Native Instruments FM8 Hands-On

FM8 patches

I’d been looking into Native Instruments’ FM8 for quite some time. For one, I’d heard many, many good things about it. Two, I’ve been wanting to learn a bit about FM synthesis, and it was cheaper (and probably easier to program) than its hardware counterpart, the DX7.

It’s a very versatile synthesizer, but it had better be for $200. Heck, that’s what the entire Logic Pro 9 download costs now. Still, this blows most of Logic’s synths out of the water (though we do love the ES2 and Sculpture, which are both excellent). I’ve only been using it for a couple of days, so it’s hard to talk about all the features, but it’s definitely much deeper than I had originally imagined.

 

FM Synthesis

FM synthesis is definitely a bit of a challenge at first. It’s not as straightforward as subtractive synthesis. It’s all about carriers and modulators. Basically, to my understanding, you use one oscillator to generate your sound, and you use a second oscillator to modulate that waveform, creating your sound. A bit more on that here. Similar to a ring modulator or the FM button on most subtractive synths.

FM8

This is the main section. It’s where you can set your FM routing. In this example, oscillators A, B and C are on. C is outputting signal (at 100 [maximum] volume) and each the little squares with the numbers set up around the letters tell you which oscillator is modulating another and to what degree. All are sine waves. That’s about the extent of my understanding, and I’ve yet to be able to create the sounds I imagine. Still, it’s very fun to play with. (I used a video tutorial for this, but it seems as if the YouTube user has removed it.) Here’s another good one for a super saw lead typical of dance music here.

FM8 - Effects

Presets

I rarely use presets, but there are a ton of them. I try to avoid them as others who use the synth will know exactly what I was using and it can definitely lose you some cool points with other musicians. Sure, there are times to use them, but you don’t want to base all your music around them. Still, they are a great place to start and figure out your sound. It’s also nice for deconstructing sounds to see how they were made.

Like?

It’s very awesome and very versatile. There is so much to do, and you can dive in and play for hours and hours. It’s $200, which is in line with a lot of great soft synths, such as some of the Rob Papen stuff and other major soft synths out there. I also love the fact that it works standalone…but. It plays wonderfully with Logic so far.

Dislike?

$200 for a single computer? Seriously, NI? At least give us a desktop and a laptop, minimum. Think about it. Some of us have a desktop computer for composing and a laptop for performing. I’m not asking to install it on 20 different computers. I just want to use it on my laptop without blowing your user agreement.

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