Seze Devres Photography NYC www.sdphotography.net

You know you’re at peak modular when Moog is reissuing 1970s synths for US$30,000.

It wasn’t long ago that people were relegating modular synths to closets, selling them off, and even – really – throwing them in dumpsters. Now, the once-archaic racks of synthesizers connected with patch cords are suddenly cool. Moog rockstar chic aside, the trend is mainly driven by Eurorack, a format introduced years ago by Doepfer that has made it easier to manufacture and buy interchangeable rigs.

Moog is making only a handful of those System 55 rigs, so even they acknowledge you probably can’t afford them. Let’s focus instead on the stuff that musicians might actually buy. And there’s a lot — too much to handle, even. So rather than clog CDM with a zillion stories on each new module that came out, I’ve been quietly keeping notes and talking to those in the know to give you a rough field guide to the best new modular gear. (I’m sure I’ve missed some, because there’s just so much, but this should give an approximation.)

Most of this equipment debuted at California’s NAMM – expect still more to pop up between now and Musikmesse, the German (and European) answer to the US trade show.

Is all of it equally useful? Absolutely not. There’s an enormous fetish factor to modular, and it’s clear that the market is partly driven by a core of enthusiasts – not everything here would, or should, appeal to larger audiences. But if anything, modular is about taste – about what you like, what you value in sound design, and the precise combination of tools you’d most like to have. That customization and flexibility is appealing, and so I’ll be frank about my own opinions – and, I think, point out the places where these offerings give you the most choice.

And even if you’re resisting the pull of modular, I think it’s worth doing this sort of review just to see the state of design. Those trends can well apply to the desktop software, app, standalone hardware, and DIY/patching scenes, too – there can be inspiration in any format.

Let’s have a look and start the discussion (slash debate).

LEM3-Spider_large_on

The West Coast Strikes Back

First, let’s get one thing straight. Bob Moog was a massive innovator without whom the shape of electronic sound would have never been the same. But he and the R.A. Moog company didn’t invent modular synthesizers. At the same time as the East Coast / New York crew were working away on the Moog, California had Don Buchla, the Buchla modular, and the scene around the San Francisco Tape Music Center. While Moog collaborated with the likes of Herb Deutsch, Buchla had Morton Subotnick.

The West Coast / East Coast “rivalry” isn’t exactly in synthesizers the way it is in, um, hip-hop. (Fun fact, illustrating the connection between these pioneers: the first product introduced by the Moog Music company after Bob Moog reclaimed the rights to his name was actually the Buchla-designed Piano Bar.)

But the contrast in coasts has given us a great gift: Buchla and Moog took different paths to the architecture of synthesizers, and the many other modular innovators who followed (from EMS to Roland) diverged, too. That’s essential to the diversity in the modular ecosystem now, both in new hardware from the reborn Moog and Buchla names, but also in the many boutique creations inspired by their various designs.

And this was a very good year for the West Coast designs.

First of all, you can finally get a real (new) Buchla at prices that come down to earth, even if the product name cleverly invokes the moon.

The LEM series is strikingly affordable – an investment with real returns in sound. Finally, you can have your own Buchla, and not only your physician/lawyer. And there’s the Music Easel keyboard as a standalone product – for all of you who regret the discrete keys of the Moog forever locking us into the tradition of the piano. (You’ll want to have a look at the Verbos touch keyboard, too, however – more on that in a moment.) The prices aren’t cheap, but – especially in this year of five-figure Moogs – they aren’t entirely out of reach, either:

Buchla LEM4 Snoopy – $2,499
Buchla LEM218 – $1,599
Buchla LEM3 Spider – $2,999

And these are designed to integrate with your Eurorack – or DAW, or other analog-interfacing hardware. It’s at last new Buchla for the rest of us.

The LEM3 Spider is especially compelling. A “Desktop Polyphonic Rhythm Generator” with an insane colored wheel at its center, and an obscene amount of modulation points, the spider rewards your three grand with about the wildest sequencer you can imagine, a return to the sonic insanity of the early Buchla days.

It’s polyphonic, polyrhthmic, Euclidean, and polymetric. And in a year of sequencers, it can still stand out.

Good hands-on video of the whole range:

And Synthtopia, who ask if this is the most powerful step sequencer ever, goes in depth with the Spider:

http://buchla.com

Expert Sleepers Makes Your Modular Play Nice with USB

The point of modular is being able to easily connect stuff, right? So, don’t leave those USB devices collecting dust. The Expert Sleepers FH-1 ‘faderHost’ is a USB MIDI host, and it might rise to the top of your “modules I must buy” list straight away. LFOs on each output, step sequencers, and polyphonic MIDI/CV conversion all in a narrow 8HP. Pricing TBA. The Doepfer offers a lot of MIDI options, but for USB connectivity, this looks great.

Here it is with Lemur, a dream for open-ended sonic control:

— but it also goes nicely with something like the Novation Launch Control XL:

http://expert-sleepers.co.uk/fh1.html

Mark Verbos is Back

It’s not just the old guys whose names you need to know. You should also learn names like Mark Verbos – an electronics prodigy who has managed to learn from the Buchla model without copying them. Talk about West Coast / East Coast – Mark takes the best of both. And it’ll actually be worth comparing the Buchla-branded keyboard to his own twist on the idea. With two keyboards built into one and pressure sensitivity, it looks like the most-playable keyboard I’ve seen in modular yet.

The multi-envelope is probably the envelope module you want right now, coming soon.

http://verboselectronics.com

Doepfer Does a Starter Kit, More Modules

Doepfer didn’t just start Eurorack. The German firm is also still a go-to point for the bread-and-butter modules you need – even as you have bunches of European and American boutique makers to add to that for a bit of strange. One excellent reason to shop them first: they’re built ground-up as modules, and each module more strictly adheres to a particular patch. In other words, a modular built from Doepfer components can be more modular – even as other makers slap parts from other gear into Eurorack or built do-everything modules that miss some of the point of patch cords.

While I’m a big fan of Doepfer, though, their banner announcement at this NAMM can fairly draw a couple of criticisms. The A-100 starter kit has a nice selection of modules. But you get just one oscillator, and you definitely should opt out of the choice of a non-expandable case.

If you do get the A-100, swap out the case for an A-100LC6, with 2×84 HP instead of one row that you’ve already filled up. (Doepfer will put the starter case in whatever you like.) And use some of that space for another oscillator.

That complaint out of the way, you get everything else you need. Basic sound sources are covered, there’s a MIDI and sync interface (yep, you’ll want that), envelopes, modulation, mixing, and a Serge VCS clone and [Oberheim] SEM-style filter. If you don’t like it, of course, this is modular – you can have a look at what Doepfer did, and then go and build your own instead with whatever you like. Available now-ish, for US$1450 (1240€).

In addition to the new starter, Doepfer have ten new modules – all exceptionally useful stuff. Included in this year’s lineup is an Opto FET filter (think a filter with fast attacks), the latest version of Doepfer’s classic trigger sequencers, a new combined LFO/delay, and then handy stufflike a headphone amp.

There’s also an immensely-useful polyphonic USB/MIDI-to-CV/gate interface. Instead of griping that MIDI gear doesn’t have CV ins and outs, what you most likely want is something like this.

All the details are on the Doepfer site:
http://www.doepfer.de/home_e.htm

I think Doepfer deserves a visit whatever is on your shopping list, if for comparison if nothing else.

Here’s Dieter Doepfer himself, at the center of a newly-expanded European presence in California. To me, no modular tour is complete without Andreas Schneider and Dieter Doepfer – the guys who championed this for years before it blew up. See you all back here in Germany in April.

Mutable Instruments Modules

I was sad to see Mutable exit desktop synths – the Shruthi is a beautiful instrument. But the Eurorack offerings are starting to make up for it; they’re creative modules that make sense in this format. There are four this time. Two cover signal processing: EQ and dynamics. The other two are unique synths. Taken together, that fills four nice slots in what’s currently available in Eurorack.

Shelves is a CV-controllable 4-band parametric EQ.

Streams is a fascinating “Dual Dynamics Gate” with multiple modes: it can be an Envelope Generator, a Vactrol emulation, Harmonic & Amplitude Envelope Follower, and Compressor Limiter.

Clouds is a “texture synth.”

elements

And Elements is my favorite: physical modeling synthesis. With a synthesis technique that’s so responsive to different inputs and modulation, I think it does logically fit with modular, though this is beautiful enough as a single voice that you might also wish for a desktop take on the same concept. In the meantime, this might convince you to go Eurorack.

Waldorf Adds a Wavetable Module

There hasn’t been so much buzz about this one, but I think this module should be at the top of your review list. The point is, we already have umpteen SEM and Moog modules – there’s even quite a lot of Buchla-inspired stuff. And using those same ingredients over and over again is likely to yield the same results. Wavetables give you a new range of timbres, which is what modular is supposed to be about.

And Waldorf has gone wavetable mad. The nw1 has Waldorf wavetables. It has user-recordable wavetables. It has a built-in speech synthesizer. And then you can route voltage input to each of these parameters, all selectable. Really, this does a lot of what I like in software in a hardware module. And Waldorf have done a bang-up job of making the front panel painfully obvious in terms of routing. Suggested retail is just 329€, shipping next quarter, which for this range of functions also makes it one of the best buys of the show.

nw1

I agree with Synthtopia commenters, though this would be a no-brainer for a desktop synth, too. I’ll keep my hopes up for just such an offering at Musikmesse. But having modular control over these parameters is brilliant, and you could built a very small suitcase rig around just this module.

And how does it sound? Well… uh… we don’t know, exactly, as Waldorf haven’t put up sound samples. I’ll try to collect those at Musikmesse (or if it ships sooner, here in Berlin), but previous Waldorf wavetable synths would be a good reference point.

I’m only disappointed they didn’t find a way to call it N.W.A.

Waldorf nw1

Make Noise

If Doepfer carry the banner for Europe (the original Eurorack), Make Noise have to top the list of American makers whose modules are worth a look. (They’re also exceptionally nice people.) And the latest additions to the range don’t disappoint – little wonder that Sonic State handed them a best in show as I was finishing writing this. Tasty-sounding filters, powerful clock units, and another collaboration with Tom Erbe all look promising. The easiest way to catch up is this Sonic State video:

It seems we’ll see more in the spring:

http://www.makenoisemusic.com

spectral_proto4d9

4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator

If Waldorf and Mutable brought excellent cases for making a module from a voice, I think 4ms did one of the nicest pieces of hardware for multiband effects. Again, it’s something with a distinctive sound, and lots of parameters that might lend themselves to modular control.

SonicState have a nice video where you can hear what’s happening:

More:
http://www.4mspedals.com

Note the “pedals” in 4ms’ name, though. Just sayin’ – if the Eurorack market dries up from oversaturation, look to these guys to be the first to intelligently go after guitarists again.

Put All Your Modules in a Keyboard

No reason to sacrifice the playability of a keyboard synth when going modular. I first saw (and played) the WMD / SMF collaboration to build the Monolith keyboard synth at Moogfest last year. It seems it’s come to fruition, as spotted today on Synthtopia. Looks fantastic, looks practical, and less nerdy than hiding behind a wall covered in cables.

Tip Top Audio’s Rhythm and Serge

Tip Top Audio have both a Circadian Rhythm module, a grid-based step sequencer, and a series of Serge-inspired modules. I think the rhythm module is notable for its fills and other drum machine-derived performance features – welcome additions to the modular space (especially if you don’t just want endlessly looping step sequences putting everyone to sleep). And seeing an affordable take on Serge is great, too.

Trade show demos are, to me, a horrible thing – even at best. So here’s some actual music made on the Circadian Rhythm.

Circadian Rhythms from Joseph Fraioli on Vimeo.

Speaking of nice musical demos – Tip Top share this, as well, an AV collaboration turning their gear into lit-up performance sculpture:

ANGLE is an audiovisual project that applies videomapping techniques to their live sets. All their songs, synchronised to the video images, are composed and produced by ANGLE. The Techno and Electronic grooves, are made with modular synthesizers systems, thank to a collaboration with TipTop Audio, in Los Angeles. These grooves’ broken rhythm patterns lend themselves well to visual representation: this juxtaposition of sounds and images all blend to create an original and engrossing experience.
ANGLE’s first step was TETRA 01, with a 3D mapping on a self-supporting, isostatic, modular structure that is made up of triangles with junctions at their vertices.
TETRA 02 is the title of ANGLE’s new live set: the structure has been equipped with LED lights, animated live through Arduino & Mad Light.
Shoot with Canon 6D & Magic Lantern Raw Video, graded in DaVinci Resolve light.

ANGLE – Tetra02 Official Teaser from Angle on Vimeo.

DSM02-Character-Module-Web-art

Dave Smith’s Character Module

This is just the Character section of the Dave Smith Instruments synths, and there’s not so much you get in terms of unique modularity. But, having access in one object to the Character section, with bit crushing and distortion and saturation and the unique Girth and Air, is still a good thing. It’s priced at US$259, and has a handsome front panel. The result seems like a nice candidate for a small, budget suitcase modular.

DSM02 Character Module Available!

sensei-angle-with-lid_2015-NAMM

Studio Electronics Go Eurorack with Boomstar

It’s all about systems now. So, from Studio Electronics, the Boomstar goes from semi-modular desktop to fully-modular Eurorack. To build it, Studio Electronics have paired up with Pittsburgh Modular.

As you might expect, this isn’t the cheapest offering around (per-module pricing starts at US$209-269, though that adds up with the whole system). But this is high-quality stuff. Filter options abound: Moog ladder, SEM, but also their 4075, 3003, and SE80 filters. 16 modules are eventually planned, so you can buy the system or individual modules; right now, you can watch the first modules creeping into a new online store.

Loads of videos and audio:

I have no doubt this will sell well, but whether you want to join the queue is another question. Remember, you can still buy the Boomstar as a desktop version – and it’s still plenty modular, and it costs less. You can put that desktop unit next to your modular rack, if you like.

As a system, it’s tough to make this make sense. As a la carte purchases, it’s more logical: it’s nice to see SE’s great stuff in a form you can mix and match in a modular rig.

Tom Oberheim goes Eurorack.

For his part, Dave Smith is dipping his toes into Eurorack, one module at a time. His Bay Area, California neighbor Tom Oberheim seems to be jumping in at the deep end.

There’s not much information on them yet, but Tom and co are working on a set of modules that, combined, form a complete synth. You get a whole SEM in Eurorack form. And there’s a stereo phaser, too. More is on the way. They say they’ll have six modules by summer.

I have the same criticism of this I’d have of the Boomstar system: the question is whether you should just get a desktop SEM instead of insisting on a Eurorack version. But that makes me interested to see the a la carte modules coming this summer (and the prices on these modules, as that could prove a deciding factor).

And the rest…

Filters. Pittsburgh Modular have their new Fltr. US $169, and the approach here from Pittsburgh they say is to be as smooth as possible – no one sweet spot.

jomox2

Okay, if that sounds overly conservative to you, I direct you to Jomox, and a “complex time-woven filter matrix” – basically, one big spaghetti feedback network of delays inspired by the Resonator Neuronium. I mean, because, come on, surely you didn’t buy a modular to be normal, did you?

Euroradical.

Jomox T-Rackonizer

(Though, come on, does this now mean we don’t get desktop versions of discontinued stuff, it all just comes back to life as Eurorack? Ah. Just answered my own question. Moving on.)

Synthtopia says May.

Chris Randall has been improving the sequencer in the Sequencer 1. And with massive, way-too-large sequencers (cough, Koma Elektronik) showing up, it’s worth noting that this could well be the step sequencer module you actually want. This update shipped just before NAMM, but it’s worth checking – and I hear there are still some Sequencer 1 modules in stock here and there. Check the clever new note entry mode, for one:

All-in-one drum synth machine. Hexinverter.net now has a combined Mutant Machine analog drum machine module. Putting them all in one box will cost you, though – US$599 – and you only get one trigger. So you might instead consider mixing and matching the modules you like with, say, the TR-808-derived modules from Tiptop audio. On the other hand, you get 8 modulation inputs and some flexible synthesis engines, so I suspect this will really be down to whether you like the timbre of the engines here.

Mutant Machine

And in the Wildly Impractical, If Cool category… It’s the Koma Elektronik KOMPLEX SEQUENCER. Koma, normally in the business of making very sensible hardware, have built a step sequencer unit with some four step sequencers. So you get 64 sliders, for instance – duplicate controls for everything. The problem with this approach is, it drives up price (US$1500) and, particularly, size (it’s a 19″ 7U surface). Now, the patch bay concept is really impressive, as is the ability of sequencers to sequence other sequencers. But it sort of defeats the purpose of modular if you create something this large by simply duplicating controls – a fascinating proof of concept, just not necessarily what you want from modular design.

I’ll gripe about this because I’d really love to see new Koma hardware more in the vein of their earlier, superb gate/delay and filter/step-sequencer – whether new modules or new desktop hardware. (Ideally, it’d be great to see both – maybe doubly so the desktop stuff, as the whole industry chases Eurorack. Remember … guitarists?) Fingers crossed these guys are working on it (I promise not to get them drunk in Neukölln in the meanwhile), and – I’m sure we’ll all be together at Musikmesse.

And here’s a nice combination of the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator with the Koma:

While the sequencer was stealing the headlines, I think the first preview of the KOMA Poltergeist may be more significant. There are other mixers out there, but the combination of panning and VCA with four channels – and lots of musically-inspired control – makes this one special. And you get big, signature KOMA knobs. Yes, it works with quad outputs, as the crew comically showed off with helmets with four speakers. But two things to consider: one, quad output is actually the most reasonable, gig-ready way of spatializing audio. Two, you don’t have to go quad at all, and you still get a useful configuration of panners and mixers. So, while I heard some chortling over this one, I think it deserves mention. (Apologies for leaving it out of the first draft of this story, in the midst of … well, an avalanche.)

poltergeist

Speaking of Koma, they tipped me off to the excellent offerings by the UK’s Abstract Data. Nothing online yet, but their range looks tantalizing:

http://www.abstractdata.biz/modular.html

AD_Eurorack_Modules_2015

Looking ahead

What’s healthy about the modular trend to me is that it’s supporting some independent builders – and allowing them to try out ideas that might be too high-risk in desktop form. So, we’re getting a bit of what’s been missing in desktop hardware in modular: look to Mutable’s physical modeling, Waldorf’s adventurous wavetable control, Buchla’s wild sequencing. I think these more adventurous ideas match nicely with less-splashy but equally-useful offerings, which at the moment continue to come from the names that have really pushed the movement forward – above all, Doepfer.

For those who can afford it, in both space and money, modular offers some really fine-sounding, usable stuff. At the same time, seeing the musical output can be a reminder of why we use computers. A $500 PC laptop is capable of open-ended sound design, too; I think software and controller designers might do well to consider what could make interfacing flexible in the way these rigs are.

This year should also bring two cautionary notes. One, it’s not clear at what point the modular market may reach saturation. No matter how much modular has exceeded expectations, it still must come face to face with a musical instruments market that thinks in terms of keyboards, singing, guitars, and the like – and there’s truly nothing wrong with that. Two, a related point, I’m not certain that reissuing every synth in Eurorack format makes sense. So, as these units hit shelves, it’ll be worth evaluating which truly fit with modularity.

But that’s not to complain. The range of modular here offers some excellent options for people wanting to make their music with wires – and inspiration for anyone else working in sound design, even if you choose another medium. Let us know if you’ve found an interesting module, if you’re making music you want to share, or if there’s anything you’d like us to review / any builders or instrumentalists you’d like us to help you meet.

  • Michael Aldridge

    A brilliant round-up! Though putting so much tempting gear in one post should be like, banned, or something…

    • It could go the other way. It’s so much stuff that you could never afford it, and wind up going out and getting a ukulele. 😉

      • Michael Aldridge

        @peterkirn:disqus in fairness, choice paralysis has led me to truly weird gear purchases

      • Jim Aikin

        Hey, you can buy a module with a vacuum tube — why not a module with a ukulele built-in? 🙂 Seriously, though: You’re right that a good fast laptop and a copy of Csound can do anything a roomful of modular can do — with one or two absolutely vital exceptions. First, knobs. Second, intuitive patching. Third, blinky lights. Fourth, the system is running at all times — no need to compile your DSP code to hear the results. Fifth, polyphony. Sixth, do you really want to spend six months writing code? Hmm … that’s more than two exceptions, isn’t it?

        Lest anyone think I’m dissing modular, I have a very nice (and expensive) Eurorack system sitting at my elbow right now. Both hardware and software are great ways to make music!

        • Wait, but replace “Csound” with “Pd” (or even a real-time Csound environment), and most of what you just said falls apart. Replace “laptop” with “computer” (i.e., ignore the specific form factor) and all of it does.

          In fact, I see there’s a Qubit module that will run your Csound or Pd patch, though I can’t unload a few hundred bucks for it at the moment, I feel.

          I think that computation and control are about to become delightfully blurred in terms of their existence in hardware.

          • Jim Aikin

            Blurred, yes — definitely. I love the video of Lemur running the Expert Sleepers USB module.

            But no, Pd doesn’t have knobs. It has a mouse, which is not at all the same thing. (For that matter, creating on-screen sliders, buttons, and knobs in Csound is not difficult.) Pd has patch cords, sort of — but you really do need to know what sort of data is traveling down the software “cord.” This is definitely not the case in hardware modular.

            I mentioned Csound because it has more synthesis methods than anything else. Of course, you can use it as a module within Pd and get the best of both. But still, no real knobs or jacks for patching.

            The Qubit module is interesting. I own one. It does granular synthesis by default, which is very nice, and I edited their chord generator patch just to see if it was customizable. It is. The output is monophonic, however. If I were serious about using Csound in conjunction with the modular, a better solution would be the Expert Sleepers ES-3 and ES-6 (which I also own). Eight inputs to and six outputs from the modular, and Csound can utiize them in whatever way you want. With just a tiny bit of programming, your modular’s hardware knobs can control several Csound parameters at once, while meanwhile Csound’s multi-stage envelopes can drive the modular filters and VCAs.

          • Oh, right, you can’t *patch* directly in hardware… but then, the circuits inside those modules don’t have knobs or patch cords, either. 😉 So I think that the patch interface is still a level of abstraction above some internal engine – and once you start thinking that way, all kinds of things are possible (the ES-3/6 and Qubit only scratching the surface).

          • Dan

            I feel that software could greatly benefit from being more modular, there are many great digital eurorack modules that could be purely software instruments, but I don’t think there is a proper plug-in format that would allow them to fully interconnect (no differentiation between audio and control signals).

          • Will

            It’s not just the patching though—the knobs count. MIDI controllers still don’t really cut it. On a modular (or any hardware with knobs) you start to intuitively know where to reach to adjust the filter or lengthen the release; sound sculpting becomes an integral part of playing the instrument, without much thought. There are design cues like visually grouping and offsetting the oscillator section or the envelopes which help the user along this path. MIDI controllers with their endless choice of the same 8knobs/8sliders/8buttons just fail at it. Fail me anyway.

            That is to say: I think software has legs. PD is powerful. Arturia’s SEM sounds really really fucking good (relationship to the original be damned). Blah, there’s a lot but we still don’t have great ways of controlling it all, of playing it all. Lots of keyboards with knobs, very few actual *synthesizer* controllers.

          • Jim Aikin

            In a computer environment there’s a reason for running control signals at a lower rate — it saves on CPU. Propellerhead Reason is the integrated modular environment you’re talking about … but it does differentiate between control signals and audio signals. The connectivity is definitely there, though — and there are a lot of visionary modules in the RE shop.

          • rimwolf

            To me the most interesting recent development along these lines is Axoloti (http://axoloti.be), kind of the love child of Pd and the DIY spirit of Arduino. Axoloti Core is a board that combines an ARM processor, stereo audio in and out (24 bit @ 48kHz), MIDI in and out, and solder pads for things like pots & switches, with a USB device port to hook it to your computer for programming in a Pd-like environment (Axoloti Patcher), and even a USB host port for hooking in a class-compliant controller. Crowd-funded at 60 euro a board, and open source.

        • Martin Wheeler

          Seems strange that you miss the most important “exception” … the sound ! I’ve never heard a Csound ( or PD ) patch that _sounds_ remotely like, say … a DPO running through some Metasonix stuff … or just about any modular pathway involving non-DSP modules …

        • RebelDread

          Or just get a copy of Reason and some of the cool modular REs. Some REs now even have Polyphonic CV capability that was developed by RE dev Blamsoft and now fully supported by Propellerhead.

  • Michael Aldridge

    A brilliant round-up! Though putting so much tempting gear in one post should be like, banned, or something…

    • It could go the other way. It’s so much stuff that you could never afford it, and wind up going out and getting a ukulele. 😉

      • Michael Aldridge

        @peterkirn:disqus in fairness, choice paralysis has led me to truly weird gear purchases

      • Jim Aikin

        Hey, you can buy a module with a vacuum tube — why not a module with a ukulele built-in? 🙂 Seriously, though: You’re right that a good fast laptop and a copy of Csound can do anything a roomful of modular can do — with one or two absolutely vital exceptions. First, knobs. Second, intuitive patching. Third, blinky lights. Fourth, the system is running at all times — no need to compile your DSP code to hear the results. Fifth, polyphony. Sixth, do you really want to spend six months writing code? Hmm … that’s more than two exceptions, isn’t it?

        Lest anyone think I’m dissing modular, I have a very nice (and expensive) Eurorack system sitting at my elbow right now. Both hardware and software are great ways to make music!

        • Wait, but replace “Csound” with “Pd” (or even a real-time Csound environment), and most of what you just said falls apart. Replace “laptop” with “computer” (i.e., ignore the specific form factor) and all of it does.

          In fact, I see there’s a Qubit module that will run your Csound or Pd patch, though I can’t unload a few hundred bucks for it at the moment, I feel.

          I think that computation and control are about to become delightfully blurred in terms of their existence in hardware.

          • Jim Aikin

            Blurred, yes — definitely. I love the video of Lemur running the Expert Sleepers USB module.

            But no, Pd doesn’t have knobs. It has a mouse, which is not at all the same thing. (For that matter, creating on-screen sliders, buttons, and knobs in Csound is not difficult.) Pd has patch cords, sort of — but you really do need to know what sort of data is traveling down the software “cord.” This is definitely not the case in hardware modular.

            I mentioned Csound because it has more synthesis methods than anything else. Of course, you can use it as a module within Pd and get the best of both. But still, no real knobs or jacks for patching.

            The Qubit module is interesting. I own one. It does granular synthesis by default, which is very nice, and I edited their chord generator patch just to see if it was customizable. It is. The output is monophonic, however. If I were serious about using Csound in conjunction with the modular, a better solution would be the Expert Sleepers ES-3 and ES-6 (which I also own). Eight inputs to and six outputs from the modular, and Csound can utiize them in whatever way you want. With just a tiny bit of programming, your modular’s hardware knobs can control several Csound parameters at once, while meanwhile Csound’s multi-stage envelopes can drive the modular filters and VCAs.

          • Oh, right, you can’t *patch* directly in hardware… but then, the circuits inside those modules don’t have knobs or patch cords, either. 😉 So I think that the patch interface is still a level of abstraction above some internal engine – and once you start thinking that way, all kinds of things are possible (the ES-3/6 and Qubit only scratching the surface).

          • Dan

            I feel that software could greatly benefit from being more modular, there are many great digital eurorack modules that could be purely software instruments, but I don’t think there is a proper plug-in format that would allow them to fully interconnect (no differentiation between audio and control signals).

          • Will

            It’s not just the patching though—the knobs count. MIDI controllers still don’t really cut it. On a modular (or any hardware with knobs) you start to intuitively know where to reach to adjust the filter or lengthen the release; sound sculpting becomes an integral part of playing the instrument, without much thought. There are design cues like visually grouping and offsetting the oscillator section or the envelopes which help the user along this path. MIDI controllers with their endless choice of the same 8knobs/8sliders/8buttons just fail at it. Fail me anyway.

            That is to say: I think software has legs. PD is powerful. Arturia’s SEM sounds really really fucking good (relationship to the original be damned). Blah, there’s a lot but we still don’t have great ways of controlling it all, of playing it all. Lots of keyboards with knobs, very few actual *synthesizer* controllers.

          • Jim Aikin

            In a computer environment there’s a reason for running control signals at a lower rate — it saves on CPU. Propellerhead Reason is the integrated modular environment you’re talking about … but it does differentiate between control signals and audio signals. The connectivity is definitely there, though — and there are a lot of visionary modules in the RE shop.

          • rimwolf

            To me the most interesting recent development along these lines is Axoloti (http://axoloti.be), kind of the love child of Pd and the DIY spirit of Arduino. Axoloti Core is a board that combines an ARM processor, stereo audio in and out (24 bit @ 48kHz), MIDI in and out, and solder pads for things like pots & switches, with a USB device port to hook it to your computer for programming in a Pd-like environment (Axoloti Patcher), and even a USB host port for hooking in a class-compliant controller. Crowd-funded at 60 euro a board, and open source.

        • Martin Wheeler

          Seems strange that you miss the most important “exception” … the sound ! I’ve never heard a Csound ( or PD ) patch that _sounds_ remotely like, say … a DPO running through some Metasonix stuff … or just about any modular pathway involving non-DSP modules …

        • RebelDread

          Or just get a copy of Reason and some of the cool modular REs. Some REs now even have Polyphonic CV capability that was developed by RE dev Blamsoft and now fully supported by Propellerhead.

  • Michael Aldridge

    A brilliant round-up! Though putting so much tempting gear in one post should be like, banned, or something…

    • It could go the other way. It’s so much stuff that you could never afford it, and wind up going out and getting a ukulele. 😉

      • Michael Aldridge

        @peterkirn:disqus in fairness, choice paralysis has led me to truly weird gear purchases

      • Jim Aikin

        Hey, you can buy a module with a vacuum tube — why not a module with a ukulele built-in? 🙂 Seriously, though: You’re right that a good fast laptop and a copy of Csound can do anything a roomful of modular can do — with one or two absolutely vital exceptions. First, knobs. Second, intuitive patching. Third, blinky lights. Fourth, the system is running at all times — no need to compile your DSP code to hear the results. Fifth, polyphony. Sixth, do you really want to spend six months writing code? Hmm … that’s more than two exceptions, isn’t it?

        Lest anyone think I’m dissing modular, I have a very nice (and expensive) Eurorack system sitting at my elbow right now. Both hardware and software are great ways to make music!

        • Wait, but replace “Csound” with “Pd” (or even a real-time Csound environment), and most of what you just said falls apart. Replace “laptop” with “computer” (i.e., ignore the specific form factor) and all of it does.

          In fact, I see there’s a Qubit module that will run your Csound or Pd patch, though I can’t unload a few hundred bucks for it at the moment, I feel.

          I think that computation and control are about to become delightfully blurred in terms of their existence in hardware.

          • Jim Aikin

            Blurred, yes — definitely. I love the video of Lemur running the Expert Sleepers USB module.

            But no, Pd doesn’t have knobs. It has a mouse, which is not at all the same thing. (For that matter, creating on-screen sliders, buttons, and knobs in Csound is not difficult.) Pd has patch cords, sort of — but you really do need to know what sort of data is traveling down the software “cord.” This is definitely not the case in hardware modular.

            I mentioned Csound because it has more synthesis methods than anything else. Of course, you can use it as a module within Pd and get the best of both. But still, no real knobs or jacks for patching.

            The Qubit module is interesting. I own one. It does granular synthesis by default, which is very nice, and I edited their chord generator patch just to see if it was customizable. It is. The output is monophonic, however. If I were serious about using Csound in conjunction with the modular, a better solution would be the Expert Sleepers ES-3 and ES-6 (which I also own). Eight inputs to and six outputs from the modular, and Csound can utiize them in whatever way you want. With just a tiny bit of programming, your modular’s hardware knobs can control several Csound parameters at once, while meanwhile Csound’s multi-stage envelopes can drive the modular filters and VCAs.

          • Oh, right, you can’t *patch* directly in hardware… but then, the circuits inside those modules don’t have knobs or patch cords, either. 😉 So I think that the patch interface is still a level of abstraction above some internal engine – and once you start thinking that way, all kinds of things are possible (the ES-3/6 and Qubit only scratching the surface).

          • Dan

            I feel that software could greatly benefit from being more modular, there are many great digital eurorack modules that could be purely software instruments, but I don’t think there is a proper plug-in format that would allow them to fully interconnect (no differentiation between audio and control signals).

          • Will

            It’s not just the patching though—the knobs count. MIDI controllers still don’t really cut it. On a modular (or any hardware with knobs) you start to intuitively know where to reach to adjust the filter or lengthen the release; sound sculpting becomes an integral part of playing the instrument, without much thought. There are design cues like visually grouping and offsetting the oscillator section or the envelopes which help the user along this path. MIDI controllers with their endless choice of the same 8knobs/8sliders/8buttons just fail at it. Fail me anyway.

            That is to say: I think software has legs. PD is powerful. Arturia’s SEM sounds really really fucking good (relationship to the original be damned). Blah, there’s a lot but we still don’t have great ways of controlling it all, of playing it all. Lots of keyboards with knobs, very few actual *synthesizer* controllers.

          • Jim Aikin

            In a computer environment there’s a reason for running control signals at a lower rate — it saves on CPU. Propellerhead Reason is the integrated modular environment you’re talking about … but it does differentiate between control signals and audio signals. The connectivity is definitely there, though — and there are a lot of visionary modules in the RE shop.

          • rimwolf

            To me the most interesting recent development along these lines is Axoloti (http://axoloti.be), kind of the love child of Pd and the DIY spirit of Arduino. Axoloti Core is a board that combines an ARM processor, stereo audio in and out (24 bit @ 48kHz), MIDI in and out, and solder pads for things like pots & switches, with a USB device port to hook it to your computer for programming in a Pd-like environment (Axoloti Patcher), and even a USB host port for hooking in a class-compliant controller. Crowd-funded at 60 euro a board, and open source.

        • Martin Wheeler

          Seems strange that you miss the most important “exception” … the sound ! I’ve never heard a Csound ( or PD ) patch that _sounds_ remotely like, say … a DPO running through some Metasonix stuff … or just about any modular pathway involving non-DSP modules …

        • RebelDread

          Or just get a copy of Reason and some of the cool modular REs. Some REs now even have Polyphonic CV capability that was developed by RE dev Blamsoft and now fully supported by Propellerhead.

  • Pierre Fontaine

    Indeed…thank you for this excellent round-up of modular gear, much of it surprisingly affordable. It’s really a fascinating development and your article is going to be a helpful resource.

  • Pierre Fontaine

    Indeed…thank you for this excellent round-up of modular gear, much of it surprisingly affordable. It’s really a fascinating development and your article is going to be a helpful resource.

  • Pierre Fontaine

    Indeed…thank you for this excellent round-up of modular gear, much of it surprisingly affordable. It’s really a fascinating development and your article is going to be a helpful resource.

  • duncan

    for people already in the monome grid land it might be worth mentioning their forays into modular control options http://monome.org/modular/

    • Absolutely – though I focused here on 2015 announcements. Those remain fascinating and we keep covering them.

      That’s the amazing thing — this stuff all happened in the last *three weeks*. But a lot of makers timed their announcements to NAMM; I don’t think even Messe will have this much new stuff.

  • duncan

    for people already in the monome grid land it might be worth mentioning their forays into modular control options http://monome.org/modular/

    • Absolutely – though I focused here on 2015 announcements. Those remain fascinating and we keep covering them.

      That’s the amazing thing — this stuff all happened in the last *three weeks*. But a lot of makers timed their announcements to NAMM; I don’t think even Messe will have this much new stuff.

  • duncan

    for people already in the monome grid land it might be worth mentioning their forays into modular control options http://monome.org/modular/

    • Absolutely – though I focused here on 2015 announcements. Those remain fascinating and we keep covering them.

      That’s the amazing thing — this stuff all happened in the last *three weeks*. But a lot of makers timed their announcements to NAMM; I don’t think even Messe will have this much new stuff.

  • Jim Aikin

    To try to get a handle on Buchla’s Eurorack compatibility, I had a look at the fine print for the Buchla LEM Snoopy. It says, “1-1.2V/oct conversion.” It does _not_ say 1.2-1/oct conversion. This may be simply an oversight, but Michael Marans (who I assume is still in the pilot’s chair at BEMI) is usually a pretty careful writer.

    • john b.

      It’s my understanding that Michael is no longer involved…

      • Jim Aikin

        Yep. According to his LinkedIn profile, he left a year ago. I wonder who’s in charge now. The new hardware is certainly a departure.

  • Jim Aikin

    To try to get a handle on Buchla’s Eurorack compatibility, I had a look at the fine print for the Buchla LEM Snoopy. It says, “1-1.2V/oct conversion.” It does _not_ say 1.2-1/oct conversion. This may be simply an oversight, but Michael Marans (who I assume is still in the pilot’s chair at BEMI) is usually a pretty careful writer.

    • john b.

      It’s my understanding that Michael is no longer involved…

      • Jim Aikin

        Yep. According to his LinkedIn profile, he left a year ago. I wonder who’s in charge now. The new hardware is certainly a departure.

  • Jim Aikin

    To try to get a handle on Buchla’s Eurorack compatibility, I had a look at the fine print for the Buchla LEM Snoopy. It says, “1-1.2V/oct conversion.” It does _not_ say 1.2-1/oct conversion. This may be simply an oversight, but Michael Marans (who I assume is still in the pilot’s chair at BEMI) is usually a pretty careful writer.

    • john b.

      It’s my understanding that Michael is no longer involved…

      • Jim Aikin

        Yep. According to his LinkedIn profile, he left a year ago. I wonder who’s in charge now. The new hardware is certainly a departure.

  • Should have titled the article “Eurorack Gear You Need to Know” as it sadly neglects the explosion of boutique and oddball 5U (Moog Unit) modules. The Dotcom folks picking up on the Buchla/Euro trend of building touch plates into modules has been particularly exciting.

    Eurorack still has more options for weirdo modules with high-larious graphics, but honestly… how many ways to make fart noises and dialup modem sounds does a West Coast guy need? (Judging by the way those modules cycle through *bay and Muff’s forums, not THAT many.)

    • Well, as I said, I’m likely missing the stuff that flew below the radar – this is largely confined to things introduced at and around NAMM (which is already a lot).

      Any stand out 5U suggestions?

      • So many!

        We now have Ken Macbeth, Moon Modular, Mos-Lab (and probably a few others I’m forgetting) joining Synthesizers.com in producing fairly complete “clones” of the original Moog Modulars, and of course now Moog themselves are back in the game. I even noticed M83 now tours with a 5U modular instead of the Doepfer setup they used to use. So there are plenty of options for that traditional “East Coast” sound.

        Fun individual modules that in my opinion show some West Coast influence… I tried hard to limit it to 10…

        – Synthesizers.com Q181tp touch pad (just like grandpa’s music easel…)
        – Synthetic Sound Labs 5-Pulser waveshaper
        – Oakley Triple Low Pass Gate (get that Buchla bongo sound)
        – Corsynth C105 Voltage Controlled Noise / Lo-Fi Machine
        – STG Soundlabs Wave Folder
        – Moon Modular 565 Quad Quantizer for those self-playing patches
        – Catgirl Synth Wave Multiplier
        – Encore Universal Event Generator modulation source
        – Grove Audio PM-Resonator formant filter
        – and of course the Sputnik Modular West Coast Random Source

        • Great list! Well, the 5U is worth looking at separately…

          Any of these announced in January, or what’s newest in that world?

          • SSL, STG, and Moon were all exhibiting new stuff at NAMM. That reminds me, I totally forgot about Club of the Knobs! COTK also make a complete Moog modular clone, but with quite a few fun additions. I believe they were announcing a wavetable VCO module at NAMM.
            http://www.cluboftheknobs.com/home.html

            Also Analog Craftsman were at NAMM introducing (apparently) a “neural computing circuit” module. Who knew!?
            http://analogcraftsman.com/?product_cat=new

          • patch

            5U is full of diy folks building and selling pcbs. that’s another reason people go 5U. not that that has anything to do with namm but as you look into 5U the diy scene should really be checked out too.

    • deadeyes

      Way to be an asshole and make a huge fucking stereotype of Eurorack users.

      “Weirdo modules with high-larious graphics”

      You couldn’t be more ignorant of the scene, more or less how to use a modular synth if you’re going to be so hasty fling shit on the Eurorack scene. I got news. Eurorack has the largest penetration of ALL the modular synth formats out there. If you think that 100% of the people are all bleeps and bloops, you must drink some seriously elitist Kool-Aid.

      • Looks like that hit a little to close to home, har har har…

        Relax. I didn’t say it was 100% bleeps, just that Euro has more specialized options there. And I think it’s a good thing, frankly, I’m a little envious.

  • relaxing

    Should have titled the article “Eurorack Gear You Need to Know” as it sadly neglects the explosion of boutique and oddball 5U (Moog Unit) modules. The Dotcom folks picking up on the Buchla/Euro trend of building touch plates into modules has been particularly exciting.

    Eurorack still has more options for weirdo modules with high-larious graphics, but honestly… how many ways to make fart noises and dialup modem sounds does a West Coast guy need? (Judging by the way those modules cycle through *bay and Muff’s forums, not THAT many.)

    • Well, as I said, I’m likely missing the stuff that flew below the radar – this is largely confined to things introduced at and around NAMM (which is already a lot).

      Any stand out 5U suggestions?

      • relaxing

        So many!

        We now have Ken Macbeth, Moon Modular, Mos-Lab (and probably a few others I’m forgetting) joining Synthesizers.com in producing fairly complete “clones” of the original Moog Modulars, and of course now Moog themselves are back in the game. I even noticed M83 now tours with a 5U modular instead of the Doepfer setup they used to use. So there are plenty of options for that traditional “East Coast” sound.

        Fun individual modules that in my opinion show some West Coast influence… I tried hard to limit it to 10…

        – Synthesizers.com Q181tp touch pad (just like grandpa’s music easel…)
        – Synthetic Sound Labs 5-Pulser waveshaper
        – Oakley Triple Low Pass Gate (get that Buchla bongo sound)
        – Corsynth C105 Voltage Controlled Noise / Lo-Fi Machine
        – STG Soundlabs Wave Folder
        – Moon Modular 565 Quad Quantizer for those self-playing patches
        – Catgirl Synth Wave Multiplier
        – Encore Universal Event Generator modulation source
        – Grove Audio PM-Resonator formant filter
        – and of course the Sputnik Modular West Coast Random Source

        • Great list! Well, the 5U is worth looking at separately…

          Any of these announced in January, or what’s newest in that world?

          • relaxing

            SSL, STG, and Moon were all exhibiting new stuff at NAMM. That reminds me, I totally forgot about Club of the Knobs! COTK also make a complete Moog modular clone, but with quite a few fun additions. I believe they were announcing a wavetable VCO module at NAMM.
            http://www.cluboftheknobs.com/home.html

            Also Analog Craftsman were at NAMM introducing (apparently) a “neural computing circuit” module. Who knew!?
            http://analogcraftsman.com/?product_cat=new

          • patch

            5U is full of diy folks building and selling pcbs. that’s another reason people go 5U. not that that has anything to do with namm but as you look into 5U the diy scene should really be checked out too.

    • deadeyes

      Way to be an asshole and make a huge fucking stereotype of Eurorack users.

      “Weirdo modules with high-larious graphics”

      You couldn’t be more ignorant of the scene, more or less how to use a modular synth if you’re going to be so hasty fling shit on the Eurorack scene. I got news. Eurorack has the largest penetration of ALL the modular synth formats out there. If you think that 100% of the people are all bleeps and bloops, you must drink some seriously elitist Kool-Aid.

      • relaxing

        Looks like that hit a little to close to home, har har har…

        Relax. I didn’t say it was 100% bleeps, just that Euro has more specialized options there. And I think it’s a good thing, frankly, I’m a little envious.

  • relaxing

    Should have titled the article “Eurorack Gear You Need to Know” as it sadly neglects the explosion of boutique and oddball 5U (Moog Unit) modules. The Dotcom folks picking up on the Buchla/Euro trend of building touch plates into modules has been particularly exciting.

    Eurorack still has more options for weirdo modules with high-larious graphics, but honestly… how many ways to make fart noises and dialup modem sounds does a West Coast guy need? (Judging by the way those modules cycle through *bay and Muff’s forums, not THAT many.)

    • Well, as I said, I’m likely missing the stuff that flew below the radar – this is largely confined to things introduced at and around NAMM (which is already a lot).

      Any stand out 5U suggestions?

      • relaxing

        So many!

        We now have Ken Macbeth, Moon Modular, Mos-Lab (and probably a few others I’m forgetting) joining Synthesizers.com in producing fairly complete “clones” of the original Moog Modulars, and of course now Moog themselves are back in the game. I even noticed M83 now tours with a 5U modular instead of the Doepfer setup they used to use. So there are plenty of options for that traditional “East Coast” sound.

        Fun individual modules that in my opinion show some West Coast influence… I tried hard to limit it to 10…

        – Synthesizers.com Q181tp touch pad (just like grandpa’s music easel…)
        – Synthetic Sound Labs 5-Pulser waveshaper
        – Oakley Triple Low Pass Gate (get that Buchla bongo sound)
        – Corsynth C105 Voltage Controlled Noise / Lo-Fi Machine
        – STG Soundlabs Wave Folder
        – Moon Modular 565 Quad Quantizer for those self-playing patches
        – Catgirl Synth Wave Multiplier
        – Encore Universal Event Generator modulation source
        – Grove Audio PM-Resonator formant filter
        – and of course the Sputnik Modular West Coast Random Source

        • Great list! Well, the 5U is worth looking at separately…

          Any of these announced in January, or what’s newest in that world?

          • relaxing

            SSL, STG, and Moon were all exhibiting new stuff at NAMM. That reminds me, I totally forgot about Club of the Knobs! COTK also make a complete Moog modular clone, but with quite a few fun additions. I believe they were announcing a wavetable VCO module at NAMM.
            http://www.cluboftheknobs.com/home.html

            Also Analog Craftsman were at NAMM introducing (apparently) a “neural computing circuit” module. Who knew!?
            http://analogcraftsman.com/?product_cat=new

          • patch

            5U is full of diy folks building and selling pcbs. that’s another reason people go 5U. not that that has anything to do with namm but as you look into 5U the diy scene should really be checked out too.

    • deadeyes

      Way to be an asshole and make a huge fucking stereotype of Eurorack users.

      “Weirdo modules with high-larious graphics”

      You couldn’t be more ignorant of the scene, more or less how to use a modular synth if you’re going to be so hasty fling shit on the Eurorack scene. I got news. Eurorack has the largest penetration of ALL the modular synth formats out there. If you think that 100% of the people are all bleeps and bloops, you must drink some seriously elitist Kool-Aid.

      • relaxing

        Looks like that hit a little to close to home, har har har…

        Relax. I didn’t say it was 100% bleeps, just that Euro has more specialized options there. And I think it’s a good thing, frankly, I’m a little envious.

  • Kim

    Thank you for awesome post..!

  • Kim

    Thank you for awesome post..!

  • Kim

    Thank you for awesome post..!

  • Fedor Vetkalov

    It’s a bit strange that you’ve missed out truly great Sputnik Modular. I’ve tried them and really impressed with the sound, functionality and the range of modules that they plan to make

    • Well, note that this isn’t a guide to modular, only a guide to some of the modular announcements of the last four weeks. That’s just how much happened in January. 😉

      This isn’t our last word, just a way of processing that news…

  • Fedor Vetkalov

    It’s a bit strange that you’ve missed out truly great Sputnik Modular. I’ve tried them and really impressed with the sound, functionality and the range of modules that they plan to make

    • Well, note that this isn’t a guide to modular, only a guide to some of the modular announcements of the last four weeks. That’s just how much happened in January. 😉

      This isn’t our last word, just a way of processing that news…

  • Fedor Vetkalov

    It’s a bit strange that you’ve missed out truly great Sputnik Modular. I’ve tried them and really impressed with the sound, functionality and the range of modules that they plan to make

    • Well, note that this isn’t a guide to modular, only a guide to some of the modular announcements of the last four weeks. That’s just how much happened in January. 😉

      This isn’t our last word, just a way of processing that news…

  • mercury

    These farts will makez you single!

  • mercury

    These farts will makez you single!

  • mercury

    These farts will makez you single!

  • Lovely

    How will the popularity of modulars change the process of making music? of performing it? What is particularly interesting to me is how musicians interact with their instruments, which is I feel is less than satisfying to audience that are watching most electronic musicians with laptops. Could this be more enjoyable from a performance standpoint?

    • disqus_kRU53IjGpT

      it could be more enjoyable, but only with the help of Dr. Snares

  • Lovely

    How will the popularity of modulars change the process of making music? of performing it? What is particularly interesting to me is how musicians interact with their instruments, which is I feel is less than satisfying to audience that are watching most electronic musicians with laptops. Could this be more enjoyable from a performance standpoint?

    • disqus_kRU53IjGpT

      it could be more enjoyable, but only with the help of Dr. Snares

  • Lovely

    How will the popularity of modulars change the process of making music? of performing it? What is particularly interesting to me is how musicians interact with their instruments, which is I feel is less than satisfying to audience that are watching most electronic musicians with laptops. Could this be more enjoyable from a performance standpoint?

    • disqus_kRU53IjGpT

      it could be more enjoyable, but only with the help of Dr. Snares

  • Martin Wheeler

    Thanks for this roundup Peter, but I was wondering if you actually have a modular ? Because this sometimes rather feels like it is written from the point of view of someone outside looking in, … and looking in from a very DAW, MIDI, keyboard-oriented, and in modular terms, “east coast” perspective. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just one strand in the tapestry, and it would be a shame if people unfamiliar with all this came away with the impression that that is all it is.

    For example, you write “there’s a MIDI and sync interface (yep, you’ll want that)” but many people won’t, and don’t, want that. They use the modular as a self contained environment, or as an “instrument”. In fact many people specifically got into modular as a way of getting away from computers, software and indeed MIDI. And even amongst those that _are_ using DAWs to sequence the modular, many prefer to use CV/gate via Silent Way or similar rather than MIDI.

    I’m not on a crusade here, I have a bunch of computers in my studio, use a bunch of plug-ins and softsynths, Max/MSP, digital and analog, and I use the modular both with and without a DAW, and sometimes even use MIDI, so i’m no purist ! 😉

    But MIDI just isn’t as essential, or even central, to the modular experience as you imply.

    And however is the Koma sequencer “wildly impractical” ? What ?

    Too big ? Too big to put in a backpack with your plastic mini key keyboard and your launchpad. Probably, but thats not what it is for. Too big to put in front of a case of Eurorack in the studio ? Nope, absolutely perfect size. Too expensive ? Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat ? Sure. Compared to any combination of stuff out there that can actually do what it can do ? Nope, I’d say it’s somewhere between a third and a half of the price. To me it looks like the most well thought out, and indeed _most_ practical, CV/gate step sequencer I’ve ever seen ( and judging by the reaction on the forums, blogs etc I’m very far from being alone in that judgement.) This is not the place for a ten page essay extolling the virtues of what is IMNSHO opinion the star piece of the show, but to write it off like that … I’m sorry Peter, but that _really_ feels like its coming from someone who isn’t really using, or thinking, modulars.

    Anway, I beg to differ … but thanks again for the roundup ( and as you say, you can’t cover everything, but I would agree with the person who said that the new Sputnik stuff is a pretty important development)

    • greg

      “Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat”; how despising it is to korg and arturia user! Arturia & Korg make really affordable and good sounding gear that permit to a lot of people to produce music with a decent sound. Some really cheap instruments were the starting point to whole genres (I think about roland drum machines, etc…). On the other hand, I know people using modular or really expansive/not user friendly gear and doing the worst shitty music you could ever hear, so please….

      • Martin Wheeler

        Sorry if it came across like that, I’m really not “despising” at all. I have an Arturia Beatstep and a Qunexus sitting right here on top of my big ass Eurorack modular. They are great, ( as in both ‘great for the money’ and ‘great’ period ) But, hey, they _are_ cheap and plastic, and however much I too love cheap and plastic, and also love the whole ‘just sling a $100 controller in the backpack and go do a gig’ thing, if the ( justifiedly ) glowing coverage all these little ‘mobile’ devices are getting here means that something that is a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier and a little bit more expensive ( but also way more ambitious) is then seen as being “wildly impractical”, then, sorry, but I disagree. Especially with regard to that Koma sequencer which IMNSHO is not only decidedly _not_ “wildly impractical” but is probably the ultimate sequencer of it’s type in existence ! (Though it is certainly not the only valid approach to sequencing modulars – the whole Rene / Brains / PP thing is equally cool inna more west coast stylee) Anyway, no offence meant to the small plastic and cheap. It’s all good.

  • Martin Wheeler

    Thanks for this roundup Peter, but I was wondering if you actually have a modular ? Because this sometimes rather feels like it is written from the point of view of someone outside looking in, … and looking in from a very DAW, MIDI, keyboard-oriented, and in modular terms, “east coast” perspective. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just one strand in the tapestry, and it would be a shame if people unfamiliar with all this came away with the impression that that is all it is.

    For example, you write “there’s a MIDI and sync interface (yep, you’ll want that)” but many people won’t, and don’t, want that. They use the modular as a self contained environment, or as an “instrument”. In fact many people specifically got into modular as a way of getting away from computers, software and indeed MIDI. And even amongst those that _are_ using DAWs to sequence the modular, many prefer to use CV/gate via Silent Way or similar rather than MIDI.

    I’m not on a crusade here, I have a bunch of computers in my studio, use a bunch of plug-ins and softsynths, Max/MSP, digital and analog, and I use the modular both with and without a DAW, and sometimes even use MIDI, so i’m no purist ! 😉

    But MIDI just isn’t as essential, or even central, to the modular experience as you imply.

    And however is the Koma sequencer “wildly impractical” ? What ?

    Too big ? Too big to put in a backpack with your plastic mini key keyboard and your launchpad. Probably, but thats not what it is for. Too big to put in front of a case of Eurorack in the studio ? Nope, absolutely perfect size. Too expensive ? Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat ? Sure. Compared to any combination of stuff out there that can actually do what it can do ? Nope, I’d say it’s somewhere between a third and a half of the price. To me it looks like the most well thought out, and indeed _most_ practical, CV/gate step sequencer I’ve ever seen ( and judging by the reaction on the forums, blogs etc I’m very far from being alone in that judgement.) This is not the place for a ten page essay extolling the virtues of what is IMNSHO opinion the star piece of the show, but to write it off like that … I’m sorry Peter, but that _really_ feels like its coming from someone who isn’t really using, or thinking, modulars.

    Anway, I beg to differ … but thanks again for the roundup ( and as you say, you can’t cover everything, but I would agree with the person who said that the new Sputnik stuff is a pretty important development)

    • greg

      “Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat”; how despising it is to korg and arturia user! Arturia & Korg make really affordable and good sounding gear that permit to a lot of people to produce music with a decent sound. Some really cheap instruments were the starting point to whole genres (I think about roland drum machines, etc…). On the other hand, I know people using modular or really expansive/not user friendly gear and doing the worst shitty music you could ever hear, so please….

      • Martin Wheeler

        Sorry if it came across like that, I’m really not “despising” at all. I have an Arturia Beatstep and a Qunexus sitting right here on top of my big ass Eurorack modular. They are great, ( as in both ‘great for the money’ and ‘great’ period ) But, hey, they _are_ cheap and plastic, and however much I too love cheap and plastic, and also love the whole ‘just sling a $100 controller in the backpack and go do a gig’ thing, if the ( justifiedly ) glowing coverage all these little ‘mobile’ devices are getting here means that something that is a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier and a little bit more expensive ( but also way more ambitious) is then seen as being “wildly impractical”, then, sorry, but I disagree. Especially with regard to that Koma sequencer which IMNSHO is not only decidedly _not_ “wildly impractical” but is probably the ultimate sequencer of it’s type in existence ! (Though it is certainly not the only valid approach to sequencing modulars – the whole Rene / Brains / PP thing is equally cool inna more west coast stylee) Anyway, no offence meant to the small plastic and cheap. It’s all good.

  • Martin Wheeler

    Thanks for this roundup Peter, but I was wondering if you actually have a modular ? Because this sometimes rather feels like it is written from the point of view of someone outside looking in, … and looking in from a very DAW, MIDI, keyboard-oriented, and in modular terms, “east coast” perspective. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just one strand in the tapestry, and it would be a shame if people unfamiliar with all this came away with the impression that that is all it is.

    For example, you write “there’s a MIDI and sync interface (yep, you’ll want that)” but many people won’t, and don’t, want that. They use the modular as a self contained environment, or as an “instrument”. In fact many people specifically got into modular as a way of getting away from computers, software and indeed MIDI. And even amongst those that _are_ using DAWs to sequence the modular, many prefer to use CV/gate via Silent Way or similar rather than MIDI.

    I’m not on a crusade here, I have a bunch of computers in my studio, use a bunch of plug-ins and softsynths, Max/MSP, digital and analog, and I use the modular both with and without a DAW, and sometimes even use MIDI, so i’m no purist ! 😉

    But MIDI just isn’t as essential, or even central, to the modular experience as you imply.

    And however is the Koma sequencer “wildly impractical” ? What ?

    Too big ? Too big to put in a backpack with your plastic mini key keyboard and your launchpad. Probably, but thats not what it is for. Too big to put in front of a case of Eurorack in the studio ? Nope, absolutely perfect size. Too expensive ? Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat ? Sure. Compared to any combination of stuff out there that can actually do what it can do ? Nope, I’d say it’s somewhere between a third and a half of the price. To me it looks like the most well thought out, and indeed _most_ practical, CV/gate step sequencer I’ve ever seen ( and judging by the reaction on the forums, blogs etc I’m very far from being alone in that judgement.) This is not the place for a ten page essay extolling the virtues of what is IMNSHO opinion the star piece of the show, but to write it off like that … I’m sorry Peter, but that _really_ feels like its coming from someone who isn’t really using, or thinking, modulars.

    Anway, I beg to differ … but thanks again for the roundup ( and as you say, you can’t cover everything, but I would agree with the person who said that the new Sputnik stuff is a pretty important development)

    • greg

      “Compared to the new KorgArturia PlasticBeat”; how despising it is to korg and arturia user! Arturia & Korg make really affordable and good sounding gear that permit to a lot of people to produce music with a decent sound. Some really cheap instruments were the starting point to whole genres (I think about roland drum machines, etc…). On the other hand, I know people using modular or really expansive/not user friendly gear and doing the worst shitty music you could ever hear, so please….

      • Martin Wheeler

        Sorry if it came across like that, I’m really not “despising” at all. I have an Arturia Beatstep and a Qunexus sitting right here on top of my big ass Eurorack modular. They are great, ( as in both ‘great for the money’ and ‘great’ period ) But, hey, they _are_ cheap and plastic, and however much I too love cheap and plastic, and also love the whole ‘just sling a $100 controller in the backpack and go do a gig’ thing, if the ( justifiedly ) glowing coverage all these little ‘mobile’ devices are getting here means that something that is a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier and a little bit more expensive ( but also way more ambitious) is then seen as being “wildly impractical”, then, sorry, but I disagree. Especially with regard to that Koma sequencer which IMNSHO is not only decidedly _not_ “wildly impractical” but is probably the ultimate sequencer of it’s type in existence ! (Though it is certainly not the only valid approach to sequencing modulars – the whole Rene / Brains / PP thing is equally cool inna more west coast stylee) Anyway, no offence meant to the small plastic and cheap. It’s all good.

  • chipmunk

    great article! these things are worst than hard drugs. I own a little eurosystem for dsp, but I´ve been losing all my interest on this format….why? because I work faster with other inexpensive, lighter and simple hardware related stuff, and yes, my time is gold: I want to make music, and I need simplicity at my little studio. I´ve been using nord modulars for years, I keep them, and I know there are fantastic euro modules out there, and more to come, but honestly, I can´t spend 1000€ for only 2-3 boutique modules: add 300€ and you´ve a fantastic machine like the octatrack, or a sub37, or an op-1. diferent league & beasts, sure, but more useful to me, and also, very funny and creative tools.
    just my 2 cents…and sorry for my bad grammar 🙁

  • chipmunk

    great article! these things are worst than hard drugs. I own a little eurosystem for dsp, but I´ve been losing all my interest on this format….why? because I work faster with other inexpensive, lighter and simple hardware related stuff, and yes, my time is gold: I want to make music, and I need simplicity at my little studio. I´ve been using nord modulars for years, I keep them, and I know there are fantastic euro modules out there, and more to come, but honestly, I can´t spend 1000€ for only 2-3 boutique modules: add 300€ and you´ve a fantastic machine like the octatrack, or a sub37, or an op-1. diferent league & beasts, sure, but more useful to me, and also, very funny and creative tools.
    just my 2 cents…and sorry for my bad grammar 🙁

  • chipmunk

    great article! these things are worst than hard drugs. I own a little eurosystem for dsp, but I´ve been losing all my interest on this format….why? because I work faster with other inexpensive, lighter and simple hardware related stuff, and yes, my time is gold: I want to make music, and I need simplicity at my little studio. I´ve been using nord modulars for years, I keep them, and I know there are fantastic euro modules out there, and more to come, but honestly, I can´t spend 1000€ for only 2-3 boutique modules: add 300€ and you´ve a fantastic machine like the octatrack, or a sub37, or an op-1. diferent league & beasts, sure, but more useful to me, and also, very funny and creative tools.
    just my 2 cents…and sorry for my bad grammar 🙁

  • kabletx

    Brave of Angle to merge both kinds of music: Techno AND Electronic!

  • kabletx

    Brave of Angle to merge both kinds of music: Techno AND Electronic!

  • kabletx

    Brave of Angle to merge both kinds of music: Techno AND Electronic!

  • pr_simon

    Peter, regarding how you’re questioning the point of reissuing that many classic synths in Eurorack as opposed to sticking with desktop versions that are more or less just as functional as is, I think I can see where this is interesting an option anyway.

    To me, the specificity of modular synthesis aside, Eurorack can also be viewed as a welcome evolution of the classic rack format, in terms of pure practicality that is. Well it’s definitely an aspect of it that got me interested as well anyway.

    Not only do you save even more space, which was the point of getting rack versions in the first place (and seems to be more & more crucial in the home studio environment) but, from now just (more or less) a single power source, and at the flick of a single switch, you also potentially have both your avant-garde AND classic type synths but also effects/processing/mixing/sequencing, all ready to use simultaneously and perfectly displayed next to each other so you can instantly arrange them accordingly to your needs/ideas for the day.

    No hard to set up, label and read patch ; no hard to reach mess of tangled, barely identifiable cables and multiple PSU’s at the back of a rack or of each desktop/keyboard device (well, only a « fresh » mess on the front instead, that your brain can handle !) ; no reaching out for this or that unit that you had to put on top of a shelf and ended up using less because you didn’t have enough desk real estate for all your desktop devices at the same time (Or maybe I’m just lazy / have too much stuff, of course)…

    So yes, perhaps in the middle of this the Eurorack SEM may end up being used mostly just like your average desktop SEM but, if you think of your system as a whole, potentially multi-voice electronic workstation, not only dedicated to purely advanced synthesis, there is definitely at least a slight improvement this way, in terms of immediacy and integration of those classic sounds and architectures to the whole chain.

    • pr_simon

      (The desktop SEM still gets a special vote though, just for looking badass)

  • pr_simon

    Peter, regarding how you’re questioning the point of reissuing that many classic synths in Eurorack as opposed to sticking with desktop versions that are more or less just as functional as is, I think I can see where this is interesting an option anyway.

    To me, the specificity of modular synthesis aside, Eurorack can also be viewed as a welcome evolution of the classic rack format, in terms of pure practicality that is. Well it’s definitely an aspect of it that got me interested as well anyway.

    Not only do you save even more space, which was the point of getting rack versions in the first place (and seems to be more & more crucial in the home studio environment) but, from now just (more or less) a single power source, and at the flick of a single switch, you also potentially have both your avant-garde AND classic type synths but also effects/processing/mixing/sequencing, all ready to use simultaneously and perfectly displayed next to each other so you can instantly arrange them accordingly to your needs/ideas for the day.

    No hard to set up, label and read patch ; no hard to reach mess of tangled, barely identifiable cables and multiple PSU’s at the back of a rack or of each desktop/keyboard device (well, only a « fresh » mess on the front instead, that your brain can handle !) ; no reaching out for this or that unit that you had to put on top of a shelf and ended up using less because you didn’t have enough desk real estate for all your desktop devices at the same time (Or maybe I’m just lazy / have too much stuff, of course)…

    So yes, perhaps in the middle of this the Eurorack SEM may end up being used mostly just like your average desktop SEM but, if you think of your system as a whole, potentially multi-voice electronic workstation, not only dedicated to purely advanced synthesis, there is definitely at least a slight improvement this way, in terms of immediacy and integration of those classic sounds and architectures to the whole chain.

    • pr_simon

      (The desktop SEM still gets a special vote though, just for looking badass)

  • pr_simon

    Peter, regarding how you’re questioning the point of reissuing that many classic synths in Eurorack as opposed to sticking with desktop versions that are more or less just as functional as is, I think I can see where this is interesting an option anyway.

    To me, the specificity of modular synthesis aside, Eurorack can also be viewed as a welcome evolution of the classic rack format, in terms of pure practicality that is. Well it’s definitely an aspect of it that got me interested as well anyway.

    Not only do you save even more space, which was the point of getting rack versions in the first place (and seems to be more & more crucial in the home studio environment) but, from now just (more or less) a single power source, and at the flick of a single switch, you also potentially have both your avant-garde AND classic type synths but also effects/processing/mixing/sequencing, all ready to use simultaneously and perfectly displayed next to each other so you can instantly arrange them accordingly to your needs/ideas for the day.

    No hard to set up, label and read patch ; no hard to reach mess of tangled, barely identifiable cables and multiple PSU’s at the back of a rack or of each desktop/keyboard device (well, only a « fresh » mess on the front instead, that your brain can handle !) ; no reaching out for this or that unit that you had to put on top of a shelf and ended up using less because you didn’t have enough desk real estate for all your desktop devices at the same time (Or maybe I’m just lazy / have too much stuff, of course)…

    So yes, perhaps in the middle of this the Eurorack SEM may end up being used mostly just like your average desktop SEM but, if you think of your system as a whole, potentially multi-voice electronic workstation, not only dedicated to purely advanced synthesis, there is definitely at least a slight improvement this way, in terms of immediacy and integration of those classic sounds and architectures to the whole chain.

    • pr_simon

      (The desktop SEM still gets a special vote though, just for looking badass)

  • TRC

    Don’t forget the Stepper Acid sequencer from Transistor sounds! A powerful little thing: http://www.transistorsoundslabs.com/

  • TRC

    Don’t forget the Stepper Acid sequencer from Transistor sounds! A powerful little thing: http://www.transistorsoundslabs.com/

  • TRC

    Don’t forget the Stepper Acid sequencer from Transistor sounds! A powerful little thing: http://www.transistorsoundslabs.com/