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Going Modular Part 1: Lay of the Land
By Fitz - 4/21/2008

For years I've resisted the urge to buy a modular synthesizer. Darn things were huge, impractical, and expensive as hell. But still, so damn cool.

Things have changed over the years. Modular synths used to be relics of the 70s with high prices and aging circuitry that was hard to replace or repair. Now they've experienced a renaissance with numerous small companies manufacturing brand new system in a wide variety of formats. In fact, the main impediment to buying one today may be the overwhelming number of options a novice has to sort thru. I'm in no way going to go thru all of them, there are just too many out there. Instead I'll summarize the major three formats that I've considered, my opinion of their strengths and weaknesses, and some of the companies that make modules in those formats.

Moog Clones

synthesizer dot com system

Often referred to as "large format" or "MOTM" format, these are systems build to look similar to the old Mood modular units. Each module is 8.75" high (5 rack spaces) and uses standard 1/4" jacks. The is some variance in the width of panels and power specs, but in general all products from the companies below can be integrated without too much work:

Advantages/Disadvantages

Eurorack

doepfer system

Also called "Doepfer" or "small format", Eurorack is a newer and very popular system. It's modules are 5.25" in height (3 rack spaces) and use smaller 3.5mm mini-jack connectors. They have a standard for measuring module width called "HP" (horizontal pitch). Each HP equals about 5.08mm so a 19" rack is 84HP wide. Here are some of the main players in this format:

Advantages/Disadvantages

Modcan (type a)

Modcan like

Modcan is a Canadian outfit that makes their modules in two formats. The B format is Moog-like except for having a white faceplate. The A format is much more interesting in that is uses powerful Banana jack connectors. These connectors are very durable and allow for multiple jacks to be plugged into a single connector thus enabling "many to many" patching schemes that no other manufacturer can equal. A format modules are 9" high.

Advantages/Disadvantages

More comparisons

Synthesizers.com has a great comparison chart of the various formats out there.

This is a very useful comparison shot showing the different formats next to each other. I'm sorry I lost the link to where this picture came from so I can't provide credit. If anyone knows please clue me in and I'll fix.

module comparisons

By Fitz - 4/21/2008 |