6 Best Granular Synths Of All Time (Paid and Free Options)

Last updated:
Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • Granular synthesis is great for sound designers, film composers, and electronic musicians.
  • We look at the best paid and free granular synthesizers!

Granular synthesis is an invaluable tool for sound design. It allows you to manipulate any sound in many new and exciting ways.

Briefly, granular synthesis is the process of slicing up a sample into tiny “grains”, then manipulating and rearranging them into a new sound.

It has the capability to warp even the most simple samples into completely unrecognizable, unexpected textures. For more details on how this works, you can read our guide to granular synthesis here.

The problem when approaching granular synthesis is there are too many granular synths to choose from. In this article, I’ll sort through the best ones on the market.

What Are The Best Granular Synthesizers?

The best paid granular synthesizers are:

The best free granular synthesizers are:

Portal by Output

Portal By Output

With PORTAL, granular synthesis takes your sounds to another dimension. Easily alter any audio input – VSTs, drums, vocals, live guitar, you name it – in a new and musical way.

Why We Love It:
  • Sleek and sci-fi UI
  • A multitude of powerful presets
Check Price On Output

Overview

Technically Portal is not a granular synthesizer but rather a granular effect, but I’ll let that slide because of how cool it sounds and looks. Due to the sample-based nature of granular synthesis, using granular effects yields very similar results to granular VSTi synths anyway.

The first thing to note is its incredible UI, which is simple and futuristically stylized. Two macros control an array of functions, which can also be tweaked by advanced users.

This design recalls Output’s other synthesizers like Analog Strings, which also uses a few sleek macros to modulate a rich sound.

Beyond the typical granular controls, there are 7 built-in effects modules, which combine to create all types of sounds.

The built-in presets attest to its stunning range, and they are sorted into categories by instrument sounds (like “vocals”) and characteristics (like “glitchy”).

So without prohibiting advanced experimentation, Portal allows for a degree of predictability via categorization; this is particularly valuable given how unpredictable granular synthesis can be. portal presets

Features

  • X/Y control pad
  • 7 built-in effects modules
  • Scale Quantization

Pros

  • Sleek and sci-fi UI
  • Premapped X/Y pad and dry/wet controls provide maximum modulation effects with minimal effort
  • A multitude of powerful presets that can be used on all types of sound sources

Cons

  • Expensive

The Mangle by Sound Guru

Sound Guru: The Mangle - Granular Synthesizer Plugin

Stretch out rich harmonics from acoustic sounds. Turn field recordings into ambient soundscapes. Or bring in synth sounds to be shredded, exploded, and recombined with intricate patterns and cloud effects.

Why We Love It:
  • Cheap!
  • Sequencers allow for complex variations
View on Sound Guru

Overview

What appears to be a rather bland sampler is actually a multi-timbral granular synth, with surprisingly musical results.

The Mangle’s main page consists of a waveform viewer. But this waveform viewer also acts as a large X/Y pad.

A fun feature is the mouse trigger mode, in which you can click and drag to create morphing sounds, changing the sample position along the X-axis and the amplitude on the Y-axis.

Now imagine this morphing sound stacked atop itself eight times, and you’ve got The Mangle. Yes, you can use 8 different samples at the same time!

To aid the musicality of your experimentation, you can both tempo sync the grains and specify different scales for the pitch controls, meaning you can experiment at will, while staying on beat and in key.

Features:

  • Tempo synced grain functions
  • 8 simultaneous samples
  • 4 sequencers per voice, for a total of 32 sequencers

Pros:

  • Cheap! Only $27
  • Mouse mode allows you to create new textures with the swipe of the cursor
  • Multi-timbre sounds with even more complex variations enabled by the sequencers.

Cons

  • Small collection of presets

Palindrome by Glitchmachines

Palindrome – Glitchmachines

With its 4 granular samplers, morph-plotting system, 8 multi-breakpoint modulation envelopes, dual effects processors per sampler, shape presets, 4-note polyphony, deep randomization system, global reverb, 1.4GB sample library and numerous factory presets, Palindrome brings sound designers a powerful new sound sculpting tool.

Why We Love It:
  • 1.4 GB Sample Library and 70+ Presets
  • Speedy sound design process
View Price on Glitchmachines

Overview

Palindrome is a multi-layered granular synth with four samplers built-in.

Each of these samplers on its own is not that unique. However, they are combined in a special morph plotting system, which takes center stage in the UI.

 

What seems like a regular X/Y pad is actually a grid that interpolates the 4 samples onto a usable controller!

Users can pick up to 16 points along this plotting system, and the sound will morph into each point, making different granular samplers audible in succession.

To make things even more complex, the speed of the morphing can be changed and modulated by a fully customizable envelope, which comes with path presets as well.

This is all a bit heady and technical, but its resultant sound is undeniable. Palindrome produces aggressive sounds perfect for electronic musicians.

 

Features

  • 4 granular samplers
  • Morph plotting system
  • 8 modulation envelopes
  • 2 FX modules per sampler

Pros

  • Unique morph plotting system that can be launched in loop mode or one-shot
  • Comes with a 1.4 GB Sample Library and 70+ Presets
  • Path shape presets speed up your sound design process when using original samples

Cons

  • A bit difficult to understand the morphing system

PolyGAS by Stone Voices

Stone Voices - PolyGAS Granular Synthesizer

PolyGAS (Polyphonic Granular Advanced Synthesizer) is a virtual synthesizer based on a granular method of sound synthesis, opening up thousands of sound shaping possibilities.

Why We Love It:
  • A strong suite of built-in effects
  • Versatile
  • Free
View on Stone Voices

Overview

PolyGAS is a granular synth that has a lot built into it, especially for a free instrument. Beyond its granular synthesizer, it has 18 envelopes to modulate a variety of controls, each with 40 nodes so your sound will never become static.

These can modulate grain parameters, but they can also work with the large array of built-in FX that come with the synth, which includes 11 different distortion types.

 

The resulting sound is unexpectedly melodic compared to some of the glitchy noises that often come from granular synthesizers – at least that’s how it sounds on the default settings.

The presets it comes with are mainly vocal-like synths and rhythmic plucks, and they are not so far removed from their original samples so as to be unrecognizable.

With 32-part polyphony, PolyGAS allows any sample to be turned into a versatile synthesizer that never stands still. However, this does not preclude it from making more experimental sounds with the right samples and settings.

(You might also know GAS as Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or the uncontrollable urge to hoard music gear. We explore this phenomenon in Gear Acquisition Syndrome: Confessions Of A Compulsive Gear Head.)

Features

  • 40 node envelopes
  • 11 distortion types
  • Randomization controls
  • 32 part polyphony

Pros

  • A strong suite of built-in effects
  • Randomizers on almost all controllers prevent any sound from being too static
  • Polyphony options make it a versatile instrument and not just a sound effect
  • Free!

Cons

  • Mediocre interface and layout

Ribs by Hyova

Ribs by hvoya audio

Ribs is a powerful granular FX/synth that provides detailed control over its granular engine. You can glitch, scratch, filter, destroy and reconstruct sounds in many different ways!

Why We Love It:
  • Incredibly unique sound warping features
  • Allows precise control
  • Free
View on hyova audio

Overview

This is the most interesting granular synth on the list. On one hand, it’s the most unintuitive, densely designed virtual instrument…

…on the other hand, its complexity serves up mind-boggling, unique sounds that even experimental artist Oneohtrix Point Never would appreciate.

 

To use Ribs, you need to learn a whole new set of terminology, much of it relating directly to the mathematical theories on which granular synthesis was conceived.

There is, for instance, a dial for λ, which is the traditional math symbol for wavelength. The grain length ratio matrix, which synchronizes grain properties, is also formulated like a math diagram.

 

But for those who are up to the task, this synth will blow your mind with how many controls its packed in that completely transform the sound.

Features

  • 3 performance modes: notes, beats, simple
  • 32 voices, known as buffers
  • Grain length ratio matrix

Pros

  • Incredibly unique sound warping features
  • Precise control over grains and other variables, often beat-synced for musicality
  • Simple mode allows for vinyl scratching effects
  • Free (or suggested donation)

Cons

  • Difficult to understand and use
  • Hard to recreate and save sounds

Fruity Loops Granulizer

Fruity Granulizer

Fruity Granulizer is a sample-based plugin that utilizes granular synthesis in an easy and straightforward way.

Why We Love It:
  • Easy and quick to use
  • Useful transient detection feature
View on Image Line

Overview

Here you’ll find a granular synth at its most basic, which makes it extremely intuitive and easy to use. More importantly, that makes it fast, which is good when you need to put down an idea quickly.

But it’s also good to understand that the Fruity Granulizer is just one cog in the larger Fruity Loops environment, which is built right into this humble synthesizer.

 

That means Fruity’s arpeggiator is smoothly integrated, which can provide melodic and rhythmic effects.

After that, there are the standard filters, time sample stretching algorithms, and ADSR envelopes and delays that you can also find on FL’s Sampler instrument.

Any producer familiar with the FL Studio environment should have no problem jumping into granular synthesis with this VST.

It’s simple but it still unlocks the potential of granular synthesis and makes it easy for the first-time user.

 

Features

  • Standard and familiar grain manipulation features
  • Panning effects
  • Built-in arpeggiator
  • Transient grain selection
  • Free

Pros

  • Transient detection allows for chopping of drum loops
  • Easy and quick to use
  • Built into Fruity Loops standard arpeggiator, filter, and delay

Cons

  • Not many advanced grain manipulation features