VCV Rack is already a powerful, free modular platform that synth and modular fans will want. But a $30 add-on makes it more powerful when integrating with your current hardware and software – VST plug-in support.
It’s called Host, and for $30, it adds full support for VST2 instruments and effects, including the ability to route control, gate, audio, and MIDI to the appropriate places. This is a big deal, because it means you can integrate VST plug-ins with your virtual modular environment, for additional software instruments and effects. And it also means you can work with hardware more easily, because you can add in VST MIDI controller plug-ins. For instance, without our urging, someone just made a MIDI controller plug-in for our own MeeBlip hardware synth (currently not in stock, new hardware coming soon).
Meeblip Controller is a MIDI controller for the Meeblip Anode synthesizer, available as a plugin (VST2/VST3/AU) and application for MacOS/Windows.
And it's completely free and open-source software!
Download it on GitHub: https://t.co/S1n4OWTwOM@MeeBlip @peterkirn @audiofanzinefr pic.twitter.com/pHp3sRmopV
— rmnclmnt (@romain_clement) November 21, 2018
You already are able to integrate VCV’s virtual modular with hardware modular using audio and a compatible audio interface (one with DC coupling, like the MOTU range). Now you can also easily integrate outboard MIDI hardware, without having to manually select CC numbers and so on as previously.
Hell, you could go totally crazy and run Softube Modular inside VCV Rack. (Yo dawg, I heard you like modular, so I put a modular inside your modular so you can modulate the modular modular modules. Uh… kids, ask your parents who Xzibit was? Or what MTV was, even?)
What you need to know
Is this part of the free VCV Rack? No. Rack itself is free, but you have to buy “Host” as a US$30 add-on. Still, that means the modular environment and a whole bunch of amazing modules are totally free, so that thirty bucks is pretty easy to swallow!
What plug-ins will work? Plug-ins need to be 64-bit, they need to be VST 2.x (that’s most plugs, but not some recent VST3-only models), and you can run on Windows and Mac.
What can you route? Modular is no fun without patching! So here we go:
There’s Host for instruments – 1v/octave CV for controlling pitch, and gate input for controlling note events. (Forget MIDI and start thinking in voltages for a second here: VCV notes that “When the gate voltages rises, a MIDI note is triggered according to the current 1V/oct signal, rounded to the nearest note. This note is held until the gate falls to 0V.”)
Right now there’s only monophonic input. But you do also get easy access to note velocity and pitch wheel mappings.
Host-FX handles effects, pedals, and processors. Input stereo audio (or mono mapped to stereo), get stereo output. Stereo only, not multichannel for now.
Both Host and Host-FX let you choose plug-in parameters and map them to CV – just be careful mapping fast modulation signals, as plug-ins aren’t normally built for audio-rate modulation. (We’ll have to play with this and report back on some approaches.)
What isn’t routed: there’s no clock as such (better to clock to something else, and send other CV and gate with that clock signal). And you don’t get MIDI out, either, just stereo audio output from both Host and Host-FX. Of course, if you want those things, you can still host VCV Rack alongside your other plug-ins inside another DAW for now.
Will I need a fast computer? Not for MIDI integration, no. But I find the happiness level of VCV Rack – like a lot of recent synth and modular efforts – is directly proportional to people having fast CPUs. (PCs running Windows or Linux have plenty of affordable options with high speed processors, if Apple is too rich for your blood.)
What platforms? Mac, Windows, and Linux – Host will support native plug-ins on each platform, so not only Mac VSTs on macOS and Windows VSTs on Windows, but on Linux that means Linux VSTs.
How to record your work
I actually was just pondering this. I’ve been using ReaRoute with Reaper to record VCV Rack on Windows, which for me was the most stable option. But it also makes sense to have a recorder inside the modular environment.
Our friend Chaircrusher recommends the NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack. It’s a huge collection but there’s both a 2-channel and 4-/8-track recorder in there, among many others – see pic:
NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack (free):
And have fun with the latest Rack updates.
Just remember when adding Host, plug-ins inside a host can cause… stability issues.
But it’s definitely a good excuse to crack open VCV Rack again! And also nice to have this when traveling… a modular studio in your hotel room, without needing a carry-on allowance. Or hide from your family over the holiday and make modular patches. Whatever.
Friendly advice – watch out for some wrinkles! Host is new to VCV Rack and this is still testing software, not release software. So expect some bugs (though a recent release did iron some issues out) – as with any new plug-in support in any software. Jim Aikin offers this tip:
“Since Host only plays one note at a time in any case, switch any VST presets to monophonic. This will usually have no musical effect, and you won’t encounter a subtle but troublesome issue with extra notes.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Rack eventually handles polyphony, but for now that’s a reasonable (possibly even interesting) limitation in some fairly unlimited software. Thanks for the tip, Jim!