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Opinions on using virtual modules
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Author Opinions on using virtual modules
Jeff242
Hello
With all the new options today people have in getting virtual eurorack modules in software form by using software such as VCV rack or Softube Modular, and hardware like expert sleepers ES-8 to get those audio and cv signals to and from those virtual modules, I was wondering what some of you felt about letting software doing the duties of some of your modules. Are there some module types that should never be virtual ( perhaps maybe an analog oscillator or filter) or that could never be virtual ( like maybe Evaton RF Nomad or Make Noise Pressure Points or Mutable Instruments Ears). Do you feel perhaps audio generating modules are a hardware only thing but it’s ok to do cv in the computer or vice versa? I’d like to what YOU think. I know there is no rules to this but I want to hear personal opinions.
Also if someone had an empty rack except for a few basic utility modules, an ES-8 and plenty of modular software like Reaktor or Softube , what would you recommend as hardware you should get first and what could be left to virtual duties.
authorless
You can do anything in software. If you have a tablet you could easily make a virtual touch controller (that would kind of be an actual touch controller). The Evaton RF nomad could easily be made (like this SDR http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901). Virtual analog hardware and loads of VSTs model analog oscillators and filter.

For me, If I were wanting to start a system and keep some of it in the computer, I would go with hardware for all of the audio and software for the CV generators.
Pelsea
authorless wrote:
For me, If I were wanting to start a system and keep some of it in the computer, I would go with hardware for all of the audio and software for the CV generators.


That’s what I am doing. I use Max on a laptop to generate CVs and triggers, along with a MIDI wind instrument and various contraptions. All audio originates in hardware, including envelopes and LFOs. (I occasionally feed the synthesizer back into the laptop for long delay pieces or additional processing.)

One thing I learned from my first system (shown at left) was the limits of traditional sequencers. It had five, including a pair of linkable 16x4 monsters along with dozens of logic functions to provide overall control. The system could play a 20 minute hands off composition with multiple tempos and melodies. But I quickly found that the architecture of the system really shaped the music, and practically every idea required one more module. I particularly struggled to get formal control and rhythmic variety.

In 1978 I integrated an Ohio Scientific microcomputer (similar to an Apple II) with a large Moog system. Even though I had to program in Basic and assembler, I loved the fact that each piece started with a blank page. Of course with 4 kilobytes of memory I couldn’t go too wild, but I was no longer locked into 16 note patterns. With my current system, I can code up as elaborate a sequencer as I need, complex function generators, or move on to advanced math and AI techniques.

Paradoxically, most of my star modules cross over the other way— functions from computer music reinvented as modules— Braids, FMVDO, and Plonk. These are a bit limited compared to what is offered in Csound, but I love the immediacy of knobs.
Phil999
interesting story Pelsea.

With my modular I try to outsource some tasks like generating notes and audio effects. I often use tablets and phones because I already have the interfaces. In the last years there have been some interesting apps with programmable reliability, random and ratcheting functions, and great touch screen GUI. Computers often do simple MIDI routing, but are of course best for recording, also MIDI recording, and effects, sometimes also dynamics. With a mixing desk and patchbay, audio can quickly be routed in and out of the DAW.
Jeff242
Pelsea wrote:


That’s what I am doing. I use Max on a laptop to generate CVs and triggers, along with a MIDI wind instrument and various contraptions. All audio originates in hardware, including envelopes and LFOs........

Paradoxically, most of my star modules cross over. the other way— functions from computer music reinvented as modules— Braids, FMVDO, and Plonk.


That’s what I was thinking. I really like Mutable Instruments Marbles but why spend over $300 when I could use the virtual version in VCV Rack and just map pots on my midi controller to the virtual marbles controls and my expert sleepers es-3 allows me to pipe audio and cv directly in and out of it. Then I guess I would only want a hardware version if it became the centerpiece of my workflow and patches , but even then it’s hard to justify the cost.
Interesting that you mentioned Braids, as that is in software form in both Softube Modular and vcv Rack and I think they are great. I probably will never buy the hardware version due to it’s being digital. Inteligel’s rubicon is a different story, cause I’m always dubious about fm in software due to a finite sampling rate and the module has a lot of knobs for live tweaking. But 300 is a lot more the Softube’s 30 version.
Jeff242
authorless wrote:
You can do anything in software. If you have a tablet you could easily make a virtual touch controller (that would kind of be an actual touch controller). The Evaton RF nomad could easily be made (like this SDR http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901). Virtual analog hardware and loads of VSTs model analog oscillators and filter.

For me, If I were wanting to start a system and keep some of it in the computer, I would go with hardware for all of the audio and software for the CV generators.


That’s why the very first modules I bought for my eurorack case to go with my semi modulars ( o coast and lifeforms sv-1) was expert sleepers es-3 and es-6.
Jeff242
Phil999 wrote:
interesting story Pelsea.

With my modular I try to outsource some tasks like generating notes and audio effects. I often use tablets and phones because I already have the interfaces. In the last years there have been some interesting apps with programmable reliability, random and ratcheting functions, and great touch screen GUI. Computers often do simple MIDI routing, but are of course best for recording, also MIDI recording, and effects, sometimes also dynamics. With a mixing desk and patchbay, audio can quickly be routed in and out of the DAW.


Tablets and phones huh? That’s cool. I can’t seem to find any mobile apps that are truly professional tools and not geared towards beginners, but I haven’t looked really hard. You should list some ones you found, I would love to see them.
daniu
I had a lot of success using Max MSP through an ES-8 to generate all the CV control for a small Buchla system. Despite the aesthetic downside of using a computer, I was far less limited by what modules I had available. Highly recommend the ES-8.
UltraViolet
This may be controversial, but if we had the proper hardware (which we don't quite yet) then at least in theory everything could be done better digitally.

Oscillators - Digital is always perfectly in tune. You can totally mess with the waveform without effecting the frequency. It may be possible to do this in analog, but it certainly isn't practical.

Modulation - Digital can be any waveform and you can have as many as you want.

Envelopes - Digital can have unlimited stages and loops.

Filters - Don't think anyone has ever really pursued this, but the potential is there to do things that could would be completely impractical in analog.

Controlled Amplifiers - A DCA has no control voltage bleed through issues.

Sequencing - No limits on steps with digital as was previously stated.
moremagic
the beauty of a modular synth is that you get what you need, not what somebody else needs

i like feedback patching and knobs so mines heavily analog and i just use the computer / phone to send external audio to it occasionally

if i were gonna implement a computer tho, id do audio itb and the cv in the modular -- voltage controlled envelopes are a huge part of what drew me to modular tho. if you like set & forget east coast type adsrs, why not let a box do it and get yourself a ladder Miley Cyrus
Phil999
Jeff242 wrote:


Tablets and phones huh? That’s cool. I can’t seem to find any mobile apps that are truly professional tools and not geared towards beginners, but I haven’t looked really hard. You should list some ones you found, I would love to see them.

sequencers:
- Quantum, Midisequencer
- Aphelian
- Riffer
- Senode
- Rozetta suite
- PolyPhase, etc.

drum apps with MIDI out:
- MidEastDrummer
- Patterning
- DrumPerfectPro
- DifferentDrummer
- DrumJam, etc.
Franktree
Part of the appeal of modular to me is the physicality. So even setting aside audio quality, which may or may not be relevant, there's something so experientially different about physical knobs and cabling, etc--and maybe even the intellectual/psychological understanding that beneath those knobs and faceplates are physical electronics (at least in part) rather than 0s and 1s--I feel like something important would be lost if I was just working through the computer, even if everyone's ears could hear no difference.
Jeff242
Franktree wrote:
Part of the appeal of modular to me is the physicality. So even setting aside audio quality, which may or may not be relevant, there's something so experientially different about physical knobs and cabling, etc--and maybe even the intellectual/psychological understanding that beneath those knobs and faceplates are physical electronics (at least in part) rather than 0s and 1s--I feel like something important would be lost if I was just working through the computer, even if everyone's ears could hear no difference.


I absolutely agree and if money was no object then I would never be considering a Softube module vs a real one. I quickly learned after I got my o coast and lifeforms sv-1 all about the physical connection with hardware and it literally took me 30 minutes to convince me to sink my life savings in eurorack. One good thing I will say is that after spending time in Softube Modular, VCV Rack, and Reaktor Blocks, I was able to hop right into patching.
My dilemma for ME is: Do I spend 10x the amount I paid on a software Rubicon for an actual Intellijel Rubicon? Is the possible increase in sound quality, physical knobs and jacks worth such a price increase? I’ve never heard the actual version, but Softube’s Rubicon sounds pretty damn good.
Pelsea
Jeff242 wrote:

My dilemma for ME is: Do I spend 10x the amount I paid on a software Rubicon for an actual Intellijel Rubicon? Is the possible increase in sound quality, physical knobs and jacks worth such a price increase? I’ve never heard the actual version, but Softube’s Rubicon sounds pretty damn good.


I don’t have experience with that particular module, but I suspect it is the same difference as watching your cousin’s vacation pictures from Tahiti and going to Tahiti.
hippasus
For me analog oscillators in cross fm win 100% over digital oscs.
But Digital oscillators or other digital/virtual sound sources trhough analog filters is heaven.
The software versions are a great opportunity to try the logic and working flow before buying, in the case of the rubicon I will go for the hardware without regret.
Fx and modulation as others say can be digital.
Rex Coil 7
I think of Ableton as an incredibly potent digital synth. In fact, that is the way I use it within my own rig. It's an instrument first, and a phrase looper second, lastly it is a DAW.

Franktree wrote:
Part of the appeal of modular to me is the physicality. So even setting aside audio quality, which may or may not be relevant, there's something so experientially different about physical knobs and cabling, etc--and maybe even the intellectual/psychological understanding that beneath those knobs and faceplates are physical electronics (at least in part) rather than 0s and 1s--I feel like something important would be lost if I was just working through the computer, even if everyone's ears could hear no difference.
There are some OUTSTANDING "physical controllers" for Abelton these days. Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and the MIDIFighters "Twister" and "3D" are what I have in my own system. Between them all there are well past one hundred knobs alone! Hardware integrated into software is mere fractions of an inch from being at the point where the user doesn't even need a computer monitor during a live performance, save for a few glances here and there. Mouse time as at it's absolute minimum levels as well.

(Ironically, large "workstation" style keyboards are moving the opposite direction .... there's far more reliance on the "iPad" mounted in the center of the machine). I dislike using touch screens in live performances ... they just do not appeal to me.

So I view the Abletons as a digital synth with an enormous amount of power. My computer system is nearly as "modular" as my 5U/Euro modular synth is. It is a collection of various controllers, interfaces, signal routers all connected to a digital core. The core presents digital modelling, sample-based synthesis, as well as hybrids of the two technologies. This also includes audio processing as well as FX.

So my system is a happy group .... a 1962 Hammond C3 ... a computer-based "synth" ... a fully analog modular synth system ... and a pair of turn of the century ROMplers (E-MU Proteus family rack synths). Additionaly, there are analog and digital FX as well.

It all becomes "an instrument". The whoooole thing is a singular instrument. A large modular instrument, embracing electro-mechanical tech (Hammond), digital tech (ROMplers, FX, synths, ROMplers, computer), tube-and-transformer tech (amps, preamps, Hammond), and solid state tech (modular synth, FX, processors).

One very personal modular instrument.


cool
Rex Coil 7
UltraViolet wrote:
This may be controversial, but if we had the proper hardware (which we don't quite yet) then at least in theory everything could be done better digitally.
I disagree. Perhaps we may have the ability, but that doesn't mean it's good.

UltraViolet wrote:
Oscillators - Digital is always perfectly in tune. You can totally mess with the waveform without effecting the frequency. It may be possible to do this in analog, but it certainly isn't practical.
Which is precisely what gives analog it's character. I'm not one to completely embrace total predictability. Total predictability is boring, unexciting, lifeless. There are places for that type of thing, but personally I don't feel that an exclusively digital system is much fun, especially after using it for a length of time (a few weeks perhaps). This is why a keyboard rig that has a DX-7 and a Minimoog is so fulfilling. The predictability of pure digital synthesis combined with the much more independent and spontaneous "free spirit" of the analog synth. It's that excellent combination of stoic and wild. Digital behaves like a well trained lap dog, while analog is unbridled and at times forces you to comply with it.
colb
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
Which is precisely what gives analog it's character...


Except it's not. If it was just the tuning, then it would be very easy to imbue a digital synth with that magical analog goodness. If only it were so simple grin


There seem to be a lot of different things that matter, Some of which can be easily duplicated in software - tuning instability, equalization, noisefloor... and some which are difficult to model - e.g. noise on oscillator reset references (mitigated by phase locking due to parasitic feedback cry )... or some that are currently impossible in real time like system wide parasitic capacitive and inductive feedback... Add it all together and Analog has some magic that digital cannot do (yet).
UltraViolet
colb wrote:
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
Which is precisely what gives analog it's character...


Except it's not. If it was just the tuning, then it would be very easy to imbue a digital synth with that magical analog goodness. If only it were so simple grin


There seem to be a lot of different things that matter, Some of which can be easily duplicated in software - tuning instability, equalization, noisefloor... and some which are difficult to model - e.g. noise on oscillator reset references (mitigated by phase locking due to parasitic feedback cry )... or some that are currently impossible in real time like system wide parasitic capacitive and inductive feedback... Add it all together and Analog has some magic that digital cannot do (yet).


Virtual synthesizers are basically software. Software can be good. Software can be bad. Software can be anything. That is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Software becomes a reflection of the programmer who writes it. Most any good programmer can write the software for a virtual synthesizer just as most anyone with training can learn to play the guitar. But, what we really want isn't just good software, what we really want is software art. Perfectly working software will sound sterile and lifeless. Perfect analog circuits would have the same problem. Its all the "imperfections" that make the magic of analog. Someone could be the dutiful scientist and replicate all those analog imperfections in software. But, what we want is art not science. A great virtual synthesizers needs its own "imperfections" and its own character that will set it apart from everything else.
UltraViolet
Rex Coil 7 wrote:

There are some OUTSTANDING "physical controllers" for Abelton these days. Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and the MIDIFighters "Twister" and "3D" are what I have in my own system. Between them all there are well past one hundred knobs alone!


This is something that I have trying to figure out for years. The box with a bunch of knobs and/or sliders and switches can work, but quickly becomes unwieldy if you want a real physical knob for every one in the virtual synth. So you really want controls that can be shared with multiple modules, but then the knob positions are all wrong when you switch. Motorized pots can sort of fix this, but they would be expensive and take an annoyingly long to be change positions. It goes on and on. I recently had some ideas on how to do this properly with "real virtuality", but its going to take quite a bit of experimenting and building prototypes to get it right.

Nicely laid out knobs and controls are a big part of what makes analog synthesizers fun to use. I don't think anyone would spend $3000 on a virtual synth even if it was far more capable than a full rack of analog and/or hybrid modules. Maybe not all at once, but many people do spend $3000 and even more on physical modules. They want the sound and the "feel".
wiggies
This is something I've been pondering as I've been building up my modular over the past two years. I came to it from having a few vintage digital rack synths that had been in a closet for years. Once I got things up and running, I went in search of software and came across Numerology, which I took an immediate liking to.

Eventually I sold off all the old gear and have been exclusively doing Eurorack now, but as I've been expanding the system, I had a lot of questions and did a lot of research into sequencers, and have pretty much concluded that I'm not going to get a dedicated melodic sequencer (I do have a Z8000 that I use for stepped modulation). Mainly, I have gotten so used to the flexibility afforded by Numerology that I know I would need a much larger system to do in hardware.

But I've also played with virtual instrument plugins and tried VCV and I don't like them much. So for me, maybe I don't like emulations of hardware in software, but I'm OK with software that acts like software?
Rex Coil 7
colb wrote:
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
Which is precisely what gives analog it's character...


Except it's not. If it was just the tuning, then it would be very easy to imbue a digital synth with that magical analog goodness. If only it were so simple grin
Which was precisely my point. I never meant to imply that pitch drift was what gives analog modules their character (and I don't think I said that, either). It's much more than just "tuning instability that gives analog it's character". Analog modules are built with components that are made within a spec range ... such as +/-5% (for example). This means that there are large variables in how any given aspect of an analog module will respond to various type of control. It is that unpredictability that I find produces character. "Tuning" is the least important aspect when it comes to character, from my point of view. So I think you missed my point, entirely.

eek!
Rex Coil 7
UltraViolet wrote:
Rex Coil 7 wrote:

There are some OUTSTANDING "physical controllers" for Abelton these days. Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and the MIDIFighters "Twister" and "3D" are what I have in my own system. Between them all there are well past one hundred knobs alone!


This is something that I have trying to figure out for years. The box with a bunch of knobs and/or sliders and switches can work, but quickly becomes unwieldy if you want a real physical knob for every one in the virtual synth. So you really want controls that can be shared with multiple modules, but then the knob positions are all wrong when you switch. Motorized pots can sort of fix this, but they would be expensive and take an annoyingly long to be change positions. It goes on and on. I recently had some ideas on how to do this properly with "real virtuality", but its going to take quite a bit of experimenting and building prototypes to get it right.

Nicely laid out knobs and controls are a big part of what makes analog synthesizers fun to use. I don't think anyone would spend $3000 on a virtual synth even if it was far more capable than a full rack of analog and/or hybrid modules. Maybe not all at once, but many people do spend $3000 and even more on physical modules. They want the sound and the "feel".
You really need to look at how controllers such as those offered by MIDIFighters work (as well as controllers such as the Ableton Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and others). The LED rings around the knobs eliminate the "wrong knob position" thing. The wrong knob position thing are problems in crap-ass controllers. The latest pro-level controllers are a real joy to work with. Yes, they cost more .... pro level gear is nothing like consumer level gear. As it should be.

Your comments address failings of cheap, inexpensive, garbage gear made for consumers, not gear for those of us that are more passionate about our instruments and our music.

thumbs up
colb
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
So I think you missed my point, entirely.

eek!


Sorry about that - kneejerk reaction oops. I was just looking within the context of your reply to UltraViolet's post which was just talking about pitch instability.

And folks claiming that 'all you need is some random pitch drift' is something of a trigger for me wink.


It's certainly a topic I find very interesting though. I've been using and writing software stuff for ~20 years. Recently started getting into the hardware side, and both have serious restrictions and benefits. My little Eurorack system can produce sounds with ease that wouldn't be possible with months of research and programming on a digital platform. At the same time, Programming opens up many domains in composition and sound exploration that are impossible with purely analog technology.
UltraViolet
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
UltraViolet wrote:
Rex Coil 7 wrote:

There are some OUTSTANDING "physical controllers" for Abelton these days. Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and the MIDIFighters "Twister" and "3D" are what I have in my own system. Between them all there are well past one hundred knobs alone!


This is something that I have trying to figure out for years. The box with a bunch of knobs and/or sliders and switches can work, but quickly becomes unwieldy if you want a real physical knob for every one in the virtual synth. So you really want controls that can be shared with multiple modules, but then the knob positions are all wrong when you switch. Motorized pots can sort of fix this, but they would be expensive and take an annoyingly long to be change positions. It goes on and on. I recently had some ideas on how to do this properly with "real virtuality", but its going to take quite a bit of experimenting and building prototypes to get it right.

Nicely laid out knobs and controls are a big part of what makes analog synthesizers fun to use. I don't think anyone would spend $3000 on a virtual synth even if it was far more capable than a full rack of analog and/or hybrid modules. Maybe not all at once, but many people do spend $3000 and even more on physical modules. They want the sound and the "feel".
You really need to look at how controllers such as those offered by MIDIFighters work (as well as controllers such as the Ableton Push, the Akai APC40MkII, and others). The LED rings around the knobs eliminate the "wrong knob position" thing. The wrong knob position thing are problems in crap-ass controllers. The latest pro-level controllers are a real joy to work with. Yes, they cost more .... pro level gear is nothing like consumer level gear. As it should be.

Your comments address failings of cheap, inexpensive, garbage gear made for consumers, not gear for those of us that are more passionate about our instruments and our music.

thumbs up


I checked out the MIDI Fighters website and the Twist appears to be a great product that solves the position problem very well. However, that was just an example of one the problems. There are more. I also considered encoders, but didn't pursue them because they don't solve the other problems. I won't be satisfied until I have something that solves more of the problems and maybe one or two of the problems with real module controls to balance out the remaining issues. But, that is just me being unreasonably demanding. The Twist appears to be a well done product.
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