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