What are the advantages of extra polyphony?

Is anyone able to explain what the advantage is to having lots of polyphony? I always hear people rave about X and Y synth because they have 16 voices or whatever, but what are the practical uses of this? Are there really instances where someone is playing 16 notes at once? I rarely come up with chords that use more than 4 notes, so even 8 voices seems like overkill.

Also, I have a Virus C, which has tons of voices (24-32?), but seeing as I sequence it with my Digitakt which can only sequence up to four voices, it seems the vast majority of them don’t get used, though I don’t feel limited in any way. Is there something I’m missing here?

If you want to initiate notes while the others are being released.

It’s useful. Ideally you want each note to ring out to its extent instead of getting cut off


Right hand chords, left bass line as just one example. In case of Virus C : multichannel polyphony. You need a lot of voices if you use multiple midi channels to sequence different patches and don’t wanna run out of voices. Don’t have a virus C but i recall this is possible


It sets us up for a real cyberpunk future, where we can buy extra fingers or hands.


This is true, Virus C is a multi timbral synth in which it can play multiple patches (sounds) at the same time. Polyphony helps big in this department, depending on how busy (notation wise) each part might be.

On a side note, sometimes I like a lack of Polyphony because at times, voice stealing actually sounds kinda cool. Depends on the situation of course.


If you watch a keyboard player/pianist, they’ll commonly be playing a chord in each hand. If each chord is 4 notes you’re already at 8 voices, and if you want to shift both hands to new 4-note chords without stealing from the previous 8 you’re already at 16 notes playing simultaneously.

Ofc players will learn to work within the limits of a keyboard, but it’s not like wanting a high number of voices is a fanciful demand for complex or fast playing. For perspective, digital pianos, used for classical or jazz, may be criticised for having less than 128-note polyphony :smile:


You also need much more voices when the synth you are playing is capable of layering different sounds above each other (for example: the AWM2 engine from Yamaha). This sounds fancy, but isn’t if you think about layering a kick with an additional transient in the attack phase or a clicky release sound on a piano patch.

  1. polychords
  2. regarding Virus and similar VA machines: multitimbrality
  3. layering.

Unison chords.
The Digitone works surprisingly well with just 8 voices even when using all 4 tracks but it is not really possible to have unison chords playing on one of the tracks when all 4 are in use. Maybe that was never the intention since one can still play unison chords using just one track at a time but that would be an advantage of polyphony.

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Thanks all - definitely makes sense in regards to the multi-timbrality which I hadn’t even considered!

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