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Is modular inherently susceptible to signal degredation?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion  
Author Is modular inherently susceptible to signal degredation?
cwhiley
Let me start by saying I own NO modular gear. NONE.

But in thinking about about signal path, modules after module after module, patch cable after patch cable after patch cable...It seems...on the surface...to this "layman"...that by design it is inherently susceptible to signal degredation. Is this so? Why or why not?

All those solder joints (no single integrated PCB) and all those patch points seems like a recipe for disaster.

Thoughts?
sduck
One might think that would be the case, especially if coming from an electric guitar background. With those, any pedalboard type setup has to deal with signal degradation to some extent. However, in modularland the voltage levels are much higher to start with, and the impedance levels are much (higher or lower? I can never remember...) ...better. So in the end, even with a really complex patch, while you might get a bit of signal loss, it's pretty negligible.
slow_riot
The post is actually more revealing than my first guess assumed it would be! (Sorry, there are often so many erroneous preconceptions about the interaction between audio science and art, that it's easy to jump to hasty conclusions).

A modular is no different than a hardwired synthesizer or similar electronic audio device, where these same connections exist internally. Having them hardwired internally does give the prepatched device an edge because the destination is known exactly, and it also does not need to be protected against misconnection, where output protection does generally cause a known loss in level (not integrity) which can cause issues when the output and input are being used for a level sensitive value such as pitch from a step sequencer.

One big issue with modular wiring is when patching between devices that have different power supplies, this is where thoughtful engineering really comes into play, and is more often than not the achilles heel when you see a studio or similar room with walls of modular equipment.

Another issue is that now these devices are sold by many manufacturers, using an out of date spec defined by another, rather than in the days when one manufacturer sold one system, is that it can be hard to predict how devices will interact in a system. There are widely known issues regarding cross talk which often seem to be addressed by voodoo practices such as moving devices around to find the one position where the unwanted interaction becomes more tolerable, or simply learning to tolerate it.

Theoretically, and according to current technology and techniques, there is no reason why a modular should have any compromises to signal integrity, regardless of patch size or complexity.
cwhiley
slow_riot wrote:
The post is actually more revealing than my first guess assumed it would be!

Having them hardwired internally does give the prepatched device an edge because the destination is known exactly, and it also does not need to be protected against misconnection, where output protection does generally cause a known loss in level (not integrity) which can cause issues when the output and input are being used for a level sensitive value such as pitch from a step sequencer.



Good call in calling out the difference between a loss in signal level and a loss in integrity. I was labeling them one in the same and my question really applies to both.
Astrolabe23
I find that on my modular, problems with bad cables, intermitent or dirty jacks or "scratch" pots, happens at the about the same rate as the other gear in the studio like patchbays, mixers and other hardware synths.
MindMachine
Hopefully.
Parnelli
With the voltages that modular runs on I wouldn't think that there would be as much room for the introduction of unwanted signals as in say a guitar, because we're looking at the guitar's millivolts trying to push their way past all of the noise as compared to the 10 volts or so of the modular system.

The degradation issue would be a problem if you were to run hundred foot cables, but in running them from module to module the distance is short, and the signal is processed by other components which buffer, correct, or rearrange the signal and pass it on to another module refreshed. Now if you were to run a few dozen cables through a pile of non-buffered mults you might begin to notice problems.
Dcramer
To answer your question Cwhiley, no
But your wallet will be susceptible to degradation. hihi
cwhiley
Dcramer wrote:
To answer your question Cwhiley, no
But your wallet will be susceptible to degradation. hihi


Which is probably why I haven't gotten into it. I have enough trouble with GAS as it is. I want every pre-wired synthesizer under the sun right now. I can only imagine once I could do anything and everything with as many voices, filters, lfo's (and so on) as humanly possible if I started modular.

Speaking of wallets, it feels like modular is so much more expensive in general than other pre-wired synths. I know it's a different animal but it seems like since the manufacturers make so many fewer units the costs are so much higher by comparison.
Rex Coil 7
With modular synths, you're not dealing with the same susceptibility to issues regarding capacitance and pickup loading like you do with guitars. While they both make sound (guitars and modulars) their likenesses end there.

A typical electric guitar pickup (single coil) only puts out about 1/3rd of a volt, even when you're pounding the livin' shit out of the poor defenseless guitar. And most passive guitars (most hell ... ALL passive guitars) require an input impedance of at least 1 meg ohm otherwise the pickups will load down and make the "wet carpet thrown over the speaker cab" tone. Nuttin' buht mud.

Compare that to the ~roughly~ 10 volts that any given module either outputs or can take as input. And keep in mind that each module (most of them anyhow) are actively buffered. So the first module in a thirty module long chain thinks it is connected to only one module, since the buffering makes the following 29 modules seem "invisible" to the one at the beginning of the chain. This keeps the signal quality "fresh".

So in reality, the longest chain in a given patch is no longer than the patch cable that is between the first two modules, regardless of how many modules there are, or how long the signal chain is.

So it's not like a poorly thought out pedalboard, where the user thought it best to outfit the board with nothing but pedals that have true bypass. If all of the stomp boxes are bypassed, you essentially have a guitar cable that is as long as the entire signal chain is, including going in and out of each pedal. The longer that "cable" is (so to speak) the greater the capacitive loading on the pickups, and the greater the load the worse the tone. Place a buffered pedal at the very input of the pedalboard, straight from the pickups, and the guitar pickups "think" the signal chain is only as long as the guitar cable that goes from the guitar to the very first pedal (the buffer). Everything AFTER the buffer is totally "invisible" to the guitar pickups.

Since modular synth modules are more or less all buffered, the longest "run" is no longer than the first patch cable between the first two modules in a given patch. And at 10 volts peak to peak, unless that patch cable is many of feets (like many many yards - like fifty) long the tonal loading is not even a tiny little bitsy issue.
MarcelP
In terms of just the audio signal the signal path itself is not very long/convoluted - less so than it might appear when looking at the tangle of cables on a Modular. Most of the time the signals are internally generated and manipulated before being heard and tweaked to taste - the unintended “degradation” in that process has little impact - and who knows what the signal sounds like when it is moving around inside the box? Predictability is more important than absolute integrity.

Probably the most important signal one would want to retain its integrity would be CVs that control pitch. If that degraded while being passed to multiple modules the effect is irritating to say the least. Hence the recommendation to use buffered multiples to distribute pitch CV.
Graham Hinton
cwhiley wrote:
But in thinking about about signal path, modules after module after module, patch cable after patch cable after patch cable...It seems...on the surface...to this "layman"...that by design it is inherently susceptible to signal degredation. Is this so? Why or why not?


All analogue signal processing introduces noise and distortion. Sometimes it is desirable, sometimes not, but it really depends on how much and if it is followed by gain.
In principle the complexity is similar to a large recording studio, but where a lot of attention will have been applied to professional recording equipment to keep the noise and distortion low, with synthesizers modules this is often ignored and some are very noisy. Every single resistor in the signal path contributes noise according to its value and synthesizers usually have high values, much higher than would be considered acceptable in pro audio circuits.

It helps to put some numbers on this to keep it in perspective. Synthesizer noise floors are often around -60dBu and may be as bad as -40dBu.

Quote:

All those solder joints (no single integrated PCB) and all those patch points seems like a recipe for disaster.


The complexity of any system effects its reliability. After a certain size there will always be something needing a repair, that's something that you have to manage so that you can carry on working. It is also down to the quality of components chosen. There have been disasters, the ARP 2500 matrix switches spring to mind. They seemed a good idea when they were new, but proved unreliable and then became unobtainable and the whole system depended on them.
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