In January 2015 I put in an order for my first Eurorack case. Little did I know that I would end up filling that case and buying a larger one. Finally, 2 years and 3 months later, I have nearly finished assembling what will be the complete Eurorack. I have been buying a module or two per month, researching what I need and playing a lot with what I have got already to find out its limitations and areas for possible expansion. It’s much like incrementally building and upgrading a gaming PC really, although with very different results.
Today I have come up with a final plan for what the cases will contain. The picture below is slightly misleading, I have two cases, so the case below is actually split down the middle into two enclosures. The left-side case is 2/3rds the size of the right hand case, that is why there is a grey unusable area at the top left.
With the purchase of 4 modules this month, I’m nearly at the end. The remaining 3 modules will be bought and installed over the next month or two, depending on budget.
In addition to the Eurorack modular, I also have a polyphonic MIDI->CV converter called the CV.OCD which plugs into the modular, a Nord Drum semi-modular analogue drum synthesizer, which also plugs in and allows me to make and play drum sounds, a Korg SQ1 sequencer which allows me to add 2×8 step sequencers to the mix, a MS20 Mini semi-modular synthesizer and a keyboard controller which allows me to play notes and chords on the whole damn thing.
I have built a synth roughly around three goals. The first is keeping a traditional ‘East Coast’ 3 voice subtractive synthesiser format, e.g. 3 oscillators, 3 filters, 3 envelopes, lots of LFOs and modulation, 3 VCAs, mixers, an FX unit including delay, reverb and others, 4×8 step sequencers which can be chained together (plus the 2×8 step in the SQ1). The second is that I wanted 3 voice polyphony – not ‘true’ analogue polyphony because that is difficult to achieve – but 3 of everything, wired together with a polyphonic MIDI -> CV controller, allowing me to play chords and experiment with traditional musical structures. The third goal was to keep the cost down! I am really not one of these modular synth heads with a huge studio and a near infinite budget, I have a lot of financial outgoings which I have met while building this. Building a modular synthesizer is never really ‘cheap’ in any sense of the word I would use, but this is definitely a lot cheaper than many other modulars I’ve seen, without compromising on quality.
What I have Learnt
- Modular synthesizers can be built on a relatively low budget to achieve a good result.
- I have sold all but one of my other synthesizers that I had before starting this project, finding the modular approach much more fun and rewarding then the in-the-box techniques and non-modular hardware synths.
- Ignore what others might term as ‘conventional wisdom’ in building a modular, the freedom of Eurorack is that you can build whatever you want, and exactly what you want, so go with what works for you.
- Slowly building up a modular synthesizer is likely to be much better than buying everything at once, you will experiment with what you’ve got, and learn its limitations and that will guide your purchases. It is impossible (in my opinion) to truly know what you want before you have started.
- Use Modulargrid.net to plan out your synthesizer. It is very useful and has a huge database of modules. You can rearrange modules countless times on Modulargrid before you do it in reality, so you can plan and achieve a productive workflow.