If you are looking for an Ableton Operator alternative then this article is for you!
We will look through a few different options, both paid and free, and decide which of them stack up to the functionality and usability of Operator.
Without further ado, let’s jump straight in.
What does Ableton’s Operator do?
Ableton’s Operator utilizes a specific type of synthesis called FM (Frequency Modulation), which involves the modulation of one waveform by another.
This may sound like a relatively simple premise. Still, when utilized within a capable FM synth such as Operator, it can create a virtually unlimited amount of unique sounds for you to play with.
Now you know what Operator does; let’s look at some of the best alternatives.
Native Instruments FM8
If you have looked into FM synthesis, you will have likely come across this plugin before. Widely regarded as one of, if not the best all-round FM VST currently on the market, FM8 includes all the functionality you could dream of.
FM8 shines in its functionality, going truly above and beyond just your average FM synthesizer. This includes six oscillators, an intuitive FM matrix, built-in effects, and arpeggiator modules, and the ability to assign envelopes to a great variety of parameters within the plugin.
Within each of the six oscillators, you also gain access to a varied wavetable selection that really opens up the sound design possibilities within this VST plugin.
For those looking for presets, FM8 has you covered in this department with a massive collection of preset synth patches ready for you to use and play around with.
With FM8, the top tier functionality comes at a slight trade-off for slightly less usability out the gate, especially those starting in music production or FM synthesis.
Although being a great way of visualizing the processes you are manipulating, the FM matrix can be slightly overwhelming upon first use. This is a slight issue as this is the main area where you will be changing the sound.
However, if you stick out the slightly steep learning curve, it becomes intuitive over time.
With that said, FM8 is one of the best options out there as an Ableton Operator alternative. It is offering better functionality within the plugin at the price of a slightly steeper learning curve.
Arturia DX7 V
In the 1980s, Yamaha released one of the most widely known synthesizers ever created, the DX7.
This synthesizer also happened to be FM-based, and there have since been many attempts at digitally recreating the DX7 for use inside your DAW.
Arguably the best recreation has come from Arturia, who has a knack of faithfully reproducing vintage music equipment for the digital age in the form of their VST range.
DX7 V Functionality
When you first load up the DX7 V by Arturia, you may be fooled into thinking that it is simply a recreation of the original Yamaha synth. However, this is definitely not the case, as once you click on the editor window tab, you will be greeted with a fully-fledged modern FM VST.
This includes six oscillators, pitch envelopes, LFO tools, and step sequencing. You will also find a collection of powerful built-in FX, such as reverb, delay, a compressor, and more.
There are no punches pulled here, which elevates this plugin far above just another DX7 recreation.
DX7 V Usability
Having both a simple and complex viewing mode allows for an outstanding level of accessibility. With the standard view, you can manipulate the most important parameters without being overwhelmed by options.
In contrast, the editor mode allows for users to really get under the hood of the DX7.
Other user-friendly features include a robust preset browser and color-coded oscillators and parameters.
Overall, the Arturia DX7 V finds a perfect balance between functionality and usability for new producers looking to get into FM synthesis or more experienced ones looking for a complete package.
This is definitely one to be considered when looking at Ableton operator alternatives.
In terms of free FM synthesis offerings, there is a variety to choose from, but Dexed is commonly regarded as one of the better choices out there currently.
Again, this synth is based on the Yamaha DX7 (a common theme with free FM synths), but it offers the user many options beyond what you might expect from a free offering.
As with the other FM synthesizers on this list, Dexed features six oscillators, each with its own set of customizable parameters. This included everything you would expect to see, such as pitch and assignable envelopes.
In addition, you also get access to an FM matrix similar to those found in FM8 and the DX7 V.
You do miss out on some of the additional functionality offered by the other paid alternatives, such as the built-in FX and arpeggiators. Still, apart from that, Dexed features everything you need for effective FM synthesis.
Potentially the most significant aspect of the Dexed synthesizer is the unbelievable amount of free synth patches you can find on the internet for it, which truly makes this a great option. This happens to include all of the original DX7 patches found on the original synth for those looking to relive the 80’s.
You could quickly rack up tens of thousands of presets made by other Dexed users and build up a substantial library of FM synthesized sounds to use in your productions.
Unfortunately, Dexed does fall somewhat short in the usability department, especially when compared to the other offerings in this article.
The user interface is less aesthetically appealing than the other competitors, and it will take some time to get used to the workflow when using it.
Luckily there are some excellent tutorials around that can help you get going with Dexed, such as this one:
Dexed does exactly what you want an FM synthesizer to do. While it may be somewhat lacking in some areas, the fact that you can so easily find thousands of free user-made presets makes it worth the recommendation alone.
Definitely have a look into this one as an alternative to Ableton’s Operator VST.
What is a VST?
VST stands for virtual studio technology and can also be referred to as plugins.
What is FM synthesis?
FM synthesis is short for frequency modulation and involves one more waveform modulating (effecting) each other.
Does Ableton standard edition have Operator?
Operator only comes standard with Ableton suite edition but can be purchased separately.
What makes Ableton plugins good?
Mainly their combination of function and usability
Is Ableton worth it for its stock plugins?
Most DAWs have their own stock plugins, so which ones you like comes down to personal preference.
Why is Serum not on this list?
Whilst Serum does feature FM capabilities; this article has focused on strictly FM-based plugins.
How do I know which DAW I want to use?
You can find demo versions of most DAWs on their respective websites, try them out and see which you like most.
Is FM synthesis more effective than other types?
FM synthesis is great at yielding detailed and unpredictable sounds, but all types of synthesis have their pros and cons.
Do other DAWs come with FM synthesizers?
Most of the popular DAWs of choice will have a stock version of an FM plugin, but it is worth researching whether or not you should look for alternatives.
about the author
Hi, I’m Max, a passionate UK-based electronic music producer, and audio engineer.
I have now been making music for around 6 years.
Over this time, I have developed a deep passion and understanding of various musical styles and genres, along with the different production techniques that separate them from one another.
In addition, I have also recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in electronic music production from dBs Sound & Music Institute.