New Sonic Arts Granite Review


There are many surprisingly good granular effects out there, many of which are open source and are expertly catalogued here on Bedroom Producers Blog (take a look at our list of free granular effects). Unfortunately, there are a scant few praiseworthy granular samplers to choose from, and some of the very best are exclusive to high-end production suites and programming environments that most people can’t afford.

I’ve used some fairly sophisticated plugins in the past few years, but I’ve yet to come across anything I would describe as “the ultimate third-party granular instrument”. I personally don’t think any granular instrument available right now deserves that title, mainly because (in my less than humble opinion) it hasn’t been developed yet, even though the general principles of granular synthesis can be traced back as far as the late 1950s, evermore realized in years to come.

While it’s not exactly fresh off the presses, Granite by New Sonic Arts offers everything we’ve grown to expect from a granular sampler, and what’s more, it doesn’t primarily concern itself with outgunning the competition, but rather establishes a very unique character all its own.

The Review

The first thing that really jumped out at me is that Granite doesn’t just load up as a third-party VST within your DAW, but there’s also a standalone version, which I love to tears. I grow tired of working within an environment within an environment, so it’s always nice to just sit back with a cup o’ Joe and design presets on my desktop – and talk about workflow! Well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

Before I get ahead of myself, I just want to ask you (as a fellow audiophile) when was the last time you had fun with a virtual instrument? Well, I don’t know about you, but for me it’s certainly been a while. Of course, my initial reaction to Granite was slightly rattled by a considerably loud factory preset that opens upon startup, which made me nearly fall out of my chair. So, obviously, my first suggestion would have to be the inclusion of a cleared default patch.

Although, once you’ve happened upon the “Gate” button, which activates the master envelope, you can rest easy now that you finally have some control over sample playback. It’s really not that big a deal. I’ve used dozens of noisemakers and drone generators in recent history that open with a constant amplitude. But if you’re not expecting it, you could possibly damage your equipment. However, you can change the initialize patch (including the Gate mode setting) in the setup dialogue within the plugin version. Just go to Main Menu / Setup / File / Store Current As Default.

I rarely have the privilege to sit down with a plugin that immediately drums up a childlike sense of playfulness. You know the feeling, like the first time you sat down with a mess of Legos and pressed two plastic bricks together. It’s a sound designer’s dream: a simple, intuitive interface offering an incredible amount of control with the slightest touch.

I’ve test-driven a small handful of instruments that feature recordable modulation, none of which I’ve enjoyed enough to revisit, but in this case, Granite is a rare exception. With a simple mouse click and the flick of your wrist, you can generate several minutes worth of modulation within the “Recordable Modulation Rings” and delete your recordings just as easily with an additional right-click.

Also, the dedicated “Cycle Modulators” offer a more focused approach, even though they can work in tandem with recordable modulation to create evermore complexity, but they should not be confused with traditional LFOs, although they perform a similar function. I was a little off-put by the use of all-too-familiar terms indicating what I naturally assumed were basic waveforms, but upon further investigation, I discovered that these “cycles” have a direct relationship with the “grain re-trigger frequency” and should never be thought of as a basic waveform that scans an audio file; no question, the grain engine is quite capable of feigning that behavior, but that’s not what’s really going on…

Basically, the “Cycle Modulators” are reading from a table of values in accordance with the grain re-trigger frequency, processing event data through each stage of the modulator’s shape, which can cause each grain to jump around a sample in all kinds of weird ways, but if you can resist the temptation to modulate the living daylights out of every parameter available – which is easier said than done – you can create some very tasteful, organic textures.

At first, I was a little let down by the way Granite plays back a mono version of a stereo WAV file, but if you set the “Pan” knob’s Cycle Modulator mode to “Flip” or “Random” and then turn the “Amount” slider up to about seventy-five percent, you can very easily pantomime a surprisingly complex stereo signal, which is absolutely brilliant because it will save you tons of processing power, enabling you to layer several instances of Granite, which is something you can’t do with most plugins of this caliber.

Another thing you’ll notice is that polyphony can take on the general characteristic of an “as played” arpeggiator, but if you turn down the “Space” knob, which determines the distance between each grain, then turn up the “Density” knob, which increases (and decreases) the length of each grain, you can trigger insanely fast arpeggio-like iterations that behave very much like chords, and with the “Density” knob fully increased, all sixteen grains are up in the air, overlapping one another at varying amplitudes in a resultant swarm of granular bliss.

In the “Browser” pane, you can navigate to all your drives and folders, save favorites, audition samples and use “Cycle Mode” to swap presets, even though I’m not exactly sure how that works being that the online documentation doesn’t explain it very well.

At the top of the “Browser” is a round icon that will open the “Assignment Manager” with a detailed list of real-time parameters you can automate within your host application or link to your external MIDI hardware by simply toggling the “Learn” button, then tweaking whatever controller you want to assign.

The online user manual is a bit lean, referencing “in-app hints for details on each parameter”, which are helpful, but sometimes the “info bubble” hints are a little ambiguous. Of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the effects do, but the waveshaper and sample reduction units might be a little confusing if you’re not already familiar with waveshaping and bit-crusher effects.

I would suggest the inclusion of an additional effect within the “FX2” section, but I’m fairly certain there’s at least one more effect on the horizon, judging by an empty slot beside the “Reverb” unit awaiting what I hope is a chorus module or maybe a dual-delay. But anyway, we’ll see what happens.

The Verdict

A lot of commercial softsynths and power samplers offer a lion’s share of features, with overcrowded drop-down menus stuffed with every bell and whistle under the sun. However, I find that several of my favorite plugins are actually very limited, challenging you to be more creative by giving you just a small set of controls to work with.

Of course, I would never describe Granite as being “limited”, but it definitely has a very minimal tone that I rather enjoy. There’s room to breath. I don’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed. I can sit down and design presets in a matter of minutes without having to worry about tedious modulation matrixes or unwieldy multi-stage envelope generators… and most importantly, it’s fun to use!

Product page: New Sonic Arts Granite (€79)

New Sonic Arts Granite Review

9.0 Brilliant

While it’s not exactly fresh off the presses, Granite by New Sonic Arts offers everything we've grown to expect from a granular sampler, and what’s more, it doesn't primarily concern itself with outgunning the competition, but rather establishes a very unique character all its own.

  • Features 7
  • Workflow 10
  • Stability 10
  • Design 9
  • Pricing 9
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About Author

Bryan Lake is a sound designer and a musician. He publishes sound design tutorials and sound libraries on his website Sound Author.


    • Yeah, Mangle looks interesting. The developer is asking a very modest price, mainly due to the fact that it’s still in development. I believe the current version is 0.9b. I might review it once it finally goes 1.0. But it looks pretty cool so far :)

  1. marti garaughty


    I’ve been using the various granular oscillators in UVI Falcon and have been getting great, very musical results!

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