Review: Softube modular


Swedish company Softube have since their start of 2003 been pushing the envelope of audio innovations. Their range of emulations of well known hardware units keeps on growing every year as do the users of these plug-ins. But this time they shifted their focus on a whole new type of emulations.

The Eurorack created by Dieter Doepfer in the 90ies and during the last few decades became the most used platform for modulars and most amount of modules developed for this platform. So it seemed to be a matter of time when some company jumped on the bandwagon to bring that platform to the digital realm.

Modular platform
Softube modular is the plug-in version of the Eurorack modular platform. It emulates a 4 row cabinet and by default comes with 6 Doepfer emulation units. A VCO,VCF,(dual)VCA,ADSR,LFO and Noise generator. Also you get 20 utility modules to help you to use it in a DAW environment and create more complicated and interesting sounding patches. This seems to be a good start at beginning to dive into the possibilities of modular synthesis. You can create monophonic patches or with the use of the multi CV converter use 4 voice polyphonic patches if you use 4 VCO that is. Compared to the hardware platform there are hundreds of different modules where you would hope they also will be emulated for this platform.

You can buy 3 add-ons from Intellij to enhance the number of modules with an extra VCO,VCF and wave shaper. Not only differ the VCO and VCF in the sonic area and to be honest they do sound much better than the Doepfer emulations. With these modules you also get the impression that Softube use top of the line audio processing because unlike their competitors the sound doesn’t suffer too much from digitis or this velvet sounding filter. They offer also way more options of shaping the sound as you would expect from an modular environment. When you look at the description of the Intellij modules you also get to see a link about information about the hardware unit of this emulation. So the emulation of the Eurorack format also will be used as a showcase for hardware modular manufacturers.

When you have the Softube heartbeat plug in you also get an additional 7 percussive modules and one effect module to create percussive sounds in combination with the beat sequencer or midi mapped triggers to create your favorite freakish modular percussion sounds. Too bad you do not get the FX modules you can use in heartbeat itself.

Even for seasoned modular programmers I would advise checking the manual before starting patching away. The modular has a few quirks you have to adjust to. You cannot drag and drop or move around modules as you might expect. As to patching itself it this is also a faithful emulation of the eurorack hardware. You can save every patch if you want to which is great. But you cannot save settings of that patch as a separate snapshot. So you may end up with saving the same patch with different settings which can get chaotic if you don’t organize it properly.
As to the tutorials in the manual and the presets that elaborate on the manual it is more of an introduction of the modular capabilities. The descriptions are useful and great to start with. If you want to go deeper and test your own creative imagination in this modular environment you might want to look at examples that are given for the hardware version.

You never run out of VCO
While browsing through the various presets (Which are btw 196 and not over 200 as the site claims) you will run in a few patches which tend to put more strain on your computer as you hoped for. The emulation uses resampling to higher frequencies to ensure the high audio quality. That also comes at a cost to your CPU usage. During the review I used a 2 year old I7 950 processor and a RME Hammerfall which I had to set to 12ms latency to avoid ticks and pops during testing 4 voice polyphony patches on a single VST3 instance. As to multiple VST3 modular instances I could run several of these and the CPU managed to keep up fairly well. So if you want to use this modular to its full potential you indeed can use as many VCO as you want but you can run into hardware limitations of your CPU and you might want to use the latest models CPU. Too bad you cannot use a dedicated DSP to offload some of the load to there.

When you created a favorite modular patch and want to use it in a hands on environment you can add performance modules to map the controls of the modules to knobs, switches and faders. You can adjust the minimum and maximum so you can decrease the sensitivity for certain parameters. To me it seemed normal you also had a midi learning option but that seems not been implemented. In your DAW you can automate even parameter you want because you can automate 500(!) parameters.

Next to the main stereo output you also have 4 times stereo aux output which can be routed as audio or as CV outputs to hardware units if your audio interface supports the CV mode. So you can combine the eurorack in the digital realm to the eurorack in the hardware realm if you like to. Especially if you want to use your DAW as a syncing device for your triggers or LFO speed.

Softube modular is hands down the best sounding modular emulation software of this moment. The modular comes with the very basic amount of modules and the need for extra modules seems apparent. Ergonomics of the software and options are also very basic but suffice for a huge time sink because patching your own sounds always is great fun. I can’t wait for more modules will come out and they watch the pricing and hopefully will look into bundles which offer a small discount and allow enthusiasts to create free/open-source modules.

-Great sound
-Faithful emulation of Eurorack
-DAW options
-Aux options
-Decent manual for starters
-Expand ability for more upcoming modules

-CPU hungry (per instance)
-No midi learning
-Limited amount of modules
-No snapshots

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