New Sonic Arts Granite Review: A Great Introduction To Granular Synthesis

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A ‘granular texture generator’, Granite was released by New Sonic Arts way back in 2011. It has been updated regularly since then and should now be considered mature. For those of you who haven’t met Granite, let me introduce you.

Granite comes as VST, AU and standalone, 32 and 64bit. The demo doesn’t drop out or make white noise stabs at your ears, it just won’t save or recall your presets.
Open Granite and it drones at you, in a clicky kind of way. You can set it up to sit there noising, or be triggered by a gate signal. In the full version, settings are remembered by the host, so if you reopen a project and gate is selected, Granite will be silent as a Victorian child in the coalhouse until you press play.

First impressions
Granite’s blue, grey and black interface is clear and concise. I can honestly say I have never had a headache looking at it. The GUI has a large waveform display across the top and a row of knobs across the middle divided by 4 tabs and a universal gate selector button. Below all this is a row of modulators for the knobs. The knobs also feature recordable modulation. It’s all well presented and makes sense pretty quickly. The preset browser opens and closes on a search button keeping things tidy when you’re not looking for something.

The presets
The factory presets show what Granite is capable of: clicky spaces, smooth and/or grainy drones and some really striking sweeps and swoops. The extra packs, Aura and Horror each consist of 150 surprisingly diverse sounds with additional samples, useable for soundtracking and game sound as well as electronic music. All presets are well programmed and at €29 a piece these packs expand the functionality of Granite for the preset user and show the way for those just setting out on their exploration of granular synthesis. You can also buy Granite bundled with the Aura pack for €89, which I think represents good value.

There is a cohesion to all the presets, and indeed any sounds you may come up with, and this is down to two things:
1: the modulation setup, which encourages the development of a certain ‘type’ of moving pads and textures. Most of the ‘traditional’ granular controls are there, it’s just that making them recordable makes sound design more fun. Much more expressive than having to automate from your DAW which, frankly, is boring and repetitive.
2: the reverb, which has a distinctive sound that coats everything in a glossy, deep sheen. It is very pleasant, even seductive, but worth switching off to see what is going on, or maybe trying one of your other reverbs.

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Almost everything you could wish for. There are Grain pitch, density, speed, attack, reverse and pan controls, each with individual LFOs and recordable automation. You can drop your samples from your DAW into Granite, set the loop area and record dragging the looped area around the display. All great and trouble free.
The master tab allows for setting retriggering on and off as well as amplitude shaping and velocity sensitivity.
The FX tab offers sample rate reduction, bit reduction and a multimode filter. Again, all with LFOs and recordable knobs.
The final tab gives access to That Reverb.

Granite grants easy access to granular worlds previously only available through Reaktor and other expensive tools. With an easy interface reminiscent of Reaktor’s Travelizer ensemble, Granite has that air of simplicity coupled with a sensible GUI that can result in a spectacular mix.
The only major ‘what it doesn’t do’ is sync samples to tempo and sync modulation to tempo and I wish in both cases that it would. Tempo sync would make this an absolute killer instrument as opposed to a very good product.
New Sonic Arts has not long released its Vice slicer, which I have only briefly looked at and a combination of the two would make me a very happy bunny.Granular soft synths are still relatively rare and accessible ones even more so. At €79 it could be seen as a little expensive, but there’s no competition and it is a high-quality product.

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