Hardware Companions for VCV Rack, AKA "What should I throw my money at?"

(Wouter Spekkink) #1

For many years I’ve never been able to think of birthday gifts to ask for, but that is definitely changed now that VCV Rack exists.

I am thinking of expanding my setup with some hardware. I won’t have loads of money to spend, so I need to make a choice. I am in doubt whether it is more useful to invest in a Beatstep Pro to use as an external sequencer, or in a Behringer Neutron to integrate a hardware synth in the setup. Both are reasonably priced and I’ve seen others use them to great effect. The upcoming Midilar system also looks very, very cool, but I have no idea about the price tag yet, and I already own two Novation Launch Kontrol XL controllers, which cover most of my ‘knob-twisting needs’.

If you happen to be someone who owns a Beatstep Pro and a Behringer Neutron, or something similar, what would you advice to invest in first?

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(Martin) #2

Another thought: Why not starting with a small Eurorack case, an ES-8 and a module you like.

Well, ok, you could integrate a Behringer Neutron into an Eurorack too :slight_smile:

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(Wouter Spekkink) #3

Well, that would be awesome, but for now I am trying to stay away from Eurocrack, because I know it will be a bottomless money pit. I am very tempted though, and I’ve been looking at affordable ‘Eurorack starter kits’, but affordable in this context still looks quite expensive to me.

The ES-8 for example, is already well beyond what I can afford to spend on my ‘hobby’.


If you want into eurorack, but are afraid it will become a money pit (which it did for me), then I suggest semi-modular or ‘fixed’ modular systems. I sold off all my individual modules and bought the Make Noise 0-Coast and endorphin.es SHUTTLE system. If you can save up for the SHUTTLE system, then I highly recommend it, especially for someone also using a DAW or Rack, since Shuttle Control is an incredible USB/MIDI/CV converter. That said, I also have the BSP, and you can’t go wrong with that. If it matters to you, then you may want to snatch a black version now, as they were low in inventory the last time I looked.

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(Wouter Spekkink) #5

Hehe, you are both ‘enablers’. Saving up for a semi-modular system that works by itself but that I can also expand on later is a very tempting idea. That is one reason why I was leaning towards the neutron, which is probably not as flexible as the 0-Coast or the SHUTTLE system, but within the price range that I was looking for.

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Do you have any of the paid for VCVRack modules? They might be worth your money (though I’m not in the financial position to buy any myself). MSCHack as some “Pro” modules coming soon that Jaynothin has been testing. They seem very good.

(Wouter Spekkink) #7

Yes, I think I bought all of the paid VCV modules. I haven’t actually used all of them, but I mostly bought them to support development, and they are well within my regular budget.

I also bought the commercial ML Modules (Analog sequencer is one of my favourites), as well as some others, such as Floats (another one of my favourites). Basically, all the ones I really wanted, I already bought. By now that would probably have bought me the neutron :stuck_out_tongue: , but I have zero regrets.


ask yourself: why do you really want hardware? and what is the best use of your money? is there anything that hardware can do for you that you can’t do in software?

(Wouter Spekkink) #9

That is a very fair and good question. I really want to give hardware synths a try at some point, but I struggle to come up with the exact reason why.

I guess one thing is that I prefer being able to turn some knobs on a controller rather than doing things with a mouse, but with the midi controllers such as the ones I already have, and with the upcoming support for midi mapping a hardware synth wouldn’t really add to that.

From that perspective a BSP still makes sense though, because it would add something in a way that is similar to what the Novation Launch control added for me in terms of more hands-on control over the software.

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(Omri Cohen) #10

Hi Wouter!

I think that Ablaut made a good point, which is true for every step we make. Ask yourself “why” and what will it bring to your setup\how will it enhance it.
I have both the BeatStep Pro and the Neutron, and I always loved messing around with knobs and faders and playing with everything so for me, it was something I knew had to happen. I believe that there is nothing like having the tactile experience while creating sounds\music. I’m coming from the “acoustic world” playing the drums and piano and such, and I believe in instruments, touching them, smelling them, having a conversation with them, something that, for me, cannot happen with a mouse. I love VCV Rack, it’s my alpha and omega, but I have to balance it with a tactile experience. The Midilar is great, and had enhanced my experience with VCV a lot. It’s also such a nice feeling having the sounds at the tip of your fingers. Also, with hardware, things are happening in real time. There is no latency. You turn a knob, and it reacted directly. Anyway, of course, this is how I feel about it, but you have to ask yourself if something like this can really contribute something. Although, if you won’t try you’ll never know…
The Neutron is great and at a good price point, and it can be a good choice for having a go with hardware and seeing if it’s something that can speak to you. Especially now, that we’re so close to rack 1.0, which will have midi out. The thing is with the Neutron is that you’ll need somehow to play\sequence it because it has no internal sequencer so maybe it worth the wait for Crave, also from Behringer, which is a sort of a Mother-32 kind of synth with a built-in sequencer.
If you’re thinking about using the BeatStep with VCV then it’s also an amazing tool, but again, you’ll have to take latency in consideration. It doesn’t have to be an issue though.

(Martin) #11

One thing about Eurorack is the limitation to just those modules I really own. This helps my creativity a lot. Also VCV Rack always starts my computer’s fans which adds some noise to each patch :wink:

And I like turning knobs.

However VCV Rack is such a huge warehouse filled with fantastic modules that a reasonable person would never buy hardware :wink:

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(Martin) #12

Yep - this tactile thing may lead down unexpected paths. I have absolutely no musical background and just bought an acoustic guitar, practising 10 to 30 minutes a day. This is all VCV’s fault :wink:

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(Omri Cohen) #13

I totally agree, and this is exactly what I love in the idea of modular. It’s an instrument, and sometimes even a whole band or an orchestra. It’s amazing!!!

(Wouter Spekkink) #14

I have been giving this some more thought, and I think it is this tactile experience that I’m after. That is basically the reason why I already bought not one, but two novation launch control XLs (not at the same time though). Being able to twist some actual buttons is just so more satisfying than having to do everything by mouse. I currently usually patch up loads of cables from the core midi-cc plugin to control elements of the patch where such control is interesting. With the upcoming midi-mapping in V1.0, this will only get better.

So, for similar reasons I would really like to give hardware a try, but at the same time I would like it to be a good companion to VCV Rack (as Omri describes in the edited title of this thread). Currently, after checking out some of the suggestions made, I have become less sure of the Neutron, and leaning more towards saving up for a bit longer until I can afford a Shuttle System. It looks like a great way to get acquainted more with hardware modular, and with the Shuttle Control it would integrate relatively easily with software.

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(Omri Cohen) #15

I think that you are doing the right thing. You will enjoy the tactile experience, and getting a full system is a good idea. You can always switch and expand later, but you will get a fully functioning system, and that can make it easier at the beginning. If I could, I would get the Make Noise Shared System, but oh boy it’s a lot of money…

(Wouter Spekkink) #16

Yes, it really is. I think I can save up for the Shuttle system in a reasonable amount of time, and the Make Noise Shared System is a bit beyond what I actually want to spend on this at this point. And the Shuttle system looks like it would be loads of fun!

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(Prentiss Riddle) #17

Thank you for asking this question! I’m also on a tight budget and have been scratching my head about options.

I’ve been coming at it from sort of the opposite direction - I’ve had hardware in mind for some time now but ever since seeing loopop’s ES-8 demo (below) I’m itching to include VCV Rack in my setup. I was planning to start with a Moog Grandmother, because I was a synth-obsessed teenager in the 70s who could never afford any gear, and the Grandmother would let me begin by learning how to emulate the sounds I grew up on and then see where I go after that. Ultimately I see myself heading down the more abstract generative/ambient/etc. path but I’d like to begin by learning the classic approach. So bridging the Grandmother to VCV Rack seems like a good way to combine the two.

However, with the budget I have in mind the Grandmother plus the ES-8 plus a basic Eurorack case would break my bank. And if the ES-8 is the only Eurorack module I want, the case seems like a waste.

So: is there a standalone more affordable ES-8 alternative I should be looking at?

And I guess a second question is: am I barking up the wrong tree by starting with the Grandmother? Would I better off skipping the analog step entirely and buying an affordable MIDI keyboard plus a bank of knobs and sliders like the Novation Launch Kontrol?

PS: Here’s that inspirational loopop ES-8 video, which I’m sure most of you have seen.

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