You Ask, We Answer: Choosing a Modular Synthesizer - EMusician

You Ask, We Answer: Choosing a Modular Synthesizer

Which format is best for your first modular synthesizer?
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I AM INTERESTED IN BUYING MY FIRST MODULAR SYNTHESIZER, BUT I CAN’T DECIDE ON WHICH FORMAT IS BEST—LARGE MODULES OR A SMALLER FORMAT. IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO ONE SIZE OVER ANOTHER?

SUZANNE SHARPES
RIVERSIDE, CA
VIA EMAIL

While synth modules are available in numerous formats, some sizes, such as Frac Rack and Eurorack, have grown particularly popular. While modules are available in numerous formats, some sizes have become popular and easy entry points for the new user. The main minijack (3.5mm) formats are Frac Rack and Eurorack. Of the two, Eurorack has the largest number or manufacturers and modules available, and some of the least expensive. The advantages with both formats are size (3U tall; more modules per foot) and portability; with Eurorack, breadth of products and affordability are pluses. For some people, the diminutive size is also the main disadvantage: the knobs are small and often placed close together, depending on feature density. If you have big fingers, patching and playing small modules can be frustrating.

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In contrast, the larger, 5U “Moog-style” format feels roomier. The knobs are bigger and the web of patch cables easier to navigate. The downside is that large-format modules take up a lot of space and are more difficult to transport. Additionally, there are fewer manufacturers and fewer module choices.

Banana-jack systems are much more varied in terms of module size, power supply requirements, and CV levels. Bug Brand, Buchla and Modcan A-series, for example, are 3U, 4U, and 5U in size, respectively. But if one company’s offerings excite you, then banana jacks are a great way to go because the plugs are stackable, making it easy to create complex patches.

Some manufacturers provide affordably priced starter systems, such as Pittsburgh Modular (Eurorack) and Synthesizers. com (5U). The good news is, no matter what format you choose, it’ll almost always play well with the others.
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