free 2.0 update for current users: the new sampling features are great! If you want an instrument for creative sampling - deeply exploring the sonic potential hidden inside a sample - then Pigments exposes the best tools for that right on the surface. You can run it as a straight up sampler, with modulatable sample start (essential creative tool), 6 samples mapped per engine in round robin mode, random, key map, velocity map etc., or switch to granular mode - and here's the cool thing - when in granular mode the engine can alternately pick individual grains from the sample slots according to the mapping mode you've chosen, or you may choose the active sample with a knob (modulatable of course). Granular mode has tons of options and features, from max number of overlapping grains to modulatable grain envelope shapes - e.g. triangular, trapezoid - as well as grain direction, size, density, pitch, and left-right channel separation. Grain density can be clock-synced, including a per grain probability control for density. Each sampler engine also has its own shaper modes including bitcrush, FM and ring mod as well as a resonator. Great stuff.
Pigments is a monster synth that stands out in a field of monster synths. The sequencer / arpeggiator is unique, and the modulation system is a pleasure to use, making patch creation fast and fun. CPU usage is moderate, and the GUI is beautiful both visually and ergonomically.
The wavetable oscillators can display in 2D or 3D mode, with 2D giving a better representation of how the sound is being warped. Adding wavetables is a drag and drop operation - and yes, it can use Serum's wavetables. Pigments will also allow you to drag in any old wave file, however this yields mixed results and takes some trial and error and fiddling with master pitch. Creating wavetables from wavs is a bit of a black art at the best of times using the best of tools, so I hope Arturia will update Pigments with better wavetable creation tools. I've had good results creating single cycle waveforms with the free Hardcore and Softcore apps from Floats, then gluing them together with an audio editor, then importing into Pigments, but there ought to be an easier way. There are 119 factory wavetables though so just the default install gives you plenty of raw material. Once you've selected or imported a wavetable, you can push it further with audio rate modulations including FM, PM, phase distortion and wave folding, and dedicated mod oscillators. All these parameters can be modulated with the control mod sources, with results ranging from subtle to blistering. The phase distortion algorithm combined with wavetable index modulation is especially cool to my ears, and doesn't sound quite like anything else out there in synthland.
Which brings us to one of Pigments' best features: the control modulation. Select one of the colour coded mod sources in the middle row, then drag the mod ring around a knob, or click the plus sign that appears next to a knob on mouse-over, and drag any number of mod sources up or down in the middle row to assign modulations. Hovering over a knob or clicking the plus shows all the mod sources assigned to that control. It's visually appealing and encourages experimentation. Tracing mod assignments this way is easier than with a tangle of photorealistic spaghetti cables on the screen, in my opinion.
Despite the absent spaghetti it's very much like working with a fully modular synth, where you can use an LFO to trigger and re-trigger an envelope, and similar shenanigans. You get three each of: LFOs, envelopes, drawable function generators, random sources, and very clever modulation combiners that enable lag and value remapping. The modulators can trigger / gate / reset and modulate the parameters of other modulators, including each unit's synced or free running clock speed. One of the random sources is a Turing unit, which if you're not familiar, can generate varying degrees of randomness, partly-recurring sequences, and lock in a sequence once you hear something you like. Any of the mod sources can be assigned to the synth's master pitch, which can be quantized to snap to scales. The ease of use invites daisy-chain and loop-the-loop mod routings for pleasantly unpredictable results that aren't just noise - you can create cool generative patches that are greater than the sum of their parts.
The polyrhythmic arp / sequencer is a joy for anyone who likes to create evolving sequences. Gate, trigger probability, octave and pitch lanes can be set to different lengths and clock divisions, and the master clock rate itself is modulatable by any of the mod sources, which makes ratcheting sequences possible. There are also randomize and periodic randomize functions here, and optional scale snapping so the randomized sequences always play in key.
Another feature in Pigments that's nice to see is microtuning. I don't consider a synth to be a full fledged citizen of my plugin folder unless it has this.
Additions I'd like to see in updates: ring mod; the ability to drive the sequencer lanes using LFO zero crossings; individual reverse and pendulum motions for the sequencer lanes, or even the ability to scan across the lanes with a modulator; better raw wave import and creation tools for wavetables; and comb filter enhancements and feature additions for physical modelling. None of these are showstoppers though; it's already a bottomless pit of sound design potential. Two thumbs up for this mad beastie.