A modal filter that’s almost a synth: Polyverse Music’s Supermodal

Supermodal is a cutting edge filtering tool with a huge collection of presets. Supermodal uses hundreds of narrow filter bands working together to emulate the resonating qualities of acoustic bodies, both real and imagined. The results are astonishing, even if you only scratch the surface.

Supermodal is more of a synthesizing engine for existing audio or MIDI notes than what we imagine a filter to be. The plug-in allows for an almost infinite number of creative variations that are useful for soundscaping, soundtracks, video games, and music. It evcen supports Scala tuning files (see and hear the short movie at the end of this article).

At the heart of Supermodal are two powerful filter sections working in tandem, all controlled from a futuristic interface. The Classic Filter is a zero-feedback state variable filter that can morph smoothly between lowpass, bandpass, and high-pass filter modes. It features a fixed slope of 24dB per octave, evoking many well-known analog filters, and is capable of both sweet and chunky filter sounds with the help of a built-in saturation algorithm and I/O controls that allow users to drive it for a fat, musical sound.

Central to the plug-in is Supermodal’s Modal Filter. It’s made up of hundreds of resonant bandpass filters, featuring 27 different resonation variants that organize its bands to emphasize various harmonics (aka “partials”) across the frequency spectrum. These variants are grouped into nine filter models. Damping and Partials controls allow users to refine the sound of the filter. The Classic Filter and Modal Filter are arranged in parallel, combining their outputs for more full-range filtering effects. A Blend knob crossfades between them, allowing users to dial in a balance between the two filters’ effects.

​Supermodal’s modulation section features four modulation slots, each assignable to one of six modulation sources. Nearly every parameter can be modulated and the plug-in’s modulation generators can even modulate each other for more complex effects. Modulation ranges can be set to positive or negative values, and each modulation source is switchable between mono and stereo.

My first encounter with Supermodal’s user interface made me fear the worst. A futuristic look usually means you can’t handle the thing without constantly having to consult the user guide.

Regardless, I decided to just try out the interface and lo and behold, despite its starship dashboard design with its trackball Modal XY control and semi-hidden modulation controls, it is very simple to use; I created my first out-of-this-world sound within a quarter of an hour. To be able to plan and sculpt your sound beyond the initial “Wow” effect does demand knowledge of Supermodal’s intricacies and I’m happy to say the user guide is well-organized.

The Classic filter is as easy to use as any other. The Modal filter is less common, but the trackball says it all. It carries icons of the supported sound altering models — e.g. a set containing a piano, vibraphone and bell instrument, the waves model with a saw, square and hypersquare, etc. The models are organized vertically. Horizontally, you’ll find transformations between models of the same kind.

The Classic filter supports self-oscillation, while the Modal filter has a Decay slider which acts as its resonance control. The Modulation section, which is hidden by default, is the most powerful component of Supermodal. This section has a good number of hidden features. Each parameter that can be modulated has a slot that you click on to reveal a colored slider for every active, color-coded modulator. The six modulation sources all come with semi-hidden shape controls; to fully understand those, I had to read the corresponding section of the manual.

Can other filters do what Supermodal does? The answer is, absolutely. I tried it with the recently released Moogerfoogers and ended up with having to use at least three of them. Time spent: two days of tweaking and trial-and-error. The result I got still fell short of what I could achieve with Supermodal in an hour. One issue you can very quickly solve with Supermodal is to get rid of artefacts your trials introduce like clicking or popping sounds. Supermodal’s large range of parametrisation — e.g. modulation that can take anywhere from 1/64th to a whopping 30 times your base tempo — also guarantees you’ll end up with exactly what you had in mind.

Supermodal is available directly from the Polyverse website or affiliate retailers for $99.