The Particle 2 brings powerful granular processing to your pedalboard.
Granular processing effectively slices an audio signal into small sections called ‘grains’, which are then rearranged, sometimes with pitch‑shifting or reverse playback, in real time. Many of us will have experimented with granular effects plug‑ins such as NI’s (recently discontinued) Absynth, Output’s Portal, Arturia’s Efx Fragments and Unfiltered Audio’s Silo, but granular processing in a pedal format remains comparatively rare. And while none of the current pedals offer the same variety of granular effects as the best plug‑ins, they’re still able to create a wide range of textural and glitchy effects that can be put to great use in a live context.
Red Panda’s Particle pedal brought granular delays to us in this format way back in 2011 — they really were ahead of the curve — and the Particle has remained popular, but the onward march of technology has now allowed the company to release the Particle 2. This new version boasts not only more processing power and a cleaner audio path, but also improved pitch‑shifting algorithms and a more compact, pedalboard‑friendly format, which sees the connections placed on the top edge of the pedal rather than on its sides.
The Particle 2 combines a granular delay with pitch‑shifting, and its TRS I/O jacks cater for mono or stereo signals operating at a maximum level of +8dBu. The input sensitivity can also be changed using a free browser editor. So while this is certainly a pedal that guitarists can enjoy, it’s also possible to use the pedal at line level or to integrate it into modular synth systems — and that’s great news, since granular processing can be put to work on just about any audio source, including synths, drums and even vocals, with musically interesting results. A 250mA 9V external power source is required — there’s no included PSU, and no internal battery option. The pedal can store four presets for rapid access, but when controlled via MIDI it can store/recall 127 patches.
The pedal sports five variable controls, along with a mode selector switch and two footswitches that access bypass/tempo division, and tap‑tempo/freeze functions. A button doubles as a preset selector and save function for the four memories, and if none of the four preset LEDs are lit, the knob positions reflect the current parameter values. The rotary mode switch selects from five delay and three pitch modes, and an intriguing Freeze option is triggered using an adjustable threshold — this recirculates what’s in the buffer until the input signal next exceeds the threshold. Multiple parameters can be locked to tap‑tempo or MIDI sync, with selectable note divisions, and all parameters can be accessed using MIDI if required.
Blend controls the wet/dry mix, while Chop sets the grain size, and when moved past halfway this adjusts the threshold for the Freeze function. Delay/Pitch adjusts the delay time up to 2.5 seconds or pitch‑shift up to one octave in either direction, depending upon which mode is selected. Feedback works as expected, sending some of the processed output back to the input, while Param has a different function for each of the modes.
The aforementioned free browser‑based editor communicates with the pedal using its USB port, allows the effects be edited more deeply than on the hardware, and includes the ability to combine parameters from the different modes. There’s also a TouchOSC template for control by iOS and Android devices. The Ctrl jack, which has assignable functions, can be used to connect an expression pedal or a remote switch, the functions of which are set up in the browser editor. I found the editor very easy to use: there are sliders for all the parameters as well as combination modes that can’t be accessed directly from the pedal’s front panel. Changing the slider positions changes the parameters in the pedal, and if you want to change the pedal knob positions manually, you can show their new positions in the editor by hitting the refresh button.
The effects on offer here vary enormously, depending on the grain size and repetition rate. At one extreme, you can access very fast, glitchy types of effects, while at the other the sound can take on a really dreamy sort of textural modulation. I particularly like the Rev mode, in which you can adjust the probability of the grains being played forward or in reverse — this can generate some very attractive time‑smearing effects, with just a hint of psychedelia. Using the LFO mode brings in time stretching, for which Delay sets the buffer length and Parameter changes the playback speed, again introducing textural modulation that morphs into something more ‘fast and bubbly’ at shorter delay settings. That Freeze effect can also be useful for carrying over some repeating granular magic during pauses in your playing.
During the review tests, I initially thought that Delay Pitch mode could benefit from further development and made some suggestions to Red Panda. While it could sound interesting, introducing random pitch jumps (as this mode does) often sounds unmusical on anything other than percussive parts. I craved the option to introduce random pitch‑shifts for the grains comprising, for example, only octaves and fifths, to make it easier to use this effect in a musical context. I felt similarly about the LFO Pitch mode. The Pitch Density mode was more music‑friendly, as I could dial in a fixed octave‑up shift to create a granular shimmer kind of effect. But guess what? Just before this review was due to be handed in to the SOS homework monitor, I was given a beta version of a new update to try — and this includes all the pitch‑quantising options I’d asked for as well as a few I hadn’t. Full marks for responding to feedback.
There’s a lot more to this pedal than its simple control set might suggest. Even without using the editor, you can explore a wide range of glitchy or smoothly shifting effects.
The reality is that there’s a lot more to this pedal than its simple control set might suggest. Even without using the editor, you can explore a wide range of glitchy or smoothly shifting effects, for which relatively small parameter changes can make a lot of difference to the end result. Still, the editor opens up many more options and is both free and really easy to use — so I highly recommend you exploit it.
Whether you gravitate towards the glitchy or textural ends of the effects spectrum depends largely on the type of music you make, but being able to call upon these effects during live performance can add an extra dimension to EDM and chillwave musical styles, while at the most genteel end of the Particle 2’s spectrum the effects could also sit perfectly with ambient music creation using guitars or synths, especially when combined with a generous helping of reverb from another pedal. And when that beta update becomes official, those pitch‑quantising facilities will make it even better. Recommended.
There are only a few granular processing pedals out there and Red Panda’s Particle 2 is up there with the best. It’s capable of delivering excellent results with the minimum of complexity.