Review – Factory by Sugar Bytes

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With a substantial amount of sound design capability and an easy-to-use design, Sugar Bytes’ Factory is one synth that possibly warrants your full attention.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2017

 

Sugar Bytes is the German music software developer behind such products as Obscurium, Egoist and Unique. One of their products that somehow flew under my radar is a softsynth named Factory. They call it their Liquid Modular Synthesizer, and it features two oscillators, a sub-oscillator and a noise generator. You can morph between two different states, and it has several types of sync modes and wavetable synthesis on board. After examining it in detail, I thought I’d pass along what I had learned.

Factory works as a plugin within your DAW and as a standalone synth. For the PC you’ll need Windows 7 or higher, and it is available in VST, AAX and standalone formats. For the Mac you’ll need OS X 10.6.7 or higher, and it is available in VST, AU, AAX plug-in formats. 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available for the PC and Mac. It also supports the Native Instruments NKS standard.

 

Getting Started

After you launch Factory, either as a standalone instrument or in your host of choice, you’ll see the main display. It is a simple configuration really, with the two main oscillators on the far left, and a mixer section to the right of the oscillator section. Next is the filter section, and on the far right is Factory’s modulation matrix. In the lower half there are the Modulators, Sequencer, Arpiculation, Effects and Settings sections. I will explain these in more detail shortly.


Clicking the preset name at the top will bring up the browser that has a rating system and tags to keep things organized. It also has a program list function to add up to 128 presets in the order you want. Those presets can be dragged and dropped into the slots along the right side. There is a nice variety of presets that show what can be done with Factory, so I recommend skimming through those if you are demoing. I usually design many of my own, but there are some nice ones included. After I’ve checked out some presets in an unfamiliar synth, I normally will load an Init preset to clear out all the extra modulation and effects, and that gives me a plain/vanilla sound. From there, I can check out what each section of the synth plugin can do from scratch.

Let’s start with the two oscillators. They are identical, and each contains ten varied modes from which you can select. The types include Pulse Sync, Saw Sync, Saw Fractal, FM Formant and Transformer. If that’s not enough for you, there are also four types of wavetable modes: WT PWM, WT Sync, WT Formant and WT Drone. Last but not least in the oscillator menu is the Waveguide mode. The oscillators have standard tuning (+/- 36 semitones and cents) and key tracking that can be switched on or off. I won’t go into detail for every one of the modes, but here is a brief overview for some of them.

Pulse Sync uses many pulse waveforms synced together, and the Sync knob dials in the amount. Pulse width, Key tracking, and tuning controls are also here.

FM Formant uses phase modulation with two sine waves to produce its audio. You can dial in the amount to create more overtones, and introduce an amount of distortion (waveform changes into more of a sawtooth) with the “Feedback” control. You’re also able to adjust the formants by using “Shift” for varied tones, and change the frequency ratio between the two sine waves.

The Transformer mode is a simple granular type of oscillator, which enables you to load WAV files that ship with Factory or use your own WAV, AIF, or MP3 files instead. Position and Formant controls let you adjust the part of the sound file to play and to adjust its formants.

The Wavetable PWM mode lets you load one of the many included wavetables and adjust its start position and the pulse width.

The Waveguide mode can produce semi-real plucked/percussive types of sounds using a resonator. You can select from the same wavetables that are available in some of the other modes, and use the Wave and Color controls to adjust the wavetable position and tone.  As you can imagine, you can definitely get a lot of tonal variation from the modes I’ve briefly covered here.

In the Mixer section, you can adjust the levels of the two oscillators, sub-oscillator and noise generator. Each of the four sources has a knob and slider. The sliders are used to mix the overall level of the sources. The knobs can affect the levels too, but unlike the sliders, they can be modulated in the matrix. For the sub-oscillator, you can select a sine or square wave that will be one octave below the tuning of either of the two main oscillators. Another interesting feature in this menu is the ability to select ring modulation for the two oscillators. The level of that modulation is controlled by the sub-oscillator slider. There are five different types of noise, each having varied types of sonic qualities. Besides mixing the four sound sources, they can also be muted easily when needed, and separately routed to the filter and/or drive using switches at the bottom of each slider.

Speaking of the filter, it features eleven different types. Some of these are the usual types you’ve see in most synth plugins, but there are also a few types that aren’t always the standard fare, and maybe just what your new presets can use. Some of these include a 48 dB/eight-pole low pass, and then there’s the “X Fade” which transitions from a low pass to a high pass using the cutoff knob. One that isn’t all that rare (but one of my favorites) is Factory’s comb filter type, and the Vowel type that manipulates the formants. There is also a drive control to generate some distortion for your sounds. Three types of distortion are available: Tube, Diode and Sine. These all sound good, but my favorite is the Tube distortion. It worked well (especially with a lots of resonance) on a couple of lead presets I created.

 

Modulation and Effects

In the bottom half of Factory are other sections for modulation, sequencing and effects. In the Modulators section are two ADSR envelopes and two mono or poly-capable LFOs. Both the envelopes and LFOs and can be set to retrigger using several different sources. The Sample and Hold module allows you to create more complicated wave shapes. It can take two different types of input (sequencer, envelopes, LFOs, etc.) and then affect them using the Threshold, Quantize and Lag controls. Depending on what you put into it, this can lead to all kinds of wild variations in the resulting audio.


I mentioned a sequencer as a type of input in that last section, so here are some basics on what is included in the Factory sequencer. You can have up to four sequences with as many as sixteen steps in each of them. Clicking in the lower section of each step allows you to choose from 36 predefined shapes. Some of those shapes are actually multiples with two, three or four shapes within a single step. After you’ve selected one for a step, you can click and drag the shape up or down to increase or decrease its level. If you select a certain shape on the first step, you can click/drag it across all the other steps and it will copy that shape across all the steps for you. This is a great time saver.

Switching between the four sequences is accomplished by clicking the four buttons on the left side. On the right side, you can copy/paste the settings from one sequence into another sequence, or click the randomize icon and see what it sets up for you. Global Swing is a swing control for all four sequences, and the Clock Divider sets the rate separately for each of the four sequences. You can set these sequences to individually modulate many other targets within the mod matrix.


Next up is the Arpiculation section with its global tuning, glide, unison setting, arpeggiator and intonation settings.  The Transpose menu lets you set the tuning to several different scalings (various Major/Minor types and Whole tone). It can be used along with the Pitch Quant settings by assigning an LFO, arpeggiator, sequencer or envelope to it within the modulation matrix (more on this in a moment). The Unison slider will add depth to the audio by stacking the voices for a thicker, richer sound. The only things I would like to see added would be a spread control to pan the unison voices from left to right, and to have polyphonic unison made available as well. The Intonation settings let you create a more realistic, vintage/drifting type of sound. There are three modulation envelope shapes to choose from, and you can set it up with as much (or as little) of an effect as you want.

The arpeggiator has six options with which to change the order/direction in which it plays. These work along with the voice selection and octave range settings.  The voice selection settings include Counter (one after the other), Random, and Matrix (set by a source in the mod matrix). The octave range is how many octaves the arpeggiator will use. With the Clock Source, you can choose from the internal Factory clock, Spawn (a type of sputtering playback that still follows the clock), or you can have it synced to one of the four sequencer tracks.

 

There are three effect slots available in Factory, and for each one of those, you can select from seventeen effects. Some of these include various types of delays, reverbs, filters, chorus, flanger, etc. They can also be put in the order you want by dragging them to the left or right. I won’t go into detail on all of those, but many of them work very well (the quality of the sound being subjective of course). I especially like the Shimmer and Groove Delay effects. An added bonus in Factory is that the effects can be targeted for modulation – something I always like to see implemented. Like some other parts of Factory, you can click the little arrows above certain controls to set them to be affected by the modulation that you configure in the matrix. For instance, I set up the LFO with a square wave to affect the flanger effect. I then clicked the arrow above the flanger rate knob. The result of this is that the rate of the flanger alternates between a slow and fast rate following the LFO’s square wave.

I keep mentioning the modulation matrix, but now I will actually focus on it. It is a grid with the sources listed along the left side and the targets for modulation along the bottom. Each of these can be switched out with something else by clicking on the name of the source or target, and a “dice” icon lets you randomize what is selected for modulation. This can work well if you happen to be short on ideas, or you just need a boost when designing your presets. In total, there are 23 sources and 34 targets for modulation. To assign a source to a target, you just click in the appropriate square that intersects them both on the grid. Dragging up or down while clicking it will add an amount of modulation, and this can be a positive or negative value. The levels you set are shown at the top of the display (+/- 100%). On the right side of the matrix is a manual Tweak control. It will change all the settings (in a linear fashion) that are setup in the matrix. You can also dial in the amount of modulation right below it, and have a source (such as the mod wheel, an LFO, sequencer, or envelope) to modulate it for you automatically. The other two menu items besides Tweak are the Mutate and Target settings. Mutate will randomly change the amounts of the settings in the matrix, and the Target setting will let you select a single section in the matrix to modulate.

 

Wrapping Up

Before I finish, there are a couple of other parts in Factory that I wanted to touch on. The Morph slider lets you set up two different states for your settings and morph between them. This can be used for just about anything: oscillator settings, mixer and effects levels, mod matrix, and much more. Also, MIDI learn is just a right-click away for the many the knobs and sliders.

As I mentioned before, I wish there were a stereo spread control for the unison, and I’d love polyphonic unison to be included as well. While I’m at it, I’d also like to see an additional filter and a re-sizable display. Hopefully there is a Factory sequel in the works. Anyway, that’s it for my wish list, since I found that this instrument already has several excellent options for sound design. I was able to wrench many interesting sounds from Factory in no time at all. In summary, I can say that I love the modulation options, the many oscillator types, and the excellent effects. Audition a demo version, and I think you’ll find that this is one surprisingly powerful synth.

Factory retails for $139 USD. Sugar Bytes did have a sale at one point recently, so there is hope that they may have another. You can download a demo version and get more information (many tutorial videos are available) here:

https://sugar-bytes.de/en/factory

 

 

 

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