If you don’t want to invest in VCV Rack 2 Pro to get a modular rig inside your DAW then Cardinal will wrap up the free version as a plugin.
The developers say that Cardinal exists as a way to have VCV Rack as a proper “open-source audio plugin.” By this they mean one that works with multiple platforms and operates more efficiently than the current VCV Rack V2. They claim that as it’s a self-contained plugin it suffers from none of the conflicts or crashes that people have experienced with v2 of VCV Rack Pro running inside a DAW. There’s also talk of jitter issues and MIDI problems that Cardinal has gotten around.
These are not the sort of things I can verify; VCV Rack 2 Pro seems to work fine on my system, so we’ll have to take their word for it. The makers of Cardinal fully acknowledge that it wouldn’t exist without the fine work done in VCV Rack 2 Pro and wish it no ill will.
Ultimately the idea seems to be the desire to give us a free plugin version as opposed to having to pay for the pro version of VCV Rack 2, and one that works better.
The main differences are that Cardinal only supports the modules that are included in the build of the plugin. These are the stock modules and some of the other free ones. You can’t load external modules or commercial ones. Cardinal adds VST3 support, LV2 support for Linux and support for Apple M1, ARM and BSD systems. On the other hand, Cardinal has none of the support offered by VCV Rack. Cardinal is of course free and open source whereas VCV Rack is not.
There does seem something odd about Cardinal taking a paid-for feature from a commercial product and releasing a free version of it. While the work they’ve done to improve the plugin experience is admirable it would be interesting to get some clarification on the relationship and how they’re able to do this.
As with many things open-source and stored on Github it can take a bit of searching and wondering to find the software and then work out how to install it. The Windows build is quite huge and extracts into all sorts of plugin version folders and doesn’t have an installer. There are some instructions but ultimately just copy them to your Vstplugins folder and you’re away (hopefully).
- Distrho Cardinal Github page.