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PolyMAX Synth Manual

In this article

Retro sounds to shock your mind brain.

PolyMAX is our vintage-inspired synth that gives producers, sound designers, and musicians fat analog tones from the golden age of polysynthesis. PolyMAX's warm, analog-modeled oscillators and filters, professional UA effects, and curated presets easily fit into any genre — with album-ready sounds instantly.

  • Get rich, sit-in-the-mix analog sounds from an inspiring polyphonic wonder synth
  • Use fat-sounding analog modeled oscillators and filters to demolish creative barriers
  • Add studio-quality UA effects like vintage spring reverb, tape delay, and modulation textures 
  • Dive into lush poly synth sounds with album-ready presets and simple, intuitive controls 

Your New Wonder Synth

PolyMAX's analog bona fides pull from the golden age of polysynthesis. Think early Jupiters, Oberheims, and Prophets with fat sounds that sit perfectly in any mix.* A modern synth with retro roots, PolyMAX takes you from celestial to cinematic and beyond.

Experience Magic with Premium UA Effects

With onboard studio-quality UA effects like legendary digital "Hall B" reverb and analog phasers, flangers, and tape delay, PolyMAX makes any production shine with old-school synth cool. 

Get Instant Inspiration with Album-Ready Presets 

Discover the perfect sound using PolyMAX's curated presets, handcrafted by the synth lords at UA headquarters. Designed for fast use across genres, PolyMAX presets and intuitive knob-per-function layout means no menu diving, ensuring you'll get the right sound, right away.

*All product names used here are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated with Universal Audio Inc. and the PolyMAX Synth.

polymax-full.png

PolyMAX Synth interface

 

 


 

Introduction

The most loved sounds of synthesis are the most simple, yet their beauty lies in subtleties that are quite complex. PolyMAX delivers the organic, subtle beauty and musicality of classic analog polyphonic synthesizers in a modern, fun to use instrument.

With PolyMAX, you are harnessing a massively influential period in synth history — the polysynth era when Prophets, Oberheims, and Jupiters ruled the world. PolyMAX can sound both retro and modern, breathing life, vibe, and emotion into the music you create.

In developing PolyMAX, we started with a deep human connection to the original classic polysynths before digging deep into their features, circuits, and sonics. We then mixed, matched, and modeled the best of each. The result is pure musicality that you won’t get with any individual piece of hardware. 

Exploring Sounds

  • After loading PolyMAX in your DAW, explore the presets. In LUNA, click the Presets button at the top of the instrument, where you can select presets with LUNA’s contextual browser. In other DAWs, a browser pane appears to the left of PolyMAX after clicking the Presets button.
  • Click some presets while playing your MIDI controller. You can use the up and down arrow keys to step through the sounds, or browse presets tagged by type, genre, or description. If you like the preset, you can star it as a favorite to gather all your favorite sounds together.
  • Play with the controls. For example, you can easily adjust the filter cutoff and/or resonance to immediately customize the sound. You’ll find that the controls with orange knobs provide obvious impacts quickly.

Operating Controls

  • Fine adjustment – Hold the Shift key while dragging knobs or sliders for extra precision when fine-tuning a control.
  • Return to default – Option-click (Mac) or Alt-click (Windows) a knob or slider to return the control to its default setting.
  • Knob shortcuts – Click a knob label to quickly jump to that position.

Voice Architecture

PolyMAX uses the familiar left-to-right controls layout of classic analog synthesizers. The instrument contains individual synthesis modules, with each module containing related functions. Important controls are associated by color so you can quickly tune your sounds.

The Sound Source, Filter, Amplifier, and Output modules are in the audio path. The Wheels, Arpeggiator, and Effects modules at the bottom of the instrument provide performance options and studio-quality modulation, delay, and reverb effects for motion and space.

The LFO and Envelope modules shape the sound further, providing flexible modulation routings to create movement and texture. For example, you may want to alter an oscillator’s pitch with an LFO to create vibrato, or use the filter envelope to control its cutoff frequency to create a slow sweep or fast “snap” sound.

 


 

Sound Source Controls

Audio signals are generated by the sound sources before passing into the filter module.

polymax-sound-sources.png

 


 

Oscillators

Oscillator Shape

Shape controls the waveform of the oscillator. This continuous control transitions smoothly from Triangle to Sawtooth to Square, then from an even square to a narrow pulse.

Oscillator Shape Mod

This control adjusts the amount of Envelope or LFO modulation applied to the oscillator shape. Positive and negative values (boost and cut) are available. At the noon position, modulation is disabled.

Shape Mod Source

This button toggles LFO or Envelope as the source for modulating the oscillator wave shape.

Shape Mod Source LED

The LEDs above and below the Shape Mod Source button have two functions. A solid LED Indicates which mod source is selected, and the LED’s brightness indicates modulation intensity.

Tip: To get the classic Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) effect, set Shape to Pulse, and use a moderate amount of modulation. Typically the mod source is an LFO set to a value lower than 2.00 Hz, but feel free to experiment.

Coarse

This knob tunes the coarse pitch of the oscillator. The available range is ±24 discrete semitones.

Fine

This knob tunes the fine pitch of the oscillator. The available range is ±100 cents.

FM (OSC 2)

The FM (Osc 2) knob sets the amount of frequency modulation from Oscillator 2 that is applied to Oscillator 1. 

Tip: To hear the wide range of FM sounds available with PolyMAX, audition presets with the “FM” description tag. See “Getting the most out of FM” below for related information.

FM Mod

This control adjusts the amount of Envelope or LFO modulation applied to FM (OSC 2). At the minimum position, modulation is disabled.

FM Mod Source

This button toggles LFO or Envelope as the source for modulating the FM amount.

FM Mod Source LED

The LEDs above and below the FM Mod Source button have two functions. A solid LED Indicates which mod source is selected, and the LED’s brightness indicates modulation intensity.

Getting the most out of FM

Modulating the frequency of Oscillator 1 at the audio frequency of Oscillator 2 can radically change the wave shape and character of the sound. You can create a variety of interesting metallic sounds, from raspy to bell-like, using the FM controls. 

To hear the effects of FM with this example, start with the “Init” preset. 

  1. Turn the FM (Osc 2) control to hear a raspy sound. 
  2. Turn off the FM amount and turn up Mod to hear a burst of raspiness at the beginning of the sound.
  3. Turn Oscillator 2’s Coarse control to 8 and hear the sound become clangorous. This happens when the Oscillators’ pitch difference is neither zero nor octaves.
  4. Change both Oscillator Shapes to Triangle. Notice how the sound is now almost bell-like.
  5. Adjust the filter Cutoff and Env controls to mellow the tone for an even more bell-like sound.

Have fun experimenting! Try existing FM presets as starting points.

Note: The FM in PolyMAX is designed to keep Oscillators in tune throughout the FM amount range. However, there are certain Oscillator 2 wave shapes that can still cause Oscillator 1 to go out of tune when modulated. For the most reliable pitch, set Oscillator 2’s Shape to triangle. Because of their asymmetry, pulse waves are most likely to cause the oscillators to go out of tune.

FM technical notes

PolyMAX uses a hybrid analog/digital approach to achieve analog FM tone without the unpleasant tuning limitations of analog FM. PolyMAX achieves in-tune FM while still sounding analog because of PolyMAX’s analog-modeled oscillators linear FM implementation, instead of the typical phase modulation of most digital synths. 

Why do analog synth sounds with FM go out of tune? One reason is that increasing frequency modulation eventually brings an oscillator’s frequency below 0 Hz. With a digital synth that’s not an issue, because you can represent the value with a negative number. In the physical world however, you can’t go below 0 unless you go backwards in time! There are analog “thru zero” oscillator circuits that can mimic the shape of a wave that is modulated beyond 0 Hz, but the most musical result is still to “just leave the math alone” in the digital domain.

Sync (INT)

Rotate Sync clockwise from the minimum position to enable Sync. When set to minimum (fully counter-clockwise), Sync is disabled. For related information, see “Sync technical notes” below. 

Sync generates a second (silent) oscillator pitch that is used as a sync source, generating interesting new harmonic textures as you sweep the control. Increasing Sync raises the frequency of the (silent) sync oscillator up to a maximum of 36 semitones, causing the audible waveform to be retriggered or “chopped” more frequently as you increase the value. 

Sync Mod

This control adjusts the amount of Envelope or LFO modulation applied to Sync. At the minimum position, modulation is disabled.

Sync Mod Source

This button toggles LFO or Envelope as the source for modulating the oscillator sync amount. 

Sync Mod Source LED

The LEDs above and below the Sync Mod Source button have two functions. A solid LED Indicates which mod source is selected, and the LED’s brightness indicates modulation intensity.

Sync technical notes

The Oscillator 2 SYNC (INT) control creates the popular “oscillator sync” sound found on many classic analog synthesizers. This sound occurs when attempting to synchronize two oscillators that are out of pitch with each other. 

When the sync source oscillator is higher pitched than the synchronized oscillator, the synchronized oscillator restarts itself during its wave cycle, resulting in the wave sounding "chopped up." This creates distinctive and distorted harmonics related to the pitch of the oscillator that is providing the synchronization.

Unlike with classic hardware, there is no need to use a second oscillator as a sync source since the oscillator generates its own internal sync source.

Pitch Mod

This knob controls the amount of Envelope or LFO modulation applied to the pitch of both oscillators simultaneously.

Pitch Mod Source

This button toggles LFO or Envelope as the source for modulating the pitch of both oscillators. 

Pitch Mod Source LED

The LEDs to the left and right of the Pitch Mod Source button have two functions. A solid LED Indicates which mod source is selected, and the LED’s brightness indicates modulation intensity.

 


 

Mix Controls

Tip: If you are using a resonant filter sweep, try different mix levels to change the relative loudness of the resonance to the original signal.

OSC1

Adjusts the level of Oscillator 1 in the output mix.

OSC2

Adjusts the level of Oscillator 2 in the output mix.

Noise

Adjusts the level of the noise generator in the output mix.

Noise Color

This button toggles the noise type between the brighter “white noise” (W) and the slightly darker “pink noise” (P). The corresponding indicator LEDs are white and pink.

 


 

Filter Controls

The filter is one of the most important sound-shaping components of a synthesizer. By filtering out selected frequencies while letting others pass through, it can brighten, darken, and otherwise alter the timbre.

polymax-filter.png

Filter Cutoff

This primary control adjusts the frequency cutoff frequency of the filter.

Filter Resonance (RES)

Resonance adjusts the amount of feedback into the filter, making incoming frequencies near the filter’s cutoff frequency louder. At higher settings, the filter can self-oscillate (create its own pitch) at the cutoff frequency.

Mode

Mode selects the sound sculpting filter type.

  • Low Pass – Frequencies below the filter cutoff are passed through the filter.
  • Band Pass – Frequencies near the filter cutoff are passed through the filter, while frequencies lower and higher than the cutoff are reduced.
  • High Pass – Frequencies above the filter cutoff are passed through the filter.
  • Notch – Frequencies lower and higher than the filter cutoff are passed through the filter, while frequencies near the filter cutoff are reduced.

Pole

This button toggles the filter slope. 4-pole filtering sounds more “sharp” or “steep” than the more gentle slope of 2-pole filtering.

4-pole filters are commonly associated with Moog and Prophet synthesizers, while 2-pole filters are commonly associated with Oberheim synthesizers.

Filter Envelope Amount (ENV)

ENV adjusts the amount of Envelope modulation applied to the filter cutoff frequency. Negative and positive values are available, for reducing or increasing the cutoff frequency. At the noon position, envelope modulation is disabled.

Filter Keyboard Amount (KEY)

KEY adjusts the amount of keyboard note tracking. When higher notes are played with keyboard tracking, the filter cutoff frequency increases as well, mimicking the sound of instruments that have brighter timbres at higher pitches.

When set to 100%, keyboard tracking is linear. For example, when a played note is an octave higher than the previous note, the filter cutoff frequency is doubled.

 


 

LFO Controls

An LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) generates a wavering/oscillating source that can modulate PolyMAX’s oscillator pitch, filter cutoff, FM amount, and Sync amount.

polymax-lfo.png

LFO Rate 

Rate adjusts the LFO speed. The available range is 0.05 Hz to 50 Hz (when LFO Sync is off).

LFO RATE LED

The rate LED pulses in time with the LFO rate.

LFO Sync

When Sync is on, the LFO is synchronized to the tempo of the DAW and the LFO frequency values snap to the nearest musical time division. The available range is from 4 bars to 1/128 note.

LFO Shape

Shape selects the LFO waveform. Triangle is the most common shape, while the down/up ramps, square, and S+H (sample and hold) shapes are generally used for special effects. S+H generates a stepped random effect.

 


 

Envelope Controls

Envelopes control how a sound dynamically changes (modulates) over time. When you play a note, the envelope rises (attack), falls (decay), sustains, and upon release of the key, falls again. Envelopes are used to control various synthesis functions such as volume, pitch, and filter cutoff to dynamically shape the sound over time.

polymax-envelope-diagram.png

 

PolyMAX Envelopes

PolyMAX has two ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) envelopes, labeled Envelope (left sliders) and Amplifier (right sliders). 

Amplifier – This dedicated single-purpose envelope is for controlling oscillator volume. The amplifier envelope is always active.

Envelope – This multi-purpose envelope can control oscillator pitch, FM amount, Sync (INT) amount, and filter cutoff. 

To adjust oscillator pitch, FM amount, and Sync (INT) with the multi-purpose envelope, set the control’s associated Mod Source button to ENV and adjust its associated Mod Amount. To control filter cutoff with this envelope, adjust the ENV knob in the filter module.

polymax-envelopes.png

Slider Cap LEDs

Each envelope slider cap has an LED that lights to indicate which ADSR stage is active over time. The VEL slider cap LED indicates incoming MIDI note velocity.

Attack Time (A)

Attack Time controls the amount of time the envelope takes to rise to its highest level. The available range is 0.001 seconds (1 millisecond) to 13 seconds.

Tip: Although the attack can be as fast as 1 millisecond (0.001s), the envelopes on most analog polysynths could only go as fast as 2 milliseconds (0.002s). For a more authentic analog-synth style percussive attack, set the slider to its default value of .002. You can option-click (macOS) or alt-click (Windows) to quickly return to these default values. 

Decay Time (D)

After the attack, the envelope level falls at the rate set by the decay slider. The available range is 0.002 seconds (2 milliseconds) to 32 seconds. 

Sustain Level (S)

After the decay, a note sustains at the level set by this slider. The available range is 0% – 100%. 

Note: If Sustain is set to 100%, there is no decay.

Release Time (R)

Release controls how fast the envelope level falls to zero after releasing a note. The range is 0.002 seconds (2 milliseconds) to 32 seconds.

Note Velocity (VEL)

This slider controls how much incoming MIDI note velocity will increase the envelope’s overall level.

Tip: Most original polysynths did not have velocity-sensitive keyboards. For a more “vintage” sound, set VEL to zero.

Envelope Examples

For string section-like pad sounds, set attack and release slow, and set sustain to its highest level. When sustain is at maximum, decay has no effect.

adsr-example-1.png

For more percussive/plucked sounds, use a fast attack and a moderate decay and release. Set sustain to 0% for a classic pluck, or set a medium sustain and short release for the classic synth bass sound.

adsr-example-2.png

For brassy sounds, start by setting Cutoff around 200 to 400 Hz and control Cutoff by setting ENV to around 30. Set attack around 0.05 to 0.20, decay around 0.20 to 2.00, sustain around 50%, and fast release to taste. 

adsr-example-3.png

 


 

Output Controls

This module contains PolyMAX’s main volume control and various voice mode settings.

polymax-output.png

Volume

This control adjusts PolyMAX’s overall output level.

Volume LEDs

The LEDs above the Volume knob indicate the instrument’s relative output level.

Mono Mode

The Mono button sets PolyMAX to be in either monophonic or polyphonic mode. The LED above the button indicates the current state. 

ON – Mono mode. One note at a time is heard.

OFF – Poly mode. Up to 8 voices are heard simultaneously.

Note that a riff in Mono mode sounds different from the same riff in Poly mode, because per-note variations sound slightly less random when one voice is generated versus alternating through 8 voices.

However, notes in Mono mode still have some unpredictable differences because the oscillators are always running, a bonus from our attention to detail in the analog modeling process. Like a true analog synth, PolyMAX oscillators have individual drift and randomness.

Legato

In Legato mode, PolyMAX does not retrigger a new note if another note is held. When Glide is enabled, the pitch of one note bends smoothly up or down to the next note if a new note is played before the held note is released. 

Note: Legato is only available when Mono mode is active.

Unison

Unison mode stacks all 8 voices as one monophonic voice. Rotate the control clockwise to increase the amount of detune between the 8 voices. 

At lower settings, Unison sounds thicker and more powerful. As Unison is increased, the voices begin to modulate against each other for chorus-like sounds. At higher settings, the effect is more dissonant. 

Unison Notes

  • Unison is only available when Mono mode is active. 
  • If Unison is set to 0 (off) while a note is playing, Unison is disabled and the currently playing note is no longer heard.

Voice Panning

Voice Panning shifts notes around the stereo field. Voices are panned using a round-robin pattern that repeats every 8 voices.

Two variations are available. When set to 1 or 2, each voice (note) has a unique position in the stereo field. When set to 0 Voice Panning is disabled.

Glide Rate

Glide sets the rate of note portamento, which changes pitch in a smooth, continuous manner as you play notes, instead of discrete individual notes. Low settings transition quickly and high settings transition more slowly. The MODE parameter determines the exact glide behavior.

 


 

Wheels Controls

This module allows you to quickly adjust how sounds respond to MIDI modulation and pitch bend commands.

polymax-wheels.png

Bend Wheel Amount (BEND AMT)

Bend Amt controls the range of the pitch bend wheel on your MIDI controller, from 0 to 12 semitones.

Mod Wheel Position (MOD)

This control allows you to adjust the modulation wheel position without using your MIDI controller, and also displays the relative position of the wheel. The mod wheel position is saved with each preset.

Mod Wheel Amount (AMT)

This control allows you to adjust the range of the mod wheel.

Mod Wheel Destination

This button sets the mod wheel to control either pitch vibrato or the filter’s cutoff frequency. 

 


 

Effects Controls

PolyMAX’s built-in modulation and space (time-based) effects provide a rich sound derived from UA’s decades of experience with developing analog modeling.

polymax-fx.png

Modulation Effects

The analog-modeled modulation effects in PolyMAX add a moving, dimensional aspect to the sound, with a thick, analog vibe.

Mod FX Enable 

The ON button enables or bypasses the modulation effects.

Mod FX Type

This selector chooses one of the three available modulation effects. Click the button repeatedly to cycle through Phaser, Flanger, or Chorus.

Mod FX Rate 

Rate adjusts the speed of the modulation effect.

Mod FX Depth 

Depth adjusts the amount of the modulation applied to the sound.

Space Effects

The time-based space effects in PolyMAX provide rich sonic enhancements to the sound.

Space FX Type

This selector chooses one of the three available space effects. Click the button repeatedly to cycle through tape-based delay, mechanical spring reverb, or a famous classic digital "Hall B" reverb.

FX Sync Enable 

The tape delay can be synchronized to the tempo of the DAW. Tempo sync is unavailable with the Spring and Hall effects.

Space FX Amount (AMT) 

Amt adjusts the amount of delay or reverb that is applied to the signal. Set this control to minimum to disable Space FX. Note that this is a “send” (parallel) control so the effect doesn’t immediately stop when reduced or disabled.

Space FX Controls 1 and 2

Each Space effect has two functions that can be adjusted to modify the sound of the effect. The function and labels on these two knobs change to reflect the parameter being adjusted.

 

Tape Delay

Time – The available range is 0.63 milliseconds to 3 seconds.

Feedback – Adjusts the number of delay repeats. 

polymax-time-feedback.png

Spring Reverb

Time – Selects a short (S) or long (L) spring tank.

Bright – Adjusts the spring reverb tone.

polymax-time-bright.png

Hall Reverb

Low – Adjusts the decay time for the low and mid frequencies.

High – Adjust the amount of high frequency filtering.

polymax-low-high.png

 

 


 

Arpeggiator Controls

An arpeggiator plays notes in a held chord (more than one note) as a sequence of notes instead of at the same time. PolyMAX’s arpeggiator is always synchronized to your DAW’s tempo.

polymax-arpeggiator.png

Arp Enable

This button toggles the arpeggiator on and off.

Octave Range

The Oct Range button adds higher octave notes to the played sequence of notes. To play the arpeggiator sequence without added octaves, choose 1. When set to 2, notes one octave above the original notes are added to the sequence. When set to 3, two octaves are added. 

Arp Rate

Rate sets the time division for played notes in the arpeggiated sequence. The values are based on musical notation, ranging from a quarter note (4) to a 32nd note (32).

Arp Mode

Mode sets the order of notes played in the arpeggiated sequence. The ordering can be up, down, up then down, or random. 

 


 

MIDI Control and Automation

Some PolyMAX parameters can be controlled with external MIDI. External MIDI CC control can enhance live performances by (for example) adjusting settings with a hardware MIDI controller.

Most parameters can also be automated by the DAW. DAW automation enables creative sound design possibilities during playback and mixing.

The tables below list the PolyMAX parameters that are available for external MIDI control and their MIDI continuous control numbers.

Global

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Legato Mode

68

Glide Rate

5

Oscillators

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Oscillator 1 Shape

26

Oscillator 1 FM amount

70

Oscillator 2 Shape

27

Noise Color

29

Mixer

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Oscillator 1 Level

85

Oscillator 2 Level

86

Noise Level

89

Filters and Filter Envelope

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Filter Cutoff Frequency

74

Filter Resonance

71

Filter Envelope Amount

25

Filter Envelope Attack

22

Filter Envelope Decay

23

Filter Envelope Release

24

Amplifier Envelope

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Amp Envelope Attack

73

Amp Envelope Decay

75

LFO 

Parameter

MIDI CC number

LFO Rate

76

Space FX

Parameter

MIDI CC number

Space FX Amount

92

 

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