Sound Particles SkyDust 3D is an incredible synth for spatial audio
Can one plugin straddle the worlds of synthesis and spatial audio without descending into an endless maze of menus, options and controls?
⊕ Easy to program via a clear and navigable UI br>
⊕ Randomisation functions to overcome creative block or freshen-up a session br>
⊕ Extensive control set that doesn't demand every parameter be tweaked br>
⊖ Limited effects section compared to everything else SkyDust 3D offers br>
SkyDust 3D adopts the ethos of Sound Particles’ sound design platform into a software instrument that works instantly in any spatial audio environment. By treating each note as a ‘particle’, complex and expansive sounds can be conjured for tickling ears in virtual and augmented reality productions, cinema and music mixes alike.
To achieve this, Sound Particles has developed a substantial synth engine with what it calls a ‘format-agnostic’ output configuration. No matter what the synth is doing, it can be switched to any spatial audio format (depending on the DAW) by selecting one of the many output modes, without any need to re-jig the synth preset. For those working across media, games and post-production, this can save time when creating new panning routines for sounds that require multichannel placement and movement.
SkyDust 3D is a comprehensive synth but its unique selling point is certainly its spatial audio capabilities. The interface has animated, heptagonal and circular plots that represent the 3D surround sound output in 2D form. Each particle – or note – is represented visually on these plots, colour-coded per each of the eight available oscillators. This eye-catching display provides vital feedback on what sounds the synth is generating. Given the synth’s maximum polyphony of 256 notes, up to 32 particle dots of each colour/oscillator can be swimming around in the plot view, like an over-animated petri dish.
Initially, it’s hard to comprehend how to program such varied and complex surround panning behaviours, but flicking to the Spatial page reveals simple, powerful tools to conjure up myriad movements. Plus, the spatial preset menu lets you explore the possibilities as a wealth of useful starting points.
At the easy end, oscillators can be assigned a static position with regard to front/back, elevation and left/right. Meanwhile, at the complex end, there is an LFO and envelope generator for each oscillator’s spatial behaviour. The Movement Modifiers option will likely become a firm favourite of sound designers, offering a start point, a movement (rotating, oscillating, floating, etc) and then a movement or destination triggered on note release. The learning curve may be steep, but the output plot view helps you quickly gain familiarity with the movements and behaviours.
The sonic possibilities are almost infinite, and for those embracing the (more expensive) fully-fledged spatial option in a surround playback environment, the results are stunning. Spending half the amount on the stereo version brings exactly the same functionality, just without the 3D sound. Even so, limited to stereo reproduction, the sounds and movements that can be produced are impressively immersive, for sound design and music production alike, especially when monitoring in binaural mode on headphones.
SkyDust 3D’s note panning can be manipulated via the intuitive control set, but at every stage there are randomisation sliders, allowing anything from slight shifts of parameter settings to full-scale deviations. This doesn’t just apply to the 3D note placement and movement; the oscillator pitch envelope generators have a set of five random behaviours to inject human and analogue variance, and then there’s also the quirky dice icon at the top of the plugin window.
Randomising proves to not only be a simple and creative way to generate new sounds, but just as effective in opening up the user’s understanding of SkyDust 3D’s substantial capabilities.
SkyDust is a seriously accomplished synthesis platform. Its eight oscillators feature a full set of base waveforms, plus modifier controls to quickly create more harmonically-complex sound sources. As with everything in SkyDust 3D, all parameters are easy to locate and adjust; in the Oscillator view waveforms can be manipulated via a summary screen of all eight, or else modified individually to access envelope generators and LFOs for each.
Filter, Pitch and Spatial views offer the same topology of global versus per-oscillator programming. Frequency modulation brings in a classic component of synthesis sound design with a nifty matrix editor, familiar to those who’ve used Yamaha DX-series synths.
All the basics are present, plus plenty of options for a huge variance, marrying ease of use and effortless sound quality. It doesn’t have to just be 3D – a fat, monosynth bass is just as easy to produce, but multitimbral surround atmospherics is its forte. Post voicing and spatialisation, there is an effects view – unfortunately the least impressive section of SkyDust 3D. The handful of effects allow for some final sound sculpting and staging but are kept simple, leaving post-synth processing to other plugins, assuming they’re able to handle the spatial audio format.
More movement, more control
The Arp section of SkyDust contains a no-frills seven-mode arpeggiator, and a far more extensive sequencer, capable of up to 128-step resolution, complete with keyboard note or pitch bar programming (±36 semitones), plus a parallel option to sequence any other parameter. The arpeggiator is a quick and easy way to enhance tonal and harmonic movement, but the sequencer is a no-holds-barred compositional tool that can also run as something more elaborate, pseudo-random and potentially chaotic.
SkyDust 3D also boasts an Extras page accommodating eight more envelope generators and LFOs ready to assign wherever your imagination requires. These are fully loaded features that may seem like overkill – until you need them.
For multi-parameter manipulations, there are four macros housed in both the Matrix view and a handy switchable lower screen panel, which can also bring up the two X-Y performance pads. The final tool for control freaks is full MIDI assignability across most parameters via a right-click menu.
SkyDust 3D is made for sound designers by sound designers, and as such will find a home in the audio production toolboxes of many. It provides a breadth of spatial audio capability that is, as yet, unrivalled in the world of synthesis. Sound Particles’ powerful synth is surprisingly easy to operate; one that doesn’t require users to be inveterate tweakers or menu wanderers.
For those seeking deep programming functionality, there’s still plenty to delve into, but for the majority who require fast results, SkyDust 3D makes short work of creating convincing instruments and sound design elements, especially with its randomisation options. Whichever pricing option fits your budget and production environment, SkyDust 3D will supply endless full-fat, multi-dimensional synth sounds, even when rendered in stereo.
Find out more at soundparticles.com
Price: $399 (spatial edition); $199 (stereo edition)
Resizable plugin window
8 oscillators (16 waveforms, 8 modifiers) each with envelope generator and LFO
Pitch modulators and spatial movement modifiers (one per oscillator), each with own envelope generator and LFO
4 effects slots with 5 available effects (bit crush, distortion, EQ, delay and reverb)
8 additional envelope generators and LFOs
Spatial outputs: stereo; binaural (3D over headphones with over 100 HRTF profiles and import of SOFA personalised HRTFs); multichannel (LRC, LRCS, Quad, 4.0 up to 22.2); Ambisonics up to 6th order)
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