ModularGrid Rack

Hello all,

First of all, I’d like to say that I don’t know anything about modular synths. I’ve known about them for years but the high price tags have kept me away. But now I’ve decided to get into it and only been researching a couple weeks.

Anyway I would like to see this rack eventually become a reality but I would like some advice first. My main concern is, will it function as far as power consumption goes? I’m still not sure if the case has enough to sustain these modules because it is saying the USB port and the case itself is not meeting power consumption specs. Which doesn’t make sense to me because the 1U row is completely copied from someone else’s setup.
And secondly my concern is will it function as far as an instrument? Are there any redundant or conflicting modules that should be switched out? I would like to keep it as is if it is possible. As far as I can tell from my research, I have all the basic necessities. But would it be more important to add something like sample and hold for example? Also is the Doepfer A-138e necessary? I wanted a good mixer but if it needs to be toned down to a smaller one, I can downsize and drop the arpeggiator for something else. I went for Plaits as the main oscillator with a lot of modulation.
My goal with this thing is to have it as stand alone as possible, with minimal external hardware. Basically I just want to plug speakers in and go. Also I just want it to be a sound machine. Just the ability to make a wide variety of noise, sophistication is not a priority. Other than that, maybe plugging the guitar in for effects and other hardware I was considering is the Arturia Keystep or Beatstep Pro.

I appreciate any feedback or suggestions you may have.


Hi Lou, the short answer is no.

Small cases are exponentially more difficult to get anything useful from unless you're experienced in modular and know exactly what you want and need.

Steppy is a gate sequencer and doesn't handle pitch. You'll be reliant on the uMIDI hooked up to a DAW to get any musical notes to this set-up.

I think the two weeks you spent will probably require a few more doing research. It feels like you've added modules you've seen in a video or two rather than learning the basics of functionality when it comes to modular synthesis. This isn't a judgment of you and your abilities. It just feels like you haven't gotten as much out of your research as you're really going to need.

My first thought is for you to download VCV Rack. It's a Eurorack emulator and it is free. Build some patches and some sounds with it. If you can get useful things that sound good to you out of it, you're in a position to begin putting together some hardware.

What you have here will more than likely disappoint you. In your research, you may also want to look at the pros and cons of a "synth-voice" as the starting blocks of a Eurorack build. Then supplementing it with additional modules.

Thanks for the reply, you pretty much told me everything I needed. Yes indeed, I have a long way to go in learning about modular synthesis. Basically all I’ve looked into is tiny setups and see what they say is absolutely needed. Unfortunately I still lack the basic knowledge to know what would be needed for me. My thought was it would be easier going hands on and learning the intricacies by using it, after I have acquired all the necessary components. The problem is I’m having a hard time finding out what is exactly necessary for a rack to function. I really appreciate the suggestion about VCV rack though, that may be exactly what I need.

Still actually getting the hardware is a long ways off. I just wanted to see where I was at with my current knowledge and which direction I need to go in learning more. I definitely don’t want to end up with something that will disappoint.

I planned to patch the Solum into the Steppy to trigger that, would that not work? And my biggest concern is you’re saying this setup can’t even produce musical notes on its own? I was hoping Plaits would be the only sound generation I need but I may have misunderstood it’s function. So I should look more into basic wave oscillators and find ways to control pitch as well.

Thanks for the advice, The research continues.

Patching a clock generator into Steppy would work as far as syncing Steppy to a clock. But you have to understand what type of sequencer Steppy actually is. It sends out triggers/gates. Triggers and gates serve very well for percussion or triggering envelope generators. But they contain no information about pitch.

So you would need a sequencer that sends out both triggers/gates AND pitch (CV). Steppy can be part of a note generating set-up... like triggering a sample-and-hold circuit being fed an LFO or random source and then maybe into a quantizer. But that's a little bit beyond the scope of someone coming in at entry level.

I don't want to recommend anything at this point as I don't know what would suit your needs. What a rack needs to function depends on exactly what you want to do with it... which is always debatable.

But in VCV Rack, I would start with:
2 VCOs
1 filter (usually low-pass)
2 dual VCA modules (4 VCAs total)
2 Mixers
1 Noise Generator (white, pink)
1 8 or 16 step sequencer
and of course the output module so you can hear it.

Not every patch is going to use all of the things listed. But that's a very basic traditional monosynth set-up. You can get into other module types from there and see what you like as you learn.

Alright, it’s been a journey but here’s the revision. I ended up dropping the Palette case all together once I realized I didn’t really need the 1u row. Then I discovered the Nifty case and it changed everything. It gets rid of the need for the umidi and audio out Intellijel modules for the palette case. Still I put Pittsburgh Modular Outs in there to avoid having to deal with adaptors to the 1/4”. I like having the option for the built in audio out and midi from the case regardless though. Just in case there ever is a time I want to use it but the plan is still trying to stay in the case. Plus since it’s up to 84hp now, I decided to go for Voltage Block and Varigate combo instead of the 3u Steppy and Mimetic Digitalis. I think I’m close to the final product though so any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated.

Hi Loumakesfriends,

I'm also in the first year of my modular experiment, so I thought I'd share some things that I've learned with regards to your set up.

  1. Your only dedicated VCA is the Sinc and, while that's a great and fun module, you can get twice the VCA/LPG in the same hp with a Make Noise LxD or the 4hp Antenumbra DVCA, for instance. I'm sure you've already heard "you can never have enough VCAs" and it's quite true. You could even consider something like replacing the Sinc and the mixer with an 8hp quad VCA/mixer like the Doepfer A-135-2 Quad VCA. You only have a few sound sources in here, so, most of the time, you could use two channels of the quad for dedicated VCA and two channels for mixing, or three and one. The A-135-2 is nice because it gives you two mix outs: all not VCA-ed signals and all signals.

  2. Having the Voltage Block and the Varigate in a system this small seems like overkill. You have far more channels of sequence than you have modules to drive with them. You also don't have a dedicate clock to drive your sequences. I would suggest something like a Pamela's New Workout (clock + divider + lfo + euclidean sequencer) for clock + gate duties and then, maybe something like a Scales (quantizer + sequencer) for pitch sequencing. An alternative set up would be to replace both with a Hermod, which is much-beloved and does it all in 26 hp. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, as you brought up the keystep, my preference would be to shove all pitch sequencing into the fantastic and much less expensive keystep and let's Pam's handle the clocks and gates.

  3. DATA is a cool module but this case is too small to spend that much hp on it. Technically, it's another sound source and an oscilloscope is great when learning modular synth, but you can also just patch into VCV rack through an interface or get an outboard oscilloscope and save precious hp.

  4. Things missing:

- You don't have any attenuators, dedicated LFOs or envelope generators. These are what makes your synth come alive. A few options would be to get a nice small function generator like Joranalogue Contour or Make Noise Function which can generate envelope or LFOs. Personally, though, I would just get the inevitable Maths, which gives you mixing, attenuation, dual envelopes, dual LFOs, and much more. It's also the best module for teaching modular ideas.
- A conventional oscillator. The BIA is great for perc and basslines and you can push it into lots of weird lead sound directions, but, what I found when I started at a similar place was that I quickly started missing an additional meat + potatoes analog oscillator that could complement the BIA, especially if you are planning to do pitch sequencing. In a case this small, it's hard to beat the classic Dixie II+ which sounds incredible and has tons of modulation options. It also doubles as a second LFO if you're only using the BIA voice.

Here's a sample version based on the feedback above that might be interesting:
Example Rack

Thanks, there are a lot of really good suggestions here.

For the vca, I was actually considering switching out the sinc bucina for the wmd dvca. So I’ll probably go for that since I won’t really be taking advantage of the ping input for the bucina anyway. But I do like how it’s an envelope generator with built in vca. I would go for Doepfer stuff but when I was working on the original palette case build, I realized they had too much depth for the case. So I’ve been avoiding them even though I really like all their stuff.

As for the varigate 8+, I was also thinking it’s a bit ridiculous because I will never need that many gates. But with all the features it has, it’s a tough call. The most important to me are being able to save 100 presets and the delay. Plus it’s 16 steps instead of 8 like the varigate 4+ and has more scales. I could definitely do plenty with just the varigate 4+ though. It’s almost half the price, is way less complicated to use, and much more reasonable for the small setup.

The Data is just there because I really like it haha. The screen is way too nice and also I would like to use it as an additional oscillator or lfo. Also I was planning to use it as the clock and syncing in to the varigate. Then I’ll know for certain about the tempo besides just going by ear with the slider from varigate 4 or knob on the 8. It can put out two separate waveforms as well that can be offset. Being able to actually visibly see what’s going on seems way easier to me too, so it’s another tough call.

And the plan was to double the 2hp mix as the attenuator but another one I was looking at was the SSF quad-atten. If the mix wouldn’t suffice, then I’ll look into a stand-alone attenuator for sure. I’ll definitely look into the Joranalogue Contour or Make Noise Function though. I’ve heard of maths for sure but ironically it always seemed too big. Ignore the varigate 8+ haha. And the BIA is my favorite sounding voice from the noise engineering family. All I was really wanting is drum and bass and it seemed like the perfect thing. I especially like the independent knobs for the inputs. I’m not against the idea of adding an analogue oscillator though. There’s just so many to choose from and with the slim depth of the case, I’ve been ignoring the Doepfer ones but that would be my first choice. I’ve seen the dixie II and Pamela’s new workout that you mentioned and was strongly considering them not long ago. I’ll check out more on those and these other modules you suggested. The Joranalogue Contour new to me so it’s definitely worth a look.