Arturia PolyBrute Review – ‘What A Synth!’

In the latest Sonic Lab video, host Nick Batt takes an in-depth look at the new Arturia PolyBrute synthesizer.

The Arturia PolyBrute is flagship 6-voice analog synthesizer that offers an unusual number of expressive options, ranging from a knob-per-function panel to a morphing patch architecture to a ribbon controller and the three-dimensional sensing Morphée touch controller.

“It’s not a synth made for the cost conscious, but I also don’t feel that it is overpriced,” notes Batt. “There’s a lot to it.”

“It is just so much fun to play and explore,” he adds. “A really impressive instrument that, if you are in the market for a poly, will have just made your decision even harder.”

29 thoughts on “Arturia PolyBrute Review – ‘What A Synth!’

  1. Then prepare to be in for a price tag closer to $1000 more, easy. This ain’t no Volca. This seems plenty big with just 6 voices. Never mind poly AT in this case. You should aim for mastery of the morphee instead. The Z-axis on it is from another dimension. Its more like getting the bow pressure right on a viola than making a synth doodle.

      1. > Have you played with it?

        No, as its just now appearing, but the demos make it clear that the morphee is a smart hot-rod idea for expressive playing. The touch strip is similarly welcome. It’ll do several great things well, but its clearly a real-time player’s synth, sequencer or not. I could nit-pick, but screw that, its a beast. I’ve only played with a MiniBrute and I’m not a fan of the Steiner-Parker filter as your only option, but you can blend it with a Moog-style partner here. That lifts the game a lot.

  2. I don’t know, everyone is always demoing this things at the low-mid range. I want to see what can you do at higher frequencies as well, but I am getting the feeling that standard oscillators won’t cut it. As much as I like analogue synths, I am a bit tired of that.

    1. yep, audio rate modulations on every parameter from like 1hz to 20khz is definitely the wave of the future

      sooner or later someone will catch on and make something

  3. What was the display you showed of spectrum and wave type? Something hdmi connected to the back of the synth, or an external audio analyser software on a mac you displayed? Great review, thanks

  4. does the 6 voice limit really make that big of a difference? I’m confused by everyone’s grousing about the number of voices on this, when the incredible sound design depth seems to more than make up for it. like, what are you playing on an analog synth that really requires so many voices? And as Nick demonstrates, using the nice effects to let sounds hang longer is a colorful and pleasing “workaround”
    nice demo here.

    1. To milkshake: Where it makes a difference is when you move from a 4-6 voice chord to another 4-6 voice chord. When the patch being played has an envelope release on it that does not abruptly cut off but instead, trails off and you mover to another chord, there won’t be enough voices to finish off the 1st chord and the new chord played. The oldest notes played will be abruptly dropped in favor of the new notes. This is referred to as “Note Stealing”.

      1. This is clearly not the synth for playing rapid arpeggios with long sustained notes or complex layerings.

        But there are tons of synths that have 128 voices for that sort of thing. Even something like the Roland JD-Xi can do that.

        This synth is designed for to be an expressive performance synth and, similar to instruments like the Yamaha CS-80, the place that instruments like this shine is when you want to play sustained notes or chords expressively – using aftertouch, the ribbon controller, the touch controller etc.

        None of those expressive performance options are really beneficial if you’re doing rapid arpeggios, they come into play when you hold and note and want to do something interesting with it.

          1. “How do you figure what this synth is for? Btw cs80 had 8 notes of polyphony.”

            Common sense?

            If you want to play rapid arpeggios with sustained notes, you’re going to get voice stealing with a 6 or 8 voice synth, where you would not get voice stealing with something like a $500 JD-Xi, because it has 128+ voices of polyphony.

            That’s why the DX-7 was one of the best-selling synths of all time. It was the first affordable synth that let people forget about voice stealing, because it had 16-voice polyphony.

            What are the iconic uses of a synth like the Yamaha CS-80, on the other hand? Things like Blade Runner, where Vangelis plays sustained notes expressively. They sound massive and expressive, because he modulates the notes as he plays. Vangelis was not worrying about voice stealing, even with limited polyphony, he was playing 3 or 4 notes with lots of expression.

            Think about it this way: if you want to used the Morphée touch controller on the PolyBrute, what do you have to do? You have to play sustained notes with your right hand and take your left hand off the keyboard and use it to control expression. How many notes are you going to be playing while you use the Morphée?

                1. as far as im concerned (as in, when you communicate with me), all you need to worry about is feeling “the truth”

                  the rest is on you….. as “your problem” (i.e. see above comment)

            1. “Think about it this way: if you want to used the Morphée touch controller on the PolyBrute, what do you have to do? You have to play sustained notes with your right hand and take your left hand off the keyboard and use it to control expression.”

              The Morphee is equally good for use while playing rapid short notes. You don’t “have to” use it in a certain way.

    2. I think this is a good question and it’s a shame people are so dismissive of it. If you don’t need a release phase on your notes, then 6 voices is enough for a keyboard instrument. I want to conjecture that the main reason people use a release phase in their envelope is to simulate reverb. I mean, an acoustic piano has a release phase because the body of the piano reverberates. Strings in a church for the same reason. So from that perspective it makes sense to have no release phase and use a reverb instead, as Nick alluded to. On the other hand, the UDO dry sound is great already because the polyphony is higher and it can have a nice long release phase on the envelope.

      That said, I am very uneasy about drooling over an all-analogue signal path, and then making such extensive use of fancy digital effects, even to the point of using them as a substitute for the release phase of the envelope. If you are happy to use digital for that, why not just use digital models of the whole thing, as long as your DSP can cater for audio-rate modulation etc., and I think the very best can do that.

      1. “an acoustic piano has a release phase because the body of the piano reverberates”

        this is NOT true.

        The release phase of a piano happens when you use (usually) the right food pedal.
        What that does is to release the dampers on all the strings so the notes sustain as long as the strings vibrate.
        If you press and HOLD a piano key the same happens only for that key.
        It is kind of a combined sustain and release phase.

        The body of the piano adds natural Reverb.

        Hope it helps understanding the guts of a piano. 😉

        1. cheers Lumin. I meant that if you knock up a piano sound on an analog synth you would typically put a small release phase to mimic the reverb from the body of the piano. You’re right that you can also model a sustain pedal by putting a longer release phase. I didn’t mean the sympathetic resonances, which are a bit beyond the scope of a typical analog synth.

    3. I had some 6 voice polys, I hated all of them. because you can’t play more than 3tones.
      “pleasing workaround” or helpless try to hide the short comings of the thing.
      you decide. ^^
      8 voices are the absolute minimum for a poly IMHO.

  5. I’m okay with six voices. I like that you can get the most from it by having a split or layer. I think this thing will have to happen for me.

  6. Buyer beware. Personally, I wouldn’t support Arturia by buying one of their synths because they definitely won’t support YOU after buying one of their synths.

    Just look at the MatrixBrute for proof. After a couple of years, they still haven’t fixed the simple bug they themselves introduced into version 2 of firmware, where midi sync does not work properly. Just see this thread:
    https://forum.arturia.com/index.php?topic=92467.0

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