Haven’t you guessed that yet, we are not talking on the casual samplers on this one. You can load whichever sound you want to Kontakt, Sampler (yes, I mean the good-old EXS24) or Sampler (the Ableton one), even Serum, and create unique playable instruments, sure. However, to keep things more spontaneous and inspiring, in this article I’ll focus on this sub-category of synthesizers that let you load your own samples/sounds as their oscillator (or kind-of) and instantly come up with playable sounds across the keyboard that no-one else has ever used.
Native Instruments FORM
“Transformative Sample-tracking Synthesizer” is how Native Instruments presents Reaktor’s FORM. FORM lets you transform your samples into anything you can imagine, extending sound design beyond traditional synthesis. By using its controls, its built-in filters and variant effects to create evolving, shifting, complex textures, investing some time in FORM can surely pay you back with the most unique, beautiful sounds.
iZotope Iris 2
Ever since its first version, iZotope’s Iris was, and still is my go-to whenever I want anything that has to do with evolving pads, background textures, or rhythmic backing artifacts. Synth textures, created using samples and/or oscillator-generated sounds – up to four of either, five LFO’s that can be mapped to pretty much any parameter, beautifully sounding effects that can be routed to process each sample individually or applied to affect the entire patch, are probably among the features that had NIN’s Alessandro Cortini claim that “(Iris 2 is)… one of the most interesting ways to play and modify samples and recordings”.
Try for free/get Iris 2 here.
Pigments feels so intuitive at times, it will actually leave you with great-sounding results with the least amount of thought and effort given. Its outcome may sound more “digital” than others in this article, even when driven through organic, analog recordings but sometimes this might be what your production actually needs. Making complex routing a fun thing to experiment with thanks to its unique interface, building new sounds based on mixing Pigments’ virtual analog and wavetable oscillators with a sample engine you can load your own sounds to warp and contort, can turn this one into your paradise if you love the process of crafting new sounds.
Slate + Ash CYCLES
I haven’t had the chance to play with CYCLES on its full extend yet. One can instantly tell though that it can definitely transform any given sound, particularly focusing in loops, to something completely different and previously unheard of and unused. It can simultaneously load up to 25 loops or samples, which the LOOPS and GRAINS engines can then manipulate and reinvent to taste, or they can be switched into any of the 100 preset states, transforming user samples instantly into a huge variety of sound designed textures and rhythms. For £270, it feels a bit on the expensive side though.
Quanta is a solid granular synthesizer which chooses to take its own path, focusing on giving the best out of granular synthesis, while keeping it enjoyable and creative. It combines the “grains” created from the loaded sample with an analog-ish oscillator that can be used from adding harmonic texture to the outcome to being radically and randomly transformed if driven through the granulator itself. Quanta may not feel like the only synth you’d need if you were to own just one but its open-minded approach can definitely breathe new life to your sounds’ collection.
From all-around, powerful synths, suitable for a wide range of approaches, like Pigments, to extremely creative tools that promise to leave you with previously unimaginable results (call me CYCLES), transformative sample-based synths are a tool that any producer should rely on, when in need for unconventional sounds, regardless the genre. There are many more sample manipulation tools around, from Output’s Arcade and Accusonus’ Rhythmiq down to Bigfishaudio’s free Momentum and countless others to experiment with, I just tried to focus on those that have a complete synth-feeling, right after dropping your own samples in.
Should you need inspirational sounds to start with, Intimate Noise’s collection of premium signature sample packs will offer that spark needed to start re-inventing your own sound.