KX Studio released Cardinal, a FREE and open-source virtual modular plugin for macOS, Windows, and Linux.
Cardinal is a free and open-source virtual modular plugin, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a free introduction to the world of modular. Modular synthesis is often any combination of weird, wonderful, and expensive the further you fall down the rabbit hole.
Cardinal provides a way for modular newbies to familiarize themselves with different types of modules, their functions, and how they interact with each other without spending a penny.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Cardinal is heavily influenced by VCV Rack. The difference is that the plugin version of VCV Rack (Rack Pro) is a commercial product and not free. So, Cardinal isn’t trying to best VCV Rack as such; it’s more about providing the rack-style setup as a plugin while remaining free and open-source.
Cardinal isn’t just for modular newbies; having access to an expansive rack set up anywhere, anytime, without the need to travel with lots of hardware should appeal to seasoned pros, too.
Despite having fewer modules than VCV, Cardinal isn’t short of options and features modules based on some classics like Plaits from Mutable Instruments. It also features many third-party developers like ChowDSP, a developer we’ve covered a few times.
A basic setup might start with a MIDI module, which allows you to send data from your MIDI keyboard/controller, followed by an oscillator, envelope generator, VCA, filter, and audio output module.
Getting started in Cardinal is easy because you can search modules by brand or tag and find whatever you need in seconds. Once you start adding modules, you can go crazy till you see nothing but patch cables, but it’s great for beginners to know you can start making noise so quickly.
Cardinal offers three plugin variants, Main, Synth, and FX. Each variant performs equally but has a different IO configuration and varied metadata. You can see a complete list of differences on the Cardinal product page.
You’ll also find a feature comparison of Cardinal and VCV’s Rack Pro on the same page, which is pretty interesting.
Many people will like Cardinal because it’s a fully self-contained plugin, and it’s still free. It has a lot of promise for learning about modular and CV, building synths, sequencers, and modular effects.
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Cardinal is available in AU, VST2, VST3, LV2, and CLAP formats for macOS, Windows, and Linux.