Granulators are highly favored among sound designers. They produce experimental yet unique results that can add flair to projects. Here are the best granulators on the market in 2024.
Having the ability to transform a sound completely is exciting. The possibilities are endless in the realms of audio and music production. Amongst the plethora of audio effects and plug-ins, we are going to shine some light on granulators, one of the most underrated tools in the production world.
What is Granular Synthesis?
Granulators use a process called Granular Synthesis, a sample-based synthesis that slices an audio sample into tiny segments called grains. Granulators playback these grains crossfaded with one another either in order or mangled. Grains are very small (typically measured in milliseconds), so they would sound like clicks; however, when combined with the smoothing effect (crossfades), granulators can create lush pad textures.
Granulators have several parameters, including grain size, position, density, and filters. LFO can also be applied to granulators for more movement.
What to Look for in Granulators
Considering their cost, looking for a good granulator can be overwhelming. Some granulators offer more features, such as multiple granular engines, better user interfaces, rhythmic processing, and more.
It depends on what kind of sound design you are doing. If you are a musician, some granulators may cater to music productions with parameters involving rhythm variations, pitch quantizations, and instrument-specific presets.
If you are creating sound effects, the above may not be necessary. However, you may want more modulation options or in-depth parameters for versatility in designing your desired sound.
Below is a compiled list of the best granulator plug-ins available on the market in 2024.
Arturia is known for creating exceptional plug-ins for audio and music producers. Efx Fragments is one of their most reputable software plug-ins and is a real powerhouse of a granulator.
Stand-out features include flexibility and ease within the complex nature of granular synthesis. Fragments has the ability to listen to the rhythm of your track and respond in multiple different textures. With that, this plug-in can create a multitude of sparkling and innovative textures, ranging from beautiful to chaotic sounds of high quality. Furthermore, if you are a fan of ambient creation, Fragments has the ability to create spatial shimmering sound particles.
Fragments is made up of 5 components:
- Buffer: Sees moving playback of an audio sample with controls including intensity, FX, feedback, grain volume, and grain mix.
- Grain Capture: Includes grain speed control, grain quantization, and spray control.
- Grain Release: Features main parameters such as density, size, pitch, and grain direction, along with a dynamic visualizer for visual feedback of your sound.
- Pan and FX: Controls the stereo space, from randomized grain panning to tempo-synced. Features two FX slots with a multi-filter, tape echo, flanger, and more.
- Advanced Controls: Houses dynamic modulation and expression tools. Includes an envelope follower and controls how the grains respond to beats.
For only $99, this is a fantastic plug-in for all aspects of sound design and music production.
Ableton Live Granulator II
If you already own Ableton Live 11 Suite, you have free access to Robert Henke’s Granulator II for free. It’s a staple plug-in that can elevate your sound design as well as be perfectly integrated within the DAW.
Granulator II is a Max for Live device, meaning it’s exclusive to Ableton users. If you are a Max user, you are also open to exploring the internals of the device. This plugin can create a variety of interesting sounds, from lush soundscapes to chaotic glitches from any sound.
It’s as simple as dragging a sample into the interface; from here, you can explore many processing options. The device is divided into two sections: Grain and Filter.
Grain includes the grain controls from grain size, position, LFO, spray, scan, and amplitude modulation. To further add movement, you can apply an LFO plug-in from Ableton and assign it to a grain control for more interesting sounds.
The Filter section includes further shaping controls such as the standard ASDR parameters, pitch, frequency modulation, filter/FM envelope, and Live input to capture up to 16 seconds of audio.
Granulator II is a great tool for those who want something that is well-integrated with Ableton Live and don’t fancy paying for a third-party plug-in.
Going through a huge revamp from its previous version, Audio Damage has created a newly improved granular synthesizer that features an array of tools, allowing for unmatched audio editing.
Quanta 2 has had a redesign, including a new interface for a better workflow, two oscillators instead of one for further experimentation, a suite of effects pulled from the Audio Damage library, root note detection and assignment, grain pitch quantization, and extended LFO functions that are global MIDI CC assignable.
The granulator is super easy to use, with four sections: Waveform, Envelopes, Modulation, and Settings, each with its own oscillator, filter, and effects sub-sections. A great tool is having two oscillators, as you can assign one for the sub-bass and one for the rest of the frequency range for a greater range in texture.
Additionally, having a root note detector and assigner can be highly beneficial for music production and keeping harmonies consistent. Quanta has a noise source for that extra bit of color to add more texture.
It’s a perfect granulator for beginners, with a bunch of presets to learn and build upon and a simple-to-use interface. For $129, it’s a pretty good deal.
Portal by Output is a fantastic plug-in for musicians, specifically designed for instruments. Centering around the music you make as an artist, Portal resynthesizes the audio sample for a coherent yet imaginative sound that closely relates to the original source.
Upon opening the plug-in, you are greeted with a mesmerizing visual circular window that works as an XY control. Next to it, there are two macro knobs in which you can assign certain parameters.
Many who use Portal will take significant advantage of the many available presets or patches. This is also a great way to start off if you are new to granulators, and you can adjust accordingly to your own needs.
Its advanced controls have meticulous grain controls to easily shape the sound, including a time stretch feature, tempo-synced grain delay, scale-based pitch modulation, and seven built-in FX with a master compressor and filter.
This plug-in is more expensive at $149. However, with the many patch options and advanced controls included, you can carry out high-quality and imaginative processing.
Novum by Traktion is the most premium option on this list, but it’s one hell of a plug-in.
With Novum, you can dive into a world of sonic discovery. The selling point for this granulator is its ability to decompose a sample and divide it into six layers for easier access to its timbral and textural characteristics. Each has its own granular engine and can be soloed out or played together without losing the original quality of the audio.
Each layer has its own volume envelope for better control over sound shaping. Furthermore, Novum’s intuitive modulation systems, with built-in step sequencers, LFOs, and more, make it possible to modulate any parameter.
Novum also uses cross-synthesis, which allows samples to be characterized with another sound with a simple drag-and-drop. The advanced grain controls include all the standard grain controls, plus a Homogenize feature for smooth and velvety textures, perfect for pads. Novum includes a timbre flower for timbre spectral modulation to enrich your sound further.
With Novum, the possibilities are endless, and it is perfect for those wanting to create something magical with field recordings and other sound effects. Any sound can be turned into a unique instrument.
If it’s too overwhelming at first, Novum includes 300+ presets as a guide and starting place to build your desired sound.
It can be purchased for $179, and while it’s expensive in comparison to the others, with its many components that take granular synthesis to the next level, Novum is a worthwhile plug-in.
If you don’t fancy paying for a granulator plug-in, you can opt for something like Cecelia 5.
Cecelia 5 is a free software that is perfect for any sound designer. With its built-in modules offering different audio editing tools and synthesis, you can create many ear-bending results from any sound sample.
Using a simple syntax, Cecelia 5 allows you to create your own GUI (grapher, sliders). You can also apply effects such as EQ, filter, delay, and resonators to your sound and edit accordingly on the graph. Unlike the others, this doesn’t work through live playback (down to its age), so there is a lot of going back and forth. However, it’s a unique piece of software that can be a fantastic starting place for those who don’t have the budget.
Soundhack Delay Bundle
Soundhack has created a Delay Bundle that includes a granular-synthesis-based plug-in called +bubbler.
This takes the grains from the delay line with randomized start time, delay time, reversal, panning and shift values. Furthermore, pitch shifting can be distributed to multiple simultaneous grains, resulting in the ability to play chords with the on-screen buttons included in the plug-in. This is a great plug-in for ambient washes of sound.