Review: PolyM offers a Great Polymoog Emulation

The Polymoog remains one of the most underrated Moog synthesizers. Gary Numan used it to great effect in the late 70s, but its complex design led to a poor reliability factor, with Dave Smith’s Prophet 5 ultimately winning the polyphonic analog race. XILS-Labs’ recently released emulation – the PolyM – brings the olde beast back to life, and is of interest to anyone looking to add bit of vintage vibe to their modern virtual synth collection.

PolyM Features

  • 71-voice “Unlimited” Polyphony
  • Synth Architecture based on Two Top Octave Divider Oscillators
  • Filters Galore: Monophonic 24db Ladder, Resonator Bank, Acoustic Filter Bank
  • Those Old School Polymoog Preset Buttons
  • Delay, Phaser, Reverb – not on the Original Polymoog
  • Emulations of the Original’s LFOs and Envelopes
  • Modulation Matrix
  • Supports Most Popular Plugin Formats
  • Available for 99 Euros (149 after August 31)

The PolyM features a great 70s sound, a bit grungy in the right spots, with a warm feel typical of that classic era of analog synths. Whether you are going old school, or if the “newer” exponents of this sound – Air, Boards of Canada, etc. – are more up your alley, PolyM belongs in your plugin library.

The Divided Alien Octave

The original Polymoog 203a had more similarities with the classic string synths of the era compared to a true polyphonic synth. Its divide-down architecture is more akin to an organ or string synthesizer. This design principle is also at the core of the PolyM, including the original’s split keyboard fader and octave balance controls.

PolyM Screenshot

The PolyM in virtual action. Screenshot by Author.

The two Top Octave Divider oscillators can be tuned against each other, creating that classic beat phasing effect. Virtual buttons and sliders let you tweak the pitch for each oscillator as well as switch between free or locked mode. Each oscillator also sports an LFO controlling frequency modulation (or phase modulation when in locked mode.)

Being able to switch between oscillator waveforms based on the keyboard split (lower and upper) is a classic feature of the original Polymoog emulated nicely in the PolyM. Additional mixing and shaping controls add to the fun. The Loudness Contour section serves as the VCA envelope for the synth, with a toggle switch allowing you to change between a traditional ADSR envelope and the unique “Legacy” one from the Polymoog.

The PolyM mimics the Polymoog’s interface accurately. Everything is where one expects it to be, including the original blue preset buttons — another hint at the Polymoog’s similarity to the string synthesizers of its day. There are additional screens to manage the patch library as well as other features unique to the plugin, like the modulation matrix, reverb, phaser, and delay. As noted earlier, you are also able to control the synth’s mix in a variety of ways, including controlling the balance between the three sets of octave pairs, as well as the discrete outputs of the PolyM’s various filter sections… speaking of which.

Polymoog Filter Insanity

Like the original, the PolyM offers copious filter options, offering flexibility when creating your sonic mayhem. The polyphonic filter sports three different modes (high, low, and band pass) and comes with its own envelope. You are also able to disable the filter for either half of the keyboard.

Unlike its polyphonic brother, the 24db ladder filter is applied after all the notes are mixed together. However, it does offer the same disabling toggle switch for each half of the keyboard. Expect the standard array of filter controls, along with modulation – including an LFO with sine and sample and hold waves – to round out this filter.

There is also a resonators filter section, with 6db and 12db modes, for that extra sonic push over the mindfreak cliff. This filter includes cutoff and resonance controls for each octave pair separately. Switching between high, low, and band pass is also possible.

The MODE filter is a separate circuit based on the nine preset filters accessed from the classic blue buttons in the middle of the synth interface. These can be engaged whether or not the underlying preset sound is loaded. For instance, you can use a string MODE filter setting with your own patch creation.

A Must-have Synth Plugin for Moogheads 

A fully-featured modulation matrix is one example on how the PolyM goes beyond the functionality of the original Polymoog. Its sound quality also comes pretty close as well; rivaling Arturia’s stable of emulations of classic 70s and 80s synthesizer models.

Personally, I expect to “reach” for the PolyM when I need its unique “string synth meets analog polyphonic” sound stylings. If you are interested in this era of Moog synthesizers, and can’t afford the several thousand dollars for a restored version, the PolyM belongs in your plugin collection, stat.