Into Modular Part 1 November 08, 2016 15:11

Going Modular

I’ve finally taken my first step into modular synthesizers by buying my first Euro-rack case.  The Tiptop Mantis case will house and supply power to several modules, which I’m free to pick and choose. 

Since I have no modules yet, and no experience, I can't tell you much about the case apart from it looks quite nice and at the moment is extremely noisy. Any vibration on my desk causes it to rattle. It's the rails, and as soon as something is screwed in I expect it will be silent as holding the rails with my hand stops the rattling. I bought mine from Me Me Antenna

Tiptop Case

I’ve wanted to get into modular for quite some time now for a number of reasons. The main appeal for me is how I can pick out modules and create my own custom synthesizer.  I’m free to customize it’s sonic characteristics to my liking and to create a workflow that’s exactly suited to my interests. It’s going to be a long road and I had no hands on experience with Euro-rack, so this is all new territory for me.

Up till recently though the barrier for entry was just a bit high. There have been cheap cases around for a while, and with power too, but these were usually just one row 84hp. That space fills up quickly and then you need to buy another case. This is of course, just from my limited experience and knowledge. However when I saw the Tiptop audio Mantis case I knew the time was right.  Tiptop are respected for their power supplies and this case is 2 rows of 104hp, which could take me a good while to fill. 

I also really like it's flexibility, with it's 3 position "legs" it can lie flat on the desk, be tilted up on it's kick-stand, or stand upright. Which ever position you choose the legs remain in touch with the surface of the desk. They have pretty good grip on them so hopefully the case won't slide around as I'm patching, but time will tell.

Usually I’m the one being asked for opinions on software, it’s nice to be on the other side now where I have next to no idea what’s going to work for me in the long run. I’m tempted to just ask anyone and everyone what they think I should get, but I’ve decided I’m going to lean heavily towards my instincts.

From here of course I’ll need to pick out my next module, what oscillators and filters I’d like, modulation sources, effects and utilities, and what order should I buy things in. Oscillator choices range from simple analog VCO’s, to full FM synths to massively powerful digital monsters, so I've got some thinking ahead of me. 

Using I've been able to experiment with different long term plans. I've learned there's a trade off with space. Wider modules may be more densely packed, or they may just have more space for better ergonomics, but it doesn't take many wide modules before you've filled up your case. Modular grid also gives you a total of how much your modules would cost altogether. It's quite amazing how quickly it adds up, but at the same time when I look at any of my completed plans I can't think of anything else I've ever seen that offers anything like it. Digital Wavetables, Sequencing, analog VCO's & filters, proper FM, granular effects, and massive hands on control and direct patching, all in one small space.

One of my long term plan ideas:An example plan 

In the past I've often wondered why people didn't build polyphonic modulars. Is it possible? Is it prohibitively expensive? As far as I can tell it's doable, but I'll probably build monophonic first.

Here's an example of a polyphonic module, with 4 voices on each output
Flame Vox Polyphonic Module

If you're interested in getting into modular there are a number of decent youtube videos around now, but the Muffwiggler forum has been an invaluable resource to me.

Of course you can ask me anything you'd like on this blog and I'll help as I can, I'm quite new to this myself but it's always useful to work together!

Of course, I'll be posting helpful audio and video as soon as I have something to show!