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Modular Analog Synthesis

There are several major manufacturers of synth modules, in both kit and pre-assembled forms. This is a place to find information on analog synthesizer DYI related tools and parts.

 

Overview

Modular analog synthesizers are musical instruments that are typically made up of discreet analog electrical circuits. These circuits may be mounted on individual panels, or may be grouped together in various chassis configurations.

While some manufacturers produce modules in sizes that no others make, there are three physical and electrical formats that are used by more than one module manufacturer - "Euro-Rack", the format used by Analogue Systems, Analogue Solutions, Doepfer and Plan B (with minor differences), "Frac-Rack", the format pioneered by PAiA and used by Blacet, Wiard and others, and "MOTM", used by Synth Tech and many other makers. Euro-Rack and Frac-Rack formats use 3U (5.25") of vertical space. MOTM uses 5U (8.75") of vertical space. Typically, this means that the Euro- and Frac-Rack modules use smaller knobs and jacks, while the MOTM modules use larger ones.

In general, european modules use 12v power and modules from the United States use 15v. There are exceptions, as well as some newer modules that use 5v power.

One of the biggest decisions you can make is whether to purchase full kits, parts, or pre-built modules.

Synth Information Sources

  • MATRIXSYNTH
  • Vintage Synth Explorer
  • Muff Wiggler
  • Troniks
  • Electronics Parts sources

    UK
    • Farnell
    • Maplin
    • Rapid
    • RS Components
    US Prototyping Boards
    • One Pas Combination surface mount and through-hole proto boards
    Patch Panels Soldering Matched Transistor Array ICs OTA info

    Panels, screws, cabinets, etc

    Circuit design

    Free

    • ExpressPCB free software if you have them make your boards
    • gEDA free - Windows, Mac, Linux
    • Kicad free - Windows, Linux. (Mac not so much...)

    Low to medium price

    • Diptrace $75-695
    • Eagle Very common tool in DIY circles, but version 5 prices have gone up. $0-1500
    • Rimu PCB

    Full fledged

    Circuit modeling

    Oscilloscopes, meters, etc

    Eurorack Synth Modular Manufacturers

  • 4MS Pedals has moved from effects pedals into Eurorack Modules, with their Pingable Envelope Generator, Shuffling Clock Multiplier, Atoner, Swash and other modules.
  • Abstract Data – maker of the ADE-10 Reactive Shaper module.
  • ADDAC Systems - offers programmable modules, like the Voltage-Controlled Computer system and several stand-alone modules.
  • AMSynths - a small scale, UK based, manufacturer of high quality analog synthesizer modules, as well as PCB’s for Synthesizer DIY.
  • Analogue Systems (UK) – makes the RS line of synth modules, and unique keyboard controllers like the French Connection. Analogue Systems on Synthtopia
  • Analogue Solutions (UK) – creators of the Concussor synth modules, along with a variety of synths and sequencers, including the Red Square, the Leipzig, the SEMblance, the TBX-303 and the Oberkorn.  Analogue Solutions on Synthtopia
  • Atomo Labs has introduced a new line of AtomoSynth Eurorack modules.
  • Bananalogue (USA) – makes several synth modules, including a couple of Serge-influenced modules. Their site is currently missing in action. If you’ve got additional information, leave a comment. Bananalogue on Synthtopia
  • Blue Lantern Modules offers a small line of Eurorack modules, which currently includes the LM4250 VCF and the DIode VCF.
  • Bubblesound (US) – makes Eurorack synth modules with original components to more accurately capture the sound of vintage gear. Their site is currently missing in action. If you’ve got additional information, leave a comment. Bubblesound on Synthtopia
  • Circuit Abbey offers several Eurorack modules, including the Gravity Well wave warper, the Tripfire comparator and input and output modules.
  • ControlVoltage.org – makes an analog Eurorack format VCF
  • Cwejman (Sweden) – Cwejman makes semi-modular synthesizers and also a large variety of Eurorack synth modules. Cweman on Synthtopia
  • Cyndustries (USA) – Cyndustries makes synth modules in Blacet, DotCom, ModCan, MOTM & Eurorack formats. Their best known modular is the Zeroscillator, a high end modular oscillator. Cyndustries on Synthtopia.
  • Delptronics offers Eurorack synthesizer modules, effects boxes and other unique electronic musical instruments.
  • Division 6 makes a small line of modules that includes the Filtare SEIII multimode filter and some utility modules.
  • Doepfer (Germany) – manufacturer of electronic music instruments, ranging from keyboards and MIDI controllers to complete analog modular synthesizer systems. Doepfer on Synthtopia
  • Erthenvar has a line of utility modules, including input, output and power modules. They also carry Eurorack DIY parts, including mounting rail.
  • Elby Designs (Australia) – makes the Panther series of Eurorack analog synthesizer modules and kits, based on Cat Girl Synth designs. Elby Designs on Synthtopia
  • Electronic Music Works – has introduced a new line of Eurorack modules, including the Wave Composition Oscillator.
  • Encore Electronics – makes the Universal Event Generator and a Frequency Shifter.
  • Endorphin.es – a new Euro maker that has introduced one moduler, the Furthrrrr Generator.
  • Expert Sleepers – makes Silent Way, a suite of applications for integrating computers with modular synthesizers, and Eurorack interfaces.
  • Flame offers Eurorack modules, in addition to other MIDI controller and electronic music instruments. Their current lineup includes the Clockwork, Tame Machine and Talking Synth modules.
  • Flight of Harmony (USA) – currently has a small line of synth modules, including the Plague Bearer quad voltage-controlled resonant bandpass filter. Flight of Harmony on Synthtopia
  • Future Sound Systems (UK) – Future Sound Systems makes synth modules in MOTM/Modcan/Dotcom and Eurorack formats. You can customize your modules with special panels and LED colors. Future Sound Systems on Synthtopia
  • GorillaBox – makes a line of heavy-duty modular synth cases.
  • Grayscale – creates alternate panels for Eurorack modules
  • Harvestman (USA) – makes a very original line of voltage-controlled digital signal processing modules, including the Malgorithm, Zorlon Cannon, Tyme Safari and a Polivoks filter. Harvestman on Synthtopia
  • Innerclock Systems – offers the Sync-Gen modular DAW synchronization interface.
  • Intellijel makes some creatively designed and named modules, including hte Azimuth, Mutagen, Spock and Mind Meld.
  • Jones – makes Eurorack modules for video synthesis
  • Kenton has introduced a new Eurorack MIDI to CV converter, the Modular Solo.
  • Kilpatrick Audio offers some advanced modules, including a dual VCO, Step Sequencer, Pattern Generator and MIDI Convertor.
  • Livewire (USA) – Livewire makes a small collection of very interesting synth modules, including the Dalek Modulator, Dual Cyclotron & the Vulcan Modulator. Livewire on Synthtopia
  • Livid Instruments has introduced Eurorack format modular MIDI controllers.
  • Low Gain Electronics manufacturers several utility modules.
  • LZX Industries has a line of EuroRack format synthesizer modules designed for creating and manipulating video and images, the LZX Visionary Modular Video Synthesizer.
  • MacBeth Studio Systems has introduced their X-Series  of synth modules.
  • Makenoise (USA) – makes a small collection of synth modules, including a Quad Multi-Mode Gate, modDemod and the Format Jumbler. Makenoise on Synthtopia
  • Malekko Heavy Industry has a broad variety of synth modules, including Eurorack Wiard modules and the B:Assmaster fuzz effect.
  • Metasonix (USA) – specializes in vacuum tube based synth modules. Metasonix on Synthtopia
  • MFB (Germany) – makes a variety of drum synth modules in addition to standard modular synth components (VCO, VCF, sequencers). MFB also makes semi-modular and mini-synths. MFB on Synthtopia
  • Minimal Systems – has introduced a new line of Euro modules.
  • Monorocket – makes suitcase style Eurorack modular synthesizer cases.
  • Mungo Enterprises has introduced a small line of Eurorack modules.
  • Oakley Sound Systems is a popular source of DIY synth module designs.
  • Pittsburgh Modular makes a broad range of modules, including an Analog Delay, Generator dual oscillator and the Timetable clock divider.
  • Plan B (USA) – Peter Grenader’s line of synthesizer modules features a wide variety of modules, many of which are influenced by classic Buchla designs. Plan B on Synthtopia.
  • Rebel Tech – creator of the Stoicheia Euclidean Sequencer.
  • Snazzy FX has begun offering Eurorack modules, starting with the Dreamboat dual chaotic oscillator.
  • Sound Machines offers a small line of Eurorack modules, including the RB1robotto and RC1radiostar.
  • Sound Modular sells cases for Eurorack modular synths.
  • STG Sound Labs modules are available in several formats, including Moog style and Eurorack.
  • Synthwerks has introduced some unique modules, especially the force sensing resistor family of modules.
  • Subconscious Studios – offers a small line of Eurorack modules, including a VCO and LFP.
  • Synthesizer Factory – makes an all-in-one Euro synth module, the Synth Machine.
  • Synthetic Sound Labs – makes both Eurorack and 5U modules
  • Thonk – UK firm that is ‘here to sell you DIY modulare synth goods, including EuroRack module kits.
  • Tiptop (USA) – makes a small, but cool line of synth modules, including the Z3000 Smart Voltage Controlled Oscillator and the Z5000 Voltage Controlled Digital Signal Processor. Tiptop Audio on Synthtopia
  • TouellSkouarn – offers several Eurorack modules, including a Germanium Fuzz, Fet Pream and Stereo HeadPhone output.
  • Trogotronic offers ‘cruel and unusual instruments’, including Eurorack modules, vintage style controllers and ‘Crude Controls’. Current modules include the Model 676 Fury M tube synth and the Model 666 module, which packs a VCO, VCF and VCA into one module.
  • Vermona has announced a Quad MIDI-CV interface for Eurorack modular synths.
  • Voltergeist is a new Eurorack & 5U developer that currently offers Synthesizers.com and MOTM  power components.
  • XAOC Devices, aka ‘The Eastern Bloc Modular Synth Vendor’ has several sequencing modules in development.
  • WMD Instruments makes a line of Eurorack modules that includes the Eurorack Geiger, Micro Hadron Collider and the Gamma Wave Source.
  • Other Sites - Articles and individual web sites.

    There are several good books out there on the subject of analog synthesis. Check out Analog Days by Frank Trocco, Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail and Electronic Music Pioneers by Ben Kettlewell for overviews of the subject.

    For technical information and articles about building analog synthesis circuits, check out these authors:

    • Hal Chamberlin - Music Applications of Microprocessors. Digital orientation, but some good info.
    • Thomas Henry - various - See "Magic Smoke Electronics" below.
    • Hubert Howe - Electronic Music Synthesis
    • Bernie Hutchins Electronotes
    • Walt Jung - Op Amp books
    • Barry Klein "Electronic Music Circuits"
    • Don Lancaster - Filter design
    • Forrest Mims
    • Allen Strange

    Retailers

    There are several stores out there selling analog synthsizers. Here are a few of them:

    USA

    Europe

    Sequencers

    Sequencers are devices that output sequences of information that can be used to play notes or control other aspects of a performance. While there are both hardware and software sequencers, for the moment I am limiting this section to hardware only. Well...ok, except for one: Numerology ;-)

    More info

    Sequencer makers

    MIDI-CV Converters

    If you use a MIDI controller with your modular synth, you'll need some way of converting the MIDI information to the control voltages needed to communicate with your analog modules.

    Quantizers

    If you are using control voltages to set parameters on your analog synth, you may want some way of setting, or "tuning" your voltages so that your sounds are in tune with other instruments. You can use a voltmeter to set your control voltages or use a tuner to check the frequencies output from your VCO, but another way is to put a quantizer in your CV path. (NOTE: If you are using a MIDI-CV converter, it should quantize for you. Some MIDI-CV converters, such as the MOTM-650, have programmable tunings.)

    Manufacturers

    Analogue Solutions

    Analogue Solutions modules fit in the "Euro-rack" case. They require plus or minus 12v and plus 5v power.

    Analogue Systems

    Analogue Systems modules fit in a "Euro-rack" case. They require plus or minus 12v and plus 5v power. (Doepfer power connectors are built into the Analogue Systems case.)

    Anywhere Instruments

    This German company makes the Semtex XL ("Felix") which is cloned from the Oberheim SEM.

    ASM-1

    Gene Stopp's ASM-1 project was a DIY (Do It Yourself) project. There is a follow up project, called, amazingly enough, ASM-2.

    Bananalogue

    Joint venture with Serge Tcherepnin, Ken Stone and Seth Nemec. Serge designs them, Ken makes the boards and Seth assembles them. (Nope, these modules don't actually use banana jacks...)

    Blacet Research

    Blacet modules are based on the "Frac-rack" system. They are 5.25" tall. They require plus or minus 15v power and are calibrated 1v/octave. Connections are made with 1/8" mini-jacks. See Synth Panels below if you want to use a Blacet module with an MOTM front panel.

    Bride Chamber

    Scott Deyo provides various parts and assembled modules.

    Buchla

    Beautiful, but expensive!

    Cat Girl Synth

    See Ken Stone.

    Club Of The Knobs

    Club of the Knobs ("COTK") is in Portugal.

    CMS - Cirocco Modular Systems

    Phil Cirocco builds modules and systems and repairs ARP, Moog and EMS products.

    Curetronic

    This German company makes various module kits.

    Cwejman

    This Swedish company makes the S1 MK2 patchable synth and many Eurorack-style modules.

    Cyndustries

    Many custom modules in Modcan and other styles. Now famous for the $995.00 Zeroscillator. Analogue Haven has some Cyndustries modules in stock - there seems to be a fairly long queue if you order directly from Cynthia.

    Doepfer

    Doepfer is the largest distributer of analog modules. I've heard that everything is designed in Germany and manufactured in China, resulting in very low prices. Doepfer modules fit in the Euro-rack case and require plus or minus 12v and plus 5v power.

    Elby Designs

    Laurie Biddulph provides a variety of boards and parts for ASM-2, AVRSYN, Pixie, Hobbit and more.

    EFM - Electronics For Music

    Tom Gamble runs this site and provides boards for the Wildcat, Tomcat and BassAce. NOTE: Apparently this will be the last run of BassAce boards - when this batch is gone, that's the end...

    EMS - Electronic Music Studios

    Creators of the Synthi A

    Encore Electronics

    Expressionist eight channel MIDI-CV converter and other MIDI controllers and retrofits, MOTM style Universal Event Generator and Frequency Shifter.

    Frostwave

    Paul Perry in Melbourne, Australia builds several pedals and a MIDI to CV converter. Pedals include the Resonator MS-20 filter, the Funk-A-Duck Envelope controlled filter, the Blue Ringer ring modulator and the Spacebeam Theremin, which seems to be similar to a Roland D-Beam.

    Future-Retro

    Jered Flickinger and his father started Future Retro in 1996. Future Retro makes the Evolution monosynth and the Mobius sequencer.

    Ken Stone (CGS)

    Ken supplies many circuit boards for his own projects as well as for other designers.

    Livewire

    Euro-rack size modules. Home of the Dalek and Vulcan modulators.

    Macbeth

    Ken MacBeth builds the M5 patchable synthesizer.

    Magic Smoke Electronics

    Tim Parkhurst and John Mahoney put together Magic Smoke Electronics, which is the sole source for Thomas Henry's designs and publications.

    Mattson Mini Modular

    George Mattson builds the Phoenix Series of micro modules.

    Metasonix

    Tube-based modules

    Metalbox

    Modules in Frac-rack sizes with Blacet-style power connectors.

    Midwest Analog

    Thomas Henry closed up shop in 2005, but authorized Magic Smoke to carry on.

    Modcan

    Modcan A modules are 9" tall and 2.25" or 4.5" wide and use banana plugs. Modcan B modules use MOTM format.

    Moog

    What can I say? It was Dr. Bob. Great stuff here...

    MOTM

    See Synthesis Technology

    Music From Outer Space

    Ray Wilson runs this Do It Yourself site

    Oakley

    Tony Allgood designs analog modules as well as other projects like the TM3030 and TB-3031 TB-303 clones and the Filtrex filter bank. Oakley modules conform to the MOTM standard. Tony Allgood decided to close the shop in 2005, but there was enough demand that PC Boards are becoming available again. Tony seems to be working on another TB-303 clone too.

    • Oakley Sound
    • OMS-410 mods (MOTM 410 add-on) from Scott Juskiw
    • OMS-902 mods (Multimix) from Scott Juskiw

    PAiA

    PAiA modules are based on the "Frac-rack" system. In fact, they invented it! Kits only. A really fun PAiA project is the FatMan, a monosynth that can be rack mounted or build in a table top cabinet. There are LOTS of modifications that can be done to the FatMan - it may be the most modified DIY synth in the world... And if you're in the market for a theremin, check out the PAiA Theremax kit.

    Papareil Synth Labs

    Plan B

    Peter Grenader designs, builds and fixes electronics, including custom modules and various versions of the Milton sequencer. NOTE: DO NOT use Peter's buzzclick-music email address - it has been over run with SPAM. Use peter at ear dash group dot net instead.

    Milton is a CV sequencer. No MIDI here! The standard design supplies four banks of 16 steps each and in theory, it can be expanded to 12 or more banks!

    Schippmann

    Schippmann is located in Berlin, Germany and makes the "ebbe und flut."

    Serge

    Modules, a whole panel at a time...

    Studio Electronics

    Studio Electronics is located in El Segundo, CA, USA and makes effects pedals and full width rack mount analog synths.

    Spectral Audio

    Spectral Audio is located in Switzerland. They make the Neptune II analog synth and the Cyclus 3 MIDI Analog Sequencer.

    Synthesis Technology

    Paul Schreiber is the creator of Synth Tech, home of the "MOTM" (rhymes with "modem") system. MOTM modules are made with the highest quality parts and designs. MOTM modules are based on the "U" rack size system. (1U = 1.75") They are 5U (8.75") tall and 1U (1.75") or 2U (3.5") wide. They require plus or minus 15v power and are calibrated at 1v/octave. Connections are made with 1/4" jacks. As of 2006, Synthesis Technology is shipping modules in FracRack format, available at Analogue Haven. NOTE: As of December 2006, Synthesis Technology is no longer supplying module kits.

    Synthesizers.com

    Roger Arrick makes a variety of modules that are popularly called "dotcom". Roger provides very cost-effective modules with vintage style designs. Dotcom modules use 1/4" jacks and big knobs. Check out his web site - there is a LOT of great info there. One tantalizing thing is the Entry System Purchase Plan.

    Synth Modules

    Home of the PSIM-1. Brice Hornback started building his own modular and then created the PSIM-1, the "Programmable Synthesizer Inteface Module", which is a Frac-rack format module that can be programmed to output a variety of control voltages. NOTE: Brice is WAY behind in deliveries (as of October 2006, I believe it's been two years and five months), but he assures us that all ordered modules will be delivered. Brice recently posted that there are only something like 9 out of 56 left to be shipped. In the meantime, a group of developers has gotten together and created a Yahoo group called ComputerVoltageSources.

    Synth Panels

    I run a small business making panels and selling cables and other parts. I purchased all of the silkscreens for the original "Stooge Panels" that Larry Hendry and Dave Bradley used to make, plus I have added many new designs.

    Technosaurus

    This Swiss company produces the "Small Monster" series including the Microcon monophonic synth, the Effexon analog processor and the Cyclodon 16 step sequencer, and the "Professional" series of analog modules.

    Tellun

    Scott Juskiw has designed Blacet and MOTM add-ons (see Blacet and Synthesis Technology sections here) as well as several modules of his own, including the Neural Agonizer spring reverb and the Veeblefetzer signal level meter. Recently Scott developed a new multi-purpose board called the MUUB. As of December 2006, Scott tells me that he is thinking about resurrecting the TLN-854 Sword of Kahless next year! If you're interested in one, let him know.

    Vermona

    This German company makes several synthesizers and modules.

    Wiard

    Grant Richter builds the Wiard series of modules. His older, discontinued, 300 Series is highly collectible. Current 1200 Series modules are built by Grant himself. They are based on the "Frac-rack" system, require plus or minus 15v power and are calibrated 1v/octave. Connections are 1/8" mini-jacks. Currently available modules include a joystick, the Joystick Axis Generator, Noise Ring, and the Borg and Boogie Filters.

    Do It Yourself

    There are several things you'll need to put together your own analog synth modules. First, you should have a well-lit work area. For tools, you'll need a soldering iron, screwdrivers and nutdrivers. If you buy kits from Blacet, PAiA or Synth Tech, that may be all you need. If you run into assembly or part troubles, you'll need diagnostic tools such as a Digital Multi Meter (DMM) or an Oscilloscope. It may also be nice to have a small parts vise as a "third hand" along with a large magnifying glass.

    Helpful sites





    Synthesis (SYNTH) (from the ancient Greek "with" and "placing") refers to a combination of two or more entities that together form something new; alternately, it refers to the creating of something by artificial means. The corresponding verb, to synthesize (or synthesise), means to make or form a synthesis.

    image

    Wizard (WYZRD) n 1. a person who practises or professes to practise magic or sorcery 2. a person who is outstandingly clever in some specified field; expert 3. a wise man 4. computing a computer program that guides a user through a complex task adj 5. informal chiefly superb; outstanding 6. of or relating to a wizard or wizardry [ variant of wissard, from wise 1 + -ard ] 'wizardly adj wizard c.1440, "philosopher, sage," from M.E. wys "wise" (see wise (adj.)) ard. zynyste "magic," zynys "sorcerer," zyne "witch," all from zinoti "to know." The ground sense is perhaps "to know the future." "wise magical power!"


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