Hi all,

As a rather long list of beginners before me, I’m submitting my first euro rack idea to your expertise to see if I missed something in this first draft and how can I fill those empty slots. To bring some context I’m new to fully modular setups but I already own the Moog semi-modular Trilogy (Mother 32, DFAM, and Subharmonicon) which I love and want to keep (but out the rack). I now want to go deeper into that path by making this first rack. I want to make some “ambient/melodic techno” I would say with a lot of randomness in the texture but a structural base of kick-snare to rely on. This rack should be able to generate cool jams by itself but will of course be completed with my current gear.

I intend to use the Arturia RackBrute 6U because it seems rather convenient to use and to expand with another one, but let's no go too far from now on. So from left to right, from top to bottom let’s start the review.

ModularGrid Rack

First, the Pamela New Workout is the main clock, it provides division and some randomness so quite a strong module. Then for sequencing triggers, I wanted to go with the Euclidean Circles with the expander switch. All the drum/percussions sounds will come from the following sources: QD, Plaits, and One. I conclude this first row with effects with Pico DSP, Beads, and a 2HP reverb and mixer.

The second row starts with obviously Math for modulation. Then the sequence of the Turing Machine, a Quantizer, a VCO and a filter will be used to generate the main melodic line of the jams. Finally, I have added a Noise generator and LFOs for additional modulation. I conclude with a 4 VCA / Mixer as the main output.

Does it seem complete to you? What is it missing?

Thank you for your time,

Cheers!


First off, I think you'll be better-served by going with a Tiptop Mantis cab instead of the Arturia. They also expand easily; Tiptop carries an extension bracket for those that lets you add a second cab above the first one. And power-wise, the Mantis uses a beefed-up variation on Tiptop's uZeus which is built into the cab; the Rackbrute requires 5 hp right off for its P/S. But the best point: 104 hp x2 for $335, as opposed to the Rackbrute's 88 (or 89, depending on who you ask) x2 - 5 hp for the power for $359.

The other point here is that trying to build a "drum machine" into a modular rig is a losing proposition. It requires that quite a bit of the space go to voicing and sequencing modules, which then diminishes the space available for synth modules...so, in the end, you wind up either with a huge and spendy system, or a more sensibly-sized result in which both the synth and drums wind up being somewhat compromised. And then...the cost!

OK...we'll take the obvious drum machine function modules, namely the Euclidean Circles and the QD, and check those prices...which come out to $772-ish, depending on the exchange rate. Doesn't sound too spendy? Well, to my immediate left as I type this, I've got one of Uli's 808 clones, which nails that sound, adds a few useful functions that the original didn't have, and puts all that in your hands for $329. And if you think that's not sufficient, add another machine and lock it up with the first one. In the end, using these purpose-built machines is the RIGHT move; you cannot replicate the RD-8 mkii's functionality in Eurorack until you're on up in the $1k+ zone. It might seem more convenient to put it in the modular, but in the end, you lose too much and pay too much for that to be tenable.


If I was going to build a stationary rack, the Mantis is 100% the way to go. As mentioned, you can stack them- with brackets and screws/bolts. Or perhaps even bigger with something from Case From Lake. Also, outboard the drums and whatever else is a great idea... in a studio.

However, if you have aspirations of mobility.
I have 356HP in that bag (link below), and I also have a handle (yeah laugh now, but pack gear to and from 40 times, and you will be thanking that handle) the power bricks, the power cords, two sets of XLR cables, a DI box, and 125 patch cables in the travel bag. The Tascam Model 12 box is behind it for scale (waiting for its bag), with my Nano + pedalboard with all my outboard effects next to it.

https://imgur.com/a/DFGqPiY

I also pack around a Furman AC-215A Compact Power Conditioner in my backpack because reasons (clubs, warehouses, bars). And that is "all" I need - to go and do something. So unless you have a Roadie, less is more.

  • edit - And you can do great sounding drums in the rack, via samplers. Even in tiny cases - there is a laundry list of examples on YouTube. With that said, I think your EC/QD combo will work great, another option would be a Bitbox, Rample, Sample Drum, Squid Sample, and so on. If you get a proper sequencer, you can drive everything from one unit.

Anyways, build what will be fun for you, it's your money. So what if you spend a few dollars more on something that didn't work the way you saw it in your head (sell it), you are going to fail at some point, fact. But it's part of the journey, it is part of the learning experience and it's also why it's so rewarding to finally figure it out.


@Lugia @Vow3ll Many thanks for the suggestion of Tiptop Mantis, I'll definitely switch for that: more space and more power with roughly the same cost! My French patriotism led me to Arturia too fast haha!

@Lugia If I understand your point correctly, you don't really believe in drum-oriented modules (voices and sequencing) like the QD. The reasoning would be the same with "fancier" modules like Queen of Pentacles or Erica Synth analog drum modules? The latest clones from Uli are definitely tempting either the 808 or 909, I might get one one day. That being said, they do not provide modulations option right?


I can't speak for @Lugia, but we often have similar points of view...

the main reason that it's often better to get a standalone drum machine as opposed to a modular one is expense - drum modules and modular drum kit synths etc and sequencing them is always going to be much more expensive, especially when you take into account case space, than a similarly functional standalone drum machine - most of which include both sequencing and drum kit oriented effects and are reasonably easily and cheaply synced to modular and often have way more channels for different drum sounds

this pretty much equally applies to everything related to percussion - with the exception, perhaps, of using more generic modules to generate drum sounds and either sampling them or recording track at a time in a daw or similar, this to some extent covers both modules such as plaits or peaks and rolling your own sounds from fundamental synthesis modules (vco, noise, vcf, etc etc)

take the quad drum for instance - it costs more than a cheap drum machine to start with, it needs to be put in a case, it needs sequencing, it doesn't have any effects, it needs to be fed into to a mixer and it's only 4 voices...

take say erica or wmd drum modules - you really want a few of them (probably at least 3) which adds up in cost very very quickly - and then you hit the same issues as with the quad drum...

take something like the queen of pentacles or blk_noir - mostly the same issues again - except mixing and effects are on board

the only advantages of modular percussion are convenience, "it's in the rack with everything else" and modulation - but you pay a major premium for that, generally many multiples of that for not necessarily that much gain...

saying that I have an in rack drum synthesizer (FSS Portland, which I DIYed), Peaks (which I often use for kick and snare), plaits (which I sometimes use for hats or other percussion), a general cv, a few lpgs and marbles, erica black sequencer and a zularic repetitor (which I often use for drum sequencing) and a befaco cv thing (again that I built) that I will use for sequencing my external midi drum synths - & I'd like (but not so much I'm running out to buy asap) a blck_noir and a crucible...

that's at least a couple of thousand in modules alone + at least a couple of hundred in case space (most of my 8 cases are DIY & under £1/hp) - when in all reality I could do 90%+ of what I use it for with a pretty basic and inexpensive drum machine... and get 90%+ the same results much quicker

at the end of the day it's your money... do what you want with it... find your workflow and make your peace with your money... no one cares, except you... take or leave advice as you see fit... etc etc etc

"some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile" @Lugia

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

sound sources < sound modifiers < modulation sources < utilities


I generally agree with @Lugia's advice to avoid in-rack percussion, especially in smaller racks, and followed it myself for a long time. However, I got a good deal on EC + SS while filling my fourth 104hp row, and after working with that and external drum machines for a while (using a CV-to-MIDI module), I bought QD. This still may not be the right decision for you, but here are a few points in their favour. EC is very playable. Euclidean capability is relatively rare in standalone drum machines or sequencers, and even when it is present, it's unlikely to have a good UI. Pam's gives you the capability in-rack but I didn't consider it playable (it's fine for set-and-forget).

Unsurprisingly, QD works very well with EC, and is also quite playable on its own. With both EC and QD, you can do most of what you need in a straightforward manner, but for some functions, you will need to consult the manual to understand what the lights mean (often these are just configuration settings). QD can play your own samples (it comes with a good library) and it has the mini-Rings part of Plaits and, I suspect, the percussion models (or something very much like them). You also have Plaits and One in your proposed rack, but I would encourage you to instead consider for that space some of the more complex and unusual oscillators available, such as the new Bastl Pizza. QD also has a compressor and (as an Easter egg) a delay and reverb. You could eliminate the tiny 2-3hp effects modules, which are going to be a nuisance to work with. (If you don't think QD's effects plus Beads is sufficient, consider the 6hp FX Aid XL.)


I bought into the hate for in rack percussion when I was first getting started and bought a drum machine and immediately regretted it. It takes up more room on the desk. It's another power supply, bag, and cables needed to carry to gigs. It's more wires and connections to remember to make at the show. People say it can do what in rack can do, but it's just not true. Yes, it can make drum sounds and can even have accents. Yes you can program sequences and store multiple sequences to switch between. Yes it can be clocked from your system or be a clock for your system. That's about it though. It can't be immediately tweaked and adjusted to fit an improvised set. It cant react to changes you make in the melody as you make those changes, or build and swell and fall with an LFO that is building dynamics within your set. It is not immediate and it is not a part of your system. It is a thing on the side that needs to be adjusted constantly or preprogrammed methodically to not just be a constant rhythm marching through your set and not allowing it to breathe and move. Yes, it will cost you more money, but what you get is miles beyond what a drum machine can do. That argument is like saying don't build a modular synth, just buy a keyboard synth. It completely ignores the whole point of modular. The setup I am building towards will be about $10k and it will have one acid bass line with a simple VCO, filter, distortion, delay. It will have a kick drum that uses three different modules to get the shape and flexibility I want. It will be using Erica Synths Sample Drum with two different noise samples being triggered at a time(and the two samples being triggered cycle via CV from Mimetic digitalis for variety/accents) and crossfaded into one voice. It will have high hats that probabilistically cycle between two variable noise sources fed into two low pass gates which are then crossfaded together into a hit and an accent which will also be varied by the gates/triggers sent to the LPGs. There will be multiple feedback sources that can be shaped into tones/textures that can be modulated by the rhythm, or an LFO, or both. Feeding all of it, I have Pams, Knights Gallop, Time Wizard, and Bin Seq feeding two different rhythms into a sL3kt to switch between on the fly, so I can be shaping/modifying one rhythm while the other is playing. They will also be providing timing for the bass line, effects, feedback shaping etc. From Sl3kt the triggers get fed into Idum which can mutate/modify the rhythm at will. I have mutes to shut down or change gate routing at will. There will be effects after all this, but the effects could be after your drum machine if you wanted to do it that way(which you should). The point of my rig is to be able to play it spontaneously and be able to shape and shift the rhythms to fit the feel of whatever I am doing in that moment. I am an improvisational person so this is ideal for me and was the whole draw of modular synthesis for me. I'm sure that a drum machine fits a lot of peoples needs, but the way in rack drums are tossed out as unreasonable is silly to me as the entire point of modular is to build the instrument you want to build.


the way in rack drums are tossed out as unreasonable is silly to me as the entire point of modular is to build the instrument you want to build.
-- xnax

I totally agree @xnax. It's YOUR instrument. Build what you want and re-sell the parts that aren't working for you.
Personally, I've taken a hybrid approach with drums, incorporating a desktop 808 clone with modular drums. In fact, I've dedicated 104hp just to modular drums (not including various trigger sequencers and switches) and I couldn't be happier. I may even pick up a DFAM again just so I can (*gasp) take it out of its own dedicated case and put it in my rack, because THAT'S WHERE IT WILL GET USED THE MOST. All of these "rules of thumb" for building a rack need to be taken with a grain of salt. If you want a drum rack, build a drum rack. If you want to rack up a bunch of semi-modulars together, do that. It might cost a little more than alternative methods, but that's on each of us to weigh the costs and benefits. If I listened to every piece of advice given on this forum, I'd have ended up with a bunch of stuff that's great for generative ambient or West Coast-ish Buchla bongo sounds but useless for what I actually find myself doing most of the time.
Only you know how you will make the best use of your gear. Experiment and have fun.


I bought into the hate for in rack percussion
-- xnax

I absolutely hate the use of the word "hate" in this sort of context, it's far too over the top... excessive hyperbole!!! hehehe

& don't get me started on the use of "gatekeeping" and "rules" (mostly on reddit, tbh) in relation to advice given on here and modwiggler...

brilliant rant though!!! and your percussion rack sounds great...

I agree, but I also think it's good to remind people that the extra 10% is going to cost them an extra 90% - just like it will do with modular in general...

"some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile" @Lugia

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

sound sources < sound modifiers < modulation sources < utilities


I agree, but I also think it's good to remind people that the extra 10% is going to cost them an extra 90% - just like it will do with modular in general...

-- JimHowell1970

My sentiment exactly. As an example, I've been scribbling down some diagrams for a multichannel sound projection system, and for shits 'n' giggles, I also did a version of this solely in Eurorack.

Original version, using Chinese copies of dbx speaker management hardware for the multichannel splitting and initial delays + inexpensive used processors for the effect delays and reverbs = about $750.

Eurorack version = about $2500.

So, yeah...it would be easier to implement the Eurorack version, since it would probably take up most of a Mantis and you would just have to jack into your amplified speakers. But when you're doing art on the sort of budgets we've had for art in the USA for a few decades, you're gonna be reaching for that AliExpress malt liquor instead of that Eurorack champagne. Just simple economics.