What subtle aspects of hardware are absent from a software workflow?

I’m happy being software-only. If I had to spend a large budget on music gear, it’d start with a bigger 8-core CPU upgrade kit, not with starting a real/hybrid hardware system.

I never got a chance to play a real Eurorack (it’s not like those things are cheap enough to be a common sight when you live in the sticks). Once I have the opportunity, I’m pretty sure I will still think “that’s another set of trade-offs than a software setup” rather than “this is what I was missing all along”.

I recently realized, from seeing someone’s post on the topic, that it’s common for real VCOs to be slightly out of tune even when properly calibrated, simply because there’s no double-clicking the big tuning knob to reset it to a perfect 0.00000. It can be both a source of annoyance and character.

It made me wonder what are some less obvious, intangible aspects of using a real system, and not necessarily positive aspects, that are absent from a purely software process. Stuff you wouldn’t realize if you lack the experience.

A few more I think about:

  • “Swiss Army knife” modules make much more sense when you can’t spam single purpose utilities. I rarely find a good use for Rampage in my patches.
  • You can perform with two hands, instead of a single cursor. Some MI modules lack features in VCV because two-handed operation is impossible.
  • You have to learn your modules in-depth! In VCV you rarely see people truly learning the advanced features of less popular modules. (I’ve yet to see a single video of someone understanding my own system of modules in-depth, TBH)
  • There’s no polyphony.
  • To perform the same song consistently, you have to patch it again as it was. The more cross-modulated the rack is, the harder it is to dial it right. To perform a whole set, theree’s even more planning.
  • There’s zero CPU cost to consider if you have a huge system, there’s no drawback to having a lot of idle modules.
  • There’s no 1-sample delay per module to consider to sync things up
  • Serious hard science about modules sounding “Warmer” and “More analog” because the LEDs have “Mojo” and the knobs sound “Hot and just plain better to my ears” especially thanks to the “Vintage brushed metal faceplates” and “New old stock resistors”.
  • It costs money.

I could list a lot more, but let’s hear your thoughts instead.

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Tbh i’d say there is nothing in hardware you can’t do in software, however, there is quite a different feel :slightly_smiling_face:. A few things i’ve noticed with my M32 and few others synths(Microfreak/digitone)

  • you can tweak various parameters at once (you could do that in soft with a controller tho)
  • it sounds very good right away, plugging my headphones in my M32 , i get such a rich sound right away, i can’t even explain it.(it’s definitely the voodoo you were talking about lol)(Software will sound amazing too if you spend sometime on it. Ngl i can’t tell the difference with analog or vsts in a finished song properly mixed and mastered)
  • you can get muscle memory for performances, like shortcuts on the digitone etc. (In software unless you use the same modules each time with the same controller assignments, it’s not gonna happen)
  • patching is fun, manipulating cables is enjoyable to me. Be it on the moog 32 or patching my few pedals together. So far software can’t offer that(but it might change soon, as we saw in Omris latest livestream)

I feel like people with more gear than just a semi modular, and also more experience than me will probably answer your question better, but that’s what i could feel as someone who was first a traditional instrument player, then a Vcv addict, and latter got into some Hardware synths :slightly_smiling_face:

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There is also the fact that you don’t need to look at the computer screen at all when doing hardware jams. Of course it’s possible to get a software setup that allows you to jam without having to look at the screen at all almost. These days i spent around 10hours per day on the computer for uni, and i definitely understand the ‘‘my eyes can’t take it anymore’’ argument :joy:.

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Having owned my Eurorack for a little while I feel a little bit qualified to comment. I think your own list is very good Aria. A general thing is, that modules in VCV Rack are electrically and mechanically “perfect” whilst in euro they are not. As you also allude to, the “economy” and therefor incentives in Rack and euro are somewhat different, which leads to different creations. Also the standards are more loose in euro than in Rack, e.g. more proliferation of 5V, 8V, 10V etc. signals in euro. The above things make it in general easier to use Rack than euro. In euro though there’s some tricks available - half inserted cables, touching the end of a floating cable, these sort of things you can only do in the physical realm, which opens the door slightly more towards “quirky experimentation” in euro land than in Rack. As a summation I would say: We don’t know how good we have it in Rack, things are easier and in more abundance. On the other hand it can make you lazy and euro can force you to really get to master the modules you have and make the most of it. As with all things - it’s a trade off; For me in euro it’s all about the tactility, fingers on real knobs instead of the mouse, but it comes at quite the price.

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Hardware can’t give me carpal tunnel syndrome, but I can’t surf the internet for por… prom night stories…

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TIME - I find you need more time for hardware euro because you can’t ‘save’ it. You therefore need time to get what you want to do done NOW, so you can then unpatch it and do something else. On the positive side this does make you focus and record stuff.

With VCV I can do 10 minutes here and there, save and close a patch, open up a different one and work on that, then come back and open the original one again next month if I want.

The ease and convenience of VCV means I am not using my hardware as much as I should and I’m probably going to cut it down a bit and focus mainly on analog VCOs/filters/wavefolders and use VCV for everything else including mixing and effects. My latest ‘upgrade’ was an 8 core i7 rather than euro hardware.

Also not sure VCV has really nailed the granular side as well as hardware yet with modules like Morphagene and Arbhar etc

DUST - VCV doesn’t get dusty…

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Go tell that to the Laptop in my room lol

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Since I found vcv my other daw is full of virtual cobwebs…

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(disclaimer: I can’t speak from experience as I don’t have hardware modules)

From an interview with Mutable Instruments founder / sole employee Émilie Gillet:

there is also the fact that maybe things are changing too fast with software running on a general purpose device - whether it’s a desktop computer or a smartphone. The fact that you buy your module, you give your money for it, I think that kind of forces you to learn how to use it and to keep it - for maybe 2 years or 3 years of 5 years. But on the desktop computer, you start you start choosing a piece of software and then in 6 months, or one year later, you have to upgrade. It’s moving too fast.

It’s a developer speaking, but the point made is about users and how different kinds of products/tools affect their workflows.

Later on, the interview also covers the pros and cons of adding new layers of functionality, which relates to the previous point. This can be done with software, and with hardware digital modules, but usually not with classic hardware analog modules - so I thought this still somehow follows the distinction this discussion is about.

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Which DAW has VCV replaced for you, if you don’t mind me asking?

To me hardware gets to be the nice, warm, comfy sofa in the corner of the room that I’m going to grow old with. I don’t have a lot of outboard gear, nor do I want a lot, just enough to experience the analogue world and keep me inspired.

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fl studio - my intention was to create crazy sounds in VCV and export as wav files to FL but… erm…the constant barrage of new modules and tutorials has kept me trapped here lol

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maybe this works… using two mice :blush:

You can’t accidentally spill coffee on VCV like I did on my Behringer Model D last week. And you can’t stub your toe on VCV either. Also you don’t have to wait for VCV to warm up for half an hour to let the oscillator tuning stabilise.

OUCH. But we gonna be as robots with metal hands or so with to mice)) but it’s really interesting

What’s absent? The bloody hassle of moving and connecting stuff, remembering what was patched into the back of the patchbay, remembering which of the 576834063486 wall warts belongs to which device, dust getting into the pots making them unusable, cables going bad… and so on.

I’m a lover of analog stuff, and I have a bit of gear, but no Eurorack. I’d rather be 100% in the box, it’s just so much more practical and non destructive that way. I just can’t quite get what the Andromeda, Slim Phatty, Minibrute, Bass Station 2, and the many strange fuzz and distortion pedals give me, plus some analog circuits like pre-amps with compressors and tubes. Analog is just better at analog, but asking which is better overall is the wrong question in this day and age. I just wanna know, is it a good sound? Well, all my VST’s and Rack sound bloody amazing. Doesn’t matter if they sound like whatever the original is.

One day I’ll just go 100% ITB, I think. Just a few high quality pre-amps and mics, because you can’t really emulate the signal on the way in, unless it’s already that quality.

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A neat type about real cables is how hackable they can be. For example this series of little PCBs dangling in between cables, stealing juice and intercepting signals on the cheap. Or how the Erica Pico System 3 has expansion cards that reproduce exactly the layout of the module, letting you create patch presets by soldering cables - even saw someone add a pot on one of those little cards.

But of course, digitally, when you got the source, things are hackable in an entirely different way.

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that satisfying “click” when the tip of the audio cable is seated in the jack.

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My preference for cable patching “click” feel:

1/4" (5U) > banana (Buchla) > 1/8" (Eurorack)

1/4" has more of a “clunk” sound, bananas have a nice slidey texture, and 1/8" feels like you’re plugging headphones into your iPod.

Anyone I’ve talked to about hardware knows that I’m not a fan of the Eurorack format. The diversity of options is the only reason I own hundreds of Eurorack modules.

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No one can steal your vcv rack at a gig. Kit getting nicked is a real and perennial problem.

It’s easy to fold up a laptop and keep it safe, and it’s easy to backup all the creative work.

I get the idea that’s it’d be nice not to work off a screen, but the cost of that is huge. I accidently came across rack when I was researching eurorack with a view to trying it out. A narrow escape imo, that way lies ruin and lots of gear acquisition syndrome I can tell.

I’ve just put quite a lot of effort into driving rack from midi devices to avoid the mouse/screen experience. But I’ve changed my mind. Theres so much to gain from the fine control, for a bit of downside - missing out on these subtle aspects.

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