Ok so I am looking at getting my first basic Eurorack system for industrial type techno music that can also do house and psy-trance beats. Considering a pre-built system like the Roland 500 series, Erica Synths Drone, Buchla Snoopy, or Soundmachines Modulor114 that already have the modules put together in case/power supply.

What would be the best way to go and why?

Ahhh...you missed one: the Plankton Ants!. It's a killer value for $599, one you should consider even alongside one of the others as an expander. Plus if paired with the Modulor 114, you'd then have a very small (backpack-sized) setup with 6 VCOs, for starters. Consider those two together; they come in at about the same price (or less) than the others. Toss it together with the logical mixer (ie: a Koma Field Kit), and you'd have a rig that could fit easily in a backpack or small carry-on case.

Yeah I did not care for the demos of the Plankton Ants it was not much different than a few presets on my Elektron Analog 4. I do like the sounds from the demos of the Modulor 114 and also the Kilpatrick Audio Phenol as well as the Dreadbox Erebus and NYX. So I would probably get the Modulor 114 and Dreadbox before jumping into building a 10k Eurorack system.

Yeah, I saw that demo, too...not the best programming work there, true. But keep in mind that when you crossconnect devices, a lot of shortcomings that you'd see in a device like that tend to vanish because the interconnectivity can allow you to route around the things that don't work well in that particular box, but then you can also use those 'don't work well' things in conjunction with ones that do, also. Phenol was another one I perhaps should've mentioned, although you'll need a format-changer box to go from bananas to 3.5mms to pair it.

But then, there's the terrifying idea of two Phenols, too...and this leads in the direction of Serge-type gear, which Elby, Random*Source and others can do in Eurorack format but _also_ with bananas. And there's something to be said for that patching format, because multiples aren't needed at all, and signals can start branching all over the place, leading to some VERY complex sounds. Another consideration, perhaps...?

The Phenol looks well laid out and easy to understand so it would be a consideration in spite of the weird banana clip format which I am not crazy about as using standard Eurorack cables makes life easier. I would need to make a trip to LA to try all this gear out. Or mix and match with both a Phenol and Modulor 114 and add in the Koma Field Kit and go insane in backpack portable modular gear.

What is weird is that after spending lot of time watching videos of the expensive modular systems, I can do most of it on my single Elektron Analog 4 MKII box! I do want modular but the price tag is much higher than non modular hardware synths.

This looks cool as well the Endorphin.es Shuttle modular system- so many choices!

That's what's nice about certain of the patchable systems...if they're properly done, you have ample choices, plus the expandability into actual modules is built-in and doesn't have to be kludged into working.

Explaining Phenol...OK, back at the beginning of synthesis, Don Buchla's systems wound up all up and down the West Coast at various schools, one of which was CalArts. And there was constant hassles over getting time on the sole Buchla system they had, so Serge Tcherepnin who was an instructor and composer there around 1970 came up with this idea to cook up some basic module boards, parts kits, predrilled panels, and paper panel layouts, and offer these to the students as a project that a number of them could collaborate in building, with the result being that everyone wound up with a few panels which made up a fairly potent patchable synth. These originals actually had no name, and were mostly assembled in an ad-hoc assembly line around a courtyard at CalArts' music department, and wound up being called 'Serge' synths because it was Serge Tcherepnin who cooked the whole project up.

Serge made some changes over Don's designs, though. First off, Serge made his systems more interconnection-friendly. Early Buchlas used all sorts of non-standard voltages and separated the control signals from the audio. Serge changed this so that his modules worked with 1V/8va scaling and positive triggers, and put the audio and control signals back as one single jack group, so that audio could easily be used as CVs, and vice-versa. Second, the actual Serges always tended to follow the form factor that had been used in the first place: modules were mounted onto predrilled aluminum panels, and as these became commercial products, you had to specify which modules you wanted on which custom panels for your system...which is a ROYAL pain in the ass to work with, I assure you!

Now, Andrew Kilpatrick and some other synth builders in the 1990s and 2000s decided to try and do the Serge-type connection format in different ways. Bruce Duncan of Modcan, in his Modcan A systems, created very tall/long modules, and Kilpatrick went more toward Buchla's 4U panels, both using bananas while at the same time, both also did Eurorack development (and Modcan also did their 5U 'B' systems). But it was Ken Stone that worked with Rex Probe and Serge Tcherepnin eventually, after devising some similarly Serge-like modules on his own, and this became Elby, which famously did their 'EuroSerge' form factor...3U with banana jacks.

Why banana jack/plugs? Several reasons, actually...

First of all, the patchcables are lunkhead-simple to make. They don't even require soldering, and you only have a single wire, so it's possible to build piles of patchcables with a wire cutter/stripper and a small adjustment screwdriver (the banana plugs have a setscrew in them that holds the wire in place), and these don't tend to wear out over time. Granted, there have been some people who've griped about crosstalk since the 'ground' is established across the panel, but that's really not a hugely consequental issue for most users.

And second, banana plugs are stackable. This eliminates the need for multiples, and also encourages users to splay signals out in all directions for various purposes, so that one signal source might actually be busy doing numerous things with numerous functions all over the place. Hence why the Phenol is such a potent device, despite it actually seeming rather simple. However, this one 'plus' comes with a big caveat: it is easy to get distracted while patching something complicated and accidentally connect an output to another output. Now, if this happens on a conventional two-conductor jack system, if the outputs don't have diode protection, the result can be damage to one or both modules. But on a banana jack system, a patchcord array that has this output-output patching might be capable of damaging several things at once if the synthesist gets sloppy while programming a patch...say, three outputs get connected. Then you'd run a risk of frying all three outputting modules, and the small instance of overvoltage (if that happens) could also overload and 'pop' any inputting modules in the patchcord array. Icky. But this just means you have to be CAREFUL...which you should be, anyway.

Anyway, banana systems are another compact option on par with Eurorack, inasmuch as there's both prebuilds like the Phenol and a sizable module base. Plus Serge/STS also does their 'shop panel' series, prebuilt panels that, while they cost quite a bit, do astonishing things sonically. The Serge was also sort of the original '0-coast' idea; it had the ability to work with subtractive synthesis to a much greater degree than the Buchlas, but patched in a manner more akin to a Buchla and made use of a touchpad key sequencer like Don's systems tended to.

Anyway, yeah, bananas do look a little...odd. But I have stuff here that uses those as well as loads of other jack formats, and I never see any issues with them. Plus the stackability allows a flexibility you just cannot find easily with typical bipolar connection systems. And if you run out of cables...well, just ring up Mouser or Allied or whatever, get a bag of Pomonas and a roll of 16ga stranded copper wire, then bust out the tools for an evening, and soon enough you'll have a pile of new cables to use. Easy-peasy!

Wowzer Lugia you are fountain of Eurorack knowledge! Thanks man for the lesson. Ok, so I finally got my brand spanking new Make Noise 0coast yesterday in the post and went to town learning and trying new patches, it is fun! Now I definitely want to get into modular when new funds permit of course. I actually much prefer the west coast synth over east coast. Of the modules, would you get for a newbie to patching and modular:

Kilpatrick Audio Phenol
Endorphin.es shuttle
Sound Machines Modulor 114
Elby Designs EuroSerge Performance System
Buchla Snoopy LEM

and why? Bear in mind my goal is to crank out dark, dirty, nasty industrial aggro-type German techno like Funker Vogt, Wumpscut, Ministry, Front 242 and NIN. I know that Trent Reznor used Moog but he also used Buchla later on with Alessandro Cortini.

BTW here is me patching the 0coast:

For the direction you want to go in, which is really aggro and f**ked up, I'm thinking that the best in these early stages would be the Phenol, but make sure you get a format-changer box to convert back and forth from it and the 0-Coast. That's necessary not only because the 0-Coast and Phenol use very different jack formats, but the Phenol needs the interface box to extend its ground-plane to so that it can go on over the 'shield' on the 3.5mm jacks. Yeah...this could get real fun, real quick!

Thanks Lugia! Yeah the package at Perfect Circuit Audio has the format changer box I think for the Phenol:


I am thinking this combined with either the Sound Machines Modulor 114 and Koma Field Kit would be tons of fun to get started with along with the Endorphin.es system. I priced out the cheapest Buchla and cheapest Serge system and the Serge was over 3k and the cheapest Buchla was 5k! So for what just one of the Buchla or Serge cost, I can have 3 portable modular systems and change left over! Then I can think about building a rack from scratch.

Yeah, that's the bundle that works best for the Phenol...quite familiar with it.

If that's the general idea, my take on how to approach this would be, in order: 0-Coast (which you have), Phenol bundle, Field Kit (because at that point, you will need a mixer), then the Modulor114. Then...surprise, surprise...the Ants!, because at that point you can break it out in all directions and no longer have to depend on its sound production alone. It becomes part of all of the other patchables for beefing their capabilities up, making it an 'expander' for the whole rig rather than something with an inherently weak sound in of itself.

Then...once you get up to speed on that setup...add a very simple Buchla device. In fact, what I have in mind is only two modules in a LEM3: the 252e Polyphonic Rhythm Generator and a 223e Kinesthesic Input Port/Controller. Yeah...that's about $6k, but it gives you a combination master performance controller and sequencer which can either patch directly to the Phenol or, via a format changer or two more, can interface directly with ALL of the rig, giving you the rhythmic/CV sequencer plus a 3-space multiassignable touchplate controller. Terrifying! But it integrates the entire pile of stuff as a singular instrument, and in essence, you've already built the 'rack' out of the patchables. If you did feel the need to add Eurorack (or other) modules after that point, the amount needed would likely be minimal, and limited to exotic devices, as all of the basics would be handled in the integrated patchable rig.

Great idea, Lugia! Ok so another idea- what are your thoughts on the Make Noise Black and Gold System? It has the good modules from Make Noise that can be used later on as well. Also what are your thoughts on the wacky looking cartoonish yellow Endorphins.es package- a good system for industrial techno or no?

Given a tossup between the Shared System or the Endorphins, I'm more drawn to the MakeNoise stuff. Endorphins is nice, and it's certainly very West Coast-centric, but I think it tends to be overpriced for what it is. On the other hand, the lowest-end Shared System is $1200 more than the Endorphins...but at the same time, it's more complex and capable, specifically designed for portability, and has room for internal expansion -- the layout's not fixed.

One other thing, too...the basic 'CV Bus' Shared System is already a holy terror in terms of functionality when compared with a lot of other prebuilts. Costs $3700...and actually, I think you wind up getting your money's worth and more besides from it. It's also something that has its origins in Alessandro Cortini's rig, so the musical track record you're concerned about already has some proof to it there.

[Time passes, nagging concern gets worked on]

HOT...damn! Check this out, instead of the format switcher box in the PCA bundle:
ModularGrid Rack
OK...now THIS is superior gear, dammit! Check it...

Top row contains a couple of attenuverters, then an entire setup to allow for four stompbox inserts...buffered mult for up to 1-4 division, then four Syinsi FX send/return tiles, paired with a 4-1 audio mixer.

Middle: format switcher heaven! Bananas to 3.5mm and also 1/4". In the middle, also...a 2hp 4-1 mixer, a switchable mult (either 2 four-way or 1 eight-way) and a gate/trigger diode OR combiner.

Bottom row...big surprise...mults and a pair of Syinsi scalers, to work with the dual inverter in the middle. Why? Well, with these, you can also perfectly integrate an MS-20 Mini into this whole mess! Bidirectional, too...there's a scaler and inverter for both a 'to' and 'from' function. Also, more attenuverters and a couple of att-offsets in case there's a need (invariably, there always is!) for some DC offset voltage for transposition, shifting modulation waveforms, etc etc.

All this fits in a Pulplogic Zissou LBZ54 for portability, self-powered. A bit spendy...but the idea here is that, since you're considering a real leap into patchables and cross-format connection, THIS is the permanent solution! It can function effectively as a crossconnection nexus, with the sort of utility bits you'd want right there.

Cool thanks Lugia yeah I am digging Make Noise so far and amazed what I can get out of just one single tiny box in the 0-coast with a few simple patches and tweaks and very Buchla sounding on a budget so the package would be tons of fun. I think that my next step is to try out these different systems at place like Noise Bug or Perfect Circuit Audio in the near future. I spent most of the weekend trying to figure out how to use Elektron Octatrack to sample and record tracks from my 0-coast, Analog 4, and Volca Beats. It took me a long time to figure this out and I still have a lot to learn but it is powerful box to mangle and record samples for playback and editing without a computer. Here is what I got done:

Since it will take me a good few months at the very least to get the foundations on these three boxes that gives me time to hopefully save up for a full blown modular setup as well as to try some out! I do like the sounds I hear from the Elby Serge type systems as well as Buchla of course. The point about having a Plankton Ants and Koma Field kit to use as supplement voice/texture and mixer is great as well. I think these would be quite an awesome starter setup to modular world and keep me busy for many years and then can always add a few custom racks with a special modules afterwards.

Well, don't discount the MS-20 Mini...if you add that 'nexus cab', it integrates wonderfully with the scalers and inverters. But even without it...well, gonna let you in on a little trade secret...

The MS-20's input section, for normally-pitched instruments, sucks. It mistracks, follows stronger harmonics, etc. BUT...there IS a way to use that to your advantage and get lots of squeally, crunchy percussives out of it. What you do there is to run a percussion source with indefinite pitches into it, patch and adjust the various bits...and VOILA: instant Aphex-style industrialoid acid-type weirdness! The Volca Beats is perfect for this, although my preference is (like Aphex) a TR-606. You just send the pitch-to-CV converter to the VCOs or filter cutoffs, the envelope follower to the filter cutoffs, trigger extraction to the trigger-in, and add some of the bandpass-filtered audio to the VCF. It's insane...and given that you can get a used MS-20 Mini for under $400 these days and an SQ-1 matching sequencer (matches the Volcas, too) for $100 new, its cheap and potent for the money! Put that against the 0-Coast, and you've got some serious sonic mayhem!

With a 606, it has to be heard to be believed...that box's cheezy 'chinnnng' cymbal turns into all sorts of metallics screeches and yowls, for example. Truly an endless source of rhythm processing, that synth.

Yea the mS-20 is solid especially the pure synth version:


Pair that with my Elektron Analog 4 and Octatrack and the other modular gear and have wacky industrial dirt techno insanity!
I already have a Volca Beats that as you suggested can feed in percussion to the MS-20. I don't want the keyboard version but having trouble finding this pure synth kit. Maybe it is a new product release from Korg?

Anyways been learning my new Elektron gear the A4 and Octatrack as well as 0-coast and they integrate nicely together.

I ran an experiment this weekend: control the 0-coast with the A4, layer FX on top of that from the A4, sample that into the Octatrack and then add slices and resample with dirt from the Octatrack like dark reverb for some madness.

Since the Octatrack has room for 4 devices to connect, that would let me hook up the MS-20 and sample/mangle that.

Ideally I would need an additional sampler/mixer to add for the modular gear.

It was an limited-run earlier product...several years back, from around when the reissue came out, and it wasn't cheap, something like $1000 compared to $449 for the MS-20 Mini new and maybe about $400 or less used. At the same time, though, the keyboard version is still very much worth having, plus there's no jack conversion needed (the original '20 as well as the kit module used 1/4" jacks). It's not as large as the full-size version (I've had both at this point), so it's a bit handier, plus the keyboard also has a mod wheel and momentary button switch for various uses with their own patchpoints, which can actually be linked up to something other than the '20.

But, yes...sample-loops made with this can be made to sound like some sort of circuit-damage nightmare when you feed that input section with the right (ie: 'wrong') things. Another nice thing is that its matching SQ-1 sequencer is set up for the Hz/V scaling already and that its sync should lock up nicely with the Volcas. Not only that, it outputs MIDI and MIDI over USB (yeah...it can sequence software synths, too), plus has a special port for those littleBits modules, and it's built like a tank. Damn nice for $99! And yes, it'll also talk just fine to the 0-Coast...and can do that and talk to the MS-20 Mini with the right scaling at the same time (albeit with only 8 steps each...can't chain row A and B when doing that trick). I really think that it and the Arturia BSP are perhaps some of the finest affordable sequencing hardware...perhaps EVER.

Additional mixers: eBay. You can actually get really amazing steals on higher-end PA mixers from several years back for dimes on the dollar. Just a cursory glance shows several small-format units that originally came in at $1200 or more selling for about $300 and less at present. If this sounds like an idea, there's several things to make sure of, but most notable is that you do not want a mixer with onboard effects. This is because you don't necessarily find the best effects units in these in terms of tweakability, and you want total control over your AUX bus architecture instead of being locked into a manufacturer's idea of what you should be doing. PM me at some point on here and we can discuss this, since it's a bit outside the 'synth' topic zone.

what brand of mixer would you shop for on ebay? I like Allen and Heath if used value can be found for a 16 channel mixer.

Look for Soundcraft, A&H...but also, look under 'mixing console' or 'mixing desk' for search terms. The things that are out there will make your brain implode...for example, there's a listing for an Amek 501 out in Hemet, in your part of the world, 40x8. Granted, it has four strips with repairable issues, but this thing is $2500. A couple of decades back, this would've set you back a few tens of thousands of bucks!

The issue is twofold: in studio settings, so many people have shifted to mixing 'in the box' that proper desks don't get used for typical commercial production these days. And live, road companies and venues are dumping analog desks in favor of smaller digital ones. And this...is dumb. Well, maybe not dumb per se, but the end-result is that devices that cost many thousands and which would've been out of reach for most individual users are now stoopid-cheap. And for electronic music production, I still think that a mixing desk is awfully useful; sure, anyone can mix in their computer, but it loses something in that you can't 'get at' the sound when tracking or mixing and work the controls in real-time as the noises fly by. In a way, it's the selfsame argument in favor of modular synthesizers, just applicable to different gear. So nowadays, you can get a real, full-scale DESK for a few thou at worst.

Granted, then you have to figure out how to use it. But that's not that difficult, no matter how intimidating a large-scale mixer looks. Also, big PA desks can work in a studio environment (if you have space for them!) even if they don't have the ability to 'flip' channel inputs. Just set them up as 'split' desks, and remember which strips are your DAW returns.

I feel as if I may have opened yet another can of worms...

Yeah I want a decent analog portable mixer as space is limited where I live currently.

For sampler/sequencer with modular gear, what models do you like? I have an Elektron Octatrack which is fine since it sampler/sequence 8 tracks over MIDI but no modular connections so I have to use MIDI or convert from CV to audio adapter which is a pain.

For real portability, BeatStep Pros. You can't beat 'em for a grab-n-go sequencer. 2 channels of CV/gate/exp, 8 drum trigger outs, sync I/O plus MIDI. Plenty of scale definitions, plus loads of user programmability via the USB port + software, plus they're built like all the other Arturia stuff: pretty rugged. And cheap at $249. But if we're talking the larger-scale stuff, look into the Koma Komplex...too much to describe here, but it's about the do-all of analog sequencing environments-in-a-box. And, natch, the ultra-cheap SQ-1 for when you want to drop a sequencer into a setup somewhere and you want a couple lying around for that purpose.

Digital-wise, the Kilpatrick Carbon's not bad: 4 channels of CV/gate, SD storage, plenty of USB and MIDI options for $700. But beyond that, it would make more sense to build some MIDI-CV stuff into a modular cab for extensive control via a computer or iPad; for that, the Expert Sleepers FH-1 and its expander, the FHX-1 (you can add up to seven) is just about the perfect solution, as you can then use MIDI, CV from Silent Way, etc with the appropriate MIDI converter box (Perfect Circuit suggest the iConnect MIDI 2+).

I'll puzzle on the mixer idea...give me a day or two to compile some suggestions.

Yea the BSP and Keystep and SQ-1 are standby essentials for modular gear no doubt bang for the buck. Ideally I'd want a sequencer and sampler as part of the modular system as I hear they are lot of fun in modular gear!

I would love to try out a Carbon sequencer. For now been busy learning my Octatrack and 0-coast as they pair up well. I can sequencer/sample and mangle both for lot of possible options in a small footprint.