Getting into Modular synths

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Getting into Modular synths

Postby JoeyDengler » Sat Mar 21, 2009 5:14 pm

I have been reading alot lately about modular synths and am really,really looking to making my own. I am here as a modular newbie so i need plenty of help....

I need to know what are the basic pieces of equipment i will need to get me started (dont worry about the actually modules as i know about them and know what i want with them) but things like a keyboard with CV/Gate on it etc; any models, prices etc; would be helpful. I just want to get modular!!!
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby cornutt » Sat Mar 21, 2009 5:55 pm

Probably the first decision you want to make is whetehr you want to go with large-format or small-format modules. Large formats use either 1/4" jacks or banana jacks, and have generally larger knobs and switches, which is good for those of us with fat fingers and/or bad eyesight. Small formats use 3mm (commonly but incorrectly referred to as 1/8") jacks and smaller knobs and switches. They take up a lot less room and can be less expensive, although not always. In the large-format category, the most common formats are:

MOTM (defined by Synthesis Technology; also supported by Modcan, Encore, and others)
Dotcom (defined by Synthesizers.com; it's physically compatible with the old Moog standard, although not electrically compatible)
Modcan-A (defined by Modcan; also supported by Cynthia)

In small format, the most popular choices are:

Frac (defined by PAiA; also supported by Synthesis Technology, Blacet and others)
Eurorack (European standard supported by a wide variety of vendors including Doepfer, Analogue Systems, Plan B, Cwejman, and others)

When you order a modular, in addition to the actual modules, you will need to order a case and power supply. Generally, the capacity of the power supply will be enough to support more modules than the case can hold, but you want to check to be sure. Several vendors have planning tools where you can specify modules and it will point out to you any potential problems with power supplies or layout.

CV/gate keyboards are hard to come by these days. As an alternative, consider a MIDI-to-CV/Gate converter, which will allow you to play the modular from any MIDI keyboard. Some of these have nifty extra features such as the ability to output velocity and aftertouch as additional control voltages, or to choose the desired note priority, or to convert MIDI continuous controllers to control voltages.
Switches, knobs, buttons, LEDs, LCD screens, monitors, keys, mice, jacks, sockets. Now two joysticks!
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby premieklovn » Sat Mar 21, 2009 6:30 pm

I'm also considering going modular. Anyone with experience of building their own case? I know Doepfer offers a DIY case kit and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the A100 cases.
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby Suburban Bather » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:15 am

http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13
This thread is where any modular newb/about to start should look first.

premieklovn wrote:I'm also considering going modular. Anyone with experience of building their own case? I know Doepfer offers a DIY case kit and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the A100 cases.


Thats what I used to house and power my euro system. Even with the proper tools, its still a PITA to build, but so worth it. Almost half the cost(after materials for the case) of Doepfer's low cost 6u case. If you're in the US, you probably need to get a higher voltage wall-wart plug though. The one that A.H. ships only covers half the power capacity that the power distrobution board provides. That may change after they get another shipment of DIY kits in stock. If not you can get one for around $25 from model train hobby shop. Europeans are fine though on the PSU situation.
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby Malpine Walis » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:11 pm

premieklovn wrote:I'm also considering going modular. Anyone with experience of building their own case? I know Doepfer offers a DIY case kit and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the A100 cases.


Well, I tried to do that. I had the idea that I could save quite a bit of money but in the long run, it just did not work out for me. My first trip to the lumber yard failed due to a guy who was not very careful cutting my boards. They turned out to be so badly out of square that I ended up making a second trip.

By the time that I did that, my basic ideas had changed enough that I wanted different sized boards. I had a printout from my vector graphics program of exactly what I wanted and I was going to accept no less. However, what I had planned out turned out to carry assumptions that the lumber yard was not going to accommodate.

I have no clue why it is that Home Depot can stock 48x48 sheets of all manner of plywood but only in thicknesses of .25 inch or less. But there it stands. And that stuff is just not rigid enough for a case that would be a yard wide. Ultimately, I decided that the hundred or so dollars that I would have saved would more or less get lost in the eventual cost of a modular system that would eventually expand to a few thousand dollars.

JoeyDengler wrote:I have been reading alot lately about modular synths and am really,really looking to making my own. I am here as a modular newbie so i need plenty of help....

I need to know what are the basic pieces of equipment i will need to get me started (dont worry about the actually modules as i know about them and know what i want with them) but things like a keyboard with CV/Gate on it etc; any models, prices etc; would be helpful. I just want to get modular!!!


Well, I am planning on a synthesizers.com system myself. They happen to have a midi converter module that will provide all the outputs that you need. I am sure that the other companies probably have similar products as well.

Obviously, I am as much of a noob as you are but perhaps you might benefit from my thoughts.

You could spend many tens of thousand of dollars up front and have something worthy of Keith Emerson or Jordan Rudess but why bother? One of the benefits of going modular is that you can start small and add modules over time. With that in mind, a decent question would be where do you start?

If you have any midi keyboards at all, you would want a midi conversion module to get signals into the thing and a VCA to get signals out. If all that you bought was those two and a case up front, you would not be able to do any more than you can already do. For the excessively budget minded, that might be enough to get started.

For being able to have some amount of fun on day one, I tend to think that a filter, two envelope generators and a multiple would also be needed as a minimum. A couple of VCO's would also be nice but figure out how much you want to spend on your day one purchase and go from there.

If you can only drop $500, then you are probably looking at the minimum. If you can drop $750, then a couple of VCO's would be the way to go. If you can drop $1,000, then think about mixers and the like.

Realistically, take all of that as only soft guidelines. Modular units are what they are and you can expand them in whatever direction takes your fancy at any time.
Current gear:

Korg X5 (basically an ROMpler)
Casio VZ 10M (rack mount 80's style synth-- think DX7 on steroids)
Roland A 37 (6+ octave controller for the Casio rack unit above)
Roland JP 8000 (well enough known analog modeling digital synth)
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby hogberto » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:27 pm

it's all spelled out in a 10 page article in the new Sound on Sound, just out.

buy the mag or sign up for the online version. 8)
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby Malpine Walis » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:31 pm

premieklovn wrote:I'm also considering going modular. Anyone with experience of building their own case? I know Doepfer offers a DIY case kit and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the A100 cases.


Well, I tried to do that. I had the idea that I could save quite a bit of money but in the long run, it just did not work out for me. My first trip to the lumber yard failed due to a guy who was not very careful cutting my boards. They turned out to be so badly out of square that I ended up making a second trip.

By the time that I did that, my basic ideas had changed enough that I wanted different sized boards. I had a printout from my vector graphics program of exactly what I wanted and I was going to accept no less. However, what I had planned out turned out to carry assumptions that the lumber yard was not going to accommodate.

I have no clue why it is that Home Depot can stock 48x48 sheets of all manner of plywood but only in thicknesses of .25 inch or less. But there it stands. And that stuff is just not rigid enough for a case that would be a yard wide. Ultimately, I decided that the hundred or so dollars that I would have saved would more or less get lost in the eventual cost of a modular system that would eventually expand to a few thousand dollars.

JoeyDengler wrote:I have been reading alot lately about modular synths and am really,really looking to making my own. I am here as a modular newbie so i need plenty of help....

I need to know what are the basic pieces of equipment i will need to get me started (dont worry about the actually modules as i know about them and know what i want with them) but things like a keyboard with CV/Gate on it etc; any models, prices etc; would be helpful. I just want to get modular!!!


Well, I am planning on a synthesizers.com system myself. They happen to have a midi converter module that will provide all the outputs that you need. I am sure that the other companies probably have similar products as well.

Obviously, I am as much of a noob as you are but perhaps you might benefit from my thoughts.

You could spend many tens of thousand of dollars up front and have something worthy of Keith Emerson or Jordan Rudess but why bother? One of the benefits of going modular is that you can start small and add modules over time. With that in mind, a decent question would be where do you start?

If you have any midi keyboards at all, you would want a midi conversion module to get signals into the thing and a VCA to get signals out. If all that you bought was those two and a case up front, you would not be able to do any more than you can already do. For the excessively budget minded, that might be enough to get started.

For being able to have some amount of fun on day one, I tend to think that a filter, two envelope generators and a multiple would also be needed as a minimum. A couple of VCO's would also be nice but figure out how much you want to spend on your day one purchase and go from there.

If you can only drop $500, then you are probably looking at the minimum. If you can drop $750, then a couple of VCO's would be the way to go. If you can drop $1,000, then think about mixers and the like.

Realistically, take all of that as only soft guidelines. Modular units are what they are and you can expand them in whatever direction takes your fancy at any time.
Current gear:

Korg X5 (basically an ROMpler)
Casio VZ 10M (rack mount 80's style synth-- think DX7 on steroids)
Roland A 37 (6+ octave controller for the Casio rack unit above)
Roland JP 8000 (well enough known analog modeling digital synth)
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby premieklovn » Fri Apr 03, 2009 8:21 am

hogberto wrote:it's all spelled out in a 10 page article in the new Sound on Sound, just out.

buy the mag or sign up for the online version. 8)


Scan and PM or STFU.

:mrgreen:
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby steveman » Fri Apr 03, 2009 12:42 pm

premieklovn wrote:
hogberto wrote:it's all spelled out in a 10 page article in the new Sound on Sound, just out.

buy the mag or sign up for the online version. 8)


Scan and PM or STFU.

:mrgreen:

Well if you can't be arsed to shell out a couple of quid to find out you obviously aren't serious about it :?
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby futureworlder » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:49 pm

FWIW, I also opted for the DIY route for my Frac modular. I wanted a case that was small- intentionally so, as to force myself to learn the ins and outs of all of the modules I chose for the system. Even when the first box was completed, modules such as the Bananalogue Serge-based designs allow for multiple uses of each, so I could build function blocks as opposed to say, using a dedicated LFO. The thinking behind this was that I would eventually build another "sister" case as I expanded my system. I built the first case myself out of poplar and it's strong as hell (I can stand on it)

Image

Image

Image


The next case will hold a Miniwave w/ Hylander Expander, a Wogglebug #3 and some Metalbox stuff including 2 CGS Super Psycho LFO's and some other custom modules (mostly CGS/ Bridechamber stuff modded for Frac format.

The thing to keep in mind when choosing a format is that pretty much everything in interchangeable these days, so a frac system will work with euro, modcan with dotcom, wiard with cynthia, etc. you may have to add a few converters such as Cynthia's Everything Module or the Makenoise Format Jumbler, but as long as you have a decent MIDI-CV converter, you can connect and control your modular stuff with the rest of your gear. A CV keyboard is a nice luxury, but not really necessary and the money could go towards... more modules!
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby xpander » Tue Apr 14, 2009 3:41 am

try the electro-music forum, that is *the* place for DIY modulars makers.
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby premieklovn » Thu Apr 23, 2009 10:06 pm

steveman wrote:
premieklovn wrote:
hogberto wrote:it's all spelled out in a 10 page article in the new Sound on Sound, just out.

buy the mag or sign up for the online version. 8)


Scan and PM or STFU.

:mrgreen:

Well if you can't be arsed to shell out a couple of quid to find out you obviously aren't serious about it :?


Com on i's downlaods lots of music seriois bout. :^o

Futureworlder (is that a reference to Trans Am - Futureworld? If not, BUY IT), that looks beautiful. I need to get me some pooplar.
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Re: Getting into Modular synths

Postby futureworlder » Fri Apr 24, 2009 11:44 am

premieklovn wrote:
Com on i's downlaods lots of music seriois bout. :^o

Futureworlder (is that a reference to Trans Am - Futureworld? If not, BUY IT), that looks beautiful. I need to get me some pooplar.


Thanks, mate! the iphone pics really don't do it any justice; the wood has a really nice grain to it, lots of swirly patterns. I'm beginning the second cabinet build this weekend and will try to get some better pics of the whole system when it's done.

And yes, it's a Trans Am reference, i've been a fan since '96 and a huge Tortoise fan as well (John McEntire not only produced the Futureworld album, but also did an album called Standards using a Wiard 300 series modular system- highly recommended, btw). It's also a reference to the awesome Peter Fonda/Yul Brynner film from 1976 of the same name:

Image

I'm pretty sure that Trans Am got the title for the track/ album from this as well, it just seems perfect inspiration for it.
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