regular price.
    the promotion ended the 15th…yesterday. after hesitating for hours, because my visa was begging me to not buy it, i finally decided to buy it. even if i have to eat beans and broccoli during one full month, at least, i have it, now.
    after 2 years waiting for a price cut, even sending an email to waldorf about any eventual reduction, etc, i just couldn’t miss the opportunity.
    so far i only previewed like 20-30 patches, but man, that thing is powerful and sweet.
    too bad it is too expensive (regardless of the quality of any plugin, everything above 60-90 euros, for a vst-vsti, is just too expensive), otherwise, there would be tons of people using it, and creating fantastic soundbanks. i already previews a few, on youtube, that confirmed this synth is really really powerful, and can make the same, or even better patches than a massive, sylenth1, zebra, all the tone2 stuff, etc. it just requires skills and time, like the waldorf hardware, to create some great patches.

    do you think you could make a video, some sort of tutorial, how to create a great stringy-choiry-epic-lush pad, that would use several layers, etc, from A to Z, so ignorants like me can see how it is possible to create a great pad sound.

    it would be fantastic. thanks in advance :)

  • Donthaveanaccount

    Man where did u dissapear? u said u took a new job and now u gone? i liked ur vid of kick drum, i wanted to see what more do u know about EDM!