Tips For Getting Started with Modular
Step 1: Research & Reach Out!
If you're new to Modular Synths we're happy to help every step of the way. However, as with any skill / trade, independent research, experimentation & connecting with like-minded people will go the longest way in becoming more confident with your practices & purchases.
Contact us or DM on Facebook [ I/O ] or Instagram [ @mdlr.io ] with any questions at all. We're happy to help walk you through the process based on your specific goals, which if you haven't figured out yet
Getting Started With Analog Hardware & Modular Synths:
• Learn the basics of Audio Signals and Control Voltages for Modular Synthesizers. Thoroughly study the Doepfer A-100 Manual, as Doepfer is largely responsible for the standardization of the Eurorack format.
• Explore books & literature on Sound Synthesis / Modular Synths.
• Create a Modular Grid account to learn what modules exist & build virtual racks of the ones you have or are interested in.
• Join / browse the online groups and forums such as the Eurorack SYnthesizers group on Facebook as well as the 'Muffwiggler' forum, Mostly Modular Trade Association forum and Analog Heaven. If you're on Facebook Get involved and ask smart questions.
• Attending synth meet ups, connecting with other modular users, and learning how they use their systems is a constructive way to stay motivated, inspired and consistently learning about your own modular practice. If there's no one organizing local synth meets in your area, reach out on the forums and organize one yourself!
• If you have a mobile device, download some Modular Synth apps like Audulus or the Moog Music Ic. Model 15; great for getting a basic sense of synth patching before diving into the real thing. If you're already into software, check out modular environments like Native Instruments Reaktor, Axoloti, MAX/MSP, or Pure Data which is open source.
• Be prepared to invest at least around $600 - $2,000 into developing a system you're comfortable with, depending on your needs and resources.
• Consider Synth DIY if you have an electronics or Electrical Engineering background, or if you're a hobbyists looking to save money while gaining a deeper understanding of EE in the field of electronic instrument design.
Purchase a Semi-Modular Desktop Synth or a Powered Eurorack Case to start developing a Eurorack System.
Starting with a Semi-Modular:
What's a semi modular? Well, it's a synth that employs a combination of hardwired patches behind the panel *but* also includes audio and control signal inputs and outputs to be interfaced with other analog, modular devices and systems. Starting with a semi-modular synth is great for anyone seeking some limited experience with hardware modular without breaking the bank. The Moog Werkstatt, Moog Mother-32, Arturia Microbrute, Make Noise 0-Coast, Kilpatrick Phenol the Roland System-1m are all under $1k and are a great starting point but are still excellent semi-modular synths for any level user.
If you're going straight down the fully modular route - a robust, powered Eurorack case should be your first order of business. There are a number of reputable companies who manufacture reliable Eurorack case and power solutions, some of them include 4ms, ADDAC Systems, Intellijel, MakeNoise, Synthesis Technology, TipTop Audio and Trogotronic. Note, the case is simply an enclosure to house the modules; as long as the rails, bus boards & power supply are installed to the Eurorack spec, a "Eurorack case" can be in virtually any type of enclosure. The power supply or "psu" however, which is either installed inside the enclosure or sits outside of it [in an AC Adapter or "wallwart"] is the most important component of a modular system. With a faulty or inadequately designed power supply, a number of potential operational issues can occur such as ground loops, short circuits and in some cases even a higher probability of electric shock.
Two rules of thumb when initially buying or building your first case is to seek or design one that includes:
1. A reputable power supply with sufficient voltage & current output.
2. Plenty of room "HP" to grow into.
It's also important to consider whether you want a studio case, a travel case for gigging, or both.
More detailed info on various Eurorack power supply options can be found here from Horizontal Pitch.
Build the right system to suit your needs.
In the Euorack format, there is an overwhelming selection of products to choose from - this may seem overwhelming at first but fear not, despite each product's nuances of design, they all employ the same principles of Sound Synthesis.
We recommend initial beginners in Modular to stick to a limited set of modules until they feel comfortable - as opposed to buying all of the most popular modules at once, which may lead to a lack of operational understanding and ultimately boredom / frustration. It's fine to buy a complete system as opposed to collecting each module individually, but try not to go too crazy. Take your time with each module to discover it's fullest potential ... and always, always read the manual.
It's recommended that one starts with a module or modules that can immediately be used to generate and/or process audio, such as Synth Voices, Oscillators, Filters, and FX. It's also recommended to have at least one Control Voltage Modulation source as well, such as another Oscillator, LFO or Envelope Generator so you can control parameters of the audio modules with CV.
Sequencers and performance controllers are often prioritized since they allow the user to start making "Music" or simply structured events [melodic or otherwise]. There are many sequencers of various types in Eurorack, but also in other modular formats, as desktop devices, 19" racks, some vintage keyboards have them, and of course computer / DAW or mobile devices with a software sequencer can be used as well. Interesting Clock sources such as Sample & Hold / Random Voltage Generators, Clock Dividers / Multipliers & Modifiers as well as Utilities like VCA's, Attenuators, Multiples, Logic and Voltage Offsets are often initially overlooked in favor of some of the more exciting modules, but don't make this mistake. Lacking utilities leaves you without much dynamic control to facilitate developed sounds, events and transitions in your patches.
Unless you purchase a complete system all at once, it may take some time before it develops into one capable of diverse functionality, so try not to get too discouraged in the beginning if its seems like its moving slow. Make the most with what you can use in the present; try to explore / understand how you can use what you have to determine what you may need or want next to compliment your existing setup. Keep researching, asking questions, interacting w other modular users, patch constantly and of course, purchase wisely.
Step 4: Experiment, document, rehearse and perform.
• Find your own workflow, that's fundamentally important to making unique, creative medium of any genre.
• Whether you're working on a project or just tinkering, embrace "happy accidents", they often times result in interesting ideas you may not have considered before.
• Record your patches as stems & whole mixes, make patch notes, name your patches, take photos and even voice memos. Whatever it takes to help you capture / recall those magic moments you've found during experimentation.
• Get out of the studio every once in a while and try to play in other venues as often as possible. Even just small gatherings / jams with friends will go a long way in feeling more comfortable using a modular system.
• Have fun - don't get stressed or overwhelmed. If collecting, obsessing and discussing modules gets to be too much, take a step back and try to remember why you got into it in the first place. If it's to actually make new music, then forget what's the latest thing or what people are discussing and go spend some time with the modules you have.
[*Disclaimer - These steps are just some recommendations on how to get started, not necessarily a definitive guideline. Have your own experiences and make your own mistakes!]