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Softube have often been praised for their excellent emulations of analog hardware in the studio realm, channel strips, EQ, compressors and the like. With the Softube Modular, they are tackling potentially much larger range of hardware gear to try and bring the flexibility of the Eurorack system inside your computer.
To get you started, there's a range of Doepfer modules (VCO, VCF, VCA, ADSR, LFO, Noise and Random). As well as that you get a whole bunch of utility modules: Mixers, Mults, Sequencers, offsets, crossfader, panner,logic switches,slew limiter. Enough to built the most complex of patches.
Additionally, there are performance panels which allow you to route and label dedicated controls to create a more straightforward looking patch.
There are also more modules available as add-on purchases - the Intellijel Rubicon - Thru Zero Triangle Core VCO, the Korgasmatron II - Dual Filter/LFO and Xfade, the uFold Wave Folder. Additionally if you own Softube's Heartbeat Drum machine, these modules will also be available as separate voice modules for drum synthesis.
The Intellijel modules sound really good.
I am told by Softube that they are fully committed to expanding this range and continuing to expand the Modular system.
Softube Modular runs as VST, VST3, AU, AAX Native as a plug-in (no standalone) iLok protected, though with machine authorisation you don't need to have an actual iLok to use the copy protection.
I will confess I was not sure how I would get on with the notion of a software modular, as it's pretty far away from the physical reality of an actual system, but in practice, you still get the freedom to configure and chase sounds in much the same way. The emulations that Softube has coded are impressively realistic and even without any of the additional Intellijel modules, you can create complex and organic sounding patches, that either self generate or run from the DAW clock (via the DAW clock module).
Audio rates - one thing that is good to see is the fact of audio rate modulation patching - take the VCO output and patch it into a mod destination and you get full audio rate mod. Additionally, the behaviour of the signal drive into the VCF is also highly authentic, the modelling here is very detailed, as with the VCA modules, driving the signal harder adds saturation to the signal.
Performance and Mapping.
These additional panels allow you to map controls 1:1 for easy to find tweakable parameters - just assign the control, and either use the name of the mapped parameter or name it yourself. They seem simple, and indeed are but can help create some very tweakable patches with clear controls. It would have been nice to see a way to use these as more traditional macro type operation, with multiple relationships available with differing amounts per control, but this is not the case yet - perhaps Softube could work on this.
These performance controls of course can also be MIDI cc mapped - as with all the module controls. However the process for MIDI learning is not quite as simple as I would like, there is no native method, you have to do this in the DAW using it's own mechanism for MIDI learn, which is not always that clear. I would have liked to have seen a rightclick, learn implemented from within the plug-in.
AUX Outputs and CV Control
As well as the main stereo output of the Modular Plug-in, there are four sets of AUX outputs, these are additional bussed outs that are available in your DAW - depending on how it handles additional Plug-in outs, but can be routed either as audio to separate physical outputs, or to additional mixer channels for separate processing OR to a DC coupled audio interface as CV outputs - so you could patch the output of an LFO or envelope say to a physical input on your external gear - this is actually pretty cool and gives you a way to integrate this into your existing CV hardware.
There is a Modular FX mode, instantiating this gives you an input which can be routed via your DAW or I guess physical audio inputs from your soundcard and allows real-time processing of audio input in any way you might care to. A nice addition.
Once you get used to the Softube way of patching, it's actually pretty straightforward to start building patches, there are a number of included ones to get you started, but it's the off-road aspect of this that makes most sense - it's great to be able to recall your own creations of course - it's a real bonus - we know how easy it is to get lost in modular time and being able to recall or start again gives you the freedom that you simply don't get with the hardware. However, it should be said that CPU load is an issue. At low soundcard latency settings on our Macbook Pro i7 2.4gHz machine it really started to struggle quite quickly. Increasing the latency helps quite a bit, and if you have a sequencer patch where live input via MIDI is not required, disarming the active track input can also make a significant difference. But there is no way around the fact that it does hit the CPU hard. There are no plug-in settings to reduce oversampling or quality settings to reduce this, you will need to freeze or bounce if you aim to run a lot of insances and some complex patches may simply not run if you don't have the grunt, but in return you are getting a kind of synthesis playground that you will only get in hardware.
Additionally, there is no poly mode, on some other systems, you can add voices - which behind the scenes will clone your setup and allow for poly playing, but this is not possible in Modular - you would need to physically build a poly patch, which would get pretty unwieldy. However, given the CPU load I suspect that all but the simplest of patches would bring your machine to it's limits. Wouldn't it be lovely to see this on a powered plug-in platform such as the UA Apollo or suchlike?
Given all of this, I'm still feeling pretty positive about Softube Modular, you can pretty much do what you like and create complex and interesting patches, save and recall them and mangle and distort as with a true hardware system. I guess the CPU limitation is similar to not have enough rack space or running out of cash while building hardware.
But on the whole, I'm impressed. At the price, it offers a 'soft' way into to the world of Eurorack and skills or techniques learned using this can translate into hardware should you be bitten by the bug.
I can see occasions when I need modular functions, but either don't have the modules, or perhaps a patch I don't want to break down leading me to use this instead.
Available now priced at $99/£72
Additional modules: Intellijel Korgasmatron II $49, Rubicon $49, uFold $29
Note: After this review was finished, a new ROLI Seaboard RISE module was released which allows patching of the ROLI Seaboard range to be used as an input module with over 30 CV outputs. This is actually quite a big deal - it means that with a DC coupled audio interface you can route the RISE vie Softube Modular out itnto the wild - creating CV output from your ROLI into actual hardware. This is also possible using Expert Sleepers FS-1 too but it gives you a choice.
It is available in version 2.3.90 which can be downloaded either directly from myDownloads page in your Softube account for via the newly launched Gobbler integration for direct downloads (untested as it was launched post review). But it means that you don't have to download the entire Softube plug-in set to access single plug-ins.