So, after messing with VCV rack for a bit now, I'm thinking of getting into hardware. I'm interested in experimental/ambient/noise/general sound exploration and also using the system to process guitar and maybe other instruments/audio.

I went with the Mantis size rack after seeing people recommend that on here. Although I'm thinking maybe starting out with a smaller system could be a good idea, too... something like one of those small powered Doepfer 48hp or 84hp cases. Obviously, it's a trade off in terms of being able to grow your system but also probably not a bad idea to start smaller and not invest so much money right off the bat and not have so much at your fingertips right away.

I have other gear I could potentially integrate such as a keystep, behringer model D, moog grandmother, digitakt. Didn't really look too much into percussion modules. But maybe a simple one could be nice to have in this system.

Other modules I'm interested in are the morphagene and arhbar which seem similar but don't know if they overlap too much with beads.

Thanks!

ModularGrid Rack


Just realized I'm missing 1/4" outputs as well as a headphone out... which would probably be good to have.


missing 1/4" outputs is not a big deal - there are plenty of 1/4"->1/8" cables - I generally use these...

as for headphones - only really needed if you intend to use them away from what you regularly plug into - a mixer or an audio interface, as these usually have headphone outputs - alm make a very small headphone module - alm hpo

or get an end of chain mixer with a headphone output included

as for case - buy the mantis, buy as few modules as you think you can... ie a minimum viable synthesizer (sound source, modulation source, sound modifier, a way to play, a way to listen) and a few utilities - a quad cascading vca is a good investment & can be used as a mono output... and get some blind panels (or make them out of cereal boxes) to cover the holes!!! buying a case that you know you will run out of space in is a false economy!!!!

"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


1/4" jacks are nice...but the reason I prefer them whenever possible has nothing to do with audio and, instead, has to do with what happens when the output cables get yanked really hard. Enough force can bend or snap a 3.5mm plug, but 1/4" plugs are far more substantial. And accidents like that DO happen!

FYI, don't go smaller than a Mantis if you've not bought a case yet. I've seen dozens of Rackbrutes, Palettes, et al get jammed out with "sexy" modules, resulting in...well, nothing in quite a few instances because the "utility modules" were totally ignored. The smaller cases (below 2 x 84) are far better suited for what I call "mission specific" builds instead of generalized builds resulting in a full-on modular. Small cases (without some good discipline on the part of the user) also result in potential fails such as teensy controls that have to be adjusted with tweezers because your fingers DO NOT fit. They also tend to be builds in which essential modules get left out; this is particularly awful when someone opts to jump into modular without advice, buys everything, and then wonders why their "modular synthesizer" doesn't work and/or sounds like refried garbage. Basically, it's pretty simple to put together a good basic build just by skimming the forums here, or hanging out on The Site Formerly Known As Gearslutz or The Site Formerly Known As Muff Wiggler and observing the "traffic". But it's EQUALLY easy to spend thousands on a compromised pile of crap, especially when not paying attention to all of that advice. In fact, some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile above.


Enough force can bend or snap a 3.5mm plug, but 1/4" plugs are far more substantial. And accidents like that DO happen!

especially when the modular lives on the floor - I managed to accidentally kick a stackcable sticking out of a module - bending it into unusability...

FYI, don't go smaller than a Mantis if you've not bought a case yet. I've seen dozens of Rackbrutes, Palettes, et al get jammed out with "sexy" modules, resulting in...well, nothing in quite a few instances because the "utility modules" were totally ignored. The smaller cases (below 2 x 84) are far better suited for what I call "mission specific" builds instead of generalized builds resulting in a full-on modular. Small cases (without some good discipline on the part of the user) also result in potential fails such as teensy controls that have to be adjusted with tweezers because your fingers DO NOT fit. They also tend to be builds in which essential modules get left out; this is particularly awful when someone opts to jump into modular without advice, buys everything, and then wonders why their "modular synthesizer" doesn't work and/or sounds like refried garbage. Basically, it's pretty simple to put together a good basic build just by skimming the forums here, or hanging out on The Site Formerly Known As Gearslutz or The Site Formerly Known As Muff Wiggler and observing the "traffic". But it's EQUALLY easy to spend thousands on a compromised pile of crap, especially when not paying attention to all of that advice.

completely agree with this...

In fact, some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile above.
-- Lugia

I'm going to quote you on that...

I have the same in my Modwiggler signature - and it's inspired at least one other forum member to adopt similar statements in their signature file...

"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


Hi,

A few small suggestions:

-- in smallish cases, it's important to be thoughtful about big-ish modules. Tapographic Delay and Benjolin2 I think merit close attention to alternatives given their (large) size. A small do-it-all FX module (like Happy Nerding's one) could do wonders. And there are a lot of good alternatives for chaos-type modules with great capabilities in smaller HP. Nonlinear Circuits (NLC) Hipster or Sloths are ones I can highly recommend; Joranalogue Orbit is similar to Hypster, but I prefer Hypster. And there's a lot of other NLC units that are worth looking at. I looked at Benjolin a few times but it didn't make sense for me vs. alternatives.

-- I understand you're looking at experimental / ambient / noise. Still, I suggest you don't ignore the value of "basic b$tch" modules which form the core of almost any usable system. Jim and Lugia say basically that much all the time. I will re-emphasize that. Basics with some clever and flexible patching yield perceived complexity. Jim loves CV matrix mixers; I love stuff like Joranalogue Morph4 or sequencing control signals through a switch like Boss Bow2. Net net, I think there's a lot of merit to "focus on a strong (generalist) modular core plus some modules specific to your taste" approach.... That said, I DO see your Doepfer, Intellijel, Xaoc, Pam's, Plaits, and filter module as solid choices that would play well in most systems. Just beware adding too many "specialist" modules in a small case.

-- More generally, I can recommend considering "balance," particularly in a rack that isn't huge. 1/3 of HP devoted to things that make or change sound, 1/3 of HP devoted to control signals and things that modify control signals, and 1/3 of HP dedicated to utilities and some finishing FX. That type of rule of thumb was critical for getting me working modular systems of 240HP and less. Over that HP, assuming there's a solid "core" system, then one can go more buck-wild here or there on specific module types. IMO, it's best to ensure there's a solid "core" system, then add selectively from there.

-- I'm on probably my 8th+ distinct modular setup and I'm still f$cking things up a little. There's a ton to learn in modular. Now, I have a great home rig and a work-in-progress travel rig. Lugia, Jim and a few other forum regulars helped me a lot. Hope you enjoy the process and get a nice system that works for you.

Cheers,

Nicholas


Thanks everyone for the thoughtful feedback. I haven't bought anything yet, so I'll definitely go with a Mantis and not worry about size/expansion/having to pick smaller modules/etc.

I was mostly concerned about utility/basic type modules and if I was missing anything obvious that would work well and compliment what I had in the case already, or just general essentials. Or if what I had didn't make any sense at all.

As far as the Benjolin goes, that seemed like a good option for an out there crazy oscillator for noisy stuff, but I haven't looked at it enough. Maybe I'd be better off going with a simpler 2nd voice/oscillator to start. I'll have to look at it more. Same goes for the Bastl filter. I didn't look at it too closely or get too deep into seeing what other filter options are available. As for the Intellijel Mixup, I wonder if there are better options for a case this size or if there is a mixer with 1/4" outputs? I'll have to look into that more. I know everyone loves MATHS and maybe I should consider that. Befaco Rampage seems like another useful module that I've messed with in VCV Rack. And I'm still really interested in morphagene/ahbar, so I'll have to read other threads as to what people say about how those two compare.

As Jim said, I'll probably buy as few modules as I think I can to start out. Good advice.

Thanks again for all the comments, I appreciate it!


Beefaco Rampage and Maths share common ancestory... the main advantage of Maths over the Rampage apart from being less cluttered and therefore more ergonomic (which is a very good thing in itself - & don't get me started on the frap tools falistri, for this very reason) though is that there's a lot more documentation available - not only are there a myriad of videos (some of which are very good), but there's also the 'Maths Illustrated Supplement', which has 32 example patches for Maths - great as a basic guide to getting more out of Maths, but even better if you spend the time thinking about the what, why and how of what it's doing and use that as part of building up a modular patching mindset...

As for a mixer... I really like the Tesseract Tex-Mix - it's not perfect, but it's inexpensive and expandable - doesn't have 1/4" outputs (except for the headphone out), but as far as I know very few modular mixers do... if you must have 1/4" outputs, then the befaco output module is decently priced... & if you can wield a soldering iron, both of these are available as DIY kits...

"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 was mostly concerned about utility/basic type modules and if I was missing anything obvious that would work well and compliment what I had in the case already, or just general essentials. Or if what I had didn't make any sense at all."

In that case, a few additional comments:
-- I find something like 4ms SISM or Tiptop MISO to be essential in almost any rack. Control signals so often need scaling and offset, and its great to be able to blend them in some way.
-- Intellijel Triplatt or something like that is another great utility to have; low in $s and HP, very useful.
-- for mixing, IMO there's a lot of options, and none of them are perfect, they are almost always bigger than I would like, and missing something I need or including something I don't need. IMO the main questions for mixing are i) how many channels do you need to mix ii) do you need stereo or not. I will be getting some Mixups when possible, but it may not be possible for a while. I would suggest the Doepfer Narrow Mixer (mono) if all you need is mono, as it is low HP and $s and will suit many basic needs.
-- lastly, I would put Instruo Ochd on your radar if it isn't already. I have Batumi and Ochd, Ochd offers lots more LFO signal in a small package. IMO Ochd offers a lot of bang for buck to get a patch moving musically.

Good luck, enjoy!


all good advice from Nick there

I'd point out that ochd isn't really synchable - which may or may not be an issue for you!

"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


Thanks, everyone. I'll have to check out the utility modules that Nick mentioned. The Ochd looks really interesting and handy. Probably hard to go wrong having both that and Batumi down the line. The FXAid you mentioned also seems like a good idea, especially to start out. And I'll have to check out the chaos modules you mentioned, as well.

Lot to consider and I appreciate all the help.


Mmmm...I don't know about that. There was a lot of buzz around the Ochd when it came out and for several months after, but I never bought into that because, when you examine it, it's just a single LFO with octave stepped frequency multipliers.

Now, if you want an LFO that has multiple outs AND which can be a real treat, look into quadrature LFOs and such. In those, you have a single frequency control just like the Ochd, but what you have for outputs are offset by specific phase angles.

Let's say you want a modulation signal that falls at the exact same rate as another one that rises. Doing this with most any other LFO will be a real PITA...but with something that has a quadrature output, you just take the "fall" from your 0-degree out, and the "rise" from the 180-degree one. And of course, these have other phase angle outputs; usually the simplest quadrature devices output 0-degree and 90-degree phase angles, but you can easily wrangle the 180 and 270-degree outs via a couple of CV inverters. That Batumi, for instance, can have all four LFOs in a quadrature configuration. Doepfer also has a very useful quadrature LFO, their A-143-9, which outputs all of the right-angle signals simultaneously.


Yeah, that makes sense. The Batumi seems more like a bread and butter LFO while the Ochd seems like something nice and compact that can provide some easy movement for patches.

I'm thinking about this now as a starting point (or probably even more minimal to begin with) instead of what I originally posted but we'll see. I still have to do a little more research and take everyone's feedback into consideration, I think. Thanks again.

ModularGrid Rack


Mmmm...I don't know about that. There was a lot of buzz around the Ochd when it came out and for several months after, but I never bought into that because, when you examine it, it's just a single LFO with octave stepped frequency multipliers.
-- Lugia

Your right and 22,906 people must have it wrong, including me,

  • Eight analog triangle LFOs. The outputs go from fast on the top output to slow on the bottom output. The default ranges are deliberate NOT synced. These are free-running LFOs that were tuned by ear to be musical and useful for a range of fast to slow modulations in a patch.

@golddrone, nice rack update (Thursday July 21) I see that version as having zero waste.

I do think that setup is a bit too bare bones to be deeply usable / enjoyable. IMO some very solid adds would be:
-- envelopes of some kind, depends how many channels of envelopes you want, and how deeply programmable they need to be. I like Stages (not sure that is still buyable) since it is up to 6 very basic envelopes or 1 huge complex envelope depending on how you patch it. That said, there's a lot of merit to smaller, simpler envelope packages.
-- you'll want something to wrangle CV signals with: offset, gain, invert, mix, etc. SISM and Triplatt are my go to's, but there's options on that front.
-- do look at the expander for Batumi, it's good bang for buck in 3HP

That said, overall I think your 2nd rack is a stronger "core" design and is all "no regrets" modules including several top choices in their respective categories (e.g. Pams, Batumi, FX Aid, QuadVCA, Plaits).


@nickgreenberg yeah, i wanted to just scale it back and make sure i get essentials before going into the more fun (and larger) stuff like morphagene and maybe beads/tapo delay/etc.

need envelopes for sure. i'll look into stages or possible clones (too bad about mutable stuff slowly going away). the doperfer single ADSR seems like a good simple utility, or maybe the intellijel dual ADSR for more functionality. the xaoc zadar seems really powerful, too, but i haven't looked at it closely.

i'll check out the SISM and Triplatt, as well. probably hard to envision how useful these kinda modules are until yr actually using them. and i'll check out the batumi expander, as well. might look at the FXAid Pro, too. might be worth it for the screen alone.

thanks again. just ordered a plaits so it looks like i'm slowly on my way.


"i'll check out the SISM and Triplatt, as well. probably hard to envision how useful these kinda modules are until yr actually using them."

example: let's say I'm sending an LFO through a quantizer (like Intellijel Scales) to get pitch and trigger outs. Let's say I want 1 octave range of pitch info output from my quantizer, and the LFO outputs -5 to +5v. Then the LFO is giving me 10 octaves of pitch range, I need to scale that down by an order of magnitude, so the range is 1v; I probably also have to shift the center of the LFO range up or down to get to my desired pitch register.

That type of scenario happens super often: the control signal output range is way bigger (or sometimes smaller) than you want, and often with a different center point. Hence the ability to scale and shift is control signals is super important. My example above applies to pitch, but very similar things happen with filter and timbre controls. More often than not, if I'm using control voltage, I have to constrain it in some way to put it into a musical range for the given application.


Gotcha, that makes sense. For fun I put together a potential “endgame” system but I’m gonna take it slow at first and see how it goes and see where things take me.

ModularGrid Rack


"endgame" hahahaha there is no such thing - not only does no plan survive contact with the enemy (in this case yourself) - if/when you get to that state, the solution is another case!!

good luck and have fun!!!

"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


Exactly what Jim said. Consider this: in January, I started investigating a modular setup. In February, I bought a case (7U Intellijel - the 1U is practical e.g. for a Quadratt, which is 4x where Triplatt is 3x) and a first series of modules. I think it filled about 60-70U. No way, I thought, that I'll fill that up any time soon!

This is where I am at now:
ModularGrid Rack

I'm in doubt if I want a second Intellijel 7U and connect them together, because I'm not finding the build quality too great. The other option is to buy a completely different luggable 10U or 13-14U, preferably somewhere 120-160HP.

Modular playlist on SoundCloud - One Track Per Day


exactly - I started about 6 years ago with a tiny 6u/72hp case... within about 6 months there was only 12hp left... and wanted a maths - enter the mantis... I now have 8 cases in total... iirc about 1800hp+ of rack space - not all filled!!! but it probably will be eventually... GAS ebbs and flows over time... usually in relation to disposable income!!!

not convinced about 1u though - it saves 3.5" in vertical height, but can only hold at most a 3rd of the functionality and in terms of build cost (most of my cases are DIY) costs the same 3u...

for portability I prefer 6u cases - I reckon I could easily carry 18u/104hp at a time - 1 case in each hand and one on my back... but for diy I prefer 9u... less build time/cost...

"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


exactly - I started about 6 years ago (...) 1800hp+ of rack space

300hp/year. With my much more limited experience, that still sounds about right

not convinced about 1u though - it saves 3.5" in vertical height, but can only hold at most a 3rd of the functionality and in terms of build cost (most of my cases are DIY) costs the same 3u...
-- JimHowell1970

DIY is a great idea. I built my own studio racks on top of a table, so not entirely new to it. Those racks were simpler, but it was a good experience. As for the 1U - Intellijel has some great modules, like the Quadratt. I'll likely buy another, they're so handy. Add some multis and I have decent functionality without losing valuable 3U space. On top of that, it's a superhighway for cable routing that's not in the way of the knobs of the "real" modules. It's why I modded my 7U to get the 1U in the middle. For my 7U, it works pretty well. For 1800 U, well, I'll tell you in 5,5 years!

Modular playlist on SoundCloud - One Track Per Day


@Arrandan... when you build your own cases the rails & inserts are about the most expensive thing... cost of 1u rails = cost of 3u rails... extra case materials & power can be close to 0...

as for the quadratt - I'd rather have a happy nerding 3*mia or mutable shades... or even a triplatt!!! anyday... both 6hp... that's 5-6% of the row - quadratt is 28hp... that's 26% of the row... and that's the most compelling 1u module in lots of ways!!!

& utilities are the "real" modules just as much as vcos and lfos and filters!!!!

"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


@JimHowell1970 yes i hear ya, endgame was a poor choice of words.

@nickgreenberg suggested i could use some envelopes in the last barebones/starting build i posted and i was looking at the intellijel dual ADSR and the Xaoc Zadar... but now i'm wondering if i should just go with a MATHS instead of a more traditional envelope module to start?

Something like this (sorry to link another build idea). ModularGrid Rack


Maths is a great choice... see my comment above, for why...

ADSRs are useful if you are using a keyboard... they are what keyboard synthesisers tend to use... but with modular they are comparatively rare... AD and AR are more commonly used... but there's nothing wrong with ADSR... I'm not sure I'd commit 14hp to one, though... especially as it doesn't have cv addressable stages...

Zadar is really, really useful, but I don't think I'd want it as a 1st envelope generator...

"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


@golddrone I have Zadar and it's very extensive and a bit limited at the same time. You can't design your own envelopes like with an ADSR or a Maths. That said, there's a wide choice of envelopes in Zadar to chose from, including traditional ADSR-like envelopes. And you can bend and deform these to match more what you're looking for. For me, it is my main envelope, but I also have a basic AR from Doepfer which works very well for several sounds. I also don't recommend only Zadar. And despite not really getting the Maths hype for half a year, I'm very much planning to get one now. It's just so versatile!

@JimHowell1970 I've been thinking about your comments on the 1U for a while now. I'm not discounting utilities as "not real" or "not full". But a multiple, when patched, there's just no wiggling to it. So having those out of the way centrally (my 1U is in the middle) makes a lot of sense. Aside from the Quadratt, I also like the switched multiple. Both can be set up so that there's plenty of room for wires passing along them while still being easily reachable while playing. So overall, I'm not unhappy with it in the way that I use it now - superhighway for cables with a few useful modules that I can still reach.

On the other hand, I like your alternatives to 1U, like the 3x MIA, a lot. There's obviously much more choice in 3U than the handful of useful modules in 1U. I've been really looking hard at sensible ways of filling up that 1U space and it's just not easy to do it with useful modules that compare well to 3U alternatives. So when designing a DIY rack, I'll most likely not have a 1U rail. I'll keep the Intellijel as well as the 1U modules because even if the new rack would be 600hp, I know I'll run out eventually

As for the price of the rails - well. Compared to the price of an off-the-shelf rack, it's going to be small change anyway...

Modular playlist on SoundCloud - One Track Per Day


@Arrandan

I was just quoting you on the use of "real"...

I see so many people complaining about the price of cases - and then they end up buying ones with 1u rows and often unnecessary built in features - when for the price of a single 4u case they could have almost bought a mantis or for the price of a 7u they could have bought 2 mantises... just so they can get 1u rows, that aren't really anything special... and for the sole purpose of putting utilities in the 1u rows so they can cram more "real" (to borrow your use) modules in the 3u... maybe it's just that I started before intellijel released the 1u row - I think pulp logic had theirs going, or maybe not...

to me there's nothing in 1u compelling enough for me to have one...

if you can find one the intellijel noise tools always seemed one of the better options, though

anyway I'm glad you like your 1u row and find it useful for routing cables

have fun, that's the important thing!

"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


@JimHowell1970
I agree the price of the Mantis is a bit special. It's hard to find a case with a competing price and specs. I picked the 7U because the Mantis was out of stock everywhere when I was ordering. For me, even the thought of ever filling a Mantis was a far away dream :-D I looked at DIY back then, but was a bit overwhelmed. Glad we're both having fun with our setups. And Lugia is right, your signature (and your ever interesting posts) are a bottomless repository of wisdom.

Modular playlist on SoundCloud - One Track Per Day


@JimHowell1970
I agree the price of the Mantis is a bit special. It's hard to find a case with a competing price and specs. I picked the 7U because the Mantis was out of stock everywhere when I was ordering. For me, even the thought of ever filling a Mantis was a far away dream :-D I looked at DIY back then, but was a bit overwhelmed.

Availability of everything from small manufacturers with global markets is inevitably patchy... patience is a good thing to have (in any niche market!) DIY can be a bit overwhelming, as with any complex endeavour... but it's always good to remember that 99 times out of a hundred, complex is generally just lots of simple bundled up together... and most quoted statistics on the internet are bullshit! hehehe

Glad we're both having fun with our setups.

yeah... it's the only real important thing...

And Lugia is right, your signature (and your ever interesting posts) are a bottomless repository of wisdom.
-- Arrandan

thanks... always appreciated!!!

"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


Ended up starting with a Pam’s, plaits and beads… already having a blast. Should be years of fun and experimentation ahead. And I think the mantis was a solid choice. Not massive but room to build something interesting.

Thanks again to everyone for the helpful feedback and ideas!