Arturia Pigments Review: Painting With Sound

Pigments is Arturia's flagship new software synthesizer, and a true original in its sound and design. Noah Pred thinks it may just be the best instrument he's used in years...

Arturia have made a name for themselves with impressively faithful, largely sample-based virtual emulations of classic analog synthesizers. Having made further strides in recent years with analog keyboards and drum machines of their own, it was only a matter of time before they released a virtual instrument of their own design from the ground up. Despite their pedigree emulating vintage gear and recent forays into hardware, I must confess I was not prepared for just how innovative, well-conceived, and well-executed Pigments turned out to be.

Hundreds of well-organized presets provide a quick glimpse of this versatile synthesizer’s potential. Arranged by Type, Style, and Bank, and designed by a range of respected producers, each preset comes with a brief description – along with helpful tips for parameters to tweak to get the most out of each preset. You can easily Favorite presets, and for the truly compulsive organizers, add them to custom Playlists for grouped reference, accelerating workflow when focused on projects in, say, a specific genre.

The Pigments patch browser

The Pigments patch browser

At its core, Pigments is comprised of a pair of oscillator engines, both of which can be set to either Wavetable or Analog mode. The latter provides a trio of oscillators, selectable from sine, triangle, saw, or pulse, along with a dedicated noise oscillator that sweeps from red to white to blue noise. For added harmonic flexibility, hard sync can be enabled for oscillator 2, and frequency modulation can be applied to oscillators 1 and 2 from either oscillator 3, the noise generator, or a blend between the two. An analog Drift dial provides the sort of pitch inconsistencies typical of analog systems that might be in need of repair.

With the huge popularity of analog and modular synthesis, it’s no surprise that wavetable has become increasingly popular in the virtual synthesis realm, and Arturia takes full advantage with Pigments. Five Wavetable libraries come included: Building Waves, for more basic components; Natural, for organic recorded tones; Processed, for more digital sounds; Synthesizers, for classic emulations; and Transform, for wilder, untamed wavetables. Better yet, you can easily import any folder of WAV files to create your own wavetables, as Pigments sequentially reads out each WAV file as a series of adjacent oscillators that can be scanned via the Wavetable Position dial.

The Wavetable Engine visualized in 3D

The Wavetable Engine visualized in 3D

Sources

With your own custom source material – be it beats, vocals, or field recordings – the import feature alone makes Pigments an incredibly powerful creative tool. The Morph toggle allows smooth interpolation from one wave to the next, while a powerful Unison mode allows for all kinds of voice stacking – with a unique Chord mode to select specific Unison voicing rather than the conventional detune effect. Four dedicated Wavetable oscillator effects provide incredible flexibility at the core of any timbre, easily adding a variety of harmonics for punch and tone: Frequency Modulation, Phase Modulation, Phase Distortion, and Wavefolding. These are all controlled by a dedicated in-line Modulator oscillator, and the resulting transformations are perhaps best viewed in the 2D visualizer, while Wavetable Position adjustments are likely better observed in 3D mode.

The Wavetable Engine visualized in 2D

A pair of powerful filters take full advantage of Arturia’s impressive programming history, with filter circuits modelled on a number of significant past emulations reproduced here, along with some unique options to boot. MultiMode provides a standard complement of 6- to 36-pole LP, HP, BP, and Notch filters; SEM delivers a morphing filter; Matrix 12 delivers 7 filter types; Mini gives a driven LP; Surgeon is an option for more utilitarian purposes; Comb provides sweepable metallic harmonics; Phaser offers up to 12 poles; while the morphing Formant imposes flexible vocal characteristics as desired. Each oscillator can be routed to either filter or a blend of the two, while the two filters can be run in serial, parallel, or a blend of serial to parallel via the Filter Routing dial.

Pigments’ filters with routing adjustment mid-blend

Pigments’ filters with routing adjustment mid-blend

Powerful color-coded modulators dominate the bottom half of Pigments’ elegant and immaculately laid-out GUI. Keyboard functions, three Envelopes, three LFOs, three customizable Functions (much like customizable freelance LFOs – or Envelopes in one-shot mode), three separate Random generators (Turing, Sample & Hold, and Binary), two modular-inspired Combinators, and four Macro dials can easily be assigned to any parameter throughout Pigments that sports a ring around it.

A middle strip between the modulator editing area and the main parameters above show the active modulation sources with a real-time display of their activity; click on one and a color-coded ring appears to click and drag up or down on any parameter to apply it. In this mode, the middle modulator display section shows all current assignments of that modulator, where they can be creatively sidechained to another modulation source selectable from a drop-down menu, temporarily deactivated (a surprisingly helpful function), or deleted entirely.

"Noah Pred is a Canadian record producer, sound designer, technologist, DJ, and Ableton Certified Trainer living in Berlin, Germany. Releasing dozens of records and touring extensively since the '90s, he currently teaches a wide variety of techniques for stage and studio at the BIMM Institute. For more information, please visit: http://..." Read More

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