No, I don’t know what that means either. But there’s certainly a lot of weirdness going on with this Factory poly-synth from Sugar Bytes – at least in terms of their marketing. They have this really quite cool animated trailer video (below) which seems to suggest they’ve pulled different ideas from all over the world. They describe the sounds along the line of “bearded basslines go fishing for diamonds in a lake full of frogs”. What does it all mean? Or is it simply a rare case of hilarious Germans?
Let’s check out the specs to see if we can work out the guts of what they’re offering: You’ve got 2 x 10 oscillator engines with a sub and 5 colours of noise. These oscillators include 8-voice VA-Sync, FM, Transformer, Wavetable (6 flavours), Waveguide and Fractal synthesis. There’s 11 filter models which are matched to the oscillators (whatever that may mean). It has a morphing cross-fader to let you move between various parameters. A bunch of effects, an arpeggiator, intonation engine and scale quantizer. There are 4 sequencers with a load of motion curves which, surely, must do something interesting. Then the centrepiece is an 8 by 10 “Liquid” modulation matrix. Every new synth seems to come with a modulation matrix these days so I wonder what’s new and exciting about this one?
The specs look like an awful lot of synth. I wonder how penetrable it all is? I’ll download the demo and find out – ah, yeah, well I have no idea what’s going on but it’s sounding pretty epic.
The interface looks really nice – I’m a sucker for nicely rendered knobs – and it’s very clearly laid out. You’ve got two oscillators on the left, going through a little mixer where you can add some sub and noise which then pops through a filter with a nice big cut-off knob. It then hits the matrix which we’ll come back to in a minute. At the bottom you have four tabs of signal processing. The first is Modulators which contains 2 envelopes, 2 LFO’s and a Sample and Hold. Next is the 4 part sequencer with all these weird wave shapes. Next there’s “Arpiculation” which has some pitch and intonation action along with the arpeggiator. And finally a bank of effects. How hard could it be?
Getting into the details
The sound sources are comprehensive and instantly interesting once you’ve discovered how to initiate the patch. There’s a ton of wavetables in there nicely categorised and a bunch of samples for the Transformer which takes a slice as the starting point. You can drop in your own samples as well. Each oscillator has a couple of knobs relevant to the chosen type, like pulse width for the sync oscillators and wave and jitter for the wavetable. The 11 filter types leave room for some fun vowel, band and comb ones beyond the using high and low pass. The modulators are pretty self explanatory although I can’t work out what the second envelope is controlling. The Intonation is an interesting feature – it sort of puts expression into the start of the note, so a glide up or a wobble which gives it I guess an ethnic flavour. The reverb stands out as being pretty fabulous in the generally cool selection of useful effects that bring up the end of the signal chain. Right, onto the Matrix.
Enter the Matrix
It’s not so scary. You can specify 8 things up the side to control 10 things along the bottom. So you click and drag to increase the amount of LFO 1 going to Osc 1 first knob – blue is positive, pink is negative. All notes are processed individually when played so it’s not just modulating the output. There’s some sound mangling options in here called “Tweak” and “Mutate”. Tweak starts to smoothly modulate the modulation depths with a nice light show whereas Mutate throws in a load of random values just to mess things about. If you like randomness then there’s a couple of dice you can click on randomise the entire matrix.
Lastly there’s 4 tracks of 16 step sequencing available. Naturally it controls pitch, but via the matrix it can mess up a load of other stuff too. There are 30 step envelopes which can dictate the way each step behaves which produces some nice variations. However, I couldn’t for the life of me get the sequencer to sequence any notes – modulations via the matrix was no trouble but I couldn’t get it to play a note. I’m sure it must be possible.
Not to worry, though, as there’s a huge bunch of presets that give a really good indication of what it’s all about. Although they claim this is not a ‘preset clicking” synth, they go into pages and pages of detail about their preset system in the manual.
Sugar Bytes’ Factory is a fun and comprehensive synth with loads of sonic and modulating possibilities. They seem to approach it with a lot of humour which is no bad thing in my book. It is EUR 139 to buy for OSX and Windows in all the usual formats and there’s a 30 day demo version available on their website.
There’s loads more information on the Sugar Bytes website including some very fast talking videos on all the different sections.