Choosing a modular system...

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Audity
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Choosing a modular system...

Post by Audity » Fri May 04, 2012 1:18 am

I am looking at getting into an analog modular system soon. I've been doing extensive research into the various brands and options available, but I'd really love some personal opinions in regards to what format/brand I should go with. Now I'm a broke music store employee/on-call engineer, so I'm on a bit of a budget. I also have no access to modular or analog synths locally :(
So far, the Doepfer A100 Series has really caught my eye and seems like it would suit my needs. I'm also looking at the Blacet modulars. The price is right and they're American made, but I can't find a decent online sound clip/video of a Blacet system to hear it. I also like that ALL the Blacet modules work with a common power supply, vs Doepfer's system of different voltage requirements/power supply configurations which are a little confusing for a first time modular buyer!
Any thoughts or suggestions?
And yes, I'd LOVE an Analog Solutions/Wiard/[insert botique manufacturer] etc... System, but those are just a little out of budget.
I'm doing mostly EBM and older darkwave style stuff, so I'm looking for something with a nice, rich warm sound and a really punchy low end.
Any input is appreciated. Thanks!!!

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by bouzoukijoe1 » Fri May 04, 2012 5:13 am

definitely go with a mixed-brand eurorack format system. and read this thread:

The Reasonably Priced Sub-£1000 3U Starter System Thread
http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewto ... sc&start=0

lots of great options in the eurorack format, which makes it ideal for efficient spending. plus you can choose multifunctioning modules which gives you many more patching options than a standard subtractive Moog-style patch. for example, you can patch a standard "east coast" style: vco > vcf > vca kind of thing, but you can also do wiard/buchla "west coast" style: complex waveform > lpg (combo vcf/vca).

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by cgren72 » Fri May 04, 2012 2:15 pm

Doepfer has a few modules that run on 5v, but for the most part, they are 12vac. Its not too difficult, and you could buy a small power supply if you wanted one of doepfer's 5v modules. I doubt that would be much of a limitation, I bet 95% of doepfer's modules run on 12vac. And like said, mix brands

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by Audity » Sat May 05, 2012 12:00 am

Thank you both for the feedback, and bouzoukijoe1 thanks for the link, that was a very enlightening read :)

Assuming I DO go for a mixed brand eurorack system, who makes a good rack/power supply combo that will ensure I have plenty of options? Is there a certain type of power supply busboard that is easier than others to find power harness adapters for? I saw one from Analog Systems that had both AS and Doepfer style power connectors. Would that be wise, or is there a style of power connector that is more common/industry standard. I'd be willing to spend a little more on a good case and power supply.

I just have no experience building modulars and the power supply (especially when mixing brands) is the only part that is still puzzling me a little.

Thanks again, and keep the replies coming!! :D

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by bouzoukijoe1 » Sat May 05, 2012 6:41 am

I only use Doepfer style connectors so that's all I can vouch for, but I think there may be a couple of different case manufacturers that provide both connectors, such as Monorocket, similar to the Analogue Systems case. also there are adapter cables available that let you use AS modules on Doepfer racks such as this RA-1, but I would consult someone at Muff's or AS to make sure. if you decide to mix AS and Doepfer style, just make sure you read up on the issues starting with this thread. frying modules by connecting cables the wrong way can happen (some modules do not have protection).

I myself have at least one module that came with a ribbon cable that had the red stripe on the wrong side. sometimes the PCB boards on modules do not indicate the positive/negative orientation of the power cable, so if the cable happens to have the red stripe on the wrong side, bad things can happen. in my case, I only knew it was wrong because the TT Happy Ending uZeus power supply that I was using comes with connectors with a notch that lets you only connect it one way. when I saw the red stripe was on top, unlike the others, I knew there was something weird going on. so I just flipped the orientation of the cable on the PCB end of the cable (even if the red stripe was on top) and it worked just fine.

the Tip Top uZeus power supply has three lights that are supposed to light up to let you know if everything is ok. the AS case I think is the opposite -- the three lights are not supposed to light up (or at least that's what the video says). there's always a risk, but I've never fried a single module, so for the most part I think you'll be ok.

a couple more threads here:
http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=58467
http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=54520

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by Audity » Sun May 06, 2012 6:08 pm

Awesome, thanks again!! And those videos were EXCELLENT! :) ...makes the whole process much clearer being able to SEE it. Feeling much more confident about selecting a power supply amd modules =D

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by bouzoukijoe1 » Mon May 07, 2012 5:03 am

another cool starter system thread (3u)
http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewto ... ht=systems

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by rebius86 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:44 am

can explain basic of modular system?, what the first thing must have in modular system?

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by Audity » Sun Jun 03, 2012 8:05 pm

rebius86 wrote:can explain basic of modular system?, what the first thing must have in modular system?
While I'm admittedly no expert, I'll take a stab here.

There are basically 2 formats of modular system, Eurorack and Frac Rack. Eurorack is the more common of the two and normally runs on +/-12V. Frac rack modules are slightly taller and run on +/-15V. I believe there is a thrid format (MOTM) but I'm not especially familiar with it. First you'll want to decide which format you want to go with, as this will dictate what type of cabinet and power supply you need to buy. I know there are MANY more companies making Eurorack modules than Frac, so going with a Eurorack system will likely give you the most flexibility when choosing modules. (the argument for Frac is that +/-15V gives you a better signal to noise ratio, and thus a cleaner sound)

The first thing you'll likely want to get is the cabinet. After all, you'll need a place to put your modules!!! http://www.bigcitymusic.com and http://www.analoghaven.com both have plenty of different types of cabinets for sale, many with bus boards for power built in. You'll also want to get a power supply if your cabinet does not come with one. Your power supply hooks up to the bus board inside your cabinet, which is a strip with power receptacles on it that you plug each of your modules in to power them. There are several different types of power connectors depending on the brand of modular you're using. If you're gonna stick with one brand across the board (ie Doepfer or Analog Systems), everything should be designed to work together. If you want to include other or botique brands of modules, double check what type of power connectors they use. This is certainly not my area of expertise, but there are several GREAT links and posts in this thread that will hopefully explain it better for you.

Now its time to add some modules!!! Traditionally the starting place would be the VCO, or Voltage Controlled Oscillator. As this is the actual noise-generating part of your modular, it's where you'd logically want to start. Now the VCO, as the name suggests, needs a control voltage to tell it what to do (ie what pitch to play). This can be provided by a CV keyboard, analog sequencer, or a MIDI to CV module, which will let you use standard MIDI gear to send control voltages to your VCO and other modules.

Now may I add at this point that your modules are not hard-wired together in any way, and in order to pass sound or control voltages (CV) from one module to the next, you need to physically patch them together with cables. While learning how to properly patch together modules may seem daunting at first, it's very liberating in the sense that you can hook up your modules to create virtually infinite sonic possiblities.

Alright, so now its time to add some utility modules, such as filters, LFOs, envelope generators, etc etc... While describing each of there functions would have me here all day, there are some great websites that cover this that are only a google search away (unless you guys know some good links offhand *HINT*) ...from here, its just add and add to your heart's content!!

Hopefully this was helpful and not too terribly long winded ;)

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by rebius86 » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:30 am

nice information. i just looking more information about modular synth. i wanna try making in indonesia. here, we have cheap one maker of modular synth hehehe

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by samuraipizzacat29 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 1:40 pm

this is a strange thread.... :) (but I like it)

the format of a modular synth describes 3 main factors: 1) the size of its front panel 2) the supply voltages used by the power supply 3) the type of jacks used for patching.

the most common format right now is eurorack. it's small, modules can be had relatively cheap, +/-12v power can be relatively easily had, it travels well for the gigging musician.
next beyond that is motu/motm/moog sized format. +/-15v designs are common for diyers and lots of people like getting their hands on "real" 1/4" sized patch cables.
Any format with banana plugs is easier to diy because you don't have to solder all those pesky grounds.

As far as a basic voice goes for a modular - there's no basic voice :) throw all that standard voice structure that your first monosynth had out the window. All you really need to know is that you now need to think in terms of Audio & Voltage. There's modules that affect your signal by means of shape and timbre and there's modules that affect voltages. That's really it.

So, a standard voice needs some voltage creators, some voltage processors, and some audio processors. For example: say you start with one oscillator. Then you realize you need a VCA + some sort of A/D, A/R, or ADSR (envelope generator). All of the sudden, you can use the a/r generator as an lfo to control the frequency of the oscillator or the amplitude of the VCA. BUT, this is where modular thinking comes into play. You quickly realize that the signal of the lfo needs attenuated so that you only increase the pitch a small amount instead of affecting the whole frequency range. or maybe you want to offset it so that your lfo goes up AND DOWN from your initial frequency setting. Plus, you realize your vca is too clicky, so you need a lag/slew. therefore, your simplest voice quickly turned into about 5 modules at today's current offering.

That's why so many people recommend/use the MATHS module. I use a Serge Universal Slope generator because it's a little easier, but it's basically the same thing. Maths is an A/R generator. It can be used to create saw, ramp, or triangle oscillations. It can take an audio input, so it can slew input voltages. It can be used as an lfo. It has an exponential adjustment for waveshaping. the only drawback is that darn inscrutable panel.

I find I can have a fair amount of fun with a plan b model 15 vco, the serge Dual Universal slope generator (or a maths), some attenuators and a few vca's. add in a filter or two, a sequencer, and some other little pieces, and you'll be in pretty good shape rather quickly.

the best modular system is always too small :)

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by SSquirrel » Thu Jun 07, 2012 12:42 pm

Since it got brought up in another thread about modulars, they've added a 2 month delay to the release, but the Pittsburgh Modular Foundation looks nice. Would give a nice start to modular and then you could just buy an extra case and start adding modules there.

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by samuraipizzacat29 » Thu Jun 07, 2012 12:52 pm

SSquirrel wrote:Since it got brought up in another thread about modulars, they've added a 2 month delay to the release, but the Pittsburgh Modular Foundation looks nice. Would give a nice start to modular and then you could just buy an extra case and start adding modules there.
for $1700 as a single voice, it's terribly overpriced. the only advantage for the pburgh modular foundation is if you're a gigging musician that wants quick access to a rig that travels nicely. The previously mentioned paia 9700s is less than 1/3 the price. I know plenty of people that would build one for $200.

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu Jun 07, 2012 2:25 pm

samuraipizzacat29 wrote:
SSquirrel wrote:Since it got brought up in another thread about modulars, they've added a 2 month delay to the release, but the Pittsburgh Modular Foundation looks nice. Would give a nice start to modular and then you could just buy an extra case and start adding modules there.
for $1700 as a single voice, it's terribly overpriced. the only advantage for the pburgh modular foundation is if you're a gigging musician that wants quick access to a rig that travels nicely.
I couldn't be bothered cutting and pasting what I wrote in that other thread, but you can't actually put together a Eurorack system that does what the Foundation can do for less, no matter what modules you mix and match to try to do it. Calling it 'terribly overpriced' makes you look like you don't know what you're talking about. You could get an A111-5 for less, but it's not really modular.

The Paia is cheaper, but there's a reason for that and a reason why Eurorack stuff is really popular whereas 9700s seem to be for sale for less than the price of the kit all the time.

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Re: Choosing a modular system...

Post by samuraipizzacat29 » Thu Jun 07, 2012 3:58 pm

yes, we've had this conversation before, and yes, the sum of its parts is $1700. But this system doesn't strike me as well thought out, doesn't seem to be nearly as flexible as it could be, and intimidates newbies from entering into that realm of gear because of the price. It seems to me to miss on all levels, excepting if you like the aesthetics or are a gigging musician.

things I like: stand-alone, self contained construction. 2 channels of midi (documentation is unclear how it's implemented, but clearly there are two channels). solid construction.

things I do not like: 2 oscillators (only one is really necessary for a simple voice imho) you'd be better served with 2 filters if anything. lfos are not voltage controlled, don't have pulse width. NO ATTENUATORS!!!!!!! (edited - see final post) 2x adsr is unnecessary, only one is really necessary, and even that, I'd take a Voltage Controlled Slope module before that. no lag, no polarizer, no s/h, no noise. 2 vca's will get used up quickly with the ring mod alone. since there's no lag, you have to patch the vca with the adsr or it's going to click like a mo.

there's nothing inherently wrong with it, of course, but for $1700 I would expect a lot more for my money. Since you offered it, a person would be much better served with a doepfer a111-5 and a maths or equivalent. Kraftzwerg and a maths. kraftzwerg by itself offers much the same functionality (with pros/cons of its own).

so that is why I offer that for what you're getting it's terribly overpriced. if it were a mix/match system with lots of generic offerings, well then, top dollar would be expected (see: a-100 series modules). You are definitely going to swap modules in and out of this system (we all do anyway), so to lose 30% on a $1700 investment would seem rather silly. Besides, the resale value isn't going to be as good because there will be a glut of similar modules all reaching the used market at the same time.

I know, I'm trolling. But cut me a break because I don't do it often and i HATE the moniker that modular gets because the public thinks it's expensive to build one when the reality is just that it's expensive to DISTRIBUTE one. this system would be a nice little traveling companion for the $12-1300 or so AH is paying (my guess of course).
Last edited by samuraipizzacat29 on Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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