A resonator pinpoints and amplifies specific frequencies within an input signal while attenuating all others. In musical terms, Hexonator allows the user to target up to six different pitched notes from an incoming signal to form a chord. Up to eight different chords can be programmed and sequenced within the plug-in to follow a harmonic pattern. A multi-mode resonant filter then allows for tonal shaping of the resonator's output. Rhythm/modulation is of course derived from the input signal, but but you can also dial in LFO-style modulation of the resonator and filter.
The GUI divides into colour-coded sections for the resonator, filter, modulators, chord constructor, sequencer and output stages. Just as you can with Sinevibes' other products, some very complex results can be coaxed from its deceptively simple interface. However, I did find the layout of Hexonator's GUI somewhat counter-intuitive—in particular, the relationships between voices, chords and sequencer steps. (The manual is pretty sparse, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your attitude to manuals.) While you can quickly obtain pleasing results from the plug-in, I found that precise control took frustratingly longer. Of course, this is true of most software, but here, I wondered if the GUI could have been better labelled or colour-coded.
The resonator section features three-point adjustable bandwidth (narrow, medium and wide) and continuous slider controls for feedback, spectrum and master tuning. The resonator's response is determined to a large degree by the character of the input signal; however, the feedback control greatly affects the pitch/frequency contribution made by the plug-in. At zero position, the resonator voicings have no effect, with their output becoming more pronounced the further you move it from centre. Feedback is bipolar—moving the control to the right of zero produces more natural-sounding oscillation, whereas moving left produces more dissonant, glassy/metallic timbres.
The tonal effect of the spectrum control is to produce a brighter, more metallic edge to the sound as it's increased. And the master tune control offers a pitch offset to the resonator voicings. A modulator (think LFO) completes the resonator, and you can use it to impose a rhythmic pattern on the output of the spectrum and master tune sections.
The filter section can be switched through low-, high- and band-pass modes, with 12- or 24-dB/octave slopes. The frequency and resonance controls are of course continuous, and they can be shaped through the filter's dedicated modulator.
The routing of the two modulators is hard-wired as described, with the intensity and polarity of the modulation adjustable via an intuitive slider below the relevant parameters. The modulators feature eight different waveforms, and they're synced against the host DAW's tempo in steps from 1/128th-notes and eight bars. Sync includes triplet timing (e.g. 1/6 and 1/12th-notes) and dotted timings (e.g. 3/8th-notes), but there is no free timing. The modulators also feature a slider labelled chaos, which randomly varies the amplitude of each wave cycle—a useful inclusion.
The chord constructor is found below the resonator section, and this is where you can start taking control of the pitches generated by Hexonator; it's also where things become a little more tricky. There are six keyboard graphics, with notes drawn as white or grey circles, representing each resonator voice. The only labelling within this section is the selected octave of each voice, within a six-octave range. Clicking on the Octave label will mute that particular voice. (Muting all six voices will naturally silence the plug-in.) Selecting each of the eight chords for editing is actually done in the sequencer rather than the Chord Constructor section, by selecting a letter from A to H. I initially interpreted these letters as musical note names and was scratching my head regarding H—using numbers rather than letters for chord selection might have been more intuitive.
Hexonator's sequencer runs up to 32 steps, with each step playing one of the eight available chords. The duration of the entire sequence can be set between one and eight bars. Balancing the number of steps against the duration of the sequence, then, determines the note length of each step. For example, for a 32-step sequence lasting two bars, each step will equal 1/16th-note. If the same sequence is set to last eight bars, each step will be a quarter-note. The sequencer can either use normal or triplet timing; selecting the latter reduces the maximum number of steps to 24. Timing can also be adjusted with the shuffle control, which introduces a swing effect. Finally, the sequencer features a transition control for introducing a glide/portamento effect between different chords. The Output section is, of course, last, and it includes a stereo control that places the resonator voices across the stereo field, plus a useful Dry/Wet control.
I tested Hexonator using a range of material including noise, drums, speech, pad chords and piano riffs. My best results came using unpitched material—noise, speech and drums —as this allows the resonator voicings to really come through. In this sense, Hexonator behaves similarly to a vocoder, but with a sonic edge all of its own. It has huge potential for vocal and rhythmic effects. With piano or pad chords, I found the voicings could battle uncomfortably with the notes of the incoming signal. Hexonator can also make powerful rhythmic contribution via its modulators and sequencer, which are very flexible with a great range of timing options. Without a bit of care in this area, though, it's easy to produce a confusing mess of sound, particularly when the input signal also has a strong rhythmic element. (Of course, this might be exactly what the user is going for.)
After a period of time making sense of the voicing, chord and sequencer controls, I found Hexonator very rewarding and capable of some really interesting and varied results. It's a lot of fun to use, with some nice extra features like the transition, chaos and stereo controls. I can see this software being useful as a way of generating inspiration or adding distinctive character to a track. As we've come to expect from Sinevibes, it's a plug-in that's unusual, fun, powerful and inexpensive.
Ease of use: 3/5
Wed / 14 May 2014