Every once in a while, a softsynth comes along that is so versatile that it finds a permanent home on my hard drive. This may sound like hyperbole, but Sugar Bytes Factory is so jam-packed with features that covering them in this brief review will be difficult—but here goes.
Each of the two oscillators can function in any of ten different modes, ranging from sync effects to wavetables to physical modeling waveguides. For other developers, some of these modes would be worthy of their own instrument, but in Factory, their deep features have been condensed into a few macros for each mode. This makes their functionality much more approachable, even to newcomers. Pick a mode that suits your sonic objectives, then tinker with the parameters until you get the overall sound you’re after. As I worked with them, it seemed that many of the modes were well-suited to harder, aggressive textures, but softening the edges is what filters are for, right?
So let’s talk about Factory’s 11 filter modes, which include the usual multimode types, along with unique options such as 8-pole lowpass, mid-boost, single-band EQ, comb, and formant. Resonance is available wherever applicable and behaves authentically on the analog models, as does the drive knob, which is great for warming up the more familiar options and trashing out the exotic models.
Modulation is assigned using a matrix, similar to what you would find on an EMS Synthi or Arturia MatrixBrute. As a clever touch, modulation depth can be adjusted within the matrix by dragging up/ down on its point, changing the size in a visually intuitive manner. As for modulation sources, there are dual ADSR envelopes, LFOs, and step sequencers (that immediately evoke Native Instruments’ Massive), as well as options for routing each oscillator for FM-style effects, which incidentally sound fantastic. With all of these modulators, I almost overlooked Factory’s impressive sample-and-hold section, which works authentically, allowing you to use a wide variety of input sources and then repeatedly sample their state. Controls are provided for both rate and lag.
Factory’s additional features include an “arpiculation” page, which is the Sugar Bytes term for a single page that includes features such as unison, glide, a single-stage pitch envelope that offers a lot of flexibility with a minimum of parameters, and of course, an arpeggiator.
Also in the mix is a chain of three serial effects that can be re-ordered on-the-fly. While the usual processing options are all present and work as expected, there are a few unusual effect types—like the resonating Pianoverb and a delay that reverses its repeats. There is also a physical modeling tool called Corpus that re-creates acoustic cavities (like the body of a guitar) with enough flexibility to make it useful for more organic textures.
With such a massive complement of synthesis tools at your fingertips, my only wish would be for Factory to include more visual interface elements. For example, while there are tiny images of envelopes under the ADSRs, they don’t dynamically reflect the settings. To be clear, this isn’t so much a shortcoming as a missed opportunity and could certainly be addressed in a future edition.
Interface quibbles aside, Factory is one of the most satisfying synths to cross my hard drive this year. It’s astonishingly powerful, sounds fantastic, and invites experimentation regardless of skill level. And at $139, this is a softsynth that really deserves your attention.
PROS Ten unique oscillator types. Eleven filter modes, including 8-pole lowpass. Visual modulation grid. Patch morphing. Integrated effects include physical modeling options. Excellent manual. Compatible with VST, AU and AAX.
CONS Some elements, such as envelopes and filter curves, would benefit from graphic interfaces.
An unbelievable amount of synthesis power for the price.