Manipulator is a vocal transformation processor by Polyverse Music, developed in collaboration with Isreali electronica duo Infected Mushroom. It allows the altering of monophonic audio material in several familiar ways, however, Polyverse state that Manipulator’s ‘unique granular algorithms’ are what sets it apart. In short, dependant on what approach you choose to take, you can use Manipulator to alter and enhance your vocal recordings in subtle ways, right through to a complete warping of the audio.
The interface is well laid out and fairly intuitive, with a slight sci-fi aesthetic to it. A preset menu sits at the top of the GUI. Manipulator came loaded with numerous presets, several of which are instantly usable, although most appeared to be better suited to demonstrating the extremes of the plugin’s abilities.
The plugin primarily revolves around a pitch shifter, a harmonics shifter, and an alternator. However, it is far from being merely a host for three separate effects.
The pitch shifter can move two octaves in either direction, each degree on its scale corresponding to a semitone. I was pleasantly surprised by the musicality of the sound. I dread a ‘chipmunk’ sound from pitched-up vocals or a ‘robot’ sound when pitched down. In fact, when I experimented with an octave shift in either direction, I was impressed by the clarity and tone. The pitch shifter alters the fundamental frequency of the input audio, without changing the formant.
Attached to the pitch shifter is an independent formant control, which allows for a wide variety of effects simply by experimenting with different combinations of values. As the pitch shifter is granular, massively lowering the pitch will result in gaps between the ‘grains.’ If this effect is not desired, Polyverse has included a simple smoothing tool.
The central wheel is a harmonics shifter, described in the tutorial video as a ‘pitch-tracking frequency shifter.’ By altering this control, as well as the attached Ratio wheel, you can move the level of the harmonics from one to another, the Ratio value determining by how many they will be moved. For instance, when the value is set to 1, the first harmonic will be shifted to the second, the second harmonic to the third and so on. Also linked to the harmonics shifter is the frequency modulation control. Using all three controls in conjunction does indeed allow for rather diverse timbre changes. However, I found the best results were from more subtle applications. Anything too drastic resulted in varying degrees of robot-voice.
Thirdly, the alternator. This control, as its name might imply, alternates in pitch between grains. The alternator control
itself changes the pitch interval between each grain and is attached to a further octave control. This is a very cool effect, especially if you modulate the alternator wheel, creating a crazy saw-like sound from the source material. This instantly stuck out to me as a method of making simple risers and transition material.
Although these main controls dominate the GUI, there are several other parameters which are effectively fader controlled. Polyverse has stuck with the sci-fi aesthetics and incorporated these into the layout in an attractive manner. They consist of a smear function (which gives an interesting glitch-like sound by sampling the source audio and looping it in pitch), as well as a stereo widener and detune function.
On the top left of the GUI are the MIDI controls. Each of these functions adds even more diversity to Manipulator’s uses. Connecting a MIDI controller, or routing in MIDI from your DAW, allows you to pitch the source audio, either in monophonic or four-voice polyphonic. Additionally, gated mode only alters the pitch when Manipulator detects incoming MIDI. The tutorial video shows how this can be used to add occasional backing vocals. All three modes are equally impressive and can be played in real time.
Polyverse provides several tutorials and demonstrations on their YouTube account, giving a lot of detail on how Manipulator works. The thing is, though, Manipulator is the kind of plugin which is best learned by messing around with the various parameters and their combinations.
For those delving even deeper into Manipulator’s possibilities, the bottom part of the GUI is given over to four modulation controls. These work in a similar fashion to assignable macro controls on softsynths and can be mapped to multiple controls in Manipulator. They can be assigned as a meta-knob (for increasing and decreasing values), a follower (which alters the amplitude according to the envelope), a classic ADSR envelope, or a sequencer (which is an insane combination of LFO patterns). Additionally, a MIDI controller allows modulation from external MIDI messages, such as mod wheels and velocity values. Each one of these is customizable and can be set up in numerous ways.
What impresses me most about Manipulator is how it has clearly been designed with the end user in mind. Polyverse has considered more than just the optimal settings and has included options which can become useful in different situations.
For instance, the mod wheel can be configured differently depending on how it will be used, as can many of the other modulators. This is a nice touch, as it shows Polyverse has considered ways of using Manipulator beyond those they prescribe themselves.
My initial impression of Manipulator was that it was powerful and deeply explorable, but suffers from being a very niche plugin. Tracks made from mangled vocal samples aren’t for everyone. However, with a bit more playing around, I was able to find a few more applications where it can excel. Clearly, if you are looking for a plugin specifically to transform vocal audio material, such as the demonstrations by Infected Mushroom, then Manipulator is fantastic. You can also get great results for voice design in film or computer game applications, or use it to audition vocal harmonies quickly (especially if you are not blessed with a classically pleasant singing voice!).
For me, Manipulator excels in the creative stage of the production process. This should be a go-to for the EDM producer, sitting down with their computer on a wet Wednesday afternoon, without a specific idea in mind, but enough spare time to build a track. Simply find an interesting vocal sample, or sing one yourself, mess with it in Manipulator, and be inspired by the crazy sound you’ve made. Adding to that, I haven’t noticed any CPU spikes while running the plugin, which is good news for those who want to use Manipulator in a live setting. Currently going for $69 during the beta stage (normally $149), Manipulator delivers a great deal at a reasonable price point.
More info: Manipulator ($69 during beta, $149 standard price)
Infected Mushroom Manipulator Review
Manipulator excels in the creative stage of the production process. This should be a go-to for the EDM producer, sitting down with their computer on a wet Wednesday afternoon, without a specific idea in mind, but enough spare time to build a track.