Hi all, I’ve designed my first rack for creating generative & ambient soundscapes. I’m pretty happy with it but now the question is what modules to purchase first. Looking at the below rack - if you had to start with only 3 modules, which would it be? Also open to feedback on the chosen modules /things I’m missing!

ModularGrid Rack


first I would get a bigger case (6u/104hp is a good sized starter case) so you can actually build a modular synth in it rather than a collection of a few modules that won't play nicely together

you need to add modulation, envelope generators, utility modules

either a bigger case or cut back to 1 or 2 voices at most - otherwise not enough space for the support modules you need


+1 on Jim's suggestion here. Without the additional utility and supporting modules, this is a nice accumulation of modules...and that's about it. Start with something pre-powered like a Mantis instead of these way-too-small skiffs.


first I would get a bigger case (6u/104hp is a good sized starter case) so you can actually build a modular synth in it rather than a collection of a few modules that won't play nicely together

you need to add modulation, envelope generators, utility modules

either a bigger case or cut back to 1 or 2 voices at most - otherwise not enough space for the support modules you need

-- JimHowell1970

Thanks for the great feedback! I’m such a n00b and could use some more examples of what you mean by utility modules. I have 8 LFOs, and 6 VCAs — what other basic utilities do I need other than an envelope generator? Pardon my ignorance


Also download a free copy of VCVRack that is such a valuable tool for planning and trying out modules. I have 2 full 6U cases but still use the software for testing and trying things out. Bigger case is great. You can fill in empty space with blank panels.


+1 for everything above. Start with a bigger case like a Mantis, and get a copy of VCVRack.

For modules, you might also want to look at Grayscale's 18hp Permutation module. It does a lot of the stuff that the Turing Machine and expanders do and uses a lot less hp. Other good ones to look at for this kind of music are Ornament+Crime, Disting, Ultra Random Analog, Control Forge, Cloud Terrarium, Triple Sloths, and 4ms SWN and SMR.

Keep in mind that all this good advice you're getting is pretty expensive when you start buying everything. Starting with four modules is a good idea. I'd say get yourself a complex oscillator like DPO, Troika, or Furthrrrr Generator, a function generator like Maths, Grand Terminal, Zadar, or Scion, an irregular modulation source like Ultra Random Analog, Permutation, or Ornament+Crime, and an output module, like XOH or Intellijel's Outs. Will that give you everything you need to make generative music? Not really, but it will get you started. You'll be able to make sound, modulate it, modulate the modulation, and listen to it. Then get to know all four modules, figure out what they're not doing for you, and then go look for new modules.


first I would get a bigger case (6u/104hp is a good sized starter case) so you can actually build a modular synth in it rather than a collection of a few modules that won't play nicely together

you need to add modulation, envelope generators, utility modules

either a bigger case or cut back to 1 or 2 voices at most - otherwise not enough space for the support modules you need

-- JimHowell1970

Thanks for the great feedback! I’m such a n00b and could use some more examples of what you mean by utility modules. I have 8 LFOs, and 6 VCAs — what other basic utilities do I need other than an envelope generator? Pardon my ignorance

-- trazo5

you could do with some more mixing capabilities for starters - I see you have a sequential switch and some logic (too much logic not enough mixing) - first off all throw both the logic modules out and get a kinks - you get a rectifier and a sample and hold thrown in - but only 1 logic channel - which is probably more than enough in this size case

I usually recommend links, kinks and shades as a utility starter set, after that a sequential switch and a matrix mixer

to me the turing machine and expansion modules take up way too much space in this size case - but then so do the instruo modules - I'd choose one or the other but not both - or a much bigger case

marbles would be my choice for replacing the turing machine and the quantizer - almost all the functionality (plus some more) in just over 1/3rd the space

a lot of the interesting stuff in modular comes from sequencing the sequencer, or modulating the modulation - which is where utilities usually come in

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

I'm also not convinced by ochd as a primary lfo - not a great deal of control and only a saw iirc - great as a secondary lfo though

I'd second the recommendation of Maths - check out the illustrated manual online - it's a great learning tool - if you want to actually learn about modular - which some do and some don't


This thread has helped me immensely! Providing an update here in case someone like me is looking for advice in the future and can see where I started and where I’m winding up…

It’s pretty clear I didn’t have a solid enough understanding of the basics/fundamentals — I found this tutorial which I found to be the best explanation the basics I’d seen:

With that under my belt I dove into VCV as suggested, as well as an iOS app called “miRack” to try some ideas out and see what I actually needed to get the kinds of results I’m interested in. This was super eye opening, and gave me a hands on understanding of the suggestions that I needed way less randomness and logic, and more sound shaping and control. This has led me to the following revision as my ideal starter kit:

ModularGrid Rack

And then my “day 1 / minimum viable rack” which is where I’ll start my purchases:

ModularGrid Rack

Feeling pretty good about where things are are, but more than open to any further suggestions!


Couple of things.

Quadra is discontinued... unless you're looking for a used Quadra, Quadrax is the new version (tons of added functionality, too).

Turing Machine is terrific... but Mutable Instruments' Marbles is essentially an expanded Turing Machine with added functionality. It's really terrific, and I'd suggest using it instead of the TM and expanders.

You don't have a filter in either version... that seems like a serious omission, especially given your oscillator choice.


Couple of things.

Quadra is discontinued... unless you're looking for a used Quadra, Quadrax is the new version (tons of added functionality, too).

Turing Machine is terrific... but Mutable Instruments' Marbles is essentially an expanded Turing Machine with added functionality. It's really terrific, and I'd suggest using it instead of the TM and expanders.

You don't have a filter in either version... that seems like a serious omission, especially given your oscillator choice.
-- Shakespeare

Good call on the Quadra! Not intentional.

I had a lot of fun with marbles in VCV, but my only concern is that it doesn’t have a whole ton of outputs vs the Turing expansion. Easily remedied by pairing with a small sequential sequencer? Or maybe I really don’t need that many random sources.

Good catch re: filter! Forbidden planet seems like it might be my vibe.


Quadrax with the expander replaced Quadra and is a great module! I love mine and it really spices up patches and super easy to use with lots of modulation options. I think that either Quadrax with the expander or Marbles would give you tons of options for a fun setup.


Plus, the Qx module offers the Quadra functions that didn't make it into the Quadrax, notably the envelope start/end pulses that allow chaining EGs. And even with that, the Quadrax/Qx STILL fits into less space than the Quadra and its expander.