So my questions: dollar for dollar, does Numerology translate into equal creativity, even though it is much less $$$ than it's hardware counterparts?
Yes. Cheap if you have no way to sequence - digital or otherwise.
Are hardware sequencers necessary to sequence on a modular?
No. Digital sequencers are much more flexible but are a different approach and lack stability.
And does Numerology fit in the pantheon of it's hardware brethren?
No. There is no substitute for a hardware controller - period. By the same token, there is no substitute for a software controller - period.
DISCLAIMER: I only have the demo of version 2.2 (so far) and mostly do studio work with an occasional live performance here and there. I am very impressed by the amount of skill involved in creating Numerology. It is quite unique. The following is a long explanation. I think a short one wouldn't be fair.
Regardless of how much Five12 is compared (not by Five12 mind you) to a hardware sequencer, it is not. It IS a nice step sequencer and that is where the similarity ends.
My experience is that the demo does no justice to this program. It's too stripped down and bereft of instruction to learn easily. No complaints, just an observation. It is normal for a very complex tool like this.
It is simple and fun to set up a step sequence and route it to various hardware and (more useful IMO) software synths, but the modulation and timeline functions are less useable. The timeline is very under-developed and the modulation "modules?" are so complicated that it is almost impossible to generate useful modulation quickly. For a live manipulation tool this is where I have a problem. I'd need more than the demo to say for sure.
The timeline lacks any ability to start at a certain point and in order to loop a finite region you have to click a box and type in the start and stop points. Ugh! It would be nice to have sliding markers for instance. It's frustrating to try to fine tune a preset once a timeline is started because the thing runs away through the preset changes, and that is just when setting up a preset. I'm sure there is a way to turn off the timeline but it isn't clear how.
Some things are cryptic and involve multiple keystrokes, such as adding a preset to the timeline. This is a bugger if you consider this for a live tool (which I initially thought of it as). It is very "mousey" and screen-heavy. For me, Live is much easier to use for a quick pattern manipulator. I suppose it could be useful in a very minimalist way.
I've tried to set up the controller. I use a Novation ReMOTE SL and I can get continuous controllers like faders and pots to control things like the level and pan of each "stack", but the use of the transport is locked out and the MUTE and SOLO buttons cannot be assigned. Back to mousing these buttons.
The modulation modules are very intense. This is great for setting up detailed modulation IN ADVANCE but I have a real time with setting up a simple modulation in a timely manner. If you want to "experiment" with a modulation then it may get "stuck" even though you delete it. Many times I've had to close and re-open the software to get my saved pattern back without the modified presets.
Also the modulation is extremely over-complicated. For instance using the step divide modulation, if you have only one stack and create a timeline of several different presets, then when you open a modulation it only applies the modulation to the current preset. Other presets will be affected (strangely) but not in the way you originally set the modulation up. You will have to go in to each preset and change the parameters to match the one you set up. This could be remedied by using different stacks, but I haven't been able to try that with the demo. It would be a gamble to find out.
I think Numerology is in it's infancy right now. Eventually, either it will become a stable and useable tool for live use or it will become a plugin for AU users. I see more use with hardware like Electribe and on-board sequencers as well as modular step sequencers with quantitizers - even for just note step generators. Currently I'm using a DAW, so I really can't justify laying down the bucks for a software that has the above issues in hopes that the full version will be better (somehow). But that is just my experience, I'm sure others will disagree.
Of course if you are using a DAW like Cubase or Live right now then there is little advantage to Numerology other than it's ease of setting up step sequences. This is where it excels over anything else. I'd never consider using Cubase or Live as a performance tool environment except for routine repetitive beat tracks, and Numerology would fit in only so well with that. Using them for preset sequential generators is okay but that would be the same for me with Numerology.
I still see computer software driven music as only having an advantage as a PRESET control tool. If you wish to do live performances then there is little advantage to using a software sequencer except as a pre-programmed tool. The same could be argued for hardware sequencers, but I think less so. Of course your music style is the real constraint.
Naturally, not all music is the same and there are plenty of people using soft seq's to do on-the-fly dance tracks and experimental music live. I like this genre too. So in some ways the two approaches are similar. I'd opt for stability and that is where software tools are less advantageous in my opinion.
I do recall a pre-midi performance 25 years ago where we were using all hardware stuff (to a degree). The only computer was a tiny PAIA 8700 digital sequencer. We used this for triggering various arpeggiators and such, along with a SMPTE stripe on a tape unit to a light board and some other home-built gate and trigger boards for other synths. Needless to say, the whole thing crashed midway through a song and we had to "wing it". Not surprising and since then I've had a bias towards stable tools even though the technology has advanced ten-fold. Computers are still no more dependable due to what is required of them despite their increased power and efficiency. They will accomplish more but we require more of them too.
I'm certain this may generate intense disagreement and opinions. That's okay. It is just my limited experience with Numerology that I'm relating and most people could be much more capable and tolerant of digital environments than I am. Your original post seemed like a question of value and in that regard I'd still consider Numerology to be good with all things considered. I already have other options (DAWs and hardware sequencers) so it seems less appealing for me.