DIY and Pre-Assembled Eurorack Products


[originally posted on ModWiggler formus by me many moons ago!] I seemed to be answering a lot of questions via PM, msn and email about real basics of modular synths - the same stuff i wish someone had told me when i first started, but was afraid to ask and wasnt yet ready to cope with reading whole books on synth stuff. (so, for those with zero knowledge here's some slightly oversimplified, sweeping generalisations, for the sake of easy explanations to those who want to get their newly acquired/setup modular tested and working):

Often people starting a modular are on a budget or limited by space - therefore want to cram the best amount function from a given spend. here's some things to consider:

- you will want oscillators to make noises, but oscillators also can provide cv for other modules. since you are likely to want as many sounds and functions as possible from a sound source, it's definitely worth looking for LFOs that go up to audio frequencies and VCOs that go down to useful cv frequencies. *also, resonant filters and some loopable EGs and slope/slews can be pushed to oscillate at audio frequencies.
- those EGs and slopes/slews that cycle etc. are also good sources of sequencing/distortion and other unexpected functions.
- VCOs with waveshaping and other cool functions not only save having to buy extra modules with those controls, but if they go down to LFO speeds then you can get weird wave shapes for cool cving.
- Many of the less vanilla modules have multiple outs and ins, gain, offset, attenuation etc, saving on having to buy mixers, mults and other ustility modules. sometimes this justifies the extra cost.
- it's worth considering your need for processing audio, cv or both when buying stuff like VCAs and Mixers - switchable to Lin or Log or having the ability to gain past 0 etc can really save space.
- Modules with multiple audio inputs and outputs, cv inputs and outputs and cv-able parameters are good since they allow you to really get into the ethos of modulr sythesis - crossmodulation, feedback loops, frequency modulation, gate or other control dependent shapes and rhythms etc.

fundamentally, it's often the case that:
- expensive modules arent just about sound quality - many sounds are trashy distorted screaming madness or the inherent errors that analog brings, so who gives a crap about 'quality'? function is often the real gain.
- cheaper modules arent in anyway 'bad' - there's a good reason some doepfer modules outsell everything else 10 to 1. they sometimes not only do a cool thing, but also can do it better than some of the competition when it comes to cv options, switchable ranges and ease of use.
- certain manufacturers or designs of module have a very specific character - for example, stuff like an Analog Systems RS-180 VCA or a Malekko/Wiard Borg 1 sound very distinctive when used in certain ways and this may be the true appeal of such modules.
- Don't go by module funtion, reputation, cost etc. alone - think what you want to achieve then read up and listen to examples to judge what would suit your desires the best.
- with some exceptions of very rare or expensive gear, it's uncommon to be able to build a replica of a specific bit of gear for less money using modules.

so basically, think first 'what do i want to do with the modular', second 'what allows this but gives options to do other stuff or expand further' and then choose solutions based on budget or space.

- Doepfer is popular due to reasonable prices for reliable modules and an incredible range of choice. but, some modules take alot of space to do one very specific funtion or lack a degree of cv options. dont judge Doepfer modules by price.
- Cwejman, MacBeth, Schippmann, Kilpatrick and the like are insanely expensive for euro - they do offer nice things like well laid out panel designs, unusual sound quality, good VCO tracking, cv-able everything etc., but tbh, they're a luxury - you can do much similar stuff with a bigger case and multiple cheaper modules even if it does take more room.
- Analogue Systems have mostly afaik updated connectors to either doepfer standard or offer both and screw holes are now oval type to allow a variety of placings and case mountings etc.

these are not gospel hard rules that apply rigidly to the manufacturers mentioned - some modules are just in a league of their own regardless of any considerations, but also, there are plenty of manufacturers i havent mentioned, and some of the best manufacturers make modules that suck for the price/hp spacings/functionality.

it's all about how you use them. ModularGrid is your friend, demos are you friend, manuals are your friend - but it really cant be emphasised enough - try to get a hands on play or at least a video with audio before ruling something out.

as well as a load of modules (what else do you immediately fantasise about?), and the best case for you, have you remembered:

patch cables? cheapo ones can really spoil the fun - looseness, intermittent connections, etc. are they long enough? you will inevitably expand - but also, shorter ones will tangle less and be more convenient to trace routings as well as not crowding your working space...

a way of hearing the output? output modules, mixers, interfaces etc. could be necessary for your setup - headphones may need a dedicated amp, mixers will need an amp/speakers/powered monitors/a hi-fi system or whatever.
studio monitors can handle the unexpected speaker blowing pops, peaks, thumps, and other abuses with less likelihood of damage. (they're built for for raw, unmixed, unmastered peaky sounds)

a strong surface to stand the modular and controller on at the right height for comfortable use. likewise, a comfy chair or place to rest - you need space and ease of access from a position you can stand to be in for hours - i often end up on the floor with patch cables on a rack next to me or standing up even...

it really is a very good idea to have at the very least a well grounded surge protected socket for the power into the modular - you'll likely have a mixer or computer or amp/monitors plugged in too, so a decent power conditioner or proper supply might be worth considering. the cost could pay for itself ext time you have an electrical storm or the cable guy cuts the wrong wire...

i also find, even as one with next to no electrical knowledge, a cheap multimeter can help you quickly check stuff like a dodgy cable, socket, fuse etc...

p.s. You're using a modular - rules are meant to be broken; with  the exception of manufacturer warnings about specific module settings, inputs and outputs that dont like being used in  certain ways, experiment! the whole point of a modular is to mess about and find unusual ways to do stuff [***but dont fool with mains electric unless you know for certain what youre doing***].

these links may be of interest/use to many: