Review: Polyverse Manipulator

Time to see what Alan Branch makes of this new vocal transforming processor.

Polyverse Music, in collaboration with electronica production/artist duo Infected Mushroom has taken the magic of granular synthesis and developed it into every audio manipulation angle possible with its new Manipulator plugin. Used either live or in the studio, Manipulator is a powerful melodic and texture warping tool, ready to bend, twist, and separate instruments or vocals.

The Manipulator GUI has a dark neon theme, and here it’s well laid out and surely made with live performance in mind as the colours and sections are easy to see at a glance. Three large main encoder-style algortihms marked Pitch, Harmonics and Alternator break down into subset controllers.

Pitch is a granular pitch shifter with a separate Formant control and a +/- two octave sweep marked into semitones. Incoming monophonic audio can easily be pitched in real-time, whilst the Formant is used to change the timbre. There is a tiny micro slider between the Pitch and Formant dials that would be easy to miss, but this is a valuable Smooth Grains control to help fill gaps that sound too separated at low pitches. It’s important to remember that Manipulator has a pitch detection range – Hi ,Mid and Low – much like Antares Autotune; this helps it recognise what pitch the incoming audio is, so Low for bassy voices and Hi for sopranos. It could be any audio as long as it’s monophonic.

The central Harmonics algorithm is offset with Ratio and FM dial controls, which enable you to shift around the harmonic order while adding frequency modulation. Polyverse calls this a “pitch tracking frequency shifter”, with +/- four harmonic steps to change the level of the harmonics from one to another set by the Ratio control, so the harmonics shifts can be changed into whole, half or variable harmonic shifts, giving a lot of timbre choices. Added to this is the FM controller to provide an amount of frequency modulation to the frequency shifter. Using this section is where some of the creative sound sculpturing can reach into the extremes – robotic, growling voices etc.

The Alternator changes the pitch intervals between grain cycles, and this is supplemented by an Octave control. Here we get another dimension to the sound by splitting the grain cycles tracking the pitch into alternative pitch intervals, so one goes up and the other down, and modulating with an Octave control will change the grain cycle length by up to eight octaves. The incoming pitch of the audio designates the grain cycle length, so lower notes have longer cycles. It’s hard to describe this effect but it’s most useful when modulating in real time, so the grains are either building up or slowing down, like an extreme tremolo effect.

To help support these algorithms are three effects: Smear, Stereo and Detune. These are neatly featured underneath the main controller dials, and look like mini swipeable harp controllers. Smear is a fabulous glitch tool, sampling and looping incoming audio into the Manipulator; Stereo is a width tool for adjusting the soundscape output while retaining phase coherence for mono compatibility; and with the Detune function, five slow granular pitch shifters and delays help create a stereo synth effect/chorus.

Some of the real power of Manipulator comes in its MIDI functionality; incoming MIDI is set via four modes: Off, Mono, Poly and Gated – Mono being a single voice, Poly four voices and using Gated means Manipulator is only triggered when notes are played. There is also a simple Glide portamento control as well as MIDI-only Glide mode to trigger smoothing only when notes are playing.

Underneath the main controller dials are four square modulator slots: Meta Knob, MIDI, Sequncer, Follower and an ADSR, which can be loaded with various modulators. These modulators can be slotted and mapped to multiple controls in Manipulator’s main parameters. Each one is shown as five colour-coded dots around the main controls separated into +/-25% segments. These modulators enable a full synth-style control of Manipulator – Meta Knobs can be assigned to several parameters at once, for example simply raising pitch via a modwheel or controlling other modulators. The possibilities are huge with the modulators, all of which can be powered on or off.

In Use

The nature of Manipulator leads itself to experimentation, and I did struggle at first to find material it might fit, however once I brought up a track that was still in the writing process, Manipulator came into its own, as creating new sounds and effects can be inspirational and inventive. It’s the type of plugin that can be used to make tiny pitch adjustments, create triggered pitched backing vocals, vocoder-style effects, right through to crazy transformations to any melodic audio and all in real time.

I can see an EDM producer loving this, a live artist could have incredible fun, but I can also see sound designers and creative music makers searching for something unique to add to their music making toolset, as Manipulator is quite different to anything that’s gone before it.

Key Features

  • Create harmonies with up to four polyphonic voices
  • Ten different effects with ‘endless’ combinations
  • Extensive modulation capabilities
  • Real-time processing for live performance
  • Supports VST, AU and AAX plug-in formats

RRP: $149

Alan Branch is a freelance engineer/producer. His list of credits include Jamiroquai, Beverley Knight, M People, Simply Red, Depeche Mode, Shed 7, Sinead O’ Connor and Bjork.