Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?
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Old 11-26-2013, 07:09 PM   #1
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Icon5 Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Hey everyone! I want a new toy, but I'm a complete beginner when it comes to building things. But after school today, where we talked about synths, I feel like i must have one!

I'm looking to build a smaller system like this one, and saw that if I buy the parts on ebay, it's not that expensive! So I have a few questions for you guys who know this stuff!
  • What are the main modules that I need?
  • Do I need to solder anything for the power supply, or is it "screw contacts" (doesn't know the english word, but you'll understand) or "plug 'n play" kind of contacts? I was going to buy a case with a power supply already mounted in it..
  • Can I connect the whole rack to a keyboard in some way?
  • Is there something else I need to know?
This isn't going to be completed in a day or two, but be worked on when I have a little spare cash to throw around. So help giving a beginner a push into the modular world! All tips and tricks are usefull to me!


Thanks!

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Old 11-26-2013, 07:39 PM   #2
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

I'm not a modular guy but I noticed you called that a smaller setup. Looks like a pretty serious modular rig to me. You also said you checked price and found it not too expensive. How much do you see something like this costing?

Just curious.

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Old 11-26-2013, 07:43 PM   #3
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

You could always just buy the new [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
and have a bit of fun working out the basics for yourself.

Or perhaps get a modular software system like Reaktor or a Nord Modular or micro modular and do the same.
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Old 11-26-2013, 07:44 PM   #4
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Money.


Lots of it.
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Old 11-26-2013, 08:02 PM   #5
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

RFJ: I'm going to go a little bit smaller than the one I posted at first. With a "big" rig I'm talking about the walls you see in some pics! And about the price, well I know these things tend to cost more than you think, but I'll can take that. I'm thinking a budget of $2.5-5k.

lolirl: Thanks for the link! I will definitly check that out when I have some more time! I do not want software synths. I want a physical thing to play with!

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Old 11-26-2013, 08:11 PM   #6
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Yeah fair enough, just trying to cover all bases.
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Old 11-26-2013, 08:21 PM   #7
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

I've never put together a modular synth, but from what I have seen, most enclosures come with a power supply and connect to the modules with some kind of connector.

To connect to a MIDI keyboard, you will need a MIDI to CV module. To make interesting sounds, you will want at least one oscillator, one filter, one VCA and one or two envelopes. More oscillators and filters and some LFOs will increase your sonic capabilities. Sometimes, people will combine these things into one module. You could probably get a dual oscillator or envelope module, and a filter or envelope might have a VCA built in.

Furthermore, you may want to have a module that can split or combine signals. That's where really fun things happen. You will also need a relative buttload of patch cables, which I would suggest making yourself.
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Old 11-26-2013, 08:35 PM   #8
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

lolirl brought up the nord modular, which I think would be a great idea. But, being as software of any kind is out of the question have you considered something maybe semi modular...

Like this:

Or this:

I've always had a thing for one of these:

But if it must have keys, they make this version as well:

Honestly, I think something like any of these would serve you much better than trying to build something that you may or may not wind up being into. I'm all about less hassle and any of these synths above would be both in your price range and sound great.

It's also important to note that they would all hold their resale value fairly well should you decide you hate it. Reselling a load of modules may, or may not, yield the same results...in my opinion.

But, if I were in your shoes, with 2.5 to 5k to spend, and looking for something analog I'd go this route and forger modular altogether...

Behold:


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Old 11-26-2013, 08:39 PM   #9
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Or just buy a [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
setup.

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Old 11-27-2013, 12:43 AM   #10
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Meer: Thanks! I will look into those things!

RFJ:
Well, those are all nice and I wouldn't say no if someone gave them to me! But I really want to put it together myself. I want to feel that I've made something that makes the sound in some way. And I won't sell it. I never sell music equipment

lolirl: Awesome machine, but a little bit out of my price range for now

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Old 11-27-2013, 01:14 AM   #11
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

That Little Bits system looks super fun. Dayum. I just love this shit.
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Old 11-27-2013, 03:01 AM   #12
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Envelope View Post
What are the main modules that I need?
Oscillator, VCA.

Probably Filters or more oscillators for actually changing timbres. Probably also a MIDI interface if you want to control the thing somehow, and likely a slew limiter for portamento/glide and at least a few envelopes / LFOs. This depends wildly on what you want to do with it. If you want to make sequences, you'll need a sequencer. If you want to maker percussion, you need noise modules and LPGs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Envelope View Post
Do I need to solder anything for the power supply, or is it "screw contacts" (doesn't know the english word, but you'll understand) or "plug 'n play" kind of contacts? I was going to buy a case with a power supply already mounted in it..
Probably not. There's a power distribution board and ribbon cables involved that make it quite easy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Envelope View Post
Can I connect the whole rack to a keyboard in some way?
You can add a MIDI interface, which converts midi into CV, and then route CV to other modules.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Envelope View Post
Is there something else I need to know?
You will never, ever have money anymore.

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You should look into different "ready" systems and see what they have. Stuff like [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
is quite popular, and has a lot of great modules that you probably wouldn't have problems reselling later, and has some space for expanding it.

Are you looking for traditional synthesis (Oscillator => Filter => FX.) or more Buchla-esque (FM and Waveshaping as timbral generators.)

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Old 11-27-2013, 01:04 PM   #13
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

To be bluntly honest if you don't know enough about synthesis to know exactly what elements you want it's probably a bit early for you to commit on this kind of purchase.
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Old 11-27-2013, 05:25 PM   #14
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Blingley: Thanks for the info!

lebeux: I just wanted a little help on the road here. I'm not planning to build the whole thing in a day, but have it like an on going process and see what I end up with! But I understand your comment, and I'd probably say the same thing to other people in other areas where I know alot. But trail and error is more fun, right? I feel like I'm learning stuff better by trying myself, rather than reading a book

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Old 11-27-2013, 05:39 PM   #15
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

I think all you need is here:
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It is a very expensive world, rich of sonic satisfaction.

And expenses.

I would suggest the Eurorack format, get a powered-case, then start filling it with modules, no DIY required (unless you want to) just plug the module to the board and screw the module in place, then start patching.

Make sure you read a lot about the modules you want and you plan ahead nicely.

The Eurorack section (and buy/sell/trade) of Muffwiggler forum are the best places to start.

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Old 11-27-2013, 07:11 PM   #16
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Automageddon: Thanks! I've been looking at the eurorack format, and it looks great! I'm going to buy a powered case just to get going easier!

But I see there's alot of different manufactures of modules. May seem like a dumb question, but if I get one module from Circuit Abbey and another one from Doepfer, will they both fit in an ordinary eurorack case and work together? Or will I have choose a single manufacturer?

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Old 11-27-2013, 08:04 PM   #17
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Most of them will fit together, a small number of modules though have a different voltage (not sure) and require a 5 V adapter.

Also, Hail To Sweden, buy local and support [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
!

I bought from them a couple of times in the past (before I realised that no matter how much I loved having a modular, I was going to spend too much money on it) and I can highly recommend them!

Somebody suggested a few semi-modular, like the MFB Kraftzwerg and the Pittsburgh Modular, don't be too quick to dismiss them, they have exactly the same component as the actual modular counterparts and in some cases (like the Pittsburg Modular foundation) you can just unplug a module, resell it and replace it with another module.

Also, awesome for planning space and costs:
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and
[Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]

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Old 11-27-2013, 10:32 PM   #18
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Envelope View Post
I'm looking to build a smaller system like this one,
That is not small.
Let's do some hyper quick math:
There are 4 4ms pingable envelope generators, each on of those is 400 bucks. 1600 total.
There's a piston honda that does for 500 bucks there. 2000.
I also see 4ms 4 VCA Matrix modules. That's somewhere around 3.5k total now.
Koma Vactrol? 3.85k.
Rene? +500.

Not small.

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Old 11-27-2013, 10:48 PM   #19
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

Now on a more helpful note:
The one tip I can give you is NOT to toss 2k at a modular in one fell sweep.
First start trying to understand your workflow and what you want to get out of a modular. In my case, I was hoping for rare sounds.
I'll tell you a bit about my experience, so ymmv. As a disclaimer: I have zero danceability or commercial aspirations. There is one single track that I've made that's been posted anywhere. All others are on my hard drive and bound to remain there for a while. I'm far more interested in odd sounds, weird structures, place-making and object-fuckery.

I started my modular with an E340 Cloud Generator and a PM MIDI2 module. I learned to chop the hell out of that module, and basically ended up sampling the hell out of it (Auto, I know owe you samples, I gotta label my files). No VCA, no filters, no LFO. I integrated that into my workflow and carried on. Picked up an MFB VCA after that, along with an envelope generator. Bell sounds. Weird sweeps open up by tossing the ASDR at the oscillator. Next a Blue Latern Diode (oh look, bass lines!). At this point, I'm feeling like anything this thing can do, I can do with a subtractive VST. Plague Bearer. Changes my life. Completely unpredictable. Morphing LFO. Way cool drones. Ambient sounds open up. Make Noise Function. Harder drones. More ambiance-type sounds. Grendel Formant Filter. Wind. Growls. My modular has a voice now. Hertz Donut MKII. I just dropped a bomb on my set. Deepest module ever. Still figuring it out. Next. Microbrute. Tell you about that in a few weeks.


Anyways, this bassline is a drone done with a Morphing LFO driving the Hertz Donut MK II through a few filters and into a VCA being opened up by a Make Noise Function.

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Old 11-28-2013, 10:55 AM   #20
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Re: Building a smaller modular synth, what do I need?

VCO, LFO, VCF, VCA, ADSR. That's the basic start, I have a very cheap and crap system, so I can't give huge pointers, but you should head to Muff.

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