Last Updated on January 11, 2022 by IDS Team
Hey guys! Today we are bringing you an ever-updating list of MPE VST products available right now on the market. While the MPE specification has been with us for quite some time, only recently have we seen very good implementations. Ableton for example has implemented MPE in its DAW called Live in version 11, which was released in 2021. Hardware synths, while not the subject of this article, have even less offerings that support MIDI Polyphonic Expression. While some relatively older hardware products have included MPE support via firmware updates (the modern synths from Dave Smith – Prophet 6 and the collaboration with Tom Oberheim – OB-6), there are more and more new instruments coming out with support out-of-the box.
In this article we will only focus on the virtual side of things, with the VST product marketplace being much more dynamic in terms of MPE support than the hardware counterparts. If you want to know more about MPE in general and also if you want to do some research into MPE devices, this article should do the trick.
So, here we go with our picks on the BEST MPE VST products :
A. MPE VST Synths
Pigments is an excellent VST, equally valuable for novice sound designers and for veterans. The visual representation of the parameters, along with their modulations is astounding, and the possibilities and virtually endless. We have a very nice review of it here, along with a nice article on the latest version (at the time of writing), Pigments 3 here.
You can basically use MPE to alter any parameter that is available, so you can add a lot more expression to your sound offering.
ROLI are the makers of the first ever MPE controller – ROLI Seaboard. While mostly used by keyboard players that want to sound like a guitarist, the Seaboard is actually quite nice to play. So why not pair it with the proper, powerfull sound engine that it deserves? If you want a more in-depth guide and review, check out the excellent article on musicradar here.
The Equator2 is actually great as a stand alone tool as well, as long as you pair it with your favourite MPE controller. It gets stellar reviews and boasts four types of synthesis: Wavetable, Sample-based, Granular and Noise. It also has a lot of emulations of classic subractive synths and the control possibilities are virtually unlimited.
FXpansion (ROLI) Cypher2
This one, while officially another ROLI product, was developed by FXpansion. We see that all the stores are selling it as FXpansion Cypher2, so this is the name that we are also using. Still, the ROLI badge grants this MPE VST product more weight. Again, getting excellent scores and reviews, this one is an extremely good value proposition.
While not built from the ground up as 100% MPE, it has a lot of MPE compatible presets. The workflow is similar to modular synths, and to be honest it is extremely fun to play with. You can also use MPE to modulate rhythmic controls like the arpeggiator and the sequencer.
U-he is no small name in the VST synth market. We are very happy that they implemented MPE Support on all their main virtual instrument products. This is no under statement, they make some of the best sounding plugins on the market.
While previously, their plugins were notoriously resource hungry, now not only did the machines we use became much more stronger, but the VSTs themselves have been optimised. Still, do manage the poly count as going above 12 voices can kill your CPU.
Another U-he superstar, this time in a more Virtual Analog flavour, is Diva. They also updated it so that it has MPE support. Diva is a staple in all studios, mostly because of its superb sound quality. If you like the analog sound that hardware synths produce, you will love Diva. Also, there are a lot of under the hood things that make it stand out of the crowd.
Three oscillator goodness! Again, while in the past Diva was known to hog even the most expensive CPUs, today this issue is mostly resolved due to optimisations to the product. Also, note that there are a lot of nice presets available right now for Diva, that could use a bit of expressive play made possible by MPE.
Again coming to the land of software emulations of the analog synth sound, Repro is U-he’s line of Sequencial/Dave Smith Instruments Prophet line of instruments. Again, updated to support full, per-note expressive play with MPE. This one is either hit or miss, if you want the Prophet sound then yes this is for you, but if you already have a hardware Prophet synth (especially if you have the Prophet 6 which has received the MPE treatment via firmware update) or another emulation then there is no point in getting this.
Specifically, the Repro 1 is actually emulating the monophonic line of Prophets, mimicking the Pro-1 and to some extent the DSI Mopho.
This is basically almost the same thing, but with a polyphonic dimmension to it. Sure, the sound is a bit different because it imitates a different line of gear, the polyphonic Prophet 5, Prophet 6, the Rev-2 and to some extent the DSI Tetra. Still great with MPE, but there is no point in getting this if you already have access to the sound it emulates.
You may have noticed that indeed U-he updated all their flagships to support MPE, with enhancements coming everyday. Bazille, for those that don’t know, is their modular-like synth approach. Here, MPE shines due to the sheer parameter tweaks and combinations possible. Just assign, and use.
MPE and real. hardware modular synths don’t really work well because polyphony in modular is extremely difficult to achieve in the way it works with regular synths. Still, if you want very deep sound design, you should give Bazille + MPE a chance.
B. MPE VST Samplers
Audio Modelling SWAM
Going into the composer and traditional sound design, SWAM is a collection of sample-based (well, actually physical-modelled sound but let’s just call it sample-based for the sake of simplicity) plugins replicating real acoustic instruments. MPE is a huge added touch, because like actual musical instruments, you get to imprint your own play style and technique to actually sound unique. If this is your cup of tea, you can check out the extremely detailed review below:
Audio Modelling SWAM includes strings, brass, and other acoutstic instruments and comes in an extremely diversified product line-up.
For those that want the MPE collection (and not only the MPE sounds) from ROLI but don’t need the full customisation that can be achieved by Cypher2 and Equator2 (discussed above in this article), ROLI were kind enough to give you a sample-based variant. Equally useful if you are looking for MPE on a budget.
With a huge collection of 500+ sounds (out of which more than half support MPE), this one is your one-stop shop if you are just getting into the world of Midi Polyphonic Expression sound design.
Audio Damange Quanta
This MPE VST is a granular synth, so it is more sampler than synthesiser. Yes, you can do a lot of things with it, probably more than you can do with a regular subtractive, but still the source sound is based on samples so it fits in section B of our article on expressive plugins.
As with most granular synths, they encourage a rather “wild” approach, never “mild”. Experimentation is key with Quanta as well, and the fact that it supports MPE gives it extra edge over other plugins.
While in no way a full list, this article shines the spotlight on which MPE compatible plugin is actually great to use. There are other offers of course that did not make our list, and also there is the possibility to setup other VST products to work with MPE signals, but we will discuss this in another article.