Review: Arturia Pigments Software Synthesizer
If you’re lacking a particular colour in your sound, chances are Pigments has it.
Pigments is a surprising first for Arturia. The company ostensibly built a reputation on its realistic software recreations of vintage synthesisers, and it’s carved out a name for itself in the hardware synth realm with the Brute collection. So why has it taken this long to develop a software synth of its own creation?
Perhaps because it already has a wealth of ‘flavours’ covered in its V Collection series, Pigments is less about mastering a particular style of synthesis and more about giving the modern creative a ridiculous range of options. Having spent a little while with Pigments, it certainly takes the cake as Arturia’s most impressive all-in-one synth instrument.
You’d be forgiven if you felt a little overwhelmed the first time you laid eyes on Pigments. It’s a busy GUI with all manner of waves, colours and shapes poking through. So, let’s break it down in a orderly fashion.
At the very top of the instrument are the global controls, as per Arturia’s V Collection instruments. Here, you can enter a preset and performance view with minimal visual distractions, or use the drop-down menus to the right to select presets by type or alphabetical order. Further along are the global views — Synth, FX and Seq — to access the different layers of Pigments. There’s a handy Master level knob perched top right, just before the MIDI controller configuration view.
START YOUR ENGINES
Pigments’ sound is generated by two Engines which sit top left of the instrument. Both of these are switchable between Analog and Wavetable modes. Setting an engine to Analog reveals three oscillators with four wave types each, plus a noise generator. The Wavetable option contains tons of available wavetables categorised into Natural, Processed, Synthesizers, etc.
Losing yourself in the Wavetable menus doesn’t take much effort. There are all kinds of textures to be found, organised neatly enough for quick discovery and with a large central window to display the shape. Once your wavetable is selected, the Engine tab provides a number of ways to manipulate it further: Tune (Fine or Coarse), Frequency Modulate (Linear or Exponential), Phase Modulate (Key, Mod Osc, Self or Random), Phase Distort, Wave Fold and more. The Unison section has both Chord and Classic modes, letting you add up to eight voices. With stereo and detune controls, it’s a great way to thicken things up.
Moving east of the Engines, we arrive at Pigments’ two Filter sections. With a plethora of options, some of these filters model hardware synth variants like the Oberheim SEM and Minimoog. By default, most of the patches assign the Mod Wheel of your MIDI controller to the filter cutoff.
Heading south now, the most striking visual feature of Pigments is its long, colourful strip of 23 labeled blocks that runs right through its centre. These exist to give you an at-a-glance read on everything that’s going on in your synth sound. The first block is Velocity and the little purple line jumps up and down in real-time depending on how hard you hit a note. The graphs in the LFO blocks oscillate constantly to the wave they’re set to. The final four blocks display the level of each Macro.
When you click on the block’s label it turns the strip into a window where you can assign a parameter to that particular function. For example, if I click on Env 2 I can then click and drag the contour ring around virtually any knob in the instrument (it’ll light up the same colour as the modulator you’re assigning it to) to set the range to which the Envelope 2 shape will affect that parameter; let’s say the Wavetable Position knob.
NEED TO KNOW
Say you’ve got the Wavetable Position knob tied to Env 3, and now you want to change Env 3’s shape. The tabs just below the strip of blocks let you do just that. Colour-coded according to the blocks, click on one of these tabs to deeply configure any of those modulators, be it any of the Envelopes, LFOs, Functions or Random oscillators.
The potential for modulation is truly endless, with three envelope generators, three LFOs, and three ‘functions’; all of which can be deeply customised and assigned to virtually any control. There are even three constantly chugging Random modulators (Turing, Sample & Hold, and Binary) waiting to add some instability to a parameter of your choosing.
Four macros give quick control and the graphical displays of all these modulators let you keep an eye on what’s happening to your sounds.
FX & ARPEGGIATION
In appropriately OTT fashion, the FX section of Pigments has two discrete effects buses (A and B), both of which can run up to three effects in any sequence, with 14 effect options in each. By ‘effect’, that includes things like a parametric EQ, compressor, stereo panner and multi filter. Of course among the 14 options are all the usual suspects like reverb, delay, flanger, phaser, overdrive, bit-crusher and more. They all sound great and provide a comprehensive and configurable toolbox to enhance a tone.
The final feather in Pigments’ hat is the arpeggiator and 16-step sequencer, accessed via the Seq button at the top. There’s plenty of flexibility here.
The Pigments experience is utterly immersive and engaging simply because there’s a massive amount of control at your disposal. The presets list is an effective way of quickly ‘getting to work’ with this instrument, rather than building your ideal sound from the ground up each time. Because of its sonic breadth, it’s impossible to single out a type of sound this instrument excels at, besides the fact that its wavetable roots dictate a part of its sonic imprint. Notwithstanding, it’ll effortlessly generate anything from fat EDM basses to atmospheric pads to sweet arpeggiating plucks to completely weird and chaotic leads.
After spending hours trawling through its tones and taking a step back from it all, I’m convinced Pigments has a freshness about it. There’s many soft synths on the market today and it’s not too often that one is strikingly distinct from the pack. By combining Arturia’s own characterful wavetables with classic analogue subtractive synthesis, you can create unique and extremely usable sounds that all have a vaguely dirty and unrefined edge, in the best possible sense of those words. The result, is an incredibly powerful tool with sounds that’ll make a statement, whether that’s producing an album or scoring a film.