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CARDINAL – Is it really like VCV Rack as a free VST? Part 1


For reasons of practicability (when producing music) it is better to use a DAW environment sometimes (and sometimes it is not, of course). And the VCV Rack version, which works inside of a DAW is not a free one – you have to pay for it. And even if the price is definitely appropriate – it is still a price, still money. There will be some of you, who cannot afford these about 200.- Dollars (September 2022). CARDINAL is free – no money needed. So, how to work with CARDINAL? What are the differences to VCV Rack? When should we use CARDINAL, and when VCV Rack? Let me try to answer all of these (and a few more) questions.

How to work with CARDINAL?

The short answer is: Pretty much the same as with VCV Rack Pro (the commercial VST version of VCV Rack). And as with all modular software synths we have the obligatory HOST (DAW) to VST (CARDINAL) module (indeed there are more than 1), as well as the VST (CARDINAL) to HOST (DAW) audio transfer module(s). Take VCV Rack Pro, take Cherry Audio´s Voltage Modular, take CARDINAL etc. - all the same so far.

vcv rack vs cardinal

For all of you, who still don´t know what I mean: here´s a short video demonstrating the process described above: https://youtu.be/dPDXY8x31Pk

When we want to put a module in our rack we proceed as we did in VCV Rack: we open the browser (right click in an open space) and choose the wanted module. The brower´s functionality is identical to this of VCV Rack (searching for tags, for brands, zooming, setting favorites). At the moment of writing this book there are 925 modules available in the browser. The vast majority of them is identical to those of VCV Rack (but in a different colour), but there are also some module that you won´t find in VCV Rack. There are 30 brands at the moment (including Bogaudio, Befaco, Amalgamated Harmonics – and evcable coloursen Expert Sleepers and Audible instruments etc.). Interesting enough: the brands “Mog” and “mscHack” , which were present in previous versions of VCV Rack, but are not any more available in the most recent VCV Rack version 2 are available in CARDINAL again.

925 modules – that´s a lot. 925 modules – that´s all. We cannot load additional ones in CARDINAL. All available modules are in the VST, in the browser itself. CARDINAL is a self-contained VST, there is no Library as is in VCV Rack.

The right-click menus are also identical to those of VCV Rack, and even the manuals are – sometimes the “User Manual” tab leads us even to exactly the same Web page as does VCV Rack (with the identical modules that I mentioned above of course).

The cable handling is the same – we have a lot of different cable colours to choose from though (I like that very much!).

The main menus “File”, “Edit”, “View”, “Engine” and “Help” are the same as in VCV Rack.

We can even load VCV Rack preset into Cardinal as long as they contain only modules, which are present in Cardinal too.

And if we load/import a VCV Rack preset, which contains modules that are not available in CARDINAL, the VST loads the preset nevertheless, just without the missing module – and most of the times we are able to find another one in the CARDINAL browser that substitutes the missing one quite well.

We can even load CARDINAL into itself as a module (plugin) (a whole modular synth running in another (master) modular synth. We cannot do that in the VCV Rack VST. And with that said we have reached the next question.

to be continued


There´s a poll going on in all of my social media. I´m asking there: "Is it really an advantage to have VCV Rack (or Cardinal) as a VST in your DAW?" Please use the comments here to tell us your opinion. The results of my social media poll are going to be published here on my website in November (2022).

Enjoy your day!



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