Polymode is a plug-in and standalone software synthesizer inspired by the Moog Polymoog, a much-coveted classic and one of the first polyphonic synths ever devised. As well as recreating the operation of the hardware, Polymode adds a bunch of features that are only possible thanks to its software design. But more of this in a moment.
Polymode comes in all major plug-in formats and is very affordable - a regular price of $49 and at the time of writing, on sale for just $29. There’s also a 30-day demo available which periodically adds white noise, a common feature of demo versions. It uses a single-window interface and the window is resizable by dragging it from the corner, plus there’s a bunch of preset zoom levels you can select. The Settings menu lets you configure various behaviours like knob direction, preset location and more, and there’s extensive right-click support for MIDI learn across the whole interface.
The building blocks of sound are two Ranks, each with saw and pulse waves that can be used at the same time and both with FM and shape / mod controls. There’s an expanded Resonators section with extra LFO, 12/24dB slope and notch modes, a 24dB ladder-style filter and two extra LFOs with tempo sync and five available waveforms.
There’s 32-voice polyphony as well as a bunch of effects - phaser, ensemble, echo and reverb each with a set of controls - plus 9 recreated Mode filters and a Solina-style tri-chorus mode for extra richness. Modulation options are extensive, with most synthesis parameters able to be modulated from a range of other sources by clicking on a Mod Source button then choosing a source from the list. The Mod 1 and 2 sections can be easily tweaked to quickly create new shapes and rates. There’s also VCF and Amp envelope sections on the front panel for modulation.
You get over 150 presets that cover a relatively conventional set of bases stylistically. There’s a good selection of pads, bases, leads, brass, organs and the like as well as some sound FX. Of course the idea really is to tweak sounds to make them your own, or indeed start from scratch. A straightforward browser makes working with presets simple, and there’s a handy integrated floating MIDI keyboard for triggering sounds with the mouse, if you happen to be designing sounds on the move with no hardware keyboard available.
Polymode probably looks, at first glance, more complex to operate than it actually is once you have been using it for a short while. It’s well laid out, with sections clearly marked and helpful colour coding for different parameters - green for rate, yellow for amount, red for gain, blue for time and so on. The multiple voices and waveforms make it easy to create dynamic sounds using different tunings and octaves, and powerful modulation options mean that animating and livening up those signals gives you lots more options. The onboard effects have a pleasingly rich and retro quality to them, and the filters make everything sound nice and creamy if required. For rich Moog sounds and plenty of sound design options at a very affordable price, Polymode is well worth checking out.
Price: $49 regular price
Pros: Scalable interface. Great sound. Plenty of modulation options. Classic Polymoog character. Standalone version as well as plug-in. Easy sound tweaking. Depth of editing if you want it. The price.
Cons: Presets are arguably quite conventional in style.