Mu­ta­ble In­stru­ments Plaits

Mu­ta­ble In­stru­ments have taken the best of os­cil­la­tor Braids, and re­wrapped it into the newer, slim­mer Plaits, says Phil Wise

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

For the first of Mu­ta­ble In­stru­ments’ new line-up, Olivier GIl­let has gone back to the draw­ing board to of­fer a suc­ces­sor to the mighty Braids, his flag­ship dig­i­tal os­cil­la­tor. Braids changed the game in 2013 by of­fer­ing a vir­tual mu­seum of mod­elled syn­the­sis types in one mod­ule. With ba­sic fil­ter­ing and a VCA built-in, Braids of­fered a quick, ready-to-go synth voice, and be­came a hugely pop­u­lar mod­ule.

But things have moved on, DSP power has in­creased and many peo­ple’s fo­cus has shifted to smaller com­plete sys­tems and there­fore more com­pact mod­ules.

So Plaits is here, of­fer­ing the same ba­sic prin­ci­ple but with a com­plete over­haul in both de­sign and pro­gram­ming and a sig­nif­i­cant drop in price. Plaits is 4hp smaller with a greater fo­cus on er­gonomics and playa­bil­ity; the first thing you’ll no­tice is that the screen has gone. Al­though straight­for­ward, scrolling through Braids’ menu sys­tem could be la­bo­ri­ous and Plaits in­stantly feels more im­me­di­ate without it.

The lay­out is well de­signed with just four main knobs that are well spaced and easy to wig­gle. One is for the pitch while the other three con­trol dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of the tim­bre. The use of these vary depend­ing on the model but soon be­come in­tu­itive and of­fer a very im­me­di­ate in­ter­face for tweak­ing the sounds. Be­tween them they give ac­cess to a huge va­ri­ety of tim­bres and tones.

Braids AD en­ve­lope is re­placed in Plaits with a Low Pass Gate sim­u­la­tion with ad­justable decay length and bright­ness. As these re­quire you to hold a but­ton while turn­ing a knob, they are re­ally set-it-and-for­get-it con­trols. If you want hands-on or CV con­trol of the am­pli­tude, you’ll need a sep­a­rate en­ve­lope mod­ule but you can plug straight into the level in­put so you won’t nec­es­sar­ily need a VCA. The LPG en­ve­lope is also nor­malled to the dif­fer­ent CV in­puts, mean­ing you can ad­just the amount of en­ve­lope fed through the at­tenu­verter when the socket is un­patched. This is re­ally use­ful for bring­ing va­ri­ety to the sounds without the need for ex­ter­nal mod­u­la­tion. The LPG does rely on the trig­ger in­put so un­for­tu­nately it’s not pos­si­ble to use its en­ve­lope as a mo­du­la­tor without also us­ing it as a vol­ume con­trol.

There are eight syn­the­sis mod­els for pitched sounds and eight for noise and per­cus­sion. These are no­tated by a ver­ti­cal row of LEDs down the cen­tre of the mod­ule and stepped through with a but­ton for each set. You can also use the CV in­put to au­to­mate the model changes or use a sep­a­rate volt­age source for ease. The trig­ger in­put pro­vides a sam­ple & hold func­tion when chang­ing the syn­the­sis type, so the model is fixed un­til the next trig­ger pulse is re­ceived.

Plaits also of­fers CV in­puts for the three tim­bre con­trols and FM, and at­tenu­vert­ers for ev­ery­thing apart from the Har­mon­ics knob (I guess they just ran out of space).

There are two out­puts, with the Aux of­fer­ing an al­ter­nate ver­sion of the cur­rent model. In a lot of cases this can be used as a makeshift stereo pair with each out­put panned

hard left and right. In other modes the Aux pro­vides a sub os­cil­la­tor or a bitcrushed ver­sion of the main sig­nal. I got ex­tra mileage from Plaits by us­ing a cross­fader mod­ule to eas­ily mix the two out­puts but you could also use a nor­mal mixer for the same task.

So how does it sound com­pared to Braids? Well the syn­the­sis en­gine is com­pletely rewrit­ten, get­ting bet­ter au­dio qual­ity out of a lower sam­ple rate, and it does sound no­tice­ably bet­ter. Smoother and less dig­i­tal, par­tic­u­larly in the high end. In short, it sounds fan­tas­tic.

Let’s look at the pitched sounds on of­fer. As with Braids, you get a col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent syn­the­sis types: clas­sic de­tuned waves, wave-fold­ing, ad­di­tive, two op­er­a­tor FM, for­mants, speech, chords, wavetable, etc. The wavetable mode is bet­ter or­gan­ised than that of Braids, with the waves fol­low­ing more ob­vi­ous pro­gres­sions, mak­ing the mor­ph­ing smoother and more nat­u­ral. In this re­gard it has more in com­mon with the use of waveta­bles in Sheep (Tides v1 al­ter­nate firmware). Chord mode is a favourite, with lots of tim­bres, from draw­bar or­gans to string ma­chines. Poly voices are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar in Euro­rack but it’s use­ful to have a great voice for four note chords in such a small size. While writ­ing this re­view, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to a slowly mor­ph­ing chordal drone with Plaits be­ing played by Mar­bles; it just doesn’t get bor­ing.

The noise op­tions in­clude a Su­per Saw os­cil­la­tor and a mini ver­sion of Rings along with sev­eral flavours of noise, and the built-in LPG makes it easy to use these as per­cus­sion sources. Plaits also of­fers kick, snare and hi-hat mod­els based on clas­sic drum ma­chines. These are far bet­ter than the drum sounds on Braids; the kick is pretty us­able but I couldn’t get much snap out of the snare. I pre­fer the one on Peaks.

As a full synth voice, Plaits is per­fect for a live sys­tem, with a host of eas­ily-ac­ces­si­ble tweak­able sounds and a sim­ple playable in­ter­face. The pitched mod­els of­fer a great range of syn­the­sis types with lots of sweet spots. The ad­di­tion of the noise and per­cus­sion sources and the fact you can also use it as an LFO means it will al­ways find a place no mat­ter how deep your patch­ing gets.

CON­TACT KEY FEA­TURESWHO: Mu­ta­ble In­stru­ments WEB: mu­ta­ble-in­stru­ I/O: Dig­i­tal os­cil­la­tor with eight syn­the­sis mod­els for pitched sounds and eight for noise and per­cus­sion, Model type can be switched un­der CV con­trol with built-in sam­ple & hold via the trig­ger in­put, at­tenu­vert­ers for nearly all CV in­puts, Vir­tual Low Pass Gate with fil­ter­ing.

MOD­U­LA­TION OUT­PUT A clever touch on the at­tenu­vert­ers is a 1.6 gain in­crease for dif­fer­ing mod­u­la­tion out­put lev­elsAU­DIO The au­dio out­put of Plaits is DC cou­pled and the range goes to very low fre­quen­cies; you can use it as a com­plex LFOQUANTISER Plaits has lost the quantiser from Braids but as most se­quencers have built-in quan­tis­ers now, it’s no is­sue

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