I like the advantages of open source and the third party development community is the jewel in VCV’s crown, but there are also advantages to walled garden approaches too. I’ve been a Cycling’74 Max customer for a good number of years for the plain fact that it’s a better learning platform. Much of the focus in recent releases has been providing a more streamlined UX and easier access to in-situ documentation/learning patches. Pd may share the same heritage as Max but Cycling’74 pay special attention to making Max approachable and accessible. And that’s something I’m willing to pay for. My use of Max is intermittent so I need a little hand holding on those occasions that I need something bespoke to help me with a challenge.
The ethos is straight out of the Richard Stallman school of ‘Free’, where premium services are built on top of ‘free’ software.
@jonathan.moore1 I expect you may have a better take on this than me, so I wonder what in your opinion is the lowest latency way to get all these software modulars to play nicely with each other - even (at a stretch !) cross modulate each other? Through them all being in a DAW; through direct communication over Jack, Soundflower, CoreMidi, OSC etc; through hosting each other (multiple layers?); through standalone Max; through external hardware; or any other option ?
For many years my main audio workstation was OS X, so I found myself having to use the likes of Jack & Soundflower etc to route midi/audio between DAW and the ‘outside world’. But for the last 7/8 years, I’ve used Windows for my base workstation and attempt wherever possible to use Ableton as my hub. The main benefit being that accurate delay compensation is built in and everything locks nicely via Ableton clock rates and the master buffer rate. I use an ASIO utility to channel ASIO to/from other applications outside of the DAW when need be (‘ASIO Link Tool’ -which is sadly no longer available to purchase as the developer passed away a few years back).
Compared to the hoops we used to jump through, getting various software and hardware to work together, I’ve come to the conclusion that we electronic musicians live in privileged times.
My studio relies on a few other key technologies that aren’t standard fare to ease the path:
Expert Sleepers modules to create CV’s from software, from both Ableton Live on Windows and the excellent OS X modular step sequencing package Numerology.
Vienna Ensemble Pro to channel audio and midi data with minimal latency via cross-platform networking (you obviously need a fast network with a lot of data throughput)
StudioMux to connect iOS devices directly via Lightning cable to DAW host on both Windows and OS X. You obviously need to compensate for the data roundtripping by hand but that’s much the same as with standard hardware options. This is far better than DA / AD roundtripping where latency compensation is still part of the deal.
The likes of Max4Live and Numerology enable you to modulate CV’s at 14bit midi data rates (that only came to Ableton with Live 10) and that helps things feel a tad more ‘symbiotic’. The obvious no go area is cross-platform/application audio rate modulations but that’s something I usually only find myself wanting to do in the hardware realm (or in emulations that are up to the challenge).
With regards to Max specifically, I used to rely on it more because of the lack of SysEx/NRPN’s in Ableton but now that that’s far better in Live 10 (better but not as good as it should be) I try to use Max4Live wherever possible.
Having said all that, I crave simplicity. It’s not a case that I create huge sprawling systems using all possible avenues. I just like to feel secure that should I want to modulate b with x, I have a route to explore.
Thanks for taking the time to write that very full and clear reply Jonathan. I am with you on much of that though my needs are very different to yours.
I am interested in purely (largely generative) ‘modular’ performances rather than different modulars providing different voices within the framework of a traditional DAW timeline. Many people on here use Rack in combination with Eurorack hardware (of which I have none) to do this.
I am interested in the extent to which, and the best way, that one software modular can work with another and I guess the answer you have given is ‘through Ableton Live’. ‘Through Bitwig’ would be another popular answer these days too I expect. Lacking the sort of power in my boxes that you possess I am left wondering though whether the extra processor hit of running a fully fledged DAW is necessary. But maybe it is desirable.
VCV 1.0 will be very flexible. Voltage Modular is already very flexible. They will be/are able to host each other and/or offer direct means to communicate with each other.
However what I really want to work with are VCV Rack in combination with Softube Modular and the PulsarModular P900. These, though, are not very flexible at all; the latter will never change and Softube show little signs of interest in modifying their framework (I feel that every time I make requests they get filed in the circular filing cabinet). Those are the two though with, IMHO, very notable modules and sound quality (due to their analog modelling and internal oversampling). Neither offers midi/CV out and in all likelihood never will.
So, whilst they can be hosted in Rack (P900 through an additional layer of an AU wrapper), it is pretty much a one way process (audio & midi/CV in and audio out) rather than anything two way, and there is a latency hit, especially as patches become more complex within them. If you apply the same CV modulation from Rack to a Rack module and to a hosted module the results will be increasingly out of sync as the block size in the VST host is increased.
I lack the knowledge and experience to make a judgement a priori about whether there will be a way to improve this latency problem when VCV Rack is a VST and can be hosted in a DAW. Hence my question to you, which I think you have answered, that DAW PDC will help (but not at high rates of modulation).
Maybe I am just on a fool’s errand though and should just accept each software modular as it is and use it in independence of the others.
It’s not so much a fool’s errand per sé. But one thing it’s good to understand is that 9 times out of 10 you’ll get better timing accuracy with larger buffer settings. There’s often a need for manual latency compensation even with plugins (as some don’t report their latencies accurately), never mind hardware. And it’s only in recent years that Pro Tools got PDC. The important thing is that you recognise where timing adjustments are required at the point that they’re introduced. There’s nothing worse than only noticing when you’ve got 16 track’s of content with multiple timing errors - it’s sometimes impossible to identify the culprits, especially if you start adjusting the wrong tracks. I know that one from bitter experience!
The only reason for setting a buffer of 64 - 128 samples is when capturing live performances.
As to getting the different virtual modulars to ‘play nice’ with each other it really does help to use the likes of Ableton or Bitwig as these have ways of using plugin automation in a very ‘modular’ way without timing errors. However, you’ll still find yourself having to tweak your individual track delays manually as you can’t guarantee that individual modules in each modular host environment aren’t mischief makers with regards to timing. And of course, it helps if all software modulars are hosted in the same DAW environment.
All in all, it’s just a case of accepting that timing will always be an issue as you increase complexity; that’s just the nature of the beast with digital audio. And even in the world of hardware modular, timing can be an issue these days, as so many modules are digitally controlled. A purely voltage controlled analog signal path is about the only time that latency can safely be ignored.
Yes timing can be such a headache I spent quite a number of days trying to figure it out in my hybrid setup (ableton-hardware-vcv). One thing I do know is to always record the output of my MOTU via return bus, so I’m confident that I have an accurate print of what I actually recorded just in case I have to adjust timing on individual tracks after record.
I doubt that I would get Voltage Modular, but I can say that I do like it visually. Pretty much the only thing I dislike about VCV Rack is the tendency for layered, gradient, shaded, faux-3D visuals. But I have the same problem with most VST and AU plugs as well. They should be rendered flat, flat, flat. Trying to look 3D reminds me of fake wood-grain decals on an old 1979 station wagon, it’s intended to look swank but it’s corny. YMMV
I’ve played with it and it really shines as a VSTi. Performance and stability seem rock solid and I’ve only managed to crash the thing by inputting weird formula’s into the formula module. VCV rack is a nightmare to get communicating with my DAW and this just works… both with automation and using my keyboards knobs and sliders. The only criticism I can throw at it is the pricing with a minimum $10 per module.