These VSTIs are different but complement each other really well. They are not synths in the traditional sense of the word, instead they are sampler based instruments.
On first impressions they may look a little daunting but actually the UI for both is excellently designed with a great work flow, it’s easy to find your way around the different sections and additionally colour coding is used to great extent.
That said, they both come with great presets so you can dive in straight away and get some great sounds whilst you learn to use them. They come with extensive samples and Glitchmachines also provide additional sample packs – some of which are free and excellent quality too – to further expand sound possibilities before you even start using other samples. The intro user videos are embedded below and explain how they work much better than I can. Walkthrough videos are also available.
Cataract is described as a ‘segment multiplexer’ but what it basically does is have 2 scanner modules each of which has 2 sample slots. Each scanner has EQ, filter and delay and morphs / blends between the 2 samples. What’s more, the real power lies in the extensive modulation, cross-modulation between scanner modules and automation options that cataract gives you. This means that you can use it to create quite subtle but complex rhythms or total glitched out madness.
One point to note is that you don’t play it like an instrument, instead you need to activate playback in your DAW and you’ll need to record the audio output to a separate track. This means that you could chop up the resulting audio and use parts / loop it as required rather than use the whole audio recording although to be honest I’ve only used whole recordings so far as I’ve been really happy with the produced sound and haven’t needed to meticulously edit the audio file.
The heart of the plugin is the scan section. This sets the rate at which the LFO cycles, the shape of the LFO wave and the number of segments for each sample slot in each scanner. There are also sync, loop and sequencing options available. The global section then allows you to pan and morph between samples as required and you can apply filter, delay and a basic EQ as required.
There are then 2 additional LFOs whose output can be sent to the modulation matrix section to control scan waveform / rate and/or ratio modulation waveform / rate and things start to get really crazy when you use the global ratio settings to use an LFO with depth, rate and waveform controls to adjust playback speed for both sample slots simultaneously.
There are also options to use ‘gen mode’ for most parameters which creates a random value when each segment is triggered so you get a really great evolving sound for when you want evolving textures.
When you use both sample scanners you then have all the same options for both modules which are colour coded to clearly show the different settings and the morph section is then used for cross-fade morphing and also has a cross modulation style LFO.
On top of that there are random options for the core and fx sections and most impressively a modulation sequencer which allows sequence modulation for every parameter apart from EQ.
I realise this makes it sound really complicated to use but honestly it’s not because the UI, workflow and colour coding make all this really easy to learn. It’s a very capable VST and the best way to see what it can do is dive right in, load a preset, adjust the settings and see what happens. To start learning how to use it from scratch, the user manual walks you through the basics, starting with the init patch loading 2 samples into 1 module. You then adjust scan rate, lfo and modulation then take it from there adding effects and further modulation options. For me there’s definitely as much of an art choosing samples which blend and morph together as well as using the functionality of the software.
This is demonstrated with the following track. It starts with a simple example using a tech house drum loop and bass loop from Function Loops which have been firstly layered together and then processed in Cataract with a fairly low level of processing. Hopefully you can hear the possibilities for creating interesting glitchy layers. I thought this would be how I mainly used Cataract but whilst it’s ok, it seems to work better if you load other types of samples and experiment a bit. The second and third examples in the track highlight this. I’ve then included another drum loop and bass loop and applied extreme modulation to show how much mangling Cataract can do:
Polygon works in a different way. At heart it’s a four slot sampler with play once, loop forward, loop backward and loop forward-backward options and pitch / amplitude control but that’s where comparisons to normal samplers end. Polygon also has a unique granulation option and what sets it apart is the extensive modulation options with 8 LFOs, 4 envelopes, 2 filters, metallizer, ringmod and stutter effects and a sub oscillator too.
Don’t get me wrong I love Cataract, but the more I use Polygon I realise that I love it more. It’s just amazing and I’m tending to use as my main ‘goto synth’. The possibilities really are endless and it’s easy enough to resample a traditional synth sound so that you can use it in Polygon if you need to. It’s so easy to use, load your samples, adjust amplitude, start / end points, attack and release, pitch; select which filter to send the sound to (lowpass, highpass, bypass etc); setup the effects and it sounds great already, but it really comes into its own once you use the modulation matrix. This means you can have really subtle variation in sound by subtly adjusting start / end loop points, granulation settings, filter cut-off / resonance, fx send or fx parameters. For instance if your filter cut-off is set to 60% you can use a slow rate LFO to modulate this subtly from 55 – 65% or you can go for extreme modulation from 0 – 100% with a higher rate LFO. Or even have another LFO modulating the one your using to modulate the cut-off filter or an envelope modulating one or both of these LFOs – and so on to your heart’s content.
Again there’s definitely an art in choosing samples, I’ve had some great results using vocals from the excellent Ivy Audio Clare Solo audio pack, organ samples, sound fx loops and granulating found percussion sounds. You can lock the pitch or scale the sound to play Polygon like an instrument which creates amazing bass drones and ambient soundscapes at 2 or 3 octaves lower than designed. Here are some examples I’ve created: