Polyend Play+

Sample & Synth Sequencer
By Simon Sherbourne

Polyend’s Play gets a major + upgrade.

On the face of it, Play is the more approachable of Polyend’s two grooveboxes, although actually neither Play nor its sibling the Tracker do things in conventional ways. The first version of Play, which we reviewed just a year ago, is a sample‑powered grid sequencer, ideas generator and portable performance unit.

Play+ looks identical to Play, but has a significantly upgraded brain with the capacity for some big new features: chiefly, internal synths, stereo samples and audio over USB. Depending on how you use the Play, upgrading may not be essential, but if you are a current owner you can send back your Play and exchange it for a Play+ at half price. The original continues to be available at a reduced cost.

Re: Play

To recap, Play and Play+ offer a couple of primary ways of creating music. For programming a sequence from scratch, you use the ‘pick and place’ system of pre‑configuring a sound, then placing it anywhere on the grid. Whether you organise yourself in tracks is up to you; each step is fully independent. Steps can be adjusted later on by selecting them, either individually or in groups. On Play, you have a page for assembling samples across eight tracks, and another for MIDI. On Play+ the MIDI page is also the workspace for adding sounds from the internal synth engines.

To really get the most out of Play, though, you need to get on board with the generative Fill way of working. This populates sequences for you, using template styles, Euclidean distribution or randomness. Multitrack drum patterns can be spun out by this process, using sounds from categorised folders. Patterns you create can be mutated by further randomness and chance actions.

It is also possible to live record melodic sequences, using a virtual keyboard to the right of the grid or a connected MIDI source. This is especially relevant now that there are onboard synths. As you can only play one sound at a time, there’s no way to finger‑drum a kit of drum sounds.

A Play/Play+ project has a dedicated grid page for storing patterns, but there’s also a concept of Variations, where any track within a pattern can flip between 16 versions. Multiple patterns can be selected to play sequentially. These various features can be put to use to construct and perform beats and musical ideas, and there’s a Perform mode which transforms the whole grid into a palette of real‑time effects including pitch transposition, step rearrangement and beat repeating, audio effects and stuttering.

Back‑panel socketry remains the same as on the original Play, with 3.5mm audio out and MIDI I/O ports, a MicroSD slot, USB C port and the power button.

Difference Engines

Play+ sports four different synth engines: ACD, FAT, VAP and WTFM. A project has three synth slots, which can be filled by any combination of these (including multiples of the same type if you want duelling 303s, for example). Sequences using the synths are more like MIDI patterns in that each step is linked to a sound source, rather than being a self‑contained sound, as is the case on the sample side. So if you change the patch loaded into Synth slot 1, it will affect all steps that use that slot. ‘Sound Locks’, ie. recalling different patches per step, is not a thing here.

Let’s look at these synth models, then. ACD is aimed at classic monosynth sounds, although it can be played polyphonically as well....

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Published April 2024

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