Polyend Play looks like beauty in simplicity – for utterly fast grid-based music making

A grid, sequencing, standalone operation – Polyend’s new Play, previewed at Superbooth, now looks like a familiar concept. But what makes Play look worth considering is right there in the name: fun and immediacy are the focus.

And this might even be my pick of Superbooth ’22 – really.

Play, planned for US$799 retail, is really all about rapid workflow. It’s maybe not evident from pictures, but it’s also fantastically light and slim compared to some of its rivals. (The base unit is just 1 kg.)

Click to embiggen. And do look closely – there’s a lot that is uncommonly clean and clear on the layout of this design.

Now, despite the grid, I wouldn’t actually compare this directly to the Synthstrom Deluge or Squarp Hapax. Those devices look great – and if it’s full-functioned sequencing you’re after, might even be more to your tastes (especially the advanced modulation and effects on the Squarp – more on that later). No, the hardware this most recalls is a design prototype from a 2019 Superbooth, dadamachines’ Composer Pro. It’s a compliment to that design, even – especially as the Composer Pro project is apparently abandoned.

So yes, the basic formula is familiar – 8 tracks of audio sequencing, 8 polyphonic MIDI tracks, and a big grid. But the Play is quick to understand partly because it doesn’t try to do too much.

There is actually a “Duke Nuke” effect for mucking with your patterns, yes. It’s hard to say in these pics how nicely compact and solid this feels, while still being easily backpack-able.

In fact, I’d say the Play has as much in common with Novation Circuit and its appeal as it does all those fancy grid sequencers. There’s a clear display, so you never have to guess what the heck something does. But other than that, everything is reasonably flat and discoverable – not buried in layers of menus and hierarchy.

They’ve still managed to focus on the stuff you want:

  • Pick and place samples quickly. It doesn’t record samples, but what it does is let you dump your own samples (or use 3000 included ones) anywhere you want on the grid fast.
  • Quick per-step access to parameters
  • 35 play modes for chance, repeat, and combos
  • “Smart fill” lets you fill up an area with a pattern of your choice, Euclidean rhythms, or random-filled steps
  • Fast select and copy-paste of everything, anywhere

That already to me suggests jamming and performance possibilities. So one of the problems with a lot of these supposedly advanced tools is that editing patterns can be a bit tedious. It’s not that it’s wrong for music production to be time-consuming at times. But slow or convoluted editing absolutely doesn’t work live or jamming with another person. It also can kill your creative process when you’re inspired.

It is still a sampler, though – with encoders that look like some of your favorite controls from Maschine, Push, MPC, and Elektron workflows. And look at just how much nice stuff is there at easy reach, from microtuning to audio effects to sample parameters. It even reminds me a bit of Elektron’s Model line – quick access to encoders. It’s really a greatest-hits, almost, of recent hands-on hardware.

There are some specific performance-friendly features here, too:

  • Non-destructive Perform mode effects (Tune, Filter, Overdrive, Rearranger, Reverb, etc.)
  • Live-record automation
  • Live-record MIDI into the pattern (a must)
  • Pattern chaining on the fly

They’ve also included some nice-looking audio effects, including reverb and dynamics, plus a DJ-style filter.

Plus there’s instant save and recall for patterns – which also bails you out if you screw up a live set.

All of this appeals to me, as there are a lot of really quite-powerful sequencers for studio use that just aren’t quick enough to use in the heat of a live set. Plus, if I really want more advanced sets, I have, like, a computer. I want the hardware to be quicker than the computer. It’s okay if it does less. I’m sure I’m not alone with that.

Play is no slouch as a sequencer, either. Across those 8 MIDI tracks (and the 8 tracks that play audio samples), you can set separate lengths, different speeds, playback modes, and per-track swing. And yes, you can send everything out as MIDI.

You can use the rotaries – with labels on the display – to send MIDI CC, just as on Push or Maschine. Polyend have even come up with pre-mapped MIDI sets for a range of hardware, and you can make your own – a feature I loved on Native Instruments’ Maschine. (That means we’d better make some MeeBlip presets, which Maschine had.)

There’s no internal battery, but this runs on USB-C 5V 1A power, so you can plug it in easily or use a power bank. And it feels just fantastic, with an aluminum faceplate and some crisp-feeling keys and pads and smooth encoders.

Oh yeah, and if you’re a big Polyend fan, there’s also a preset for using this alongside Tracker. The combo looks killer. I can also really easily imagine using this alongside the Elektron Syntakt I was playing live at Superbooth, which sounds the business but could use some more accessible sequencing – solved.

My only real criticism was, I desperately wanted some kind of mixer control. You just want to be able to turn stuff down when you have eight parts. Faders would be great, but I’d take encoders – or keeping with the step paradigm, the ability to control volume across a range of steps.

I’m enthusiastic about this one, though. There’s a lot more to say about workflow. Firmware seems not entirely final, despite the early YouTube influencer reviews I see, so that should wait for a full hands-on review. But I was impressed by how logical the control layout and shortcuts were and how much can be done quickly – without, again, complex menus or lots of combos to remember. The physical form factor, feel, and functionality here just promise to be a lot more than the sum of their parts.

Honestly, the biggest competition here may be Polyend – if you don’t have a Tracker yet, that has some powerful features and costs a bit less.

For answers to that and other questions, though, look out for a review soon.

https://polyend.com/play/

Here’s the demo I got from Piotr, more or less (minus my interruptions):

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Silhouette Eins Optical Synthesizer Turns Visuals Into Sound In Real Time

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At Superbooth 2022, inventor Pit Przygodda debuted the Silhouette Eins Optical Synthesizer, a new type of synthesizer that translates images into sound in real time.

The user interface consists of an on-monitor Plexiglass hardware controller, which addresses 4 software pages. Objects placed on the light table create the source audio waveforms in real time.

20 potentiometers and 21 buttons give you direct access to key functions. All values are shown directly behind and around the controlling potentiometer or button.

The Silhouette Eins builds on earlier designs, like Daphne Oram’s Oramics machine, but uses modern technology to allow for greater immediacy and interactivity.

Pricing and Availability:

The Silhouette Eins Optical Synthesizer is available now for 3800,- EUR.

via SOS

Behringer UB-Xa Hands-On Demo

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In this video, Andertons Synths, Keys and Tech shares the first hands-on demo of the upcoming Behringer UB-Xa, a knockoff of the classic Oberheim OB-Xa.

Here’s what they have to say about the video:

“We’ve been so lucky to get a world exclusive look at one of Behringer’s most anticipated synths: the UB-Xa. As soon as it arrived with us, we thought we’d dive straight in and give you a quick listen to how massive it sounds along with discussing some of its incredible specs, features, and… pricing!”

Topics covered:

0:00 World’s First Look at the Behringer UB-Xa
0:20 What are the Key Features?
1:38 Let’s Get Some Synth Pad Sounds
3:30 Let’s Do Some Bass Sounds
4:56 Checking Out Some Lead Sounds
6:10 Let’s Go Through the Features of the Front Panel
12:55 Let’s Check Out the Different Vintage Modes!
14:50 Taking a Look at the Performance LFO
15:50 Some Thoughts on the Keybed
16:20 Taking a Look at the Multitimbrality
17:22 Jack’s Initial Impressions & Some Info on the Price!
18:57 The Andertons Staff Reacts to the UB-Xa
21:40 Is the UB-Xa Jack’s Favourite Synth

Pricing and Availability

Behringer has not announced details on when they expect to release the UB-Xa keyboard and desktop synths. They expect it to have a street price of under $1,500.

Shut Up & Play: Sounds Of The Oberheim OB-X8 Synthesizer

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In this video, synthesist and sound designer Julian Pollack (J3PO) demos a variety of presets he created for the new Oberheim OB-X8.

The OB-X8 is designed to combine three classic OB-series synthesizers in one: the OB-X, the OB-Xa, and OB-8.

Here’s what Pollack has to say about the video:

“In this video, you will hear a bunch of presets I created for the OB-X8. Some of my sounds will be included factory with the OB-X8 while most of these presets will appear in a presets pack I will release soon (check www.j3po.net for the release of my official sound bank). This particular unit is an early prototype with non-production knobs. The final production units will look slightly different.

It is important to note that the OB-X8, like the original OB’s from back in the day, does NOT contain any onboard effects. In this video, I used some external reverbs and delays to give certain presets the ambience and resonance they deserve. Light compression and limiting was applied for the purpose of uploading to YouTube and balancing the sounds.”

Check out the video and share your thoughts on the OB-X8 in the comments!