Free meets free: in a labor-of-love community project, soft synth Surge XT is now available as an exquisitely designed set of modules for VCV Rack. It combines two of the best open-source projects for software synthesis lovers, bringing new ways of patching to both. And that means all this power is on macOS, Windows, and Linux, all three.

Pierre from the Surge teams writes to let us know about this one – that’s alias pyer, who incidentally has a beautiful portfolio of UI designs for music software. He teamed up with Steve Baker, known as the designer of the Mindmeld collection in VCV Rack, and a community effort. Surge XT is this week in its final release for the VCV Rack modular platform. (Rack is free and open source, with a paid Pro version that can run as a plug-in and both free and paid modules as add-ons.)

Surge XT is a natural for this kind of treatment, as the power-packed hybrid synth is already semi-modular by design. Not only do you have all the capabilities of Surge inside Rack, but you also get a new modulation paradigm across all the modules, with a click-to-assign matrix system. That’s a welcome design choice. I love patching hardware (was just doing it onstage last night), but when you’re on a screen, why not take advantage of software’s additional versatility?

There’s just a ton of functionality here, thanks to the fact that Surge has so much on offer. Surge XT is the rare case of a proprietary tool that went open at end-of-life, and it’s become the de facto hub for synthesis design ever since. What’s inside:

  • 11 oscillators
  • Virtual analog, FM, wavetable, physical modeling
  • 20 effects (including all the presets from the standalone Surge XT)
  • Filter with 33 types
  • Multimode waveshaper
  • Mixing and utilities
  • Multimode LFO sequencer and envelope

Plus, there are new modules just for this context – some of which I expect we may see eventually back-ported to Surge XT:

  • Stereo envelope and VCA, with quad AD envelope
  • Quad LFO
  • Dual function generator
Light or dark, looks lovely. Mixed here with some other instruments – screenshot by the Surge team / pyer, but these are all some personal favorites in here, including Befaco, Instruo, ALM / Busy Circuits, and of course the former Mutable Instruments creations (under Modal Instruments). Some of these are paid, but a tidy investment in VCV gets you a full rig and plug-in operation.

Let’s just chew on that for a second: each of these capabilities now can exist as a module, so you can basically build-your-own dream monster synth. To some of us, that’s way more appealing than having a monolithic polysynth with a bunch of submodules, because you can build it to taste and with only what you need.

Each module is stereo. Each module is polyphonic. (If you want, that is – this is a heck of a playground for monosynths, too, obviously.)

And it’s free-as-in-it’s-free for all OSes.

Plus as you can see from the screenshots, they’ve done a bang-up job of the looks, across all brightness/darkness settings.

These are in VCV’s usual Library system, which also means you can add the modules you want to your library and skip the rest, plus they’ll be synced across any copy of Rack that’s logged in:

If you lapsed a bit on following Rack, December was a big month. For Pro owners, that includes an AU version that works without Rosetta on Apple Silicon machines, plus a nice new Reverb and Convolver. I’ll catch up soon, but it’s worth scrolling through VCV’s Twitter feed:

ALM Busy Circuits has some great new stuff, too – more on that shortly, but it’s a nice way to try their stuff before you buy the hardware (not to mention a budget alternative if your module budget is lean or nonexistent)!

I’m just, like, really excited for this one.