Hello Grid,

My first time posting here after spending the better part of the week trying to figure out what I'd need for a solid starter techno rack for standalone playing. I've been working with mostly digital gear in the past and now wanted to give modular a shot. Does this make sense to you, as in, would you enjoy playing a set using this and a midi keyboard only?

view rack

The basic idea is to sequence BIA through PNW and Plaits through Steppy. IV for effects and Lapsus for general noodling with values. I thought Polaris would be a good fit for a general purpose filter.

I'm not exactly sure if the number of VCA's is sufficient. There's the 2hp VCA to help with that, but also I just threw it in because it fit. USB power is there for a midi keyboard and, again, because there was leftover room. I've inverted the rack for easier plumbing. I would appreciate any thoughts on this and critique is especially welcome since it's my first eurorack with a price tag north of 2500€ in the EU.

I would do more research - a week is really on the very low side...

ignore the case and work out the modules and functionality that you really want

bia with pams - ok
plaits with steppy? are you intending to use plaits as a melodic voice? if so steppy is a trigger sequencer - so no melody - pams acan do something like a turing machine - but I'd want some way to deliberately sequence too

tiny case:
you would be much better starting with a much bigger case, work out your workflow and what module you need to achieve that, and then if you are desperate to only have a micro beauty case scale down - the tiptop mantis or doepfer lc9 are good starter cases

overly large modules:
the delay and attenuators strike me as very large especially for this size case - fx aid xl - much smaller, more versatile - would replace attenuverters with vcas (& maybe a 2hp inverter)

too small modules:
vcas - vcas are fundamentally important to most modular synthesists - they are useful for modulation as well as audio - you probably want more of these - veils is good

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

+1 to everything Jim said. That is the exact feedback I would offer as well.

@kossu did you buy any chance get inspired by one (or more) minimalist setup videos from Rick Tinez ? If so, remember that while he does have a “focus” Palette case he often makes videos with (which probably makes sense visually than a monster rack, I guess), that’s not all he has. As maybe the constant change in his setup shows, designing a setup that small takes a LOT of experience, and will imply sacrifices in terms of functionality or/and scope. I would therefore echo Jim and Farkas here, so advise to get a bigger case and do a LOT more research.
Other usual modular beginner guidance is also applicable (see other similar posts on this forum): get VCV to try ideas, buy slowly instead of everything at once, …

I think it's possible, you just need smaller modules if you want to stick to a case this size. For instance if you want the functionality of plaits, get knit instead


I think these two videos will help you plan a small case as both are excellent.

it's definitely possible - but is it a good idea? almost definitely not

starting out so constrained will lead to poor ergonomics, unrealised potential, overspending on cases and possibke disillusionment with modular synthesis

start bigger and reduce (if you feel you need to) once you know what you are doing, what modules you actually want an (more importantly) need and how you work in modular

there is no need to fill a large case with modules - that's what blind panels are for

a mantis is easily portable, by all but the smallest children...

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

I agree partly Jim :), but there is something about this focused approach that is really appealing.

  • less clutter in your cables
  • easier to work out what's going on in your patches.
  • you are forced to learn a specific module and to learn it well
  • larger cases will inevitably get filled quickly. I would go for a larger case if I could guarantee I would be disciplined but sadly I'm not lol. )
  • As you learn more about modular you realise that there are more uses in the combination of your modules than the obvious

op said techno - to my ears ,the jams especially by mylar are pretty sweet :)

it's definitely possible - but is it a good idea? almost definitely not

starting out so constrained will lead to poor ergonomics, unrealised potential, overspending on cases and possibke disillusionment with modular synthesis

start bigger and reduce (if you feel you need to) once you know what you are doing, what modules you actually want an (more importantly) need and how you work in modular

there is no need to fill a large case with modules - that's what blind panels are for

a mantis is easily portable, by all but the smallest children...
-- JimHowell1970

tbh I sort of agree - but I think a mantis is still small enough - I was constrained to a mantis for a couple of months earlier in the year - & it was interesting - but I kept reaching for things that weren't there - I appreciate the smaller case (mantis) as a focused environment - I had a deckard's voice and a magneto in there so not that many modules! - but any smaller and I think you miss out so much on the utilities that make the bigger modules shine and of course the ergonomics - I was really glad when I got the rest back though - about 1400 extra hp for me including video, in my case(s)

as for filling the case fast - that's down to you...

I'd say get the 'slightly' bigger case but go slowly... set a budget of 100/month or something... and don't buy a new module until you are thoroughly conversant with the modules you have and how they interact

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

I’m building a portable rig but dedicating an entire 104HP Intelijel 4u case just to support modules with a sequencer and single drum voice module nothing else. I have two small modular synths that have support modules like VCAs and attenuators but even so the need for modulation sources, mixers and tools like attenuators and logic will become more important to you over time.

Had a quite long reply to this, and MG ate it with their goofy "login" thing. Eh...screw it...

Simply put: get a bigger case for not much more $$$, like a Doepfer LC9 or Tiptop Mantis. Don't build things like this, as "full systems" in these tiny cases tend to never work as expected. And take more than a week to research this; many MG users will pore over their builds for literally MONTHS, because that's the degree of attention and research involved in REALLY nailing a build that, when all of the stuff shows up, works as you'd want from Square One.

Consider a Behringer 2600, also. It's perhaps the best educational system for learning both analog synthesis AND initial modular explorations. It also only costs $650 over here; right now, Thomann UK has them on holiday sale for UKP 469. Add some basic sequencing, such as a Korg SQ-1, and you'll have something that just five years ago would've set you back about $10k (ARP 2600 + 1604 sequencer). Yes, people do bitch about Uli and his antics, myself included...but this isn't some Shenzhen backalley knockoff. It works and sounds like a new or recently out of the box ARP 2600, and yes, I did get to use one of the v.4 "orange" ones new way back in 1980, pretty much right out of the box. It plays very nicely with Eurorack or any other system that uses 1V/8va scaling and positive trig/gates. Plus, this thing's built like a tank, and it's rackmountable in an 8U roadcase...as opposed to Korg's 2600M, which is missing the 3620 keyboards "extras" (which are on the B.2600, which is smaller...?), looks rather cheap for something that runs around $2k, and doesn't share in the portability of either the 2600FS (had the wood/tolex case, like the original) or an original ARP.

Another learning tool: VCV Rack. It's called a "Eurorack simulator" for very good reasons. It's also free, and you can get hundreds of modules for the system for free as well...with some others being VERY cheap. And there's emulations of modules you'll find on here, often designed and programmed with the cooperation of those Eurorack manufacturers.

Lastly, don't believe everything you see and hear on YouTube. While some of us CAN do tiny builds like this, more often than not these are "mission-specific" things, such as a rework I did for sacguy71 to add a few things to a sequencing/control Palette 104. This is actually intended as a companion to an endorphin.es Shuttle System and, undoubtedly, a few other toys as well. When you see someone on YT shilling for a do-it-all minibuild that presumably contains a full-on modular with everything needed, and their studio looks like a Hollywood set (ergo, pretty much unused), DO NOT TRUST THEM. Real working studios tend to be more messy...cables all over, big stacks of gear, lots of notes stuck here and there, and the like. And YT still has an under-the-table problem with presenters getting "considerations" from firms whose equipment they're using. This is something that's gone on for years...I experienced a "push" toward that a few times when writing for "Recording", a gig I'd had enough of when it became clear that it required me to compromise some of my ethics.

Not that my opinion holds a ton of weight, but Luiga is totally right. I just picked up a palletate, but I also have a 920 hp main build (started with a mantis) and can rotate things in an out of my palette when I want to focus on something specific. I wouldn’t consider this as a main case for anything as the form factor really is a constraint and for all the money you spend to fill it up you end up compromising on modules when you are trying to make things fit. Unless you plan on making videos with pictures of succulents it will become frustrating and/or boring because of the limitations and constantly having to try and make things fit that really belong in a bigger case.

When you have lots of modules to swap in and out you can dial in a nice set of modules, while at the same time switch things up all the time so things don’t get stale, which is what you see all the you tubers doing. Heck some times I only have a couple modules in the pallette but I am not forcing myself to cram as much functionality in as possible which does give you much more freedom to pick both modules based on both form and function.

As others have said you can put together a nice little groove box, but when starting out I think this focused design is just a disaster waiting to happen as you don’t really know what workflow works for you and what modules you like. It’s much easier to fill 62 when you know what you are trying to achieve. I actually think if you have to ask what modules you should get to fill a small case you definitely shouldn’t get one, but that’s me I am glad I started with a mantis and now have enough hp that I can swap things in an out of several different case builds with a specific intent and see what works for me for a given project and set of goals.

Same here I have a couple larger cases and the small cases for swapping stuff out and using for sequencers and mixers. Most of the big shots on YouTube get free or demo gear so I don’t worry much about them. The ARP 2600 is great especially the lower cost version from Behringer and Uli also is recreating the larger Moog System 15, 35 and 55 synths at a way more affordable price point. I mean 3k for a Moog System 55 clone that would cost 4ok from Moog.

ModularGrid Rack

€339 for a tip top case gets you the bigger case others are recommending. With the modules represented in the above rack that are the same as what is in the mylarmelodies video, you could probably get all that for about 2k if not less if you are prepared to wait and buy second hand. Its around the 2.5k mark you mentioned in your original post if you want to buy new.

I get what the other commentators are saying as both the people in the YouTube clips have much larger systems they are using in their normal day to day. That being said I still stand my point that its possible to build a nice groove box in a small pallet case, the proof is in the videos. The music might not be to the taste of others but for a techno groove, a drum, clap, percussion noises, bass and chord was achieved in the mylar melodies videos and it sounded great. There was plenty of variety too.

I would buy bigger modules than these though if I had the additional space available to me. I think I might put together an equivalent rack in a slightly bigger build with modules I already have to see how much it would cost :)

You will enjoy Eurorack, I was all digital too but if you have 2.5k to play with, its great fun :) and if you don't like you can get most of your money back easily especially if you invest in modules that are made by the more famous brands.

Big thanks to everyone for the comprehensive replies! Much appreciated.

plaits with steppy?
tiny case:
-- JimHowell1970

Thanks for the heads up on steppy. Will have to do more research on the sequencer. Maybe a Scales would do the trick?
Re tiny case: I get what you're saying but desktop space is a concern for me. I think I'd rather be swapping out modules than having most of my desk taken over by a half-empty behemoth of a case. I'm sure there's a solution somewhere between the two - will have to keep looking.

@kossu did you buy any chance get inspired by one (or more) minimalist setup videos from Rick Tinez ?
-- toodee

Mostly by a guy named Ihor, although I'm familiar with your reference. And the answer is yes, I have been inspired by the minimalist setup videos :)

Consider a Behringer 2600, also.
Another learning tool: VCV Rack.
-- Lugia

Excellent suggestions, especially the VCV Rack is exactly what I need. Thanks.

More general takeaways from here: do more research, look into a slightly bigger case (but not much, for aforementioned reasons) and try to better match the comparative sizes of the modules. Less fx, more utilities (that one I kind of figured out already :)

Lugia and Jim offer great advice and really guided me when I started down the modular Eurorack journey last year.
I can say that the support and utility modules really help especially as you develop skills and build larger more complex patches.
I am using a lot of these now like matrix mixer, logic, attenuators (especially for drums!), VCAs/envelopes and more. My new Palette build has more of these since I will need to fill in the gaps missing in prebuilt modular portable systems like Endorphin.es Shuttle System and so forth. These portable systems do have support modules like the clever tools in ALM Super Coupe but I run out of them fast especially modulation sources. Besides VCV Rack, I recommend the book Patch & Tweak and Chris Meyer's Learning Modular Channel. Divkid is good as well but he tends to rush through explanations as he wants you to pay a fee to join his Patreon channel to get his patchbook guides.

Excited for you on the beginning of your modular journey!

I will +1 the opinion that creating a small setup is a reasonable approach, even for someone new to modular. I've gotten much enjoyment from my first (and still unfilled) 84HP rack and am glad I didn't start big. By having just a few modules, I push each one's capabilities, and push myself to learn things really well, without breaking the bank. And if I'm not really vibing with a module 100%, I trade it and send it on its way to a new home.

In addition to reading reviews/watching videos, the most helpful approaches and resources to me when I was planning my first small setup were:

  1. Reading the manuals of modules I was interested in before making a purchase. Often a feature I assumed was there was not, the voltage range was too small for my purposes, etc.

  2. Building a "dream setup" like you've done and then sketching out patches in ModularGrid or VCV rack beginning to end. I would think, "OK, I want a bass lead... that's a square wave... with pitch I can control... from a sequencer... but I need less attack, so..." I did this exercise for entire imagined songs. This helped me see which features were either maxed out or unused. I actually created a ModularGrid rack that was three times larger than my actual target case size. It was a great way to keep two rows of "maybes" while I planned.

  3. Trying it out for real, one or two pieces at a time. If you can't try before you buy in a shop or with a friend, purchase online. Worst case, many retailers offer 30-day return policies with a modest restocking fee, or modules can be resold independently for near-MSRP, as they hold value well when in good condition. There are affordable multipurpose modules, like the much-maligned Cre8Audio Mr. Phil Ter (Filter + VCA + EG for $100), that can let you get hands-on with multiple features to learn what you need more or less of without incurring a huge financial risk. You may not keep it forever, but something like that is a good learning tool that will also give insight on other things you may not have considered, like "Can I turn these tiny dials?" or "Do I really need voltage control of [parameter XYZ]?" or "Can I cope if this feature doesn't have an LED indicator?" (For me, the prospect of spending $400+ for a suite of "proper" filters, VCAs, and EGs was pretty daunting when I didn't know what would prove useful for me personally. And I feel guilty when I spend a lot of money on something only to not get much use out of it.)

  4. Researching brands. There are some brands I won't buy out of ethical concerns. Not everyone feels that way, but I recommend doing the research before you rack something if that kind of thing matters to you.

Just my $0.02. Good luck; have fun!