Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular

Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular

Linköping, Sweden: Softube is proud to announce the first ever officially licensed Buchla plug-in: The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator for Modular. Unique and desirable, this dual oscillator is guaranteed to add some real spice to your Modular patches.

The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator plug-in for Modular features all the digital waveshaping, aliasing noise and fold over frequencies of the original hardware. Enjoy the self-modifying, screeching, snarling responses from the original’s downright odd inner workings. The 259e is truly a unique addition to the Modular ecosystem.

Requirements and Availability

Buchla 259e is an add-on for Softube’s popular virtual Eurorack synth Modular. It should be noted that you require a Modular licence from Softube to use the Buchla 259e add-on. Whilst the hardware unit is typically sold for $1599, the plug-in is typically priced at $99.

Web page with more information:

YouTube video

Softube Modular

Because Buchla 259e is an add-on and not a VST in its own right, you need a licence for Softube Modular in order to use it.

If like me you don’t have the money nor space to invest in a hardware modular system, Modular by Softube offers an excellent virtual solution. It’s a cross-platform plug-in featuring authorised emulations of well known hardware Eurorack brands.

The basic system is typically priced at $89 and includes 6 Doepfer modules (A-110-1 VCO, A-108 VCF, A-132-3 Dual VCA, A-140 ADSR, A-118 Noise/Random, A-147 VCLFO) and 20 utility modules (such as MIDI to CV/gate, mixers, slew, sample & hold, switches, multiples, delay, offset, sequencers, clock dividers, logic and signal tools, as well as a Polyphonic MIDI to CV/gate module).

A number of bundles are also available and other modules available for purchase include Heartbeat drum synthesis, TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R reverbs, 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator, Intellijel Rubicon, Korgasmatron II, uFold II plus many more.

A 20 day demo version is available.

As you’d expect the system requirements are quite high:

  • Mac OS X 10.9 or newer (Note: Testing for OS X High Sierra has not been completed at this time)
  • Windows 64-bit, versions 7, 8 or 10 (Note: Testing for Fall Creators Update has not been completed at this time)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon 64 X2 or newer
  • Screen resolution larger than 1280×800
  • 1 GB RAM or more, and at least 6 GB hard disk space for installation (individual plug-ins take less space)
  • Any VST, VST3, AU, or AAX (Pro Tools 10.3.7, 11.0.2 or higher) compatible host application
  • Softube/Gobbler account
  • Gobbler application to manage license activation and plug-in downloads
  • Broadband internet access for downloading installer and registering licenses

All Softube plug-ins support both 32- and 64-bit hosts, although a 64-bit OS is required. Supported sample rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz, in both mono and stereo.

My current setup is a 2Ghz dual core pentium with 4GHz memory. I decided to install modular using the Gobbler software which was straightforward and really easy, in fact at the point of publication of this post an update to Modular was available and the Gobbler software implemented the update quickly and efficiently. After the initial installation, Modular opened but wouldn’t run. The support from Softube was excellent, very quickly identifying the issue (related to OpenGL) and providing a solution. As you’d expect some of the polyphonic presets with lots of modules struggle to run but generally Modular runs surprisingly well although does use a lot of CPU at times as expected.

The interface is very intuitive and it’s easy to learn the basics. Modular comes bundled with a large number of presets with excellent sound quality, Modular has a warm sound with a solid bass. It’s important to point out that this is a very faithful emulation of a hardware environment. When you launch Modular you are presented with an empty rack. You can of course load a preset and modify it to your requirements but if you want to create your own sounds you are starting from scratch. This means you will need to load all the required modules and start patching everything together in order to start using it. If you’re the sort of musician who likes experimenting and creating your own sounds this is ideal. If you prefer to open a VST, load a preset and use it straightaway then it’s probably not the best option as you won’t get the most out of it.

Adding modules is easily done using the ‘add’ button on the central menu. This brings up a list of available modules.

The first one you’ll need is midi to cv so you can control the sound with a midi keyboard. A very basic setup uses the note output from the midi to cv convertor to feed a VCO module. This outputs to a filter which in turn outputs to a VCA. An ADSR module is used to control the VCA and the VCA output is sent to the main audio output so that we can hear it.

From this basic setup you can then start adding additional filters, sequencers, mixers etc and streamline the appearance using performance panels. Patching is very easy, you simply double click on the desired output and drag, all available connections are shown in green. I really like how the cable colours change colour with each patching to make tracing easier, it can be easy to make a wrong connection and it’s a simple case of double clicking and dragging away from input to ‘unplug’ the connection.

Although the basic setup may seem limited from a hardware point of view, the virtual environment allows you to load as many instances as your system can handle so there’s more than enough to get started with. The modules available for purchase include licensed versions from manufacturers such as Intellijel and 4ms so there’s loads of room for expansion as your budget allows.

Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator

The Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator is one such add-on module that is available for purchase. It is simply awesome.

The 259e consists of a principal oscillator and a modulation oscillator that can be used either to modulate the principal oscillator or as a separate generator of audible notes. Furthermore, the sine wave generated by the principal oscillator is simultaneously applied to two of the eight available waveshape tables. A morph voltage pans between the two tables and a warp voltage varies the amplitude of the sinusoidal (driving) waveform. Both these functions can be modulated by the modulation oscillator. Three of the waveshape tables are actually not tables in the classical sense—they are simply portions of the 259e operating program, full of unpredictable noise and frequent silences. This is the innovative Mem Skew mode, possibly the most unique feature of the Buchla 259e. When these tables are selected, the FM controls are re-assigned to table scanning functions and the FM inputs become table modulators. Essentially it is using the internal memory as a wavetable that is controllable with an external signal.

In short, while the Buchla 259e can certainly be used for more traditional sounds, it excels at creating otherworldly twisted digital sonic landscapes. Which is why it is one of the most coveted synth modules on the market.

First impressions are excellent, it looks fantastic. The GUI is a faithful representation of the hardware version. The principal oscillator is located towards the lower right hand side and has warp and morph controls located above. The half red / half green button to their left is a split button control which selects the wavetables 1 -5 or a, b, c mem-skew function shown by a corresponding red and green LED on the wavetable list. The red LED is the principal oscillator and the green LED is the modulation oscillator.

The modulation oscillator has three different shapes and can be used in low or high range or pitch track mode. There are also three modes of operation – pitch, warp or morph or combinations of one, two or all three. The modulation index of the modulation oscillator and the warp and morph controls of the principal oscillator can also be controlled by a cv input.

When you select the a,b, c wavetables the mem-skew function is enabled underneath the principle and modulation oscillators and these can also be cv controlled.

Not only does it look fantastic but it sounds awesome too. It produces a fantastic range of sounds from deep basses and drones to higher pitched metallic sounds, glass type sounds to harsh digital artifacts and screeches. I have spent hours experimenting with this unit and each time I seem to discover something new and very cool sounding.

I’ve created an album embedded above which is primarily experimenting with the Buchla 259e add-on to highlight some of its potential. I have to say these recordings are not perfect, I was pushing the laptop to its limits and there are some glitches and audio dropouts at times but these are one-take live recordings which capture live tweaking and adjustments to the sound. The tracks are presented as they were recorded without any editing, they’ve had a basic mastering in MuLab using Elevate and Stage.

There are a couple of tracks with a basic setup highlighting some of the sounds it can produce. There are also four jam tracks, the first two use a couple of external sounds in the background whereas jams 3 and 4 are just using buchla 259e. I’ve not used any external effects, jams one and two use the delay in modular.

I’ve used the heartbeat drum add-on for all tracks.

In summary, this is a brilliant add-on to Softube Modular that adds a unique element for sound design and creation. It is so much fun to use, there’s a lot to learn if you’re new to modular synthesis but that’s part of the attraction, you can easily get lost in Modular for hours whilst having great fun – those happy accidents from experimenting to see what happens when you patch modules together, creating strange and unusual sounds by just getting stuck in – it’s really easy to use and encourages you to experiment and very quickly create some cool sounds. Just remember to save your creations, often. You will need a pretty decent setup to get the most out of it – and that goes for Modular as a whole – but it has excellent sound quality and is an excellent software interpretation of a hardware feel at a fraction of the cost.

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