Hi there.
New here. Just stumbled on an ambient eurorack YT video. I really like ambient as a whole and what this user has produced.. which really pushed me researching so..
Since a few month, i have been reading and watching videos about modular synthesis- principles , concept etc and have read/watched videos about most of the presented modules to understand their respective functionality. But i am a bit at loss when see this rack and i read ‘you never have to many vca’ which is quite essential to allow ambient modulation..

NOw i do not mean to copy/paste this rack but i would like it to serve as a foundation for me to learn- i do not intend to buy everything that would be madness considering the need to understand and appreciate each module..

So i have a couple of questions!

1:Does this rack miss vca? Or the like of O_C , PNW & marbles are sufficient source of modulation?
2: what is the mult module used for in there?
3: any issues you see with it?

Advice much appreciated

Rack:

ModularGrid Rack


Hi GregSilvia,

Welcome to Modular! :-)

Sorry if this might sound too direct, frank or even insulting, please believe me this is not what I intend. What I try though is making you aware and asking you, are you ready for modular? I just want to make sure that you don't buy something expensive and after a while you are not using it or even regretting it, that would be just a big pity.

In all my honesty, if you copy a rack of someone and take that as a starting point... I am not sure if you are ready for modular yet, are you? Are you really sure of yourself about this? You have to ask this in an honest moment yourself, please.

My point here is, if you take a copy of somebody's rack (and it doesn't matter which rack, for example the one you highlight here above), then you are taking a setup of a rack with the thoughts, planning and ideas of that person but for yourself without knowing these thoughts, planning and ideas this person had in mind. So you start with something you just don't know.

In my opinion, you should do a bit more research and indeed, it's okay to start with the modules used in this above example rack. Study those modules, try to understand them. Test them for example in VCV Rack. At a later stage and before you start buying, have them tested first at your local dealer.

Not sure how much experience you have with synthesizers in common, depending on that, you might want to go backward even a step and get to understand the basic principles of "simple" things like oscillators (VCOs), LFOs, envelopes (EGs or ADSRs), filters (VCFs), VCAs (amplifiers), attenuators and then slowly also move into logic modules, input/output modules, sequencers and the whole bim-bam :-)

But you might have all that, so let's assume you have that experience already or you are working on it and then let's go back to the above rack, let's assume you designed it :-)

It's certainly a nice compact and good looking rack. Some of those modules will get you something fancy, but that might not always be want you need or what you want. I miss in 'your' above rack some basic and classical components like the above mentioned items like envelopes, VCAs indeed, and more basic (or should I say easier to understand modules) LFOs and filters then used here. So you might want to look into that.

Also is the rack completely full, there is no space for future extension and for modular that's a very important thing, keep space free for future extensions. Plan a rack about half full for example, get some experience with it, get to know for yourself what you want, which module types you like, which brands you like and build on that experience extend your rack with more modules.

That having said, get a bigger rack than this. If I remember correctly I have seen messages here in the forum that this Intellijel case (2 x 84 HP 6U + 1U) is anyway sold out so get for example the 2*104 (7U) case from Intellijel (instead of the above rack), gives you a bit more space and allows you to easily extend it with an exact same case.

Looking at the above rack, you have to check those mixer modules, I am not sure what the intention was here but I think you can solve that a bit more elegant by using those 1U utility modules, that's why they are there for :-) And free up some "expensive" 3U space! :-)

So get rid of a few of those "fancy" modules, some of them are good and if you have a big rack why not taking them all? ;-) But you need to know their purposes to serve you the way you want. Rather get some space free for some "simple" basic stuff. Get a standard ADSR for example and indeed at least two VCAs (linear for CVs and exponential for audio; that's a general rule, it's not a must, discover for yourself why this general rule exist though).

That Magneto module, I have that one for a long time in my mind now, but A) I feel it's pretty expensive, is it worth it? B) I do think that's a module for perhaps not seniors but also not for beginners. A good reason for myself why I haven't bought it yet. My advice is to keep this module in mind when you are ready for it but leave it out when you start with modular. You got here a 2 x 84 HP rack = 168 HP, the Magneto is 28 HP that's rounded 17% of your total rack capacity! That's one sixth! Realising that, I would rather use this space for some more classic/basic/simple/other modules than such a fancy module. Don't get me wrong on "fancy module" please, I believe the Magneto is a fantastic module, but just not to start with if you are new in modular.

I think Plaits and STO, if you like them, you can keep them, those are pretty good modules, so that's a good start but please look into all the other functionality you require: LFOs, EGs, VCAs, VCFs, etcetera.

One more thing, the module choice here above is, for my personal taste, a slightly bit too much "digital". Lots of digital modules. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing against a good digital module! But almost only digital modules or at least a very high percentage on digital modules, are you sure that's what you want? I would say for Eurorack, analogue modules are very attractive and give you a bit more classical way of "building a synthesizer" because that's exactly what you do with modular. If you are happy with the high contents of digital modules, well then leave it as it is but my advice would be to focus a bit more (not only, digital is still good) on analogue modules.

I hope you didn't mind me being frank with you, I just want you to avoid to start in modular and then getting disappointed with what you get. I don't want you to leave with a depressive feeling, that's not good either. Modular is extremely fun and good but it requires quite some research and conceptional thinking of what you want to do with your modular system. And don't worry about to make mistakes that's so common within a modular synth, that's half of the fun (okay a quarter then ;-) ).

At first you might be a bit disappointed by a module because it unexpectedly didn't do or give you want you expected or wanted to do but leave it alone for a while and give it a few months later another chance once you build up more experience with the other modules you might have and then try it again and it might give you surprisingly possibilities you wouldn't have thought of the first time you used it :-) That's all possible within modular :-) And then there modules that are straight away from the beginning stars, those are the modules you are really looking for, this initial wow and addictive feeling that you can't live without them, not even a single day! :-)

So if you think you are ready, go for it and enjoy it! Don't be shy and ask if you need to know something.

Kind regards, Garfield Modular.

Edit: Removed a typo.


Thank you for taking the time to respond to my query with honesty. I much prefer this approach!

Having watched this rack in action on YT and very much liking this kind of music, I used this rack as a foundation for me to understand each module functionality as The user illustrates what it can do.

Indeed i am using vcv to increase my knowledge, i have built modules in the past using reaktor software which perhaps irrelevant here!?

I donot mind the 84hp at all as i am not considering buying a lot even in the long run as
a) money & time required to invest
b) the fact that i will not rely exclusively on an eurorack. Time will tell but i can be very disciplined on this matter!
C) space

My main questions were whether this rack had a lack of utilities such as vca, lfo

I understand pnw & p_c have lfo functions available but i could not see (due to not fully understanding the behaviour of each module) any vcas.. and i am not fully understanding what the mult 1u module serve to in here?

You are are raising query around the mixers! I would like to understand too and hope you can advise if thats ok?

On the 1u layout - i will put the 1u audio io, midi to cv for external hardware, noise tool. In this copied rack you will see the mult but unsure if this is required?

I managed to get my hands on a new 7u 84hp so this is the set space i have.( for reasons mentioned above)

Again i do not intend to buy all modules and blindly put this rack together.
Have studied for the last 2 months with YT video modular synthesis, my first reaction when looking at this rack was : where are the vcas in this??

I only want to use this rack as an example for me to understand the modules , make informed decisions on my way!
The YT videos the user posted put the rack for me in context as serve (for me) as an acceptable approach to learn along vcv.

Help appreciated, thoughts on above questions is much appreciated!
Thank you


The buffered mult will take a signal (audio or cv) and dispatch it without loss to 1 to 4 destinations. For example you could send the sine wave from a pamela channel to modulate Marbles Deja Vu and Rings Damping.

VCA control amplitude of a signal (audio or cv) thru a modulation source and you definitely need more than one. I suggest a quad mixing/cascading VCA like the intelligel Quad or MI Veils.


Thanks defragmenteur.
I understand the need for vca, and previously watched the video you just posted. But looking at his rack in action here:

It feels like it’s doing just fine.. hence my original question.But again i have just started my journey into modular in the last few months so i could be missing something?

Will definitely check the quad.
in terms of mixer is there a more streamlined approach to take?


Hey Defragmenteur
Question around the mult- following your example
“For example you could send the sine wave from a pamela channel to modulate Marbles Deja Vu and Rings Damping.”
Can the same result also be achieved with a multiplier such as this: or am i misunderstanding?

https://m.thomann.de/ie/blackmarketmodularmonomultblue.htm?o=14&search=1581079950

Thank you your time & help


For pitch CV it is suggested to use buffered mult but I never noticed a difference using tiptop stackable for splitting pitch cv.


Buffered mults are more like "insurance" these days. They exist because, in past designs, there could be a certain amount of "voltage sag". Much of this was due to bad exponential converter design and/or lower-quality components, but these days many designers have front ends on their fixed CV conversion that minimizes this issue. But notice I said "minimizes"...it doesn't 100% fix it, as you can pile enough destinations for CVs onto the same CV bus that the destination modules will mistrack just like the "bad old days".

Rule of thumb: if you're splitting a CV with a mult that then goes to more than four other modules, you're probably better off using a buffered mult. Even if all of the modules on that bus have really good CV sag figures, if you stack enough of them on that one CV, you'll still be subject to sag eventually.

As for the VCAs...OK, sure, that one user in their YT video doesn't really have them in evidence. And while that approach might work for THEM, it's probably not a good idea. It sounds fine in this example, but let's say you wanted to do something that required both VCA control over audio levels AND over modulation levels. Now you have a problem. It might be nice for some synthesists to have a dedicated cab for a specific sound production method, but the vast majority of us don't have that luxury, and so we recognize that you have to have bread-and-butter modules such as VCAs for the times you might want them. And they are QUITE necessary...boring, yes, but essential. Building a rig without VCAs because they're "boring" and nowhere as snazzy as all those other modules with the blinkylights is sort of akin to building a car without a radiator. Radiators are boring, they just dissipate heat...but just try driving a car that doesn't have one but which does have a water cooled engine. You won't be going very far.

And a word about YouTube as a method of learning modular synthesis...

It needs to be said that there are a few synthesists on YT who absolutely know what they're doing. 100%. But like any other source of information on the Internet, there's also a lot of utter BS and nonsense out there, plus a lot of stuff that's sort of misleading. And this is a case of the latter; clearly, whoever is in the clip is experienced...and what they're using works for their purposes. But this DOES NOT mean that a copy of their rig will be something usable in the hands of someone beginning with modular synths. They have an approach that works, but it's not one that will result in a modular rig that's usable across a wide range of uses.

So, unless you like blowing through a lot of money and experiencing plenty of frustration, it's essential to be very careful about what sources of info are ones that'll work for your specific situation. A much better approach would be to look at a number of builds by a lot of different synthesists and see what elements you encounter that work for you and those which are dead-ends. And one of the biggest dead-ends is to copy a user's bespoke device, built for their techniques and methods alone. Those builds might make for showy YT clips, but they don't help beginning modular users.


Hi GregSilvia / Jays,

Well about those mixers that was exactly my point, I don't understand it, so for me, if it would be my rack, it would not be okay. But for the original designer of this rack it's most probably okay. Since I haven't designed that rack, I really can't tell you why those particular mixer modules are in there.

That's exactly one of my points why you shouldn't take somebody's rack design and start with that because you/me/we just don't know what were the thoughts, the ideas and the design principles behind that to come with the rack just like that.

On the other hand there is nothing against it to use somebody's rack and take that as a starting point but I doubt if that's the road you should go. It's up to you of course but I wouldn't do it like that :-)

Please keep in mind the good advice of Lugia as well, he got a few very good points there.

Try to discover for yourself what you want and need. Did you went to a dealer and tried out a few modules, testing them, playing with them? If yes that should give you already a rough indication of where you would like to head at, if you haven't yet, I would strongly advice to go to your (future) dealer and play a bit around with a few modules. Just to get the first practice, experience and impressions and then I think it becomes already a bit easier and clearer where to go along this modular path.

Good luck and kind regards, Garfield.


Hi Lugia & Garfieldmodular

Thank you both very much for taking the time to respond. Your inputs are so valuable to me.
Thanks for clarifying the mult purpose, i have a better idea now.
As for the vca, yes i am taking this in account for my ongoing build. Having read on this (unless i misunderstood) i picture vca as the equivalent of automations in a DAW, create variations which if i picture right i feel is indeed necessary to bring a rack to life with ‘movements’

On note, I am considering the intellijel quad vca, but must do a bit of research as i would like to maximise hp size vs functionality.
But are there any brands that you would recommend over intellijel? Size?

Yes Lugia you are 100% right in respect to what work for some might not for others. So i am definitely taking the time to learn the few modules i am getting .
Unfortunately i do not have dealers with showroom in the country i am living in..my only way is using vcv!

As for the mixers, the only thing i can think of is size constraints.. but not the builder so it’s just a guess.

Thank you again for taking the time to respond and provide your thoughts on this topic, it does help me a lot!


Just in case this would save you a few HP https://zlobmodular.com/product/vnicursal-vca/ even if it does look a little like turning those knobs may summon the evil hoards!


Well, if there's no brick-and-mortar dealers where you are, there's still ample ways to see what a module does aside of VCV.

First up, many of the MG listings have links to manufacturers, and they have rather detailed info a bit beyond what MG can do, plus some also have VIDEOS via YouTube. These are videos I 100% endorse, as you'll have the designers explaining the functions, tricks, etc of particular modules.

Also, check major dealers such as Perfect Circuit, Schneider's, et al as they also offer content on modules and systems that can be very useful. Stick with the modular-specific dealers, though; while "big guns" such as Sweetwater, Thomann, etc do carry modular gear, informationally you're better off with specialist dealers who know modular first.

A third possibility is to just ask manufacturers a question or two outright if the above two methods aren't getting you the info you want. But before doing this step, check their sites to see if they have user manuals available online. Many manufacturers do provide these in various forms, so it's worth taking a look.

VCV is good for explaining functions in modular synthesis and there's a few modules that DO emulate hardware there, but for the most part VCV isn't the best reference for hardware shopping. It'll give you an idea of what might work for you, but there ARE dissimilarities.

Now, as for VCAs...it's important to remember that there are TWO different kinds of VCAs, and they have two different purposes...

Linear VCAs, which are usually DC-coupled to allow CVs and modulation signals to pass, are for controlling/automating levels of those two types of signals. You CAN use linear VCAs for audio as well, but keep in mind that our hearing perceives apparent loudness as an exponential factor, so linear VCAs will just give a basic up and down to audio voltage levels but not an accurate volume increase/decrease.

To get accurate shifts in VOLUME...you use exponential VCAs. These have a response curve that fits how we hear sound better, because that curve tends to track our Fletcher-Munson responses whereas the linear VCAs are...well, linear in response. Also, exponential VCAs tend to be AC-coupled to prevent DC signals (such as modulation, CVs, etc) from passing. And this is important, as DC sent to an amplifier is not a good thing, and can lead to damage to the amp, your monitors, or both!

Now, there IS a "third" type of VCA, and it's those which can switch between these modes of operation. Some are simpler to use, like Malekko's Dual VCAs, where you have a switch between the two types. But others are more subtle, like the Mutable Veils or the Intellijel Quad VCA, both of which have a circuit that allows you to "tune" the VCA response to any sort of curve between pure linear and fully-exponential. These are useful...but it's important to remember that these modules are designed for both audio AND CV/mod use, ergo there won't be AC-coupling there.

BUT...it IS possible to block DC in other ways, with the very best being transformer isolation and balancing on your outputs. This not only stops DC at the very end of the modular signal chain, but it also isolates the modular from garbage that might be INcoming on your output lines, such as AC ground looping, RF crud, and other types of noise which, yes, can get in via the OUTput and be problematic. Lastly, these modules also drop your modular voltage levels back down to line-level which helps prevent overloading issues at the mixer. Happy Nerding's Isolator is a good choice here...it's small and cheap, but provides all the above plus ground lifts per channel and a master stereo level for your output. Very, VERY useful. And, also, a good example of how you can deal with one module's shortcomings with another strategically-placed module elsewhere in the system.


Hi Lugia
I sincerely cannot thank you enough for taking the time to post the above priceless advices!
That brought notions i didn’t have and enlarge the scope of my research! Thank you!

I have few more questions which hopefully you know the answers to or guide me if thats ok?

Re vca & specially the intellijel quad vca.
Watching their video on module, tthe presenter goes on about tge fact that it can also serve as a mixer! Which in my modest 84hp would be a godsend it terms of space/functionality ratio.
But can it be a vca & mixer at the time or if cv plugged in, there is a chain or priority order (for lack of better terminology i have) where then ouput 1 for instance will be subject to the vca? I hope i am making sense??

Secondly do the curve knobs control how quick or fast the modulation occurs? (Sorry if this is a silly question)
Could i potentially control this curve with an
Lfo? I cannot picture the cable mapping to do this

Thank you for your time again


OK, let's answer the easy bits first...no, you can't control the response curve with a modulation signal. But then, that's not a really common musical usage, so you're not likely to need all four of the VCAs implemented in that way. But the response curves DO control response rate...

The difference between linear and exponential, math-wise, is the difference between 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 1, 4, 9, 16, 25. Very related (the second is simply the squares of the first) but not the same, function-wise. When translated to loudness, attack/decay values in linear VCAs rise and fall with a direct, linear relationship to the CV. Go up a volt with your CV, the output of the VCA goes up a volt. But with exponential VCAs, attacks and decays occur more abruptly...at least, as far as a voltmeter is concerned. Since we're talking human hearing here, though, the exponential response of the VCA is a closer match to how our hearing perceives the attack and decay of acoustical instruments, while the linear VCA would just sound like turning a knob up and down UNLESS it's fed with an exponential modulation signal source, such as an exponential envelope gen. So, when you change the response, you're adjusting this factor from the linear relationship to an exponential one, and thence everything in between. Now, why you would adjust this...OK, consider percussion instruments for a sec...

Take a drum...any drum is fine. Hit it with a stick, which gives you the hardest attack. Now a rubber mallet. Then a yarn one. And after that, a soft mallet (the fluffy sort). This is the sort of result you get from turning the response on a VCA from exponential (hard attack, fast decay) to linear (soft attack, easier decay). It's an odd effect, and while some VCAs can do that under CV, most don't. But if you really need this effect, it's actually simpler to send the VCA a modulation signal from a mod source that allows you to shape ITS curve.

Now, as for the Intellijel module...yes, it can act as a mixer. Or two mixers. Or a mixer and a VCA (or two). Or four VCAs. It all depends on how the OUTPUT is patched.

Since the Quad VCA uses an normalized but interruptible mixbus, you can patch an output from OUT 2 and also 4/MIX, and this would give you a pair of 2-input mixers. Or if you need just a single VCA for a certain function, you can take VCA 1's output alone, and then use the 4/MIX output for the sum of the other three VCAs. This is VERY useful if, for example, you have only a couple of audio sources that need summing, but you want some interesting modulation behavior that goes to some other parts of the rig. For that, you'd split out the first two VCAs via their dedicated OUTs, then use 4/MIX as a sum for the audio coming into IN 3 and IN 4. And, since you can change the VCA response, VCAs 1 and 2 in that example can be set to function linearly, while the audio in 3 and 4 can have the necessary exponential response. Versteh'?

It's also worth noting that the Quad VCAs CV inputs work in a similar manner. You have a normalized mult behind the panel (of sorts), so sending a single CV to the top of the input bus will affect all four VCAs simultaneously. But you can also patch different CV/mod signals in with the same sort of arrangement as you find on the module's mixbus. Just remember that these patchpoints have a "priority" to their mult behavior: bottom to top on the CV inputs, right to left on the mix, and any patchcord inserted at the lower/leftmost points will split the mult. Want the same CV on 3 and 4, but not 1 and 2? Simple...send 1 and 2 their own CVs, and send the paired 3/4 a single CV via VCA 3's CV in. Done!

Oh...also, keep in mind you don't have to mix ONLY audio with this (or any other DC-coupled mixer). You can also create complex, composited modulation curves by mixing mod and/or CV signals, and yes, these can also be under VCA control to gradually change voltage levels at the output. This is where the fun starts...

Better?


Hi Luigia! Only getting back to now. It was a busy week!!
Thank you very much the details.. i had to read your last post a couple of times but took away most of it, done some bedtime reading on the subject!

One last question. On the noted rack at the beginning of the post , i see 2x6 channels which by seeing his videos/routing seems to be fully used.
If i were to maximise space. Could i remove 1 mixer and use one along the intellijel quad? Since it does mixer too? You may say depending my needs I’d suppose.. but would this be a good way to efficiently manage hp?

I was thinking as alternative to use a doepfer 130-2 and see where it takes me.. but 2vcas now that understand better it purpose seems little and indeed 4 by default seems better!!

Thank you


Be very careful when window shopping for modules on Youtube.

The biggest mistake people make is not understand how many additional modules are required in order to get "that sound" out of the module(s) being featured. You'll often see someone reviewing or demoing a module with that module focused in the shot. But the rest of the kit and cables are off screen. Often the featured module is doing the least amount of the "work" going into that sound.

As far as the kit mentioned in the OP. The Plaits module and much of the Mutable stuff does not need a VCA in order to create a volume envelope for itself. It has its own built-in envelope should you choose to use it. Braids and Plaits are a staple of module because they are great for self-contained sounds that don't require additional modules to tease out. So while it's possible to get away with not having VCAs, you're leaving the best part of modular synthesis in the synth shop.


Hi Ronin1973
Thanks for your reply. I think i am gonna get the quad vca from intellijel. Having read plenty on the subject and Lugia’s advice no vca would indeed feel like leaving the best part of modular out.

The only concern i have withe quad (because i am not fully understanding its modus openredi) is that it has a mixer functionality. I understand that if i were not to use the vca it would operate as a mixer but if i use it as vca, can it still serve as a mixer? If i were to plug in plaits in ch 1, but yet use vca 1 for marble, would plaits on ch1 have marble vca setting applied to it?


Hi Ronin1973
Thanks for your reply. I think i am gonna get the quad vca from intellijel. Having read plenty on the subject and Lugia’s advice no vca would indeed feel like leaving the best part of modular out.

The only concern i have withe quad (because i am not fully understanding its modus openredi) is that it has a mixer functionality. I understand that if i were not to use the vca it would operate as a mixer but if i use it as vca, can it still serve as a mixer? If i were to plug in plaits in ch 1, but yet use vca 1 for marble, would plaits on ch1 have marble vca setting applied to it?
-- Jays

The "mixer" portion of it all has to do with the logic of what you have plugged into it and what you don't. All the jacks have normals. If you insert a patch cable, it breaks the normal.

So yes, if you want to use each output individually, mix them all, or create a two sub-mixes... you can do all that. You can read the documentation from Intellijel's website if you're still cloudy or worried. But it will work without an issue once you understand the logic behind the normals.