Softube Modular by Diogo C
- Product: Modular
- Developer: Softube
- Formats: VST2, VST3, Audio Unit and AAX for Mac and Windows
- Demo: Fully functional for 20 days
- DRM: iLok (no USB dongle required)
- Price: $99
Quick scope: The Eurorack format is one of the most interesting breakthroughs in electronic music production and professional audio in general, with an open format that allows for facilitated development and deployment of various modules. The “scene” has experienced an enormous growth over the past as it keeps drawing in more users and developers. A software version of it was bound to happen at some point and it has finally happened as Softube partnered with the pioneers at Doepfer to take on the task. Softube opted for an initial package that comes with twenty six modules, featuring six modules from Doepfer that can build a complete synthesizer, fourteen “utility” modules to provides the necessary infrastructure and six “performance” modules that can be used to organize a patch by combining parameters under a single control. For the product launch and at the time of this review Softube also offers eight additional modules from their Heartbeat drum machine (which is free to Heartbeat owner) and three modules from Intellijel - one oscillator with FM capabilities, a hybrid filter/oscillator module and a foldback distortion module. These modules are purchased separately, each goes from $29 to $49 and in order to have the Heartbeat modules you need to buy the Heartbeat plugin ($99). Modular presents quite a substantial depth from the start and if you have all modules there’s a lot that can be done in terms of different sounds.
Sound quality: Modular sounds really good and it’s a remarkable software synth in terms of character and tone, it is really up there with the very best. In terms of authenticity my opinion is that Softube has definitely nailed it, and the fact that the Doepfer is endorsing it means a lot in terms of how far they went into the modelling process. I had some good experience with Doepfer Dark Energy (thanks Bruno!) and in terms of sound it’s pretty damn close and the character is spot on. Needless to say that tweaking real knobs and patching real cables is way more fun than fiddling around virtual controls with a mouse, but on the other hand with the software you can make some patches that would set you on back on some considerable dollars. Bottomline is that the Softube Modular is very close to the real thing and in the context of a song it’s just to close to call.
Ease of use: Modular synths are inherently complex things with an inevitable learning curve, which can be quite a steep one depending from where you are coming from. If you’re familiar with modular synthesizers you’re probably halfway there in terms of making a basic mono synth patch from scratch, and if you’re a (hardware) eurorack user then you’re even further in the game even though it doesn’t necessarily mean that your knowledge will translate 1:1 to the software. If this whole modular synthesizer is new ground to you then there will be some considerable learning ahead. Softube’s manual helps a bit in that regard, it covers all the modules with good detail and provides good examples for basic patch-making. Softube has recently opted for an unified manual for all their products and Modular occupies roughly 80 pages, which is a great deal of information but browsing the big pdf file is a bit clunky and I think that a dedicated manual with more synth-building information would be the better way to do it. The presets offered are also a good way of showing Modular’s capabilities and will help to get acquainted with it. There are nearly 200 presets (195 to be exact) and although that’s a substantial amount it lacks a bit in the educational aspect - something that could be tied hand-in-hand with the manual. That’s not the biggest problem however, the way presets are handled is the bigger issue - more on this below on “Features”. In terms of the user interface Modular scores high as Softube has done a good job on conciliating size, detail and resolution and it can be said that the interface is actually a bit too, but fortunately there is smaller interface option (which I think is too small but some might think otherwise depending on their circumstances). One thing that I particularly enjoy was how Softube managed to display all the cables, which even on the real world can get quite messy. The option of not displaying everything if you don’t hover your mouse over a connector was a very clever one, and the same can be said about their choice to highlight the cable where the cursor is located while keep all other cables slightly dimmed. This helps a lot when dealing with bigger patches with many modules and cables connected.
Features: The initial Modular package brings quite a substantial amount of modules, bringing all the pieces one needs to build interesting patches. The “utility” and “performance” modules were particularly good and they provide a very good foundation for future growth. I also appreciated the fact that multiple outputs are offered - a main stereo output and 4 stereo/8 mono auxiliary busses is quite a good number that will enable some interesting routing choices. Using it as an effect processor is also an interesting feature that extends its scope considerably. Perhaps the biggest setback for Modular in terms of features is the lack of a proper preset system - and an internal preset browser to go along with it. I can see this becoming sort of problematic further down the road as you start to gather more and more patches and further expand your collection. Currently it will use your DAW’s preset system which means I can’t take my presets from Pro Tools to Bitwig for example, which is a big bummer if you’re constantly switching from one software to another. An unified preset format would also enable preset sharing among users, perhaps it can spark some good community engagement if there’s a good system in place to facilitate it.
Bang for buck: The initial package works like an admission ticket and In that regard it is a very worthy ticket as it brings a complete working package with a handful of options. Given their track record I’d trust Softube to further develop this product and add more modules and features further down the road, which I think might play an important part in the decision to invest on this one. Nevertheless, I have to evaluate it right now “as it stands” and in that aspect there’s no shortage of bang for the buck here. Quite a no-brainer to be honest!
Recommended for any synthesizer aficionados and electronic music producers in general.
- Sounds really good and very realistic.
- Fun and rewarding once you overcome the learning curve.
- Some surprisingly refreshing modules, such as the Intellijels and Penta-Sequenza.
- Polyphonic, albeit requiring some quite complex wiring in order to achieve it.
- Separate instrument and sound processing effect plugins.
- The lack of a preset system and browser might hurt its future prospects and needs to be addressed i.e. please implement it as soon as possible!
- Learning curve may be too steep for some.
- A bit heavy on the CPU and older machines might struggle to run many instances or at higher sample rates.
- No standalone version.