Design and build a complex, functioning modular synthesizer without leaving the confines of your computer.
Voltage Modular 2 (VM2) is an updated version of Cherry Audio’s virtual modular synthesizer environment. Running either standalone or as a plug-in, the software emulates a hardware system comprising analog and digital synth modules. Available modules from both Cherry Audio and third-party developers range from oscillators, filters, and envelope generators to controllers, CV processors, and complete synthesizers. VM2’s ability to host AU, VST2, VST3 and AAX plug-ins extends its timbre-shaping capabilities considerably.
This major update provides some terrific additions to the original version, which I first saw demonstrated at the January 2018 NAMM Show. Along with standalone operation, additions include a built-in audio recorder, the ability to plug an unlimited number of cables into every jack, and variations that store all the settings of every module in a patch. Cable busses allow you to set up complex patches without cluttering the GUI with a plethora of cables. You can use VM2 to prototype hardware and software designs of your own while developing new methods for sound synthesis and audio transformation. VM2 is a terrific platform for expanding on classic techniques that have shaped our modern soundscape.
The process begins when you add modules from a list, click on a module’s output, and drag a virtual cable into an input. MPE, a MIDI file reader, Logic networks, and math functions are some of the tools included within VM2’s architecture.
You can process your own voice, guitar, cello, or whatever to create and transform sound. VM2 also lets you integrate other software or hardware synthesizers into its framework by routing signals from your audio interface through VM2 in standalone mode.
VM2’s patch programmability resembles working with hardware from Serge, Elby Designs, Buchla, or CG Products. You can connect a single source to multiple destinations, create feedback loops, and produce a living organism of sound that imparts a sense of motion. This kind of programmability is great for creating compositional concepts by building patches that perform in response to your mapping and design decisions. VM2 can also handle stereo and quadrophonic audio signal paths, with variations for true stereo sound and multi-dimensional sound processing.
Powerful by Design
With the release of Voltage Modular 2, the team at Cherry Audio has added specific legacy attributes to its synthesis engine. These include the FM Engine, ARP 2600, Juno-60, and Vector Synthesis options. Additional new tools include the Lyrinx Filter, Vintage Resonator, MegaSaw, and Sampler II. You can create custom categories for modules, save panels, create auxiliary buses, and enable performance mode, which gives you the ability to route a button or knob to several destinations. You can specify minimum and maximum values for parameters and link them to hardware controllers using a straightforward MIDI-learn procedure. The built-in audio recorder is great for jamming, creating content to be processed, or adding to a score.
Grow Your System
Cherry Audio has attracted some excellent third-party developers. Their designs range from essential hardware modules of the past to current DSP-based models of today. Mark Barton, for example, built his first modular synth in 1973. In 2005 he created the Cyndustries Zeroscillator (featured on the cover of the June 2006 Electronic Musician). A digital re-creation of that module for Voltage Modular 2 takes advantage of advancements in computer processing power. He just announced MRB’s Luxury Filter bundle, too, a collection of lowpass gates and Oberheim-and Moog-type filters—definitely worth checking out.
Cherry Audio’s online store also offers Hetrick CV modules from Michael Hetrick. PSPsudioware brings their signal-processing experience to the platform while also boasting a unique and powerful FM synthesizer, PSP eFeMerizer. Along with his very own Vult language, Leonardo Laguna Ruiz used Wolfram Modeler to design his Vult Modules. They comprise powerful oscillators, filters, and unique processors. Andrew Macaulay, Bernard, and P. Moon have all created impressive sound design and processing tools that you can wire up as if they were a Eurorack hardware system.
You can demo most of the third-party and Cherry Audio’s in-house specialized tools for free for seven days. That allows you to put the modules through their paces. That lets you ensure a module or bundle is right for your workflow before purchasing.
Voltage Modular Designer is a separate application that provides an environment for creating your own modules. It’s deep and well documented, with all of the tools you’ll need to implement your own ideas or expand on modules that inspire you. It’s free if you just want to develop modules for your own use. However, you’ll need a separate license ($99) if you want to sell modules you’ve designed on Cherry Audio’s website.
If you want VM2 to work directly with hardware modular synths, you’ll need an audio interface that has DC-coupled outputs. Compatible products include many audio interfaces from MOTU or any of several modules from Expert Sleepers. Because they’re completely cross-compatible, dual compatibility on Mac and PC platforms is not an issue. Redo and Undo functions are embedded in the system. That means you have complete control with an extra protection mechanism in place over your design work.
Freedom of Choice
I found Voltage Modular 2 to be stable and robust. There’s no deep menu diving because every parameter is laid out in front of you. Using the Plugin In and Mini Plugin Host modules, VM2 can host 64-bit instrument and effects plug-ins. It can also control their parameters using a myriad of sound sources, functions, control voltages, or even your own voice to make dynamic changes. That makes VM2 a good choice for live performance.
Cherry Audio has three packages available. A free version called the Voltage Modular Nucleus bundle comes with 22 modules. Nucleus covers the basic building blocks of synthesis and reflects the company’s effort to give back to the community during the current pandemic. The 45-module Voltage Modular Ignite is a more ambitious starting point. It provides additional functions such as a clock divider, drum oscillator, envelope follower, and MIDI-to-CV converter. Voltage Modular Core supplies you with 105 modules that should keep you busy and inspired for a very long time.
The developer’s website provides online content, training, and live tutorials. These materials will help you get the most out of VM2 for your specific needs.
Based on customer feedback, Cherry Audio is constantly improving Voltage Modular’s architecture and playability. It sounds fantastic, but you can judge that for yourself by listening to these audio examples.
Whether you’re a seasoned synthesizer programmer or just beginning your journey into creating your own extended voice, Voltage Modular 2 is a powerful and affordable software package for sound creation, composition, and transformation. Download the free Nucleus bundle, and I bet you’ll be hooked.
Supported platforms: Mac/Windows; standalone and AU, VST, VST3, AAX plug-in formats
Price: Voltage Modular Core + Electro Drums, $99; Voltage Modular Ignite, $50; Voltage Modular Nucleus, free