At Superbooth 2018, we visited the Audio Damage booth for a juicy preview of their new Quanta granular synth (see our video here), and we truly liked what we saw. The plugin was finally released last week and Todd, one of our collaborators, has been busy putting it through its paces. Let’s find out more about Quanta…
What Is Quanta?
In the simplest terms, granular synthesis takes an audio sample, slices it into tiny pieces (appropriately called “grains”), and spreads those grains in creative ways across the keys. The result in a synth that might best be described as resting somewhere between sampling and glitch-editing. Quanta is Audio Damage’s new 10-voice granular synthesizer for AU, AAX, VST, VST3, and (in 1 or 2 weeks) iOS formats.
With Quanta, Audio Damage has clearly endeavored to make granular synthesis more intuitive and accessible than ever before. Quanta is the result of months of development on the part of Audio Damage, and the company stated that it is proud of the effort in its early press releases for the product.
The developers’ admitted pride may very well be justified. On top of its granular synth capabilities, Quanta also sports a “sidecar” oscillator and a separate noise generator, both of which can be blended with the signal from the granular engine, or used independently for more traditional subtractive synthesis. Throw in two multi-mode filters and an intuitive modulation section, a simple user interface, presets from a handful of top sound designers, and Quanta may very well make the mildly intimidating concept of granular synthesis more user-friendly. Let’s see what Quanta can do.
The Source Sample is the Basis for Your Granular Sound
Following a quick and easy installation process, Quanta gets up and running with no fuss. There is a nice selection of sounds on which to build, including presets designed by Chris Carter, Joseph Fraoili, Marcus Fisher, and Richard Devine. The factory selection includes keys, pads, rhythmic patches, and somewhat more esoteric soundscape presets, alongside the artist patches. You can also import your own samples in AIFF, WAV, Ogg, FLAC, and MP3 formats to create your own patches. Adding a source file is a simple drag-and-drop routine in Quanta.
After you find your basic source sound, you can edit it with the “Grains” section in Quanta. This area of the GUI lets you adjust uniquely granular elements such as the number of grains (that is, the length of the slices), the direction of their alignment on the keyboard, and the overall grain shape. In this section you can also control the randomness of the grains and their tuning. With all these quite specific functions, this section is arguably the most powerful of any in Quanta, though it requires some degree of experimentation to wrap your head around. Of course, experimentation is what makes a virtual synth fun, isn’t it?
In addition to its granular faculties, Quanta lets you blend in the sounds of its lone oscillator and noise generator. The controls are straightforward enough, with a minimalist dial for the oscillator’s waveshape, tuning, fine tuning, pulse width, and level and equally intuitive controls for the noise generator. These sections of Quanta can be used independently from the granular engine, so users can tap into a range of traditional subtractive synth sounds with ease. The noise generator is fun simple, and especially good for adding simple percussive sounds to your sound.
Shaping Your Sound
In addition to the task-specific controls in the “Grains” section, Quanta offers plenty other options for shaping your sound. Modulation in Quanta comes courtesy of Audio Damage’s Flexible Envelope Generator (FEG). These controls allow you to either sync to your host’s tempo or shape your modulation’s parameters quite freely. Audio Damage’s FLFO (Flexible LFO), which debuted in the company’s Discord4 plug-in, reappears in Quanta. Its controls include SHAPE, SKEW, and WARP, all of which unlock vast sound-shaping possibilities.
A pair of multi-mode filters round out Quanta’s processing facilities, and they are as intuitive as any other part of this virtual instrument. Users have control over filter shape and filter type. These controls are very versatile and users will no doubt find them sonically tasty. One of the coolest features in Quanta is the “Matrix” screen, which allows you to easily modify nearly any parameter in Quanta using an appreciably simple method. Simply click on the box that corresponds to any parameter and drag the mouse to adjust the parameter.
When it comes to using Quanta to make music, the virtual instrument has a lot to offer. If you are new to granular synthesis, this instrument is an ideal starting point. It features a sexy GUI and enough useful presets to get you started, while making it not the least bit intimidating to import your own sounds for experimentation. Plus, it comes with an extensive modulation matrix and MPE (Midi Polyphonic Expression) support – one more reason to get an MPE controller, such as ROLI Seaboard Rise, Linnstrument, etc.
Quanta is a virtual synth that largely meets with its makers’ stated intention “to make granular synthesis as easy to understand and use as subtractive, and to make it as musical and playable as possible”. As someone for which subtractive synthesis and signal processing are well understood, yes, Quanta makes granular synthesis more intuitive and ultimately more usable than it has ever been before.
Is everything peachy? Well, while the plugin performed really well in Reaper and Ableton Live, we experienced some audio and MPE issues using Quanta with Apple’s Logic Pro X and Mainstage. We’re still waiting for some feedback from the Audio Damage team, but we’re confident these glitches will be fixed in the next update(s).
Quanta is currently on sale for $79 (reg. price $99). You can get it here. There is also a time-limited demo version. FYI: presets wh*res can download extra 36 atmospheric free presets for Quanta here on AudioBombs.
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