In a recent MG forum thread, I tossed out some examples of synthesizers and other devices...the prebuilt variety...that I felt 'played nice' in a modular setup. The key there is 'connectivity' – do these synths have useful I/O that lends them to integration in a modular setup, or at least a setup that has a large modular contingent? And it occurred to me: since we tend to concentrate here on MG on true modulars and, to some extent, patchable synths from modular manufacturers, a list of currently-available synthesizers as well as some past gems that can fit well in that instrument set might be useful. After all, a lot of users here may benefit from adding some of these in amongst their modular gear, or users of these could potentially benefit from tossing a rack or two of modules into the fray. Henceforth...
Oh, mind you, patchables from manufacturers that also make lines of modules aren't heavily represented in here. For the most part, MG's users know most of these, so I scaled that back except for some notable examples. Henceforth again...
AKAI: No, no, NO...I'm not going to discuss the 'Wolves', perhaps some of the worst analog implementations in recent history. They were an anomaly, really...but just before those atrocities, Akai did a couple of very analog-friendly keyboard controllers, the MAX49 and 25. But they discontinued these before the modular boom went totally berserk and then came out with...well, yeah. Not everyone in big business is a genius, obviously. But these two keyboard controllers are worth tracking down, actually.
ARTURIA: Lots of stuff works. Synth-wise, all of the 'Brutes' interface well with a typical (ie: 1V/8va scaling, positive gate/triggers) modular setup, with the Micro and the redone Mini 2 and 2S being really obvious examples, but the Matrixbrute also has loads of connectivity. Can't discount their controllers, either...I use a Keystep with my Digisound 80 these days, plus the BeatStep and BeatStep Pro are great controllers for sequencing or drum-triggering. No surprise here that Arturia's stepping into the Eurorack market with their Rackbrute setups...it seems like their next logical step.
BEHRINGER: Their recent synth, the Model D, has proper connectivity, and the supposedly-coming-soon Neutron has extensive patchability. Presumably, Behringer is reissuing a lot of older gear with certain makeovers and form-factor shrinkage, so it's likely there'll be more that fit the criteria. As to when...ahh, who knows?
ELEKTRON: Their Analog Keys keyboard can output CV/gate for all four of its voices, and even more twisted is the fact that the four CV/gate outputs all have their own dedicated track on the device's built-in multitimbral sequencer. It even speaks both dialects of DINsync and knows how to 'talk' to analog Korg and Yamaha gear, and if you get deep into it, it can even control EML's crazy-ass 1/12V-step synths! To be quite honest, those of you on MG looking for a proper master controller that can handle both the MIDI and modular environments might need to take a serious look at one of these! The Analog Four sequencer/synth also has a similar CV/gate implementation...but, perhaps a bit annoyingly, the Octatrack has no such per-voice outputs. Woulda been nice...also, woulda been nice to have that sort of connectivity in their other stuff, too, since they obviously knew how it should work for the Analog Keys, but MIDI only...ah, well...
FUTURE RETRO: They did the 777 right, I thought...and the XS is a nice patchable monosynth with MIDI-CV/gate conversion and a few extra tricks up its sleeve, a worthy alternative to some of the more mass-market patchables out there these days. But some of the other ideas are just sort of...why? The Revolution seems just obtuse and more for looks than function, and the Mobius is pretty out of the loop (pun intended!) as far as hardware sequencers go these days. Really, if they'd concentrate more or player ergonomics and less on trying to look trippy or whatever, I'm sure they could whip out some killer devices. They have before, after all.
KEITH McMILLEN: It's possible to forget, I suppose, that KMM offers the QuNexus, since they don't do synths. Damn shame, too...because the QuNexus is basically the 'poor man's Roli Seaboard'. It has very similar pressure/position sensing and multiple CV/gate ports, yet it's a mere $179. I suppose most people get these and hook them up to a laptop or tablet, but there's more going on to these than might be suspected.
KORG: Korg has used, since forever, the same Hz/V linear scaling and negative gate/triggers that we all are familiar with in the modern-day MS-20 Mini. But more recently, their gear which has 'sync' I/O uses a very compatible positive clock pulse. So while connecting a Korg up to interface with a current modular might be a PITA without a standard-change module like The Harvestman's English Tear, the sync in many of their recent offerings can link up with sequencer clocks without a hitch. A few Korg devices from way back, though, used something that looks like Roland's DINsync...but isn't, as it wants to see and/or output a 48 ppqn pulse signal. Interestingly, Korg also made a MIDI/DIN sync box that could convert this bidirectionally, and which also could switch between 24 (Roland) and 48 (Korg) ppqn sync signals. Good luck finding one of those rare critters, tho...thankfully, you can get an Elektron Analog Keys as well as a few current modules that can handle this duty.
Also, while on the subject of Korg, it's worth pointing out that their ARP Odyssey reissues behave normally, since they're replications of the original ARP circuits which are, in fact, the origin of our beloved 1V/8va + positive trigger/gate standard. Plus, the SQ-1 (aka 'the best sequencer value out there') can work in Hz/V and negative gate/trig as well as 1V/8va and positive, making it suitable for just about anything you can get your mitts on! I can even hook mine up to my weird Crumar that has 1V scaling but negative gating. Pretty damn sweet for $100!
MOOG: Modern Moogs (except for the modular reissues, weirdly) all use the same CV and gate/trig response we all know. However, it's worth noting that earlier Moog gear often used that weird 'S-Trig' system that Moog was so enamored with (plus some of their modulars also did some nonstandard CV scaling). If you come across one of these, you'll recognize that it has this because of the oddball 2-pin 'Jones' jack on the patch panel. This is usable, but only by devices that can output inverted gate/trigger responses. But that aside, Moog also makes a lot of things with proper CV control besides synths, such as their various effects boxes, and their expression pedal is sort of the 'gold standard' for modular synth pedal controllers. Oh, and not to be forgotten is the fact that two of their theremin models (Theremini and Etherwave+) also output CV, which I've always thought was a neat touch. Lots going on there with Bob's legacy in Asheville...
NOVATION: Most recent Novation stuff is purely MIDI for control...except for one item: the Circuit Mono Station, which can output a channel of CV/gate and also has clocking I/O. And this is an odd little box, given its complicated voice architecture but no proper readout for the sequencer and some other functions. Thankfully, there are third-party solutions to this, but you'd think they could've put SOME kind of little OLED 'postage stamp' on this. Sort of a shame that they don't do more with analog control; back in the day, the BassStation Rack and SuperBassStation both had MIDI-CV/gate conversion as well as CV/gate control and were pretty handy for that in addition to being pretty decent monosynths.
OBERHEIM: Yes, the reissued SEMs in their various flavors are not only interconnectable, they're virtually tiny modulars in of themselves! But get Tom Oberheim near Dave Smith, and the analog flame seems to fade, as their collaboration, the OB-6, has the same not-really analog implementation as the rest of the DSI offerings. Kinda annoying of Doug...after all, Sequential's late lamented Pro-One had loads of connectivity, and they were around back when MIDI was just a French word for 'noon'. But Uli Behringer seems to be floating around this, so...meh.
ROLAND: Roland, actually, has always stuck to the same interfacing format that present-day modulars use. So anything Roland that has CV and gate/trig connections can interconnect 1:1 with your modules; quite some time back, I would use an MC-202 with various other modulars and patchables as a controller/sequencer, and the only thing it wasn't friendly with was, of course, my MS-20...for obvious reasons. However, their idea of sync for a long time was the DINsync standard, a 24 ppqn pulse signal that interfaced via 5-pin DIN sockets, so interfacing a Roland's clock only works with something that can translate DIN to clock pulses, or vice-versa. Note that this DINsync isn't Korg's idea of what that was (see above). Some of their recent VCM-type modelers also offer CV/gate outputs, such as the two channels of that found on the JD-XA. I would think that a modular synth might get a bit creeped out by being hooked up to one of these not-really-analog things they do now, tho...anyway, it was also nice to note the trig-out connection on the TR-8S as it really needs that to be a proper successor to the 808 and 909 (and everything else hiding inside it).
(FYI: an SH-01A + the K-25m = pretty much ½ of an MC-202, since the MC-202 was based on the SH-101, which the SH-01A is meant to be a clone of. All that's missing is 'channel 2' on the sequencer and, natch, the annoying 'chiclet' keyboard. Useful info to remember to avoid forking over buttload$ of ca$h on a vintage '202.)
WALDORF: Everything Waldorf does these days keyboard-wise doesn't interconnect directly to a modular environment, but they've got some boxes that fit into the world 'o patchcords just fine. The Pulse 2 can actually function as a monophonic MIDI-CV/gate converter in addition to being a pretty excellent monosynth desktop module. Definitely something to keep in mind if you need an extra monophonic voice AND a MIDI converter. Another weird thing, connectivity-wise, can be found on their Rocket monosynth box...a filter input, allowing you to use it as a sort-of-a-2pole. And, yes...the 2-pole itself, offspring of the 4-pole and X-pole filter boxes, and a fine sound-processing thing in of itself.
YAMAHA: Actually, the early monophonic CS synths have CV and gate I/O...but with these, you run into the same issues as with the Korg MS synths: Hz/V scaling and inverse gate/trigger response. But this also means that if you have a module (or two) that can translate to that, these will work just the same as the present-day MS-20 Mini. I only mention Yamaha in passing, though, because as far as analog, that's it, no analog connectivity for many years now, not even in the CS version of their Reface line; remember, they gave the world the DX-7, the anti-analog synth bar none and a big part of why lots of synthesists jettisoned their analog gear in the first part of the 1980s. After all, the FYOOCHUR WUZ HEER!!!!...yeah right. Dumb.
Anyway, as far as present-day and recent offerings go (plus a few antiques!) from the MI end of synthesizers and the like, that's about it. Thankfully, these are by no means the only game in town, since quite a few names familiar to those of us on MG are perfectly capable and willing to crank out patchables, sequencers, and control devices that have the modular landscape in mind at all times. But everything above offers interesting possibilities, too, and are worth looking over when building out beyond the modular case.