Planning a Modular

I’ve started to plan a modular synthesizer. I really like the Monorocket cases and I’ve picked out some modules to start with: Doepfer A-190-3 Midi to CV interface, Doepfer A-155 Analog Sequencer, Doepfer A-198 Ribbon Controller, Livewire Audio Frequency Generator (AFG), Harvestman Hertz Donut digital oscillator, Doepfer a-118 Noise Module, Livewire FrequenSteiner Filter, Doepfer A-140 Envelope Generator (two of them), Doepfer a-147 LFO, Pittsburgh Modular Analog Delay and a Doepfer a-199 Spring Reverb.

I have some questions: Do I need to know anything about powering these? If I got the Monorocket M9B could I just plug the above in and expect it to work? Is there a shop or meet up in the NYC are where I can try out some modules? What about my choices above? For example I picked two Doepfer A-140 Envelope Generators because I have two Oscillators. I assume I need them otherwise the Oscillators will just drone on. I know there are a lot of other exciting modules out there but any recommendations are welcome.

“Combining the signals generated by multiple modules into a common audio output allows a potentially infinite number of configurations, leading to a potentially infinite number of sounds.” – Wikipedia

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Oliver Chesler

"Hello my name is Oliver and I'm going to tell you a story." I have been recording music since 1989 under the name The Horrorist. I have released over 60 singles and 4 full length albums. To hear my music please go to:

39 thoughts on “Planning a Modular”

  1. Hi Oliver,
    Some suggestions:
    To get a basic traditional synth voice, you’ll need Oscillator + Envelope Generator + Filter + Voltage Controlled Amplifier (VCA) – the envelope outputs a voltage, it doesn’t do anything to a signal. VCAs are also handy because they let you control any voltage with any other voltage – i.e. put an envelope generator through a VCA being controlled by an LFO, and the envelope will pulse up and down.
    – I’d ditch the two ADSRs and get a MakeNoise Maths – totally baffling when you first see it, but I use it in every patch – is 2 x voltage controlled attack/decay envelopes that can loop, so can be used as gnarly oscillators or useful LFOs, plus 2 x attenuators/offsets (super useful).
    – I’d consider swapping the A155 for 2x Makenoise Pressure Points and a Brains. It’s possibly deeper and more versatile as a sequencer and/or touch interface and/or keyboard
    – A199 is awesome and essential (unless you make your own spring reverb!)
    – A quantiser is really useful if you want to do anything melodic – takes voltages and forces them into 1v/octave scales – run in an LFO, get scales, flip switches to get major/minor/7th – the Doepfer A156 is good – it can spit out a trigger every time a note changes, which is super handy – but the Intellijel uScale and the Topporbrillo Quantimator are also supposed to be very good
    – General tip – start small, buy fewer modules, learn those modules, realise what you want next. YOU WILL STILL SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY
    – Joystick = awesome, doepfer is fine, Flight of Harmony choices is better but spendier – the Wiard JAG looks interesting.
    – A mixer is useful – something to get sound out the end – I have the MFB Drum99 which is fine, stereo mixer is very handy.
    – TipTop Stackables are really useful, let you plug two things into one. The skinny doepfer cables are also very good.
    – Listen to my soundcloud and realise you’ll be making really really stupid noises for ever more:
    – Reading – you’ll have to get addicted to Muffwigglers forum – very deep, very friendly, you’ll realise that you really need to sell your house to buy a Buchla. See if you can find a PDF of Allen Strange’s book ‘Electronic music systems techniques and controls’ – great (deep) introduction to the field.
    Have fun!

    1. Hi Tom I really appreciate your response. I noticed a lot of people using the Maths but yeah it seemed complicated to me. I watched some videos and was baffled…. that said everyone can’t be wrong so I will go for it. I really like the Pressure Points but didn’t realize the Brains would be what I should use with them (thank you)… The quantizer… you saved me some stress here because I am 100% doing to try to use this modular in my standard music.. I didn’t know I needed a module to do that! Mixer… your the 2nd person to mention that was missing so yeah… I am going to start slow for sure and spend time on the Wiggler forums and try to get to some meet ups. I will post my progress on the blog of course!

      1. Maths is complicated at first, it has that crazy layout and not much in the way of labelling, but once you get it going, it’s essential. You plug one channel into a filter and one into an oscillator, put both channels on ‘cycle’ start tweaking the knobs, patch it into itself and suddenly you’re in ‘Woah’ territory, realising why you’re doing this rather than making everything on a computer.

  2. Hi Oliver

    Great that you are getting into the modular stuff. I’ve recently started my modular synth…

    Don’t you have the Doepfer Dark Time? I’m quite sure that instead of getting the Doepfer A-155 Analog Sequencer you could connect your Dark Time to your modular and save the space for other modules. :)

    Good Luck!


    1. HI Jajob… Yes I have the Dark Time… I was thinking I need more multiple sequences running together. I may take Tom’s idea of Pressure Points and Brains instead. There’s also some tasty Chaos Computer thing I see around!

      1. That’s a good idea getting the Pressure Points and Brains instead, and then you can of course still use your Dark Time in conjunction with your modular stuff.

        I’m getting the MATHS module tomorrow – can’t wait to explore that one! :)


  3. Go for the Maths! I got two by accident and I’ve been blessed ever since. They can also be used as lowpassfilter, awesome slew limiter for portamento, trigger delay, complete cv-controllable ADSR and lots more. They are truly swiz army knifes. For mixing take a look at the QMMG (Quad MultiMode Gate) it’s really cool with 4 cv-controllable low/hipass filters with resonance.
    The AFG is wicked!!

  4. Make sure you check out the MOTM units. The Morphing Terrarium is high on my lust list for eurorack modules (I’m a dotcom user myself). It’s kind of like a mono super wavestation where you can control the wavetable scanning in x and y directions via CV.

  5. You definitely need some VCAs and mixers in there. More modulation sources would be good as well; the harmonic animation section of the AFG is one of it’s best features, and gains a lot from being modulated. I pair mine with a livewire Vulcan modulator.

    If you like the harvestman stuff, you might want to look into the Double Andore, which gives you a pair of envs along with vcas.

  6. Another shout-out here for Muffwiggler — the kind of questions your asking down to the NYC meetup question are the bread and butter of that place — and it’s not your typical asshat internet forum. Besides the crap-ton of information I gleaned from that place when I began planning my Euro rig 18 months ago (reading it religiously, nearly everyday), I’ve met some cool people, bought some killer gear used from other members and the man who hosts it is a right gent. I don’t believe there is a better resource on your trip into Euro-territory. Best of luck.

  7. Drop the Doepfer utility modules for Intellijel + TipTop Audio. The only Doepfer utility module that is sorta cool personally is the A-119, which is one of Dieter’s “design copise” of STS’s Preamp Detector.

    As far as intellijel goes, there is much denser functionality in a smaller unit space per module, so a HexVCA (6vca) and a Azimuth will get you pretty far. They also just released a rather good MS20 filter clone, apparently.

    Essentially you can clock sync from audio with no midi necessary by generating an envelope from a click track. 4MS rotating clock divider for getting out of even time signatures.

    A Malekko/Wiard Noisering + 2x Envelators will also exponentially increase usefulness of the system.

    If you wanna say fuck it to this planning stuff, give Sound Transform Systems a call. Rex just released a companion to the Animal, the Animate. Build quality is way beyond anything you will find in Eurorack.

    1. Thanks for the tips. I’m definitely looking at the Intellijel modules (are they affiliated with Analog Haven?)… If nothing else thank Doepfer for simple names and descriptions. A lot of the wild names of the modules totally confuse me (for now!).

  8. Oliver, some good comments here. I hope to see you post at Muffwigglers as well.

    I’m reading between some lines here, so I could be wrong. But your list missing mixers and especially VCAs makes me think that you’re coming at this from the angle of having worked with traditional synths and there are a few things about modulars that are kinda sneaky. In a traditional synth patch, the VCO goes into the filter goes into the envelope and then out. So it’s like the envelope and the VCA are somehow merged. WIth a modular, the envelope has no audio input at all. Rather, it’s more like an LFO — it’s merely modulating the VCA by opening it up to allow the audio to pass through. So therefore you’ll want at the very very least one VCA. Luckily, most VCAs come in pairs (the Doepfer A132-3 is my most-used one, but there are dozens to choose from). You can also use VCAs to modulate things other than audio volume. Maybe you have a LFO playing the frequency cutoff of your filter. You can put the VCA between them and use a joystick or another midi track to modulate the VCA, so it changes how much of the LFO is hitting the filter cutoff.
    All apologies if you know this stuff already.
    Your Monorocket can easily run the modules. However there can be a pretty long wait for the Monorocket cases.
    I also second the encouragement to look at TipTop and Intellijel. Lots of useful stuff with an often-different design than the Doepfer modules.
    The Maths is a great choice but if you don’t what you’d do with it then there’s no reason yet to get it. It has replaced a lot of my ADSR work mainly because I rarely need the S or R. But with some patching it does that too. It’s simpler than it seems, being two LFOs or two envelope generators, either of which can trigger the other. It’s also got two attenuator channels. It kind of fits in with more of the Buchla-style of synthesis, as opposed to the more traditional Moog style that you’re probably more familiar with. Triggering complex envelopes and events, and whatnot.

    Post more about your plan as it takes place. Have fun man.

    1. Hi Brian… thanks for the reply. Yes you are right I totally come from traditional synths and couldn’t figure out what the VCA did. I know the Oscillator makes noise on his own right? But now it does all make sense for sure. I’ve decided on the Maths too… everyone raves about it! It certainly looks cool heh. The funny thing now is the more I see the more modules are on my must have list. For example how did I ever live without a Make Noise Photogene? It’s like a THX1138 soundtrack in a box! I also really want the Acidlab Autobot… I think the 303 sound is borning BUT the sequencer is amazing and paired up with new oscillators like the digital Harvestman… So now Im thinking I need a bigger case…. oh jeez help me.

  9. I’m nervous about the Monorocket cases these days. I know 3 people with Monorockets, and two have had power supply problems that required sending the cases back. I built my case, but if I was going to buy one I’d either go with a Gorillabox case or the TipTop rails and power in a standard 19″ rack.

    1. Interesting… thanks for the heads up. I like the look of the orange Monorocket that The Harvestman and Nick over at Sonic State has… the color goes well with the grey modules. I was thinking I may want something more solid/steel? if I’m going to bring my system out.

      1. A friend of mine got his Monorocket case brand new two weeks ago, anything plugged into the bottom bus board has audible 60 Hz hum in it. You are right, there were a lot of PSU problems with the early cases and the new supplies have had a lot fewer complaints, but it’s still not rock-solid.

        For ‘solid’ Eurocases, Gorillabox has it on lockdown but you get an overbuilt price with the overbuilt case.

  10. Hey brother,
    Lots of great info so far. If your ever down to venture into borough park I have 12u of eurocrack and I can walk you through a ton of modules and patching concepts.

  11. Looking good! I echo the comments to get a MATHS – get the MATHS. Definitely recommend the Frequensteiner, but would say (as someone who owns both) that the Intellijel Korgasmatron is an absolutely ESSENTIAL filter. There’s no accounting for taste, but I just simply couldn’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t love it. And it’s very powerful in a small system too. Between the two filters, I’d get the intellijel without doubt.

    And also echo getting the Doepfer spring reverb. You think you wouldn’t need it, but the character it lends the modular is just perfect…

  12. Like you, i use my Modular for normal synth type sounds, and not for the more experimental droney stuff a lot of people use them for. I’ll give you a rundown of my system.

    TTA Z3000 VCO OSC303 VCO
    Doepfer A-138 (expo) Mixer
    Intelligel Korgasmatron VCF
    Flight Of Harmony V’Amp VCA
    Circuit Abbey ADSRjr w/expander
    Doepfer A-141 VCADSR
    Doepfer A-142-4 Quad Decay

    This is my current usable system. A simple 3u set up for really nice typical synth sounds. I also have the followingmodules not hooked up at this time due to space:
    Harvestman Piston Honda Wavetable Osc
    Harvestman Polivoks VCF
    Doepfer A-120 VCF (modified)
    Flight Of Harmony Plague Bearer (1x r3 and 2x r4)
    Flight of Harmony Choices
    Flight Of Harmony Sound Of Shadows
    Intelligel uStep Gate Sequencer

    You WILL want a minimum of TWO Envelopes. One for the VCA and one for the VCF. Check out the soon to be released Circuit Abbey ADSRjr with the expansion module. Also the new 4ms Pingable Envelope Generator (PEG) also looks awesome as hell. And yes, i also urge you to sign up to Muffwiggler. It is THEE worldly spot for anything Modular. And cats =o]

      1. The ADSRjr is going to be one of the best bang for your buck in Euroland for sure. LOTS of functionality stuffed into 8hp (2x4hp). The Expander gives CV control over all ADSR parameters, along with trigger outputs in the form of End of Attack, End of Decay and End of Release. Also an Inverted Signal output and a manual Trigger button. You can also switch between Linear and Exponential modes as well. The main ADSR module gives you the typical Gate In and EG out. There are jumpers on the back to select the Lin or Expo curves if you don’t have the expander. You also get a button to select 3 different speeds and a Cycle Button that will throw into a Loop Mode. This is great! Goes well into the audio range =o]

        Just something to think about to add some motion and life to a sound.

  13. Lot´s of good tips here. My advice…get one module after another. Start with the most basic set, and work up your way from there. You will definately buy a few modules in the beginning that you will sell later on. The A155/156 has a big advantage over the Dark Time…you can crank up the speed into audio range and use it as a kind of Oscillator/Modulator.

    1. Yeah – strongly agree! Just get only what you NEED first, and only buy a new module when you find yourself repeatedly saying “I wish I could do X”.

      The flipside is some modules are a bit ‘hallelujah’ when you discover them – Doepfer A199 for example. There’s other things too, like Chris Randall’s trick to control Eventide pedals safely with CV’s – where actually it’s knowledge that’s the thing to spend your time on acquiring.

      1. Yeah it would take some of the fun out of it to get everything at once. I think that’s the magic about building a modular… it takes place over time. My listed of interesting modules is getting quite long!

        1. Well it’s not so much the fun you lose, but it’s just easy to mistake what other people need for what YOU need! You’ll rapidly discover that even a handful of modules can produce a lifetimes worth of sound design possibilities. Less is more, and also particular modules compliment particular other modules really well.

          1. @Oliver: sourcey source is absolutely right here. With a small setup of a 2x Maths and a Piston Honda you can already create a wide range of very interesting sounds. Add your Dark Time to that small setup and can go even broader (the Dark Time has a built-in Quantizer, so no need to buy one at first). There´s a TON of interesting modules out there, so take your time, sign up at Muffwigglers and read read read before you shop. Also always be aware of what YOU want to do with the system. Do you want to do classic east coast sound (Moogish) or do crazy west coast (Buchla/Serge) stuff. Someone also suggested a Serge Animal. Have a look at that as well. Here´s a good starting point:

  14. There’s a big difference between “a lot of problems” vs. “a lot of talk about a few problems”….

    If the power supply in our case is the only objection to a purchase – you can now buy a Monorocket case without power (psu, distro boards or both) and install any manufacturer you like (there are currently 4 choices besides us).

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