Ok, MPE is one of the biggest recent breakthroughs in music technology history and now any VST synth worth its salt that doesn’t support MPE is going to have to have some pretty strong other features if it’s going to stack up next to the rest of the options on the market. If you’re new to MPE, this guide will show you a bit about the synths that are compatible with it and how it can combine with pre-existing synth features. Even if you’re already familiar, read on for a look at some of the options out there.
Best MPE Synths Introduction: What Does MPE Stand For In Synthesis?
MPE stands for MDI Polyphonic Expression and essentially brings an analog, tangible feel to synthesis and virtual instruments. MPE affects both hardware synths and the plugins that emulate them.
We’ve already made a list of the best MPE VST synths out there for you to check out, but in this article, we’re doing a more detailed comparison of some of the most talked about names on the current market for VST synths that are MPE compatible and the pros and cons of each. Yes, there’s a lot out there, so this is a more granular look at some of the most popular to make decisions easier. Read on to see exactly why these have become some of the hottest options, why they’re great – and, most importantly, which one would work best for YOU.
How Does MPE Work and Why Do I Need It?
So how does MPE work? MPE basically gives a clue as to what it is in its name. Whereas previous parameters and nuances such as aftertouch were all affected by the same channel, the polyphonic part of MPE means that each note you play on a MIDI keyboard or even program into a synth part has its own capacity for modulation, introducing complex features like chord bending. Basically, this is more like how instruments work in real life. It means you have a naturalistic and realistic sound that adds bucketloads of expression to your playing.
Here’s an example. Imagine you play a basic C Major chord. Naturally, you’re not going to hit every note with exactly the same strength. MPE essentially allows you to emulate the nuance of this – perhaps a softer bass note and louder fifth, for example – where previously, all notes would be affected equally by any parameters you added to them.
Ok, so we’ve established that MPE is much more naturalistic, but did you know that it actually applies to ANY and ALL parameters you add to your synth presets? That includes pitch bending and modulation, filters, and a lot more. MPE-compatible synths use an MPE controller such as those created by ROLI but most classically it is controlled with MIDI.
With such true-to-life emulation, there are myriad different options for VST creators to flexibly express this, so we’ll dig in deeper at what it means for your choice of synth in our comparison and breakdown below of the market’s top.
Best MPE Synths: Arturia Pigments MPE Breakdown: How Does This Synth Stack Up Next to Competitors?
Ok, so this is easily one of the biggest contenders on the market at the moment. Pigments is popular for good reason; it offers creativity and flexibility across a huge variety of genres as evidenced by a host of presets that includes everything from 90s jungle, modern cinematic soundscapes, to trip-hop and drum and bass.
Is Arturia Pigments Worth It – Best and Worst Features and More
Essentially this is a creative jack-of-all-trades synth that combines four different sources of sound with plenty of effects, a top-notch sequencer, a modulation system, and a utility engine that allows you to increase the number of oscillators plus add more layers of FX It’s a modern synthesizer with powerful FX and an advanced capacity for generating new sounds so obviously this all gives you plenty to work with in terms of MPE.
At its heart, Pigments is one of the most talked about synths on the market due to the wide range of options it gives you to explore MPE. If we wanted to take a single synth to use as an example of everything MPE is capable of doing, this would be the one.
Arturia Pigments Price: $199, but you can check Pluginboutique by clicking here, maybe there is a sale.
XFER Serum MPE Capacity Review: Features, Is It Worth It, and More?
If you want something more stripped back but also more focused on MPE, Serum is the synth for you. Pigments is a great MPE synth but ultimately it is broader than MPE and is aimed at encompassing as many genres as possible, giving them a creative edge, and providing musicians with as many tools as possible to stimulate their creativity. If this sounds extraneous, the Serum is a more low-key option.
Best MPE Synths: Serum VS Pigments – Which Is The Best MPE Synth And How Do They Compare?
Essentially what you are looking at comparing these two synths is that Serum goes deep, whereas Pigments has more of a varied offering.
To think about it from one angle based on what they offer, Serum is more of a strict wavetable synth whereas Pigments offers everything from sampling, wavetable, to virtual analog synthesis as well as harmonic offerings. However Serum is a very creative synth, it is new and fresh, and it is a good option if you don’t want to be using the most popular
The Serum is also dedicated to cutting a lot of the muddiness out of wavetable synthesis. At heart, it’s taken one thing and tried to perfect it, whereas Pigments is aimed at giving you a variety of options.
XFER Serum Price: $189
ROLI Equator 2 – How Does It Combine With MPE?
Ok, so one of the reasons we’ve included this ROLI synth along with the Serum is that Roli as a company is one of the biggest explorers of the developing world of MPE to date. If you want to ensure seamless integration between your gear, ROLI has also created its own MPE controller which brings analog touch to VST synths.
The Seabord can easily wirelessly to your VST synth, whether the Equator 2 or other synths such as the Serum, allowing you to have the tactile feedback of an analog synth to generate the utmost control and nuance over sound. This is especially great with MPE as it aims to emulate the features that come with an analog synth anyway – or at least bring something more like them to the digital sphere.
In a sense, you’re just comparing a hybrid synth vs a wavetable synth here. The Equator 2 is nevertheless a very creative hybrid synth that offers you something a bit different from the majority of wavetable synths out there.
ROLI Equator 2 Price: $241 but also available as part of the great MPE synths bundle from our friends at Plugin Boutique, you can click here to see the bundle.
UVI Falcon: What’s Good About It, What’s Bad About It, and How Does It Compare as One of the Best MPE Synths Out There?
The Falcon is a bit more expensive than some of the other synth VSTs on this list, but is it worth it?
Basically, this is the synth you should go for if you’re heavily reliant on creative, flexible, and powerful synthesis. For genres like electronic, industrial, synthpop, darkwave, or any other heavily synth-based genres, it helps to have more on offer to apply the new capabilities of MPE too. Let’s look at what the Falcon 2 has that other synths on this list DON’T.
17 oscillators ranging from wavetable to granular to analog and even physical modeling
Granular synthesis and the ability to chop up and timestretch samples
Hybrid synthesis. This is the biggest plus – the Falcon excels with a multitude of hybrid synthesis options that Pigments and Serum don’t have as they are more specialist wavetable VSTs. Therefore, it depends on whether you want to go specialist and streamlined or open yourself to the world of possibilities to mix with MPE that hybrid synth VSTs offer.
Example: Detail, Usage, Design, and Beginner-Friendliness
Let’s take one example to see how these synths feel overall in a snapshot. How does the granular source on the Equator 2 compare to that of Falcon 2? Granular synthesis isn’t as common as some other oscillator forms, which is why it’s so great both these synths include it.
The Equator 2 granular oscillator source comes with a good batch of preset samples of a variety of tones, mostly suitable for cinematic soundscapes. It’s really intuitive and allows you to drag and drop samples that you can then set specific granular parameters for such as position and scan rate. It’s super clear if you’re just getting started with granular synthesis.
The Falcon 2 offers both granular and multigranular synthesis and it’s got a more complicated and less streamlined interface. It’s more suited to those who have a bit of experience with granular under their belt already. However, it DOES have additional adjustable parameters that Equator 2 doesn’t such as ‘symmetry’, ‘fade’, jitter’, and ‘density’, giving plenty to sink your teeth into if you want to experiment.
Either way, these granular options are also part of a greater hybrid synthesis whole and give a good idea of what the rest of these two models are like overall. There’s simply so much here to combine with MPE that it’s really just a choice of whether you want a hybrid or something more specialized, in which case the Serum or Pigments would work better. But if hybrid synthesis is what you’re after, it simply depends on your interface preference and experience level.
In General: Falcon for if you want in-depth experimentation. Equator 2 if you want a more streamlined synth that may have fewer features but integrates seamlessly with other MPE features such as the Seabord controller from a company that follows every new development.
UVI Falcon Price: $349
The Ultimate MPE Synth Comparison – Our Thoughts on the BESt MPE Synths and Why
For us Pigments is one of the best MPE VST synths that really deserves its hype, however, the other manufacturers on this list are still very worth looking at. Most of what Pigments has to offer is not necessarily applicable to every single musician, so if you can go without the presents, there are plenty of other options you may fall in love with.
Although MPE has been out there for a while it’s not yet possible to see everything it is capable of. If you really want to challenge yourself and experiment, it’s worth considering options aside from the Pigments just because they are much more focused. Nevertheless, if you feel like you will use all the features and want something creative, Pigments is worth the money.
Ok, so MPE is one of the biggest changes in music since the invention of synthesis itself. That doesn’t mean it has to be daunting or challenging, however. The amount of companies that quickly adopted MPE and developed creative, smart, and flexible VSTs to support it means you are spoilt for choice. This guide simply helps you cut through some of the information and look at some of the biggest players on the market right now regarding MPE compatibility.
Ultimately a lot is going to depend on your genre and personal preference; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and it depends on what your genre is as well as your feelings about the rest of the features of these synths as MPE, while a game changer, is nevertheless part of the bigger picture.