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Arturia Pigments 4

Arturia Pigments 4

Arturia’s colourful soft synth goes from strength to strength.

Pigments is Arturia’s entry into the imaginary category of sound designers’ soft synths. When launched in 2018 it comprised two underlying sound engines — wavetable and virtual analogue — but these were later joined by a sample/granular synthesis engine in version 2 and then harmonic synthesis and a utility (sub‑oscillator and noise) engine in version 3. Each release also added facilities such as additional filter models and effects, and expanded the factory sound library. With five types of sound generation and a large choice of filters, modulators and other facilities, you might have thought that Pigments had gone as far as it could, but Arturia then released Pigments 3.5 which, in my view, deserved to be called Pigments 4, and now the latest version, which IS called Pigments 4. This adds new wavetables, new sounds for the sample/granular engine, more noise types in the utility engine, yet more filter types, more effects, and numerous other enhancements to existing features. There are also improvements to the GUI plus a host of new factory patches and three new sound libraries that are free to new owners.

Living Colour

My first tests of Pigments 4 were confined to the initial sound generators because this is where many of the changes have taken place. I began with the wavetable engine, which has a wealth of tables from which to sculpt your sounds, and numerous transforms, modulators and wave folders that let you create everything from crystalline tones to (more often than not) aggressive noises and glitches. It takes a while to get to grips with this engine, especially with the addition of its new ring modulation and pulse‑width phase transforms but, once you’ve done so, you’ll find that it offers a huge range of sound design capabilities.

I then selected the virtual analogue engine, which is based loosely upon the Minimoog’s oscillator architecture. Unfortunately, Pigments still uses the method of assigning a pitch offset to an oscillator when you first play it and then holding it at a consistent value until you release the note. This system can make each multi‑oscillator note (or each chord constructed from single‑oscillator notes) sound different from the previous, but it can also generate the dreaded doo‑doo‑dee‑daa‑doo‑dee artefact as a quasi‑random but fixed amount of phase cancellation occurs. Furthermore, with larger offsets, Pigments starts to sound like a GX‑1 that hasn’t been allowed to warm up for 30 minutes, which, despite what you might think, is not a good thing. Arturia’s engineers have done some great work on oscillator emulations in recent years so I hope that they will incorporate these within Pigments as soon as possible because the rest of the synth deserves them.

The next engine uses samples as the underlying sound generators and adds granular synthesis tools to slice and dice them in many complex ways. A sample library is provided, but it’s easy to load your own samples and build new sounds from them. It isn’t designed to replace a conventional sampler because only six samples can be loaded at a time, and key mapping can only be carried out in octaves. Furthermore, editing isn’t up to the standard of dedicated samplers, not least because there’s no zooming. Nevertheless, the engine works and adds another flavour to Pigments.

Finally, there’s the harmonic engine, which is a form of additive synthesizer. Updated for Pigments 4, this offers 12 initial spectra and a sophisticated range of controls to configure, warp and modulate the spectral content of the initial sound. The range of tones it can generate is vast, and these often extend far beyond what you’ll obtain from other forms of synthesis. I would love to have the space to review this in isolation because it’s fascinating and can be very musical. Were I allowed to use only one of the engines within Pigments, this would be it.

The two primary sound generation slots in Pigments can host any two of these engines, while a third contains the utility engine, which comprises a simple waveform generator and two sophisticated noise generators. The outputs from these three slots can then be passed — or not, as you choose — through two filter sections that offer 11 major filter types and numerous sub‑types. (For example, the new MS20 filter option offers the original’s high‑pass and low‑pass modes.) The audio then passes to an audio signal amplifier. All of these sections offer more modulation possibilities than can be listed here let alone discussed in depth.

Ah yes... modulation. Residing in a band across the centre of the GUI, you’ll find 17 primary modulation sources, three maths generators that allow you to combine these and other sources into even more complex modulators, and four Macro controls. When assigned, each modulator lozenge displays the modulation level or waveform in real time, which is an excellent programming aid. The flexibility of the system is ridiculous, but I nonetheless have a complaint: sucky contours. When you retrigger a given voice, its contours are reset to zero rather than picking up from their existing positions. To be fair, numerous string machines and some vintage hardware synths act in this way, but it can lead to a disjointed sound, especially when playing monophonically. I described this in Synth Secrets as “sounding like the sound is swallowing its tongue”, and I think that Arturia should address it.

The effects section offers a wealth of slots and effects with which to fill them.The effects section offers a wealth of slots and effects with which to fill them.

Finally, the signal reaches three effect sections, each of which can host three effect units. Like so much else here, one could write a book about all of the algorithms provided and the uses to which they can be put but, since that’s not today’s endeavour, I’ll simply note the two new effects in Pigments 4: Super Unison and Shimmer. The first does as its name suggests, splitting the input signal into multiple partials, then detuning and modulating them in numerous ways to create a range of rich, stereo unison effects. The second is a stereo reverb that shifts the pitch of the reverberated signal by up to 24 semitones per pass through its feedback loop. You can’t modulate the pitch‑shift, but that doesn’t detract from it as a novel and rather appealing effect.

The last major element in Pigments is its arpeggiator/sequencer section. The arpeggiator is great, with some neat extensions over common arpeggio models including probabilistic control (or, rather, lack of control) over the octave played, triggering, gate length and slide. In contrast, the sequencer is probably the least powerful part of Pigments because it offers only 16 steps, and any greater detail has to come from clever programming of things such as pitch and amplitude modulation. Nonetheless, some interesting results can be achieved if you use this as a sound‑design tool rather than as a composition tool.

In Use

When I received Pigments 4, I tested numerous factory patches and found that — perhaps to the surprise (or even the shock) of existing owners — I didn’t much like its underlying sound. But when I analysed what was disturbing me, I concluded that this was because many of the patches sounded a bit ‘scooped’, with lots of bottom‑end whoompf and top‑end sizzle, but insufficient body and warmth in the middle. So I programmed a range of my own patches, and liked the results very much. I then took one of the factory pads that I had auditioned and, adding a parametric EQ to its signal path, dropped the top and low ends by a few dB and added a bump in the midrange. Wow, that was better! I’m not for a moment saying that all of Pigments’ factory patches should be subjected to such heavy‑handed re‑coloration; I was possibly unlucky in the sounds that I had selected and, even if not, there’s a place for bright patches and exaggerated basses. But this exercise taught me something important. If you want brash, Pigments does brash. If you want deep, it does deep. And if you want something that sits more traditionally within a mix, it can do that too.

While programming my sounds, I made frequent use of the drag‑and‑drop modulation routing, which is so intuitive that I soon wondered why it isn’t the norm for all soft synths. It was trivial to connect each modulator to one or more destinations, and to affect any given destination using multiple modulators, which is an important but surprisingly rare capability. In one patch, I connected 20 modulators to the filter cutoff frequency just to see whether it was possible... and it was.

I also experimented with both the original GUI (dark mode) and the new light mode, and found that I much preferred the latter because it makes everything clearer than it might otherwise be. In addition, the detail within the GUI itself has improved since the original version, with new facilities such as on/off buttons for the synth slots, effects and sequencer sections that make it much easier to work out what’s what when programming. What’s more, and despite the complexity on offer, you can access everything that Pigments offers without having to navigate through myriad screens and interminable menus. This is just as well; learning how modulating the phase of a hard‑sync’ed Polygon Inharmonic (sic) wavetable while simultaneously modulating its fractal phase transform using a pair of asymmetrical unipolar LFOs triggered by a pair of complex asynchronous function generators (phew!) is going to affect just one element of a complex sound would otherwise be beyond mere mortals.

The Play Mode screen offers a much simpler representation that concentrates on performance.The Play Mode screen offers a much simpler representation that concentrates on performance.

The benefit of this complexity is that no‑one should ever run out of new sounds and possibilities when using Pigments, especially if Arturia continue to develop it. But if you just want to use it as a performance instrument, a new Play Mode tucks most of it behind a simplified GUI designed for basic editing and performance. I have no doubt that this will prove to be very popular. Oh yes, and when you start performing, you’ll find that Pigments offers a degree of MPE compatibility as well as NKS controller compatibility. In many of my patches, I directed aftertouch to multiple destinations, which was fab. Thinking about how much more I could have achieved with an MPE controller to hand makes my head spin!

If you’re an existing owner, you would be crazy not to upgrade because doing so is free and it adds much to previous versions. If you’re not an existing owner, you really should try it.


No single synth, whether in hardware or software, offers every facility that you might want nor creates every sound that you might want, but Pigments 4 is a remarkable achievement that comes much closer than most. I hope that Arturia continue to develop it, eliminating the shortcomings that I’ve identified and extending it further in new and fascinating ways. Despite its complexity, it took me just minutes to start using it, just hours to start programming useful patches with it, and just days to feel that I had mastered it sufficiently to create the sounds that I could hear in my head. If you’re an existing owner, you would be crazy not to upgrade because doing so is free and it adds much to previous versions. If you’re not an existing owner, you really should try it. Nice one, Arturia!


  • It was already a phenomenally flexible soft synth.
  • The additions to the synth engines extend it even further.
  • The new filter models and effects are welcome.
  • The light GUI is clean and fresh.
  • If you’ve never experienced it before, drag‑and‑drop modulation routing will be a revelation.


  • The VA oscillator algorithms are not state‑of‑the‑art.
  • The contour reset behaviour needs addressing.
  • Despite adding granular synthesis, the sample engine is less flexible than you might imagine.
  • The sequencer provides just 16 steps.


Pigments was created for the sound designer who wants to delve more deeply than is possible on the majority of soft synths. As such, it rewards those who are prepared to spend some time learning its capabilities and quirks rather than relying upon random knob-twiddling. But anyone can play the excellent sounds that it can create so, given its large and still growing sound library, there’s something here for everyone.


€199 including VAT.