Liven XFM is a $199 groovebox for '80s fetishists

Sonicware's latest instrument features 'fusion' FM synthesis that lets you blend sounds to create new ones.


Sonicware first broke on the scene with the ELZ_1 a few years back — a portable multimode synth that’s seemed to draw inspiration from Teenage Engineering’s OP-1. Then last year it announced the Liven 8-Bit Warps, a looping synth with a collection of engines for creating your own chirpy chiptunes. Now, before it's even finished pushing Warps out the door, it’s already preparing to launch its next instrument the Liven XFM which, like many FM synths, should be able to shower you in waves of ‘80s nostalgia.

With this Liven becomes a full on platform rather than just a single synth. 8-Bit Warps and XFM share the same hardware and have a focus on hands-on controls for live performance. Where as Warps had a four track looper, the XFM has a proper four-track sequencer, this makes it better suited for composing complete tracks — hence the groovebox designation.

The sequencer itself is 64 steps, and you have have 128 different patterns and chain them together into complete arrangements. Plus a number of punch effects for live manipulation of your pattern, including stutter and randomization.

As for sounds, well, on paper it seems interesting, but actual sound samples and demos are hard to come by. The video embedded above, presumably features a song composed on the XFM, but that’s our only indication of what it actually sounds like.

There’s a library of 300 preset FM sounds on board. But you also have full access to the four-operator FM engine from the front panel with minimal menu diving. That should give you enough power to create everything from glassy pads, to classic ‘80s electric piano sounds, to plunky bass tones.

What makes the XFM unique though, is what it calls its “fusion FM” engines. Essentially these modes let you blend two different sounds to create new multitimbral sounds. X-Lab literally combines the sounds to create a new tone, X-Form morphs from one sound to another, while X-LFO cycles through two sounds continuously.

Again, on paper, it sounds interesting. And the price of $199 is tough to beat. But we’d probably hold off on hitting that preorder button until a few more demos and reviews start making the rounds.