Hardware or software? Yes. Modular synthesizers, of all things, are blurring the line between the two. The popular Vult line of software modules for VCV Rack is going hardware, just as Erica Synths offers its popular hardware in a free software form on the same platform.
VCV Rack has rapidly established itself as a platform for other modules in a way that nothing else has. The software modular is free, with a rich free ecosystem, with only useful add-ons (from the developer and third parties) costing money. It’s also strikingly approachable for developers as well as users.
But that’s in turn leading to some fascinating crossovers.
This week, developer Leonardo Laguna Ruiz announced that his Vult module, which existed only in VCV Rack virtually, is now up for preorders as actual hardware.
Vult Freak incorporates a bunch of different modules in one (thanks, code modeling):
- Tangents – Steiner-Parker filter containing three different variations.
- Lateralus – Ladder filter.
- Nurage – Low pass gate / Borg filter.
- Ferox – CMOS filter.
- Vortex – Russian fitler.
- Unstabile – Circuit bent State Variable filter.
- Stabile – State Variable filter.
- Rescomb – Resonant Comb filter.
- Vorg – MS-20 style filter
I’ve used a lot of these in my own musical experiments in Rack, and do they sound good? Yes, they do. (Unstabile and Vortex are particularly delicious for those of us who enjoy rich, manic distortion.)
€225 buys you this stuff as physical device – and frees you from having to mouse around and worry about crashes or running out of CPU, natch.
Maybe it’s the story behind the device that’s just as compelling – a few years developing a language, a couple of years experimenting in VCV Rack, then making the leap into hardware. There’s a bug that bites people who get into buying Eurorack, but there’s one for development, too.
I don’t doubt that some of the loyal users of the software will splurge for the hardware, too. And rather than blowing cash on something, then bolting it into a rack and hoping you can figure it out, the software-first model means many people who do buy Vult Freak will already know how to use it.
With that in mind, it’s also worth mention that Latvian titan of modular Erica Synths, with their expansive catalog, have made their first steps into providing software editions. Head to the Library on the VCV site, and you can grab a collection of Erica modules:
They’re free of charge; just click ‘+ Free’ and update Rack and you’ll get them. Erica are a long way from porting everything they make in hardware – this is a tiny fraction of the full lineup. But they’re a decent taste of what Erica hardware can do. The Black Wavetable VCO is a uniquely capable oscillator with bitcrush and tons of wave modulation options. Octasource is a unique modulation oscillator, and its interface works differently from others, meaning having it in software form is really fantastic. DRUMS is ridiculously compact as is everything in the fascinating Pico series, but it’s a natural for cramming into virtual rigs.
I’ll be curious to see if this attracts some new Erica customers. Erica aren’t the first to do this, either – Befaco, Mutable Instruments (as Audible Instruments), and Music Thing (as Stellare) all offer software renditions of their hardware. It’s not hard to imagine at some point that VCV Rack will have a “buy hardware” button on the software. Softube Modular has software ports, too, of some big brands – Mutable Instruments again, the mighty Doepfer, Buchla, 4ms, and Intellijel all have software modules available.
The big difference is business model: VCV Rack is tending more toward either inexpensive paid modules as software, or free software that serves as a demo/preview of hardware.
A minority of electronic musicians live in a place where they can easily just run to a shop and try gear out. But more than that, software promises to create a new communications link between musicians and creators, year-round. We’ll see if that gives Vult a boost in the crowded modular world.
Check out VCV Rack on all platforms:
And if you want a hand getting started, the legendary Jim Aikin has written a free e-book that explains what Rack is and how to use it, plus (the bit I liked most) gives a guide to the jungle of modules out there:
How to Rack (the book) [Jim Aikin]