Modular-as-a-synth-voice: What modules are "essentials&

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bengarland
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Modular-as-a-synth-voice: What modules are "essentials&

Post by bengarland » Tue Aug 27, 2019 1:20 am

For those of you who like to use your modular as a single synth voice (i.e. you play melodies or basslines with a keyboard), which modules do you consider essential to your setup?

I'm building my first modular rig and I'm not sure what to look at beyond the standard vco + vcf + lfo + adsr etc, or even which ones are the best "bang for the buck" or "I didn't know I needed Module X until I got one".

I see lots of discussions about using modular for ambient/drone/random stuff but not too much about using it to create a playable synth voice (but maybe I suck at using the search) so I'm curious what might be different for this kind of use.

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Post by Be Sandy? » Tue Aug 27, 2019 1:32 am

One way to approach this would be to look at the architecture of a hardwired synth that you like and copy that.

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Post by Gaetan » Tue Aug 27, 2019 1:36 am

I think that if that is your goal, since you don't really know what to go for you should simply go for a all-in-one complete system such as the Doepfer A-100 Basic/Starter System. You'll have the basics covered, modules that play well together, and avoid the hassle of designing a rack yourself, so you can directly go on to patching and playing. Even such starter systems have a lot of depth, and you will learn a lot. After a while, you'll see yourself what you lack.

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Post by ersatzplanet » Tue Aug 27, 2019 11:48 am

For voice duties in my rig, I have found the Doepfer A-109 VC signal Processor a very useful module. I has the basic signal path for the audio - VCF, VCA, VC Panner and all it needs is the VCOs and EGs. It only cost $175 too.

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Post by Pelsea » Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:26 pm

One independent section of my modular is mostly used as a single voice played by a wind instrument:

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It's hard to say which module is essential-- each contributes an important element to the sound, although some are used more as alternates. This is what's there, left to right. (The most essential items are marked with *.)

1. An audio input module with envelope follower and comparator trigger. Sometimes my wife sings with me, and I process her voice and use it to modify what I am doing.
2. *MIDI input module. My WX5 goes here.
(3-4) To be determined. When I get a gig, I generally add a couple of modules from the larger case to fill out the complement. That may be a complex oscillator, something percussive, or a long delay line.
6. *A basic VCO, main source for this system.
7. *Synthrotek FOLD. Almost always used to treat the VCO output. The gives me a wide choice of waveforms.
8, 9. A couple of quirky filters to complement the FOLD. Plague Bearer and Cinnamon are certainly quirky.
10. *Synthrotek LPG. This works really well with the breath control from the WX. I almost never use an envelope on this, but if I want to there are a couple of AR generators in the row of tiles. Channel 2 is available to control CVs.
11. *Serge Resonant Equalizer. Adds formants to the sound. Formants are essential to a wind instrument-- I'm not trying to imitate any particular kind, but this puts the sound into the wind instrument class. I really like the frequencies of the Serge.
12. Switched mixer. This (along with multiples and CV processors in the tiles) lets me choose among four patches.
13. *Erbe-Verb. This can produce anything from a gentle sense of space to wacked out pitch sliding delays.

The tiles provide support in the form of LFOs, output interface etc. They do include a clock, sample & hold, and noise source for instant gratification.

To answer the second part of your question, the modules and patch for a lead voice need to be super responsive, so the slightest variation in how you play is reflected in the sound. The choice of controller obviously has a lot to do with this. They also need to produce a sound that cuts through whatever else is going on, so the audience is absolutely clear what is the lead and what is accompaniment.

[Edit 2/1/20] The empty space has been filled with a Braids. I can patch it as a stunt voice, like heavy ring modulation or vocal sounds, or just double up for phatness.
Last edited by Pelsea on Sat Feb 01, 2020 1:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Fog Door » Tue Aug 27, 2019 5:27 pm

which ones are the best "bang for the buck"
I've only been working with modular for a few months myself but the amount of "bang for your buck" offered by Plaits is staggering, beautiful sounds for playing melodies on a keyboard, but great for drone/experimental too and also now has an LFO mode.

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Post by starthief » Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:06 am

It depends on what you like and what you're trying to do.

I don't personally see a lot of point in creating a basic analog subtractive synth voice in Eurorack -- but if that's what you are most interested in, starting with a semi-modular and then expanding on that can be a good way to go.

Personally, I really like "West Coast" voices which are less common outside of modular, and I prefer TZFM over expo FM generally. So my minimal set would be something like:

Hertz Donut mk2 or mk3, or Quad Operator
Crossfold or Bastl Timber
Natural Gate or ... some other (non-passive) LPG if I couldn't get it
Falistri, Zadar, or Stages
a basic VCA

There are plenty of possible variations on this theme though.
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Post by bengarland » Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:49 am

Thanks for the replies so far!

I began by building the semi-modular FSS Brunswick. I like it because it gives me the basics of modular and has a lot of patch points to play with. The DIY version is also super cheap and fun to build. My main interest in creating a standard synth voice in Eurorack is that 1) it’s what I know and enjoy, so I think it’s a good place to start and 2) I’m intrigued by all of the possibilities of Eurorack compared to the limited options of a “fixed” monophonic synth. But since I’m new to this I’m still trying to learn what extra stuff Eurorack can do for me, and how to use it :)

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Post by DSC » Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:16 am

Basic waveforms will get kinda boring after a while. Look into wavefolders so you can pick up a second or third harmonic. That is what I incorporated with quad, 3340 chip modules.
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Post by electricanada » Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:18 pm

A Mother 32 is the least expensive way to get a (great-sounding) subtractive modular voice. Agree with posters above that modular is not necessary to do this. Maybe try software emulators like Autonomstonism or vcvrack until you have a defined goal.
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Post by Blairio » Thu Aug 29, 2019 12:04 am

Mutable's Braids, Rings and Plaits can all be played as complete voices via conventional input devices such as keyboards or wind controllers, via a cv/gate interface.

They are pretty effective used this way - and that's before they are hooked up to additional modulation sources, filters etc.

One of my favourite compact setups is Braids, two Peaks, and Ripples.

The first Peaks generates two individual envelopes for amplitude and filter.

The second Peaks generates a couple of LFOs, for modulating Braids' colour & timbre, or Ripples' resonance or cutoff.

Ripples serves both as filter and output stage. Using Ripples' inbuilt VCA means no additional VCA is required.

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Post by cptnal » Thu Aug 29, 2019 8:57 am

What I found strange about discussions on creating synth voices (after I got one) was the absence of matrix mixers. Consider the SH-101 - you have an LFO and an envelope, and you can send those, in controlable proportions, to PWM, pitch, cutoff... That's a matrix mixer! For something that appears to have been a staple of subtractive synthesis from the year dot, there's curiously little discussion of it.

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Post by Blairio » Thu Aug 29, 2019 9:43 am

cptnal wrote:What I found strange about discussions on creating synth voices (after I got one) was the absence of matrix mixers. Consider the SH-101 - you have an LFO and an envelope, and you can send those, in controlable proportions, to PWM, pitch, cutoff... That's a matrix mixer! For something that appears to have been a staple of subtractive synthesis from the year dot, there's curiously little discussion of it.
Fair point. Most semi modular synths implement this in software (usually termed the modulation matrix). Some filters (like the AJH MiniMod Ladder Filter) have an input mixer which will accept up to three sources. I am not aware of a matrix mixer module that has say, 4 sources and 8 destinations.

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Post by Pelsea » Thu Aug 29, 2019 1:25 pm

The thing about matrix mixers is they are sort of hard to use. It's hard to remember which row is doing what and really easy to grab the wrong knob. Most audio mixing on synthesizers is mono, only requiring one row-- if you want pan to stereo, a dedicated pan is way easier to operate and see. The use of a matrix as a CV distribution scheme died out in the 70s, replaced by CV mixing on the modules themselves.

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Post by fingerfarbensound » Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:01 pm

starthief wrote: Personally, I really like "West Coast" voices which are less common outside of modular, and I prefer TZFM over expo FM generally. So my minimal set would be something like:

...
Natural Gate or ... some other (non-passive) LPG if I couldn't get it
...
Interesting, can you explain a patch that makes the LPG essential for this kind of synthesis?
Would a pingable filter (like Filter 8) also be useful for that (albeit overkill)?

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Post by Blairio » Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:32 pm

Pelsea wrote:The thing about matrix mixers is they are sort of hard to use. It's hard to remember which row is doing what and really easy to grab the wrong knob. Most audio mixing on synthesizers is mono, only requiring one row-- if you want pan to stereo, a dedicated pan is way easier to operate and see. The use of a matrix as a CV distribution scheme died out in the 70s, replaced by CV mixing on the modules themselves.

https://youtu.be/dWAERJhHL4w
I suppose you could pass each modulation source into its own (inexpensive) passive mult and then direct feeds from that mult to different destinations. That works fine if the target modules have attenuation on their CV inputs - but increasingly modules have ditched input attenuators in favour of smaller footprints. Doepfer is a praiseworthy exception to this trend.

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Post by Randy » Fri Aug 30, 2019 11:07 am

I've been working with PM Foundations on some SEM-tribute modules, and as part of this effort, we decided to create a single-voice synth panel version as well.

So I then needed to think about what would be my target architecture for a synth voice. Something similar to an Oberheim SEM but updated with more features, and no patch cords.

I went with 3 VCOs, one of which could be switched to an LFO, a modulation source with multiple waveforms, S&H and Noise, a wavefolder (totally agree with DSC), a ring modulator, a mixer in front of the VCF, a multimode VCF (like the SEM's), two envelope generators, and a final mixer coupled with a VCA.

That's the combo I figured would be a reasonable voice. Coupled with the various routing toggles and some pushbuttons, I could do a standard east coast voice, audio rate FM, VCO sync, wavefolding against a VCO or the ring mod, trigger one of the EGs with an LFO to use as a function generator and a bunch of other stuff.

If you want to see / hear the panel in action:



Randy

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Post by Blairio » Fri Aug 30, 2019 12:19 pm

Randy wrote:I've been working with PM Foundations on some SEM-tribute modules, and as part of this effort, we decided to create a single-voice synth panel version as well.

So I then needed to think about what would be my target architecture for a synth voice. Something similar to an Oberheim SEM but updated with more features, and no patch cords.

I went with 3 VCOs, one of which could be switched to an LFO, a modulation source with multiple waveforms, S&H and Noise, a wavefolder (totally agree with DSC), a ring modulator, a mixer in front of the VCF, a multimode VCF (like the SEM's), two envelope generators, and a final mixer coupled with a VCA.

That's the combo I figured would be a reasonable voice. Coupled with the various routing toggles and some pushbuttons, I could do a standard east coast voice, audio rate FM, VCO sync, wavefolding against a VCO or the ring mod, trigger one of the EGs with an LFO to use as a function generator and a bunch of other stuff.

If you want to see / hear the panel in action:



Randy
That sounds like a great specification - either for or module or a standalone mono (or duo)phonic synth. I guess the issue is ergonomics and HP real estate. It is a pretty large footprint though.

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Post by starthief » Fri Aug 30, 2019 12:26 pm

fingerfarbensound wrote:Interesting, can you explain a patch that makes the LPG essential for this kind of synthesis?
Would a pingable filter (like Filter 8) also be useful for that (albeit overkill)?
Not much to explain, I just like the sound :) It doesn't even have anything to do with pinging, I just often prefer LPGs over VCAs for output, especially with oscillators that have more harmonics to chew on.

Filters can be used to do LPG duty sometimes but aren't really a substitute IMHO. I do like Filter 8 for a lot of reasons though.
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Post by Randy » Fri Aug 30, 2019 2:34 pm

Blairio wrote:That sounds like a great specification - either for or module or a standalone mono (or duo)phonic synth. I guess the issue is ergonomics and HP real estate. It is a pretty large footprint though.
Thanks! So far it's proven to be a cool combination. I used my larger Eurorack setup as a prototyping tool, positioning and experimenting with modules to get what I thought would be a good mix of modules. That's also how I ended up having the wavefolder act on a waveform from the VCO or on the output of the ring modulator.

It's 60hp. You are correct 'though, it is kinda large. We are thinking of it more as a building block for a multi-voice synth, like the SEM. It was the usual fight between fingers and knobs vs. hp. We tried to compromise.

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Post by fingerfarbensound » Fri Aug 30, 2019 6:37 pm

starthief wrote: Not much to explain, I just like the sound :) It doesn't even have anything to do with pinging, I just often prefer LPGs over VCAs for output, especially with oscillators that have more harmonics to chew on.
So in a sense it takes over the role of normally achieved by VCA, LPF & AD ENV with it's own unique characteristic? That'll be pretty effective!

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Post by Mikeyg3k » Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:52 am

I’m gonna sound very basic here but that’s okay - I’ve found the combination of maths & optimix to be indispensable for a lot of my “synth voice” patches. It was explained to me that optimix is a lo pass gate which does its own sort of filtering and is also a vca in a nutshell. I took that advice and have been really happy with them. As a basic building block those 2 modules are hard to beat

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Re: Modular-as-a-synth-voice: What modules are "essentials&

Post by smithjohn » Fri Jan 31, 2020 12:20 am

LPGs can effectively tame harshness in some FM or Ring mod patches. You might get a Buchla bongo instead of headache-inducing noise :hihi:

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Re: Modular-as-a-synth-voice: What modules are "essentials&

Post by The Grump » Mon Feb 24, 2020 1:08 pm

My Eurorig is basically a synth voice with some effects and sequencing. Maths, Complex VCO (Cs-L), Wavetable VCO (Graphic VCO), a couple of Disting Mk4's, a couple of VCA's, VCF (Z2040 mk2), SDS Reflex, SDS RIT-M, and an Antumbra Smog for good measure. I mix the VCO outputs with a Bastl DUDE, I have some home made LFO's, and an LPG based on the Buchla design, and I'll occasionally run it through a Big Sky. I'll play lines with it using my keyboard and my Pyramid, or use it for generating sounds to sample.

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Re: Modular-as-a-synth-voice: What modules are "essentials&

Post by Martebar » Tue Feb 25, 2020 11:08 am

While roaming on "what modules should I get first?" topics for a while (and even writing my own) I never got a satisfying answer because it depends so much on what you want to do and what the people replying see as necessary, so I decided to pursue a little analysis on my own by looking at 26 pre-made systems (from Make Noise, Endorphin.es, Doepfer and others) and semi modular synths (0-Coast, Mother 32, Arp 2600 among others) and counting everytime a specific module was included. I have a big table with the results but unfortunately can't upload it here from work, but the five most used modules (excluding a MIDI interface) were the following:
  • A function generator (Envelope or LFO, a cycling envelope or slew generator such as Function is better, a dual one such as Maths or a complex one such as Stages is even better)
  • A VCA (dual is better, consider Moddemix so you get a Ring Modulator too)
  • A VCF (maybe consider a LPG to combine VCA and VCF, or get a resonant one to use it as a second VCO or LFO)
  • A VCO (maybe something like Dixie so you can use it as an LFO)
  • A mixer (maybe consider a cascading VCA such as Quad VCA to combine both)
Right now I bought a 40HP case to use for a very minimal rack when I don't want to take my 84hp with me, and it will include Mutant Brain, Godspeed, Stages, uVCF and Moddemix which will be my "essential synth voice"

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