Cherry Audio has a modular softsynth, called “Voltage.” It’s currently (as of October 8, 2018) $150, in a bundle that includes the core product, plus 69 modules as well as an additional set of percussion modules and settings for the synthesizer.
It looks like it’s a competitor for four softsynths with which I have varying levels of experience: Softube Modular, VCV Rack, Arturia’s Modular V, and, lastly, Native Instrument’s Reaktor 6.
It works similarly to VCV and Softube Modular: you have a selection of modules and slide them onto a virtual modular rig. You then drag cables between input and outputs on the various modules to create sonic palettes. I’d love to show you images, but I’m awful at creating them, and the Cherry Audio has a number of workable videos that demonstrate the functionality.
It’s quite servicable in that regard. The cable-dragging mechanism is fairly common; Modular V has it as well, and you see the same thing with Reason, so it’s a workable adaptation of a real-world patch bay.
The sound quality and module selection is pretty good, too. You get the standard array of components: oscillators, LFOs, envelope generators, amplifiers, gate generators, sequencers… quite a few, actually; check the Cherry Audio shop for a complete list.
The module inputs make sense and mirror their real-world components pretty well. I was pleased with the selection and their quality, but nothing stood out that screamed that a particular component was especially compelling.
One of the things that does stand out about Voltage is that modules are written in Java, a fairly popular and free-to-use language and runtime environment. I haven’t tried this out, but the possibility of writing new components with Java is actually pretty enticing; Java’s a very simple language to master, allowing component developers to focus on the actual sonic characteristics they’re trying to create.
Comparisons to other products
Modular V is quite flexible, but costs about the same. The module selection is largely fixed to what Arturia offers, and the modules are based on the modules available in the Model 50 series of Moog synthesizers, if memory serves the Moog catalog properly. If you’re looking for a soft synth analog to the Moog sound, the Modular V is quite nice… and it’s very flexible. But it’s not a traditional Eurorack modular system, so if you’re used to the free-form chaining of modules, Voltage might have the upper hand.
Softube Modular is the closest commercial analog to Voltage. It’s actually cheaper, but doesn’t come with as many modules; they do, however, have aftermarket modules to die for, mirroring many, many well-known real-world modules including Buchla generators, Intellijel, and others. However… I can say that Voltage is actually easier to use, because the CPU requirements for Softube Modular are really high. Also, Voltage’s authorization mechanism is license-based (as is Softube Modular’s) but Voltage doesn’t require Gobbler.
I like Softube Modular, if only because the modules are so flexible… but Gobbler and the CPU usage mean that if I had to use one of Voltage or Softube Modular, I’d reach for Voltage every time.
VCV Rack has the same kind of expansion ecosystem that Softube Modular does, with a couple of differences: it’s open source, and is a free download, and… it’s more of a “traditional Eurorack”, meaning that its integration into a DAW like, oh, Cubase is a lot less clean. There’s a VST of VCV Rack, but I haven’t tried it (and it seems to be a bit of a red-headed stepchild for VCV Rack). I love synthesizers with the heart of one who loves synthesizers, and I enjoy physical synths just as much as soft synths, but DAW integration is pretty much a “must have” for me to prefer a soft synth, even if it’s a good modular emulation.
Reaktor is the oddball in the group, being fully modular, but not being truly based on the “cable drag” paradigm. Reaktor is more a virtual whiteboard for components; you make modules available and connect inputs to outputs (but not with a model of a physical cable). You also have far more flexibility with Reaktor than you do with any of its competitors, in that you don’t have to use modules; you can use mathematical functions or other such things, including building your own modules (in Reaktor) if you so choose. It’s more intimidating than the other products included here, and it doesn’t really pretend to be a Eurorack or traditional modular synth, but in terms of raw power, it’s the beast in the group.
I’m actually pretty impressed by Voltage. It’s nicer than Modular because it’s got reasonable CPU usage, and no Gobbler; it’s more Eurorack than Arturia’s Modular V and Reaktor; it’s well-integrated as a VST, to differentiate it from VCV Rack. It fits the Eurorack niche VERY well, as a soft synth, allowing you to do west coast and east coast synthesis with a Eurorack look and feel very easily.