Points of Kontakt – Polivox from Hideaway Studios
Hideaway Studio is back after an absence of several years with a most interesting vintage synth Kontakt library … or is it just an insidious plot by Vladimir Putin?
By David Baer, Jan. 2018
In the first several years of Soundbytes Magazine and this column, Hideaway Studios, in the person of electronics wizard Dan Wilson, was one of our favorite developers to cover here. But it’s been a while. The last Kontakt library we reviewed from Hideaway was two and a half years ago. Mr. Wilson has been quite occupied with other things. In particular, several luminaries in the field of electronic music performance have kept him busy maintaining their vintage instrumentation … and he’s even accumulated a few album credits!
Fortunately he found time last year to keep the rest of us pleasantly engaged with a newly-released offering. This time it’s a library based upon a rare (at least in the West) synthesizer from Russia, manufactured between 1982 and 1990, the Polivoks. The engineer behind this instrument was a fellow named Vladimir Kuzmin, aided by his wife Olimpiada who contributed to the control panel design. Although 100,000 or so of these instruments were made, they are reportedly not readily found outside the old Soviet Union.
In Dan Wilson’s own words (from the manual):
Although intending to appear and sound similar to the Minimoog it has been said that Vladimir never had access to the instrument or indeed any technical information. On examining the schematics, I’d have to agree and go so far as to say the Polivoks is a very different beast indeed on a technical footing. Some have said the instrument was a poor man’s Minimoog but I truly think this is disingenuous to say the least as it sports some interesting unique features such as looping envelopes, a particularly efficiently implemented duophonic note assigner, and a quite remarkable and unique filter design.
In fact, whilst producing the original patches for this library I have been particularly taken by the filter on this unique instrument which is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Sporting both Low Pass and Band Pass modes it can be quite an untamed beast at times but with care also capable of producing some really quite beautiful timbres.
It may be full of bizarre old Russian transistors the size of small flying saucers, plastic that feels like it was made from recycled Christmas cracker toys and easily winning the most horrific key-action ever made contest.. I truly adore this wonderful old analog chameleon of an instrument!
The first thing you’ll likely notice, unless Russian is your first language, is that the panels make no sense. The intent of a few of the controls, like envelope ADSR parts, can be gleaned from the image used, but clearly one needs to read the documentation, something not normally necessary with Hideaway Kontakt instruments.
Well, let’s get this out of the way right up front. In the manual, most of the screen shots have English labels on the controls. What gives? The clue is in the following statement on page 2 of the manual:
But its all Cyrillic to me!!… well there might be a secret button that helps 🙂
OK, well I spent at least twenty minutes trying to find the trick that unlocked the secrets of Polivox (i.e., the English UI version) and utterly failed. Fortunately I know a guy … and he pointed me in the right direction. It’s not my place to give up the secret here, but I will say that what you will be looking for is subtle graphically and fairly tiny in an already small interface, but once you find it, it will be obvious. From here on we’ll use the English UI version of screen shots.
Once the language problem is addressed, the operation is a piece of cake. There are three ADSR envelopes: pitch, filter cutoff and amp, which are selectable via dropdown menu. These all have optional velocity sensitivity for depth and envelope attack. To the right of the envelopes is the filter, of which there are four from which to choose selectable via dropdown list: LP 4-pole, LP 2-pole, BP 4-pole and HP 2-pole.
The usual cutoff and resonance controls are present, as is keytracking (cutoff modulation via note-number). This one is interesting because in my experience the Kontakt engineers decided to make this modulation extreme internally. However, here we have totally well-behaved keytracking modulation where the fully-clockwise setting gets you approximately 100% tracking (the cutoff stays at a fixed ratio frequency-wise from the note’s pitch).
On the far left we have three LFOs, again controlling pitch (vibrato), filter cutoff and amplitude (tremolo) and again selectable via dropdown list. There is a lot of functionality in a small space courtesy of the many dropdown lists employed, and we’ll see even more on the FX tab. You may optionally set up a secondary control via mod wheel or channel aftertouch to control the depth.
To the right of the LFOs, is a control called Color. This may be familiar to those who own other Hideaway products. Color controls a three-band EQ which the individual bands adjust in seemingly random fashion as the Color setting is changed, as seen in the image from the manual just below.
Moving on to the FX panel, reached via the right-most slider switch, we needn’t spend much time with explanations. It’s all very straightforward.
On the far left there’s an autopan effect. To the immediate right of that is a modulation effect, with a choice of flanger, chorus and phaser (selectable via dropdown list). To the immediate right of the modulation effect is a delay, offering mono echo or stereo echo. And lastly we have a reverb, a convolution reverb using Hideaway’s own impulses and offering room, plate or spring types.
As to the sounds, there’s a nice collection – something like 65 presets. I could be wrong, but my hunch is that the Spektra I and Spektra II presets present the original Polivoks filters in their full natural glory. There are a few more multis than presets. Many of these are very well-chosen composite sounds not to be missed.
It’s probably just a psychological reaction due to the Cyrillic control labels on the UI, but a good many of the presets actually sound Russian to me. There is a limited, but extremely pleasant, audio demo track that can be found at the Polivox web page (URL at end of this article). It doesn’t present all the sounds, but it does confirm that there are indeed some very nice ones to be found in Polivox (and also confirms that Dan Wilson has some legitimate composer chops to complement his electronic proficiency).
So, those who appreciate Hideaway Studio products will need little additional convincing about this one. I, like probably quite a few others, simply purchased it without bothering to first listen to the audio demo clip. Those not previously familiar with Hideaway could easily start with Polivox, but I’m reluctant to say it’s the best or most versatile. The newcomer might well also give serious consideration to some of the other Hideaway libraries based upon vintage instruments. There are many fine offerings from which to choose. At a minimum, I’d suggest considering Chromatix, Synergenisis, the two Orbitone libraries, Monopolyphonix and Constellation Apollo.
Polivox is priced at $25 USD. If you wish to be patient, you will probably be able to acquire it at a modest discount at some point during the upcoming year. Like all Kontakt libraries in this price range, the full version of Kontakt is required.
For more information or to purchase, go here: