When it comes to futuristic sound design, it's hard to ignore granular synthesis. The beauty of granular synthesis is that you can use it to manipulate just about any sound your heart desires to create fresh and exciting sounds that have never been heard before.
In essence, granular synthesis is a process wherein a sample is sliced up into microscopic "grains" before it is manipulated and rearranged to create an entirely new sound.
When you get creative with a high-quality granular synth, you can warp your samples into unique and unexpected textures that are far from recognizable.
Of course, with so many granular synth VST plugins on the market, the amount of trial and error you'd need to go through to find one that gels with your needs could be arduous. Luckily, we've put in the time and research to bring you the best granular synth VST plugins on the market today.
1. Glitchmachines - Palindrome
To start us off, let's look at Palindrome , a multi-layered granular synthesizer with a four sampler engine. What makes Palindrome so flexible is that each of the sampling engines is unique, using different granular sampling engineers to facilitate unusual morphing sounds.
The main grid section of the plugin allows users to create custom paths, which will determine the direction the playhead travels over time. The samples are then morphed together smoothly based on this user-defined path and blended together using Glitchmachines' one-of-a-kind bilinear interpolation algorithm.
To take it a step further, you can play around with the eight multi-breakpoint modulation envelopes, giving you more modulation options than you'd probably even know what to do with!
Beyond the above features, you get a number of factory presets to get you started, several shape presets, four-note polyphony, global reverb, a deep randomization engine, and a 1.4 GB library of samples, so you don't even have to do your own digging.
It's one of the most powerful sound sculpting tools on the market today.
2. Native Instruments - Form
Native Instruments offers one of the most flexible plugin platforms on the market today. Form can be used with Native Instruments Reaktor, and it works with the free version of Reaktor as well, meaning you won't have to pay extra to take advantage of its advanced capabilities.
While Form only allows you to use a single sound source at a time, the GUI is very user-friendly, and there are plenty of powerful sound design capabilities. The drag-and-drop design makes granular processing easier than ever before. You can create your own patches in a matter of seconds.
If you want to go down the path of endless tweaking and experimentation, you can do that as well. Under the "hood" of the plugin, you'll find a wide range of precise specs to create artificial movement with various amplitude curve presets. However, you can also dig in and create custom presets if you choose.
The additive synthesizer capabilities are what separate this plugin from other granular synths on our list. You'll find independent controls for pitch and formant, as well as a wide variety of FX parameters, giving you near-endless sculpting possibilities. Any modulation options that you tweak, you can save, allowing you to recall them whenever you load in another sound source.
If you're not someone who likes to work from scratch, you'll likely enjoy the more than 200 factory presets, which only come out to around 300 MB of storage space.
With a user-friendly design, a clear, organic sound, and a number of analog-like envelopes and controls, Form is a wonderful sample-based engine for producing modern electronic music.
3. Intertia Systems - Granulizer 2
Granulizer 2 is a magical granular synthesis engine, wonderful for creative sound design. The DSP engine is wildly versatile, delivering just about any sound you could dream up, from grainy fuzz to glitchy metallic crunch to canyon-like reverb.
The high-quality engine performs everything from spectrum manipulation to pitch-shifting to time-stretching and beyond. We love the onboard diffusion effect, which works splendidly for creating wide, drone-like sounds. There's also a handy little "magic" knob, which gives you control over the randomization factor of the plugin.
The interface of Granulizer 2 is far less complex than the original Granulizer plugin, allowing you to focus on the things that are most important to create new and interesting sounds more quickly.
One major update is the ability to sync the plugin with your DAW, as well as time out the delay time parameter and grain speed. Every move you make can be seen on the interactive waveform viewer in real-time. Plus, the zoom in and zoom out capabilities allow you to make smaller, more surgical changes with ease.
You'll find a wide range of built-in presets and effects to get you started with this unique plugin.
4. Spectrasonics - Omnisphere
If you've ever spent time before this browsing the internet for the best VST plugins, we guarantee you've come across Spectrasonic Omnisphere before. It's one of the most widely-used digital hybrid synths on the market, often used in game design and movie scoring.
Omnisphere offers one of the most powerful digital engines on the market, giving you endless possibilities. However, one thing we truly applaud it for is its granular synthesis engine. The factory library is absolutely enormous , and there are plenty of third-party developers adding their own sounds all the time.
With drag-and-drop granular synthesis capabilities, it offers an incredibly fast workflow. The new 2.0 version of the synth provides users with a new granular algorithm that you can control with a few simple knobs. For example, you'll find an "Intensify" knob that you can use to control the grittiness and glitchiness of the sound source.
While you can't control the morphing process, the automated effects are very convenient, great for beginner users who prefer a more expedited workflow.
If you want a synth that goes beyond the world of granular FX and sound design and into the realm of organic sound design with high-quality parameters and more than 14,000 different sounds, Omnisphere is one of the best options around.
5. Sound Guru - The Mangle
Though The Mangle might appear like your basic sampler right off the bat, it is actually one of the most musical-sounding granular synth VST plugins around. The main page of The Mangle provides a waveform viewer, which acts like a large XY pad. You can use the unique mouse trigger mode to morph your sounds by simply clicking and dragging. All it takes is changing your position along the X-axis to work with a different part of the sample or the Y-axis to add more amplitude.
When you multiply the morphing sound by eight, you get the sound of The Mangle. Having the ability to tempo sync the effects in this granular synthesizer to your DAW can be helpful in aiding the sound's musicality. You'll also find several pitch controls and scale options, which you can lock into to stay in key.
You'll also find plenty of effects baked into the plugin, including Reverse, Pan, Phase, Pulsewidth, and more. Though the plugin may seem simple at first with its clear user interface, it's one of the most versatile synths on this list.
6. Native Instruments - Straylight
Straylight from Native Instruments is a wildly unique plugin that provides cinematic granular timbres, perfect for music producers who work in television and film. While there are plenty of incredible presets to get you started, you can import your own samples with the intuitive drag-and-drop features.
Whether you're looking to create transitions, cinematic soundscapes, or ambient tones in real-time, the Straylight VST is the ideal plugin. You get specialized grain and playback modules, an X-Y modulation matrix, and carefully captured sound sources on par with other Native Instruments plugins.
Whether you're making gritty thriller underscores or stellar sci-fi sound design, you'll surely enjoy everything this sample-based granular synthesizer plugin has to offer.
7. Audio Damage - Quanta 2
Audio Damage recently updated its famed Quanta plugin to deliver a modernized granular synthesis engine with clear, concise panels and a sleek, user-accommodating look.
The matrix mod design on the first version of the plugin was replaced with right-click context menus found in other Audio Damage plugins, and each control has indicators to make it clear which modulation points they are impacting. Even beginners won't feel lost trying to navigate the ins and outs of this plugin.
You get an additional VA oscillator instead of just one. This gives you the added flexibility to use a single sample in multiple ways to create three-dimensional sounds. Send a single oscillator to the sub-bass channel or pass one through the glitchy granular engine while keeping the other clean.
We love that the plugin has integrated root note detection. It works really well, so you don't have to manually assign your notes to your MIDI keyboard.
You'll also find grain pitch quantization, which works post-modulation to tune your notes to any scale that you choose. There are so many different scale presets to choose from, giving you a world of possibilities.
Beyond the granular engine, you'll find a wide range of effects, including a chorus effect, a stereo delay effect, and a crisp reverb effect.
Quanta 2 is one of the best granular synth VSTs out there for music producers who want to create unique instruments and sounds in a pinch.
8. Glitchmachines - Polygon
We know what you're thinking,
Didn't we already go over a Glitchmachines granular synth that looks JUST like this?
While Polygon might be similar to Palindrome in many ways, the approach which both of these granular synthesizers take is totally different. While Palindrome is all about the visual aspect of creating granular sounds, Polygon is more about the functional aspect.
Just about any modulation parameter or feature that you could dream up has its own control. Luckily, the interface is scalable, allowing you to dig in and actually see what features you're controlling as you move through its functionality.
Like Palindrome, Polygon has four sample sources, as well as drag-and-drop functionality and FM capabilities. However, to control the granular processing on this synth, you use simple controller knobs rather than visual parameters.
Overall, it's a wonderful granular synthesis engine that you can use to make weird and wacky sounds for experimental music or film. With a vast range of built-in effects and modulation options, you'll never feel lacking in creativity.
9. MeldaProduction - MGranularMB
For a simple, low-price plugin, MGranularMB from Melda Production is one of the most flexible granular synthesizer VST plugins on the market. Like most of the other granular plugins on this list, it follows the same main principle of dividing samples or sound sources up into small grains to create new and unique sounds.
We love the dual interface, one page of which allows you to quickly import sounds and samples and adjust them to your needs. The other page provides more advanced granular FX settings to modulate your sounds and make them sound more engaging.
You'll find four modulation settings with a wide range of controllable parameters. Game audio designers and film composers love the synth, thanks to its eight-channel simultaneous processing capabilities, which allow you to process in mono, stereo, mid, or side.
With one click, you can generate completely random sounds, which can be helpful if you're stuck in a creative pickle.
One of the best things about this granular synthesis VST is that it comes with MIDI learning capabilities. You can assign each of the parameters in this plugin to your MIDI controller, automating them for near-endless creative possibilities. Whether you want to let your sounds evolve over the course of your composition or create moving soundscapes that flutter and glitch throughout, the MIDI capabilities make it possible.
While MGranularMB is a granular synth through and through, it has a fairly analog sound. There are many times I find myself using this to get a vintage feel from my samples.
To get you started, you have a wide range of built-in factory presets, as well as a number of server-stored presets you can use when you're online.
10. Hvoya Audio - Ribs
Ribs is one of the more interesting granular synths on our list. The design is dense and complex, great for those who are well-versed in the world of granular synthesis already. However, because of its complexity, it's able to drum up some of the most mind-boggling, otherworldly sounds that you can want as an experimental music producer.
You'll need to catch up with mathematical terminology to truly take advantage of Ribs, as many of the parameters are named after mathematical theories on which the foundation of granular synthesis was built.
For example, you'll find a λ dial, which is the wavelength symbol in traditional mathematics. You'll also find a grain length ratio matric, which looks like a complex mathematical diagram that you can use to synchronize gain properties.
However, if you consider yourself a granular synthesis expert, this mind-blowing synth will give you a run for your money (it's free, by the way), all thanks to its myriad of controls for sound-transforming music production. We haven't found a free granular synth that allows for this level of precise control.
11. Image-Line - Fruity Granulizer
If you're looking for the most basic free granular synth out there, we recommend checking out Fruity Granulizer . With an easy-to-use, intuitive user interface, you can get ideas sketched out quite quickly. If you're already familiar with the Fruity Loops environment, then the interface shouldn't be difficult to get used to.
Fruity Loops integrated the Fruity Arpeggiator into this free granular synth, allowing for more rhythmic and melodic effects. You'll also find a wide range of sample stretching algorithms, standard filters, delays, and ADSR envelopes, which you could expect to find on the FL Studio Sampler.
If you're a first-time granular synthesis user, you'll enjoy unlocking the different capabilities Fruity Granulizer can add to your music production.
12. Stone Voices - PolyGAS
PolyGAS , which stands for Polyphonic Granular Advanced Synthesizer, is an in-depth granular synth VST with an infinite number of sound design possibilities baked in. Considering the fact that it is a free granular synth VST , you get plenty of versatility.
Beyond the granular synthesis engine, you have 18 envelopes with a wide range of musical controls. Each of these envelopes comes with 40 nodes, helping to keep your sounds in motion, so nothing ever feels lifeless or static.
You can use these nodes to modulate everything from your grain parameters to the wide range of built-in effects that come with this granular synth. The distortion effects in this granular engine, in particular, sound fantastic. The results that you can get from this granular synth are very musical and melodic compared to some other granular synths, which often sound glitchy on default.
You'll find plenty of presets to get you started, including rhythmic plucks and vocal-like synth patches, many of which don't take you too far from your original sample to keep things recognizable.
PolyGAS offers 32-part polyphony, meaning your sounds will never feel like they're standing still. You can get as experimental as your heart desires with a plethora of unique sounds and samples.
13. Ableton Live - Granulator II
If you already use Ableton, you'll be happy to know that you have a stock granular synthesis VST in your stock plugin bundle. The Granulator II plugin within Max4Live. As with the other VST plugins listed above, you can use Granulator II to create your own pads, textures, and atmospheres. There are plenty of controls on the streamlined interface, allowing you to tweak and manipulate the size, envelope, modulation, and behavior of your samples.
While it's certainly not anything outside the box of your standard granular synthesis engine, it's an excellent free plugin that comes with Ableton and uses very little CPU.
Using Granular Synthesis In Your Music Production
On just about any granular synth out there, you'll find a wide range of knobs and parameters. For new users, these large control sets can feel extremely overwhelming. The good thing is that there are a few standard controls you can focus on to get started.
Note that while these controls might have different names for different functions, you'll likely find these parameters on most granular synths.
Let's take a look at some of the main parameters you should focus on when using a granular synthesizer.
This control is often either titled "grain size" or "duration" and refers to the length of the individual grains the system chops your samples into. Typically, the length is measured in Hz or milliseconds.
When working in Hz, the smaller the number, the longer the grain size. The opposite is true for ms.
A shorter grain size will make your sound glitchier, while a longer grain size will make the sounds bleed into one another. If you're making ambient FX or pads, you're better off going with long size.
The rate parameter is often referred to as the "shape" or "grain spacing."
Beyond the size of the grain, you want to consider the gap between the grains. With the rate control, you can determine how smooth the granular sounds are. The more overlap you have, the smoother the sound will be. The larger the gaps, the grainier the sound will be.
You'll often have controls that you can pair with the rate parameter to make the edges of these gaps smoother or spikier. These controls are very similar to what you'd find in a tremolo effect, moving from a smoother, sine wave-like effect to a sharper, square wave-like effect.
The position parameter is often referred to as the "start time" of the sample. Changing the start time of the sample can drastically alter the sound of your granular synth.
Let's say that you're using a vocal sample. At one point in the sample, the vocal might have more of an "oo" sound. When you move a little further into the sample, however, it might have more of an "ah" sound.
The position tells you which part of the sample you want to start on and effect.
The pitch control is pretty self-explanatory, as it allows you to change the pitch of your sample. You may even get some additional pitch options, including scale, fine, formant, and more.
Be aware that depending on the granular synth VST you use, the pitch of the sample may not align with the MIDI notes you play. Most granular synth VSTs allow you to manually align your pitch, while others automatically do it for you.
Having a reverse control can be helpful when making creative decisions, as it allows you to play the selected version of your sample backward instead of forward. This control is wonderful for those otherworldly reverse textures.
Enhance Your Sonic Possibilities
With some of the granular synthesizers above in your plugin arsenal, you'll have a fresh and unique way to create digital textures and sounds to add to your production.
Many music producers turn to granular synthesizers when they're tired of the complexities of FM synthesis or the limitations of analog. With granular plugins, the sonic possibilities feel nearly endless.