VCOs in my first modular? Four...all Digisound Series 80. Three of the regular VCOs and one VCDO, a wavetable VCO with stepable table and index scanning. Not something you can necessarily get these days, unless you're talking about Pharmasonic's Eurorack clones.
...which brings up a point. These are VERY simple VCOs, even the VCDO. The designs are all from the early 1980s. And I still use them. And while some of the more high-end VCOs out there have new and interesting features, you can still get a buttload of use out of simple modules. Sure, having a complex VCO might be convenient, but I can patch that configuration up PDQ and get the same results, so...uhh...why are these $750 again? Refresh my memory here...
Let's face it: some of what's on the market these days is either unjustifiably complex and/or expensive. Accent on expensive. And unless it's an accident (such as something being Euro-capable, like my Field Kits), there's not much in the way of Eurorack in here in my studio.
WHAT!?!?! BLASPHEMY!!!! Nah. Look...like any other musician, I have to be practical in my gear choices. And while Eurorack was quite practical in the several years after Dieter cooked up the format, it's turned into a swamp of expensive items that bamboozle beginning synthesists on a per-minute basis, misleading rubbish, overpriced bulls**t...I mean, hell, where else can you buy an effing BOX for $300? C'mon...
So, while I own a few Eurorack devices just as a coincidence...and of course, I definitely understand the tech and how it's used and all that...my actual modulars are a 22-module Digisound and a soon-to-arrive AE system...the latter being the largest system to come out of their factory thus far. Something like, oh, 20+ VCOs and so on...BUT IT DIDN'T COST ME AN EXTRA KIDNEY! Gargantua (as the monster is known by Tangible Waves and the AE community) is being boxed up right now over in Murnau and all totalled, it should come out to about...ahh, don't get upset now...$5k.
Now, $5,000 can get you a decent Eurorack rig...IF you stay away from the "sexy" stuff and opt to construct module subsystems out of "primitives", such as cobbling together the sort of thing you find with a Buchla 258. But you still have to put it in an expensive case with power, and that'll eat a big (and questionably-expensive) chunk right off the top. But it's plausible to put a $5k pricetag on a decent, portable Eurorack build. However, it won't be anywhere as sizable and/or capable as this 160-space monster that's also been custom-drilled to allow access to all trimpots and which I'll be powering with a lab-grade Tektronix switching supply (also cheap!). But as an example...
Gargantua contains six identical arrays of modules: two VCOs, one 2OSC/D (dual digital VCO), a WAVEFOLDER, a 2VCA (sorta obvious, that), and a 4-channel mono mixer. Each one of these can act as something similar to a dual Buchla 258, but with the addition of the VCAs which allow me to alter modulation amounts with LFO or EG signals. Now, Sputnik's clone of this, the 25S, will run you $900. Two, $1800. A dozen, though...$10,800!!!
As a working stiff composer, I haven't got that kind of scratch. I like the functionality...I have fond memories of the times I've used Buchla stuff...but I'm not about to pay that for it. Instead, each one of those AE module arrays runs 172 EUR, or just a bit under $187. I have no illusions that the AE is on par with Don's designs, true, but when you start factoring price versus function, Don's designs start to lose a lot of their luster.
True, the AE system is pretty devoid of snazzy graphics and the usual cosmetic stuff, but that's because it's focused on the circuits, not how jazzy the front panel can be. But like I've been saying on MG's forum, "sexy" isn't what makes a good modular system. 90% of the people who listen to your music won't ever see what you made it on, which instantly reduces things down to purely practical terms if you opt to look at the problem that way. And sure, there's some great Eurorack gear out there...but it almost seems to me these days that Eurorack is engendering its own problems. When Dieter came up with this, the idea was to create a simple, practical, and affordable pathway into modular synthesizer tech. What we have now is only that if you're willing to do the study and careful vetting to weed out the gimmicky aspects. And there is a BUTTLOAD of those these days. Instead, you get people coming in and, first up, thinking that a modular synth is a necessity (it's not!) and that they have to go all in on something with as many knobs, lights, and nonsense as possible. And then they build totally untenable rigs and wonder why people pounce on these when they get posted. Or, worse, they DON'T post them on MG and go out and buy them without any input...sort of like the early 1990s nonsense about how a TB-303 was essential for techno and, without one, you would never succeed, never ever ever ever never ever. The result there, natch, is a cantankerous and barely-usable box of expensive BS that's missing everything needed to make it work. The blinky lights might look cool and all, but if the result sounds and plays like denatured ASS...well, was that a good idea?
The point: ultimately, if you can get the right result...and by that, I mean having a synth that functions as expected and which has all of the basic functions in their proper proportions...it really doesn't matter too much WHAT you're using. But getting that functionality right is where much of this fails. When you're taking up 30 hp with something that does a function that could just as easily be done with 4-5 other smaller modules for less...but which has AWWSUM graphics on the panel...well, that's what we call a "massive f**kup". Or if you're convinced you can achieve the sort of control that you hear other composers and/or performers achieving, but without all of the "boring" modules they have...again, that's not going to be happening.
So when we talk about awesome VCOs...yeah, my "awesome" VCOs are all quite boring. But then, modular is about what happens when these things all get hooked up together; what they're like as singular objects is sort of pointless. I've heard great stuff done on Buchlas and Serges and the like...and, for the polar opposite, I've also heard what Noise Reap's cheap Bermuda VCO is capable of...and in the end, it's not the device, it's what YOU can do with it!