If you’ve never used the free modular synth program VCV Rack before, now’s the time to try it out. VCV Rack has been available in what could be considered beta form since 2017, but having officially made it to version 1.0 it really deserves to be brought to the attention of anyone remotely interested in modular synthesis. Did I mention it’s free?
For those new to the platform, VCV Rack emulates a hardware Eurorack system in a similar manner to Native Instruments’ Reaktor Blocks where individual modules can be added to a virtual rack and linked together using patch cables.
A wide selection of first party modules are included with the initial download, while an enormous and ever-growing range of free and paid modules can be accessed via their website and easily added to your library. A particular standout here are the authorized ports of Mutable Instruments modules including the versatile Plaits Oscillator (who’s source code powers Arturia’s new MicroFreak oscillator), all available for free.
If you just want to read the whole list of new features in version 1.0, checkout the change log here.
There are plenty of additions that will be tantalizing to existing users including polyphonic functionality, multi-core CPU support and MIDI mapping, but a lot of thought has also gone into making new users feel less intimidated, as well as generally improving the overall user experience.
Compared to Reaktor Blocks, VCV Rack has always felt a little more raw and grounded in reality which could potentially act as a barrier for new users. With version 1.0 there is an immediately noticeable improvement here. On first use you are greeted with a neatly pre-made patch playable via your QWERTY keyboard, and a friendly notes module inscribed with basic instructions for use and customization is present. A small but nice touch.
Previously, right clicking your mouse presented a long and somewhat cumbersome list of all the modules in your library. Despite a comprehensive tagging system, this was not the easiest way to find a particular device, especially if you have a large library. Now, right clicking opens a large window with a brand new browser where your library of modules are presented visually, and can easily be filtered by manufacturer or category.
Given how easy it is to add new modules to VCV Rack, and how many modules are readily available for free, it’s easy to forget about the exciting new additions you may have downloaded over the years, meaning a vast portion of your library may have remained unused. The new visual browser is far more fun and inviting to use, maybe even putting it ahead of Reaktor Blocks in the ease of use category, at least as far as navigation and discovery is concerned. Although it still can’t quite match that refined NI polish.
On the subject of navigation, zoom gestures have also been added making it far easier for trackpad users to get around large modular creations. A scenario which will certainly become more frequent given the addition of polyphonic functionality.
CV integration has always been a part of VCV Rack via first and third party modules, and the Bridge plugin included with VCV Rack means it can easily talk to Ableton Live and the upcoming CV Tools Pack. If you are a hardware modular owner and want to know how to get started integrating it with your software rig, checkout our article on DC coupling here.