Review: Polaris by Spitfire Audio

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Is Polaris a synthesizer? Yes, but unlike the classic waveforms, filters, and oscillators you’ve come to expect, Polaris covers new sonic territory that is somehow both familiar and completely new . .  both organic and synthetic, this instrument is a beautiful cyborg.

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Jump to the Demos of Polaris by Spitfire Audio

 

Review: Polaris by Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio Polaris Main Interface

What happens when you combine hardware synths and samplers with strings played in the hall at AIR studios? That’s what Spitfire Audio and BT (aka Brian Transeau) have set out to uncover. Polaris is a mysterious and emotional instrument that combines familiar elements (synths, samplers, and strings) in unfamiliar ways to magical effect.

Polaris normally sells for $349.00 from Spitfire Audio

At the time of posting, Polaris is on a special introductory price of $269 (reg $349.00) until April 28, 2022.
Owners of BT Phobos save 33% on RRP during the introductory pricing period. Be sure to log in to your Spitfire Audio account to view your special price.

Thoughts

Polaris could easily be mistaken for just another soft synth entering a crowded market. Equally, Polaris could be mistaken for just another Spitfire Audio string library with that iconic AIR Studios sound. However, the magic in Polaris is that it combines these two staples of music production into a creative instrument that somehow sounds both like a string library and a synthesizer at the same time.

On the surface, the idea behind Polaris seems so obvious that it’s hard to believe no one has yet tried it; that is, asking a string orchestra to imitate classic synth sounds and then processing those samples through classic synths, samplers, and tape machines. Spitfire Audio has done just that and then some. Not only has Spitfire Audio covered fresh territory here by processing these unique string samples and creating layered presets out of them, but they have also included the original source material – the original string articulations, the synth samples, and the samples as processed through classic samplers and tape machines.

Standard Mode
In Standard Mode, Polaris is presented in the same interface as all the other Spitfire Audio libraries that come housed in their dedicated plugin. However, the plugin has received a futuristic makeover that has it looking sleek and fresh. The browser in Standard Mode includes the original string recordings, hardware, and granular synth samples, and samples processed via vintage resampling through classic hardware and tape machines. At first, the string samples might sound somewhat familiar – coming with that familiar AIR Lyndhurst presence – but the articulations on offer are different than anything I’ve heard before.

There are strings imitating granular synthesis, beautiful harmonic clouds, some unique electro pizzicato and spiccato plucks, falling strings that sound like they should have been in the original Bladerunner movie, and more. The string samples by themselves are fantastic and will get some mileage on their own. The hardware synth samples include classic synthesizers such as the CS-80, the Jupiter 8, the Prophet 5, and the Matrix 12, among others. These are classic sounds that will be familiar to you, but they are sampled well. There are also nine granular articulations that sound great. Finally, the string and synth samples are presented as processed through tape machines, samplers, hardware FX, and VHS. This Standard Mode is a great bonus, especially containing the original string articulations. However, the real fun comes in when you change over to the Synth mode!

Spitfire Audio Polaris Synth Mode

Synth Mode
The Synth Mode is where the heart of Polaris really is. Owners of EDNA Earth or Albion ONE will be familiar with the eDNA engine on offer here. However, the engine has now been updated to include granular processing and the number of FX has increased markedly. For those unfamiliar with Spitfire’s eDNA engine, the concept is simple: there are two sound slots that can be blended to taste via the modwheel or via an oscillation mixer that allows you to bounce between the sound slots in time with your DAW. This can be done at multiple rates (from 0.5x to 256x) and using various LFO waveforms (i.e., sine wave, triangle, etc.). Each sound slot has a dedicated engine that includes LFO modulation for volume, pitch, and filter, as well as high and low pass filters, ADSR controls, tune, pan, offset, and trim, along with a glide control for portamento and a clone effect that allows you to clone the current sound while tuning it up or down from the original sample.

Spitfire Audio Polaris FX Panel

There is a dedicated FX page that provides separate fx for each sound slot, plus Auxiliary FX, and Master FX for applying final processing on the way out to your DAW. There are multiple fx on offer here, each with its own controls and fine-tuning. To name a few, you’ll find standards like chorus, distortion, flanger, and convolution reverb, as well as fx like notch, formant, delays, granular processing, and a limiter.

Spitfire Audio Polaris Sequencer Page

Finally, there is a dedicated page for the Gate Sequencer. There are separate sequencer lanes for each sound slot with controls like depth and smoothness. While I love the samples, presets, and sound of Polaris, I must admit that I’m a bit underwhelmed by the sequencer and number of modulation options on offer. I would have liked to have the ability to modulate each of the fx controls, and I would have loved to have seen a more expansive sequencer with controls for things like step pitch and step volume. However, aside from missing greater flexibility within the eDNA engine, Polaris is an intuitive and easy-to-use instrument with a fantastic set of samples, sounds, and presets. The presets are categorized nicely, and I especially appreciate the ability to preview each sound prior to loading it into memory. When needing to find the right sound on a deadline, this is a track-saving feature.

Overall, Polaris is a beautiful synth and a beautiful instrument. It feels both organic and synthetic at the same time – as if the instrument itself is a cyborg of sorts. It feels like playing a string library, but with something new and different. Simultaneously, it’s as if I’m playing a synthesizer, but again, with something new and different. Polaris is a welcome addition to the sonic landscape and something I’m looking forward to using in my own music production.

Facts

Polaris downloads as 44.7GB and comes housed in Spitfire Audio’s dedicated plugin. The source material (including a string orchestra imitating classic synth sounds) has been processed through classic synths, samplers, and tape machines to create a synthesis of classic synth and organic string sounds. There are 94 articulations, 35 layered patches, 421 presets, and 54 noise sources recorded by BT.

Polaris normally sells for $349.00 from Spitfire Audio

At the time of posting, Polaris is on a special introductory price of $269 (reg $349.00) until April 28, 2022.
Owners of BT Phobos save 33% on RRP during the introductory pricing period. Be sure to log in to your Spitfire Audio account to view your special price.

Demos of Polaris by Spitfire Audio

 

Videos of Polaris by Spitfire Audio



 

Contributor Raborn Johnson reviews Polaris by Spitfire Audio
“Is Polaris a synthesizer? Yes, but unlike the classic waveforms, filters, and oscillators you’ve come to expect, Polaris covers new sonic territory that is somehow both familiar and completely new.”