by Diogo C
The scope: After nearly 20 years of experience developing software emulations of classic hardware such as the Jupiter 8, Moog Model D, Prophet 5 and others, Arturia finally presents an entirely new virtual synth. The company has also released a handful of analog synths that are entirely new designs, but on the software side they have always been doing basically what made it famous in the first place - and that is bringing vintage synths to our computers with a great level of quality and fidelity. Pigments marks a departure from that line of work, it’s a new enterprise even though it incorporates some of their past efforts.
Breaking it down: Pigments builds up a palette from two sound generators: an "analog" engine with three oscillators and a wavetable engine which breaks new synthesis ground for the company. These two engines can be freely configured, and we can choose to have two analog engines or two wavetable engines or one of each. The analog engine houses three oscillators with the usual sine, ramp, triangle and square with variable width for the last two. It’s all familiar ground for Arturia here, as these are the waveforms presents on basically all their virtual synths. In contrast to this basic analog engine is the wavetable engine, which brings a larger number of controls and can be get complex with phase distortion, wave folding along with frequency and phase modulation and a nice unison function that can even do chords. There’s a wealthy number of wavetables available, and importing your own is possible and straightforward with a function that lets the user import an entire folder. Pigments can work as a mono or poly synth with up to 32 voices if your computer can take it - lower voice settings are provided. Following the sound sources there are two filters, with 8 models to choose including classics such as the Moog “ladder” and the Oberheim SEM but also models like the “comb” and “surgeon” filters to cover all sorts of filter types. These filters can be set to run in series or in parallel and also anything in between, which makes them quite flexible. Next on the sound department is a effect section that presents a total of 13 processors, including EQ, compression, more filters, distortions and also the classic triad of synthesizer effects of chorus, delay and reverb.
Although its sound generation capabilities are vast and mighty, what makes Pigments stand out is its deep modulation options and most important its clever approach to modulation assignment. Pigments brings the usual envelope generators and LFOs (three of each) but it adds interesting and somewhat fresh elements such as the function generator and combination sections. It also covers all the basics modifiers such as velocity, aftertouch and four macros. The brilliance lies on how we assign modulation, which can be done in two ways: 1 - by clicking a “plus” sign next to each assignable parameter to open up all modulation sources with their respective amounts, like the “sends on fader” functionality present on many mixing consoles, or 2 - by clicking on each modulation tab and simply dragging a corresponding ring on each parameter, which is nearly identical to what Native Instruments Massive does.
Wrapping it all up, Pigments offers a very well organized preset browser that makes recall and storage of presets a breeze, a note sequencer and a well-featured arpeggiator with polyrhythmic and trigger probability, which is in line with the current crop of synths. MIDI implementation is very well executed as we can expect from veteran developers such as Arturia and the level of polish is overall very high, making Pigments a welcome addition that provides a breath of fresh air to their virtual synthesizer line. As someone who is currently bored with emulations I can only hope that it is the first of many original synths coming from Grenoble.
Sound quality: We can always argue about taste, but it’s impossible to deny that Pigment has everything it takes to be considered great sounding synth. Both the analog and wavetable engines are excellent sounding and all the filters options makes Pigments a strong contender in a crowded arena, which is an accomplishment on itself. However, I did find the effects to be a bit too bland or borderline boring, and to my eyes they are the weak link in the chain although they are definitely usable, not bad sounding by any means and are useful within the context of the synthesizer i.e. they can be modulated and turned into relevant building blocks of a patch. Nevertheless, it would be great to see a revamp on this effect section on a future update with the inclusion of more risky and wild effects.
Ease of use: Although Pigments is a complex piece with some considerable depth, it is a rather approachable synth that shouldn’t take long to master. We’re presented here with a clean interface that does a good job on organizing all parameters. Some might be favor a “all controls on screen” approach, but in my experience the current systems deployed on Pigments are efficient and shouldn’t present an obstacle to the workflow. What raises a few concerns here is the meaningful CPU load, as Pigments is not Behemoth-heavy but it’s far from being a lightweight and demands a decent computer. On both of my systems (Intel i7s from 2012-2014) it wasn’t possible to run many instances at once on a busy project, so I was sticking to one or two instances. Lowering the polyphony may help, but it’s not drastic as some might think and I’m hopeful that Arturia manages to improve the performance on future updates. Perhaps a low-CPU or “eco” mode could also be a possible solution for those moments when ultra-quality isn’t asked for. For the sake of comparison, Pigments is more or less on par with Ableton’s Wavetable, which is usually considered a resource-intensive synth. Back on the good side, the documentation and internal help system are absolutely stellar, the user manual is easily amongst the best I’ve ever seen on a plug-in and the onboard tutorial is a nice touch.
Features: A well-rounded synth and a highly capable instrument, with a great degree of flexibility. Two engines that are vast in their range of sounds, great set of filters, wealthy number of modulation sources, different routing options for effects, good note sequencer, efficient preset browser and clean GUI - it’s hard to complain about Pigments when it comes to features. However, to my eyes there are a few missed opportunities here, namely the lack of sequencers as modulation sequencers and as pointed earlier it lacks bold, more engaging effects. These are not game-breaking absences by any stretch and don’t take away from the fact that Pigments has an excellent set of features, but both could make it even better that it already is.
Bang for buck: Priced at $199 (MSRP) Pigments is inline with its two of its direct competitors from Native Instruments and XFer Records, which are priced at $149 and $189 respectively. There are other similar virtual synths out there offering wavetable synthesis such as the Waldorf Largo and Waves Codex, but Massive and Serum stand out to be the bigger names and obviously share the advantage of having a numerous user base and nearly infinite presets readily available since they have been around for such a long time. Arturia can put some work here and I’m sure they will, but they can only go so far and mostly on the preset department. If Pigments is picked up by the community or not remains to be seen, and a developing story that we can choose follow. If you’re a preset-dependent person or someone who relies on community advice or guidance these are factors worth considering before reaching for your pocket. It’s important to note that Arturia V-Collection owners are offered a substantial discount that depends on their version and that greatly facilitates the decision-making process, but even without such incentives this is a synth worth investing on if it checks the right boxes on your synth feature wishlist.
Recommended for electronic music producers, soft synth enthusiasts and producers looking for a versatile synth that serves both as a workhorse and as deep sound design tool.
- Excellent sound quality, with two powerful oscillators and a diverse set of filters.
- Interesting modulation options and clever approach to modulation assignment.
- Efficient interface that is both pleasant and efficient to work with.
- Great documentation, with a lengthy user manual, onboard tutorials and help system.
- Internal sequencers can’t be used as modulation sources.
- Effects are a bit too safe and bland, although useful in the greater context.
- Sequencers as modulation sources.
- CPU performance improvements.
- Effects that we will actually use - sorry my friends, couldn’t resist!
- A granular/sampler sound source could take Pigments even further...