In October I introduced you to a new series of blogs I’ll be doing. The first post talked about how I got into this Eurorack Adventure, and how the journey has gone so far. In this month’s blog, I want to dive a little deeper into how you know which module could work for you. Where to find info, or maybe even try it before you buy it.
Eurorack is a canvas with almost endless possibilities, I say almost because probably the most limiting factor for your system is running out of budget. A second limiting factor could be running out of Horizontal Pitch. But! Throwing more money at that problem will fix that, and YAY! We have a downward spiral. 😁
Eurorack, Freedom of Choice!
The greatest thing about Eurorack is the flexibility of creating something that’s truly your own. You can ask 10, 50, or 100 Modular synth enthusiasts. They probably tell you a unique story of how their rack came to life and grew. It’s different things to different people. I like my rack noisy and odd, I love the bizarre. Harsh digital sounds, unnatural sounds with weird textures. I love screaming filters and I really love distortion. Other friends love more natural tones and pristine sounds. Others build a system that recreates the classic sounds as you would hear in Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, or Kraftwerk music. It’s all possible because Eurorack has a lot of manufacturers. Modular Grid lists 494 different ones at the time I wrote this post.
How do you chose the right module?
At the moment I wrote this blog, Modular Grid displayed 232 pages and a whopping total of 11584 modules. Okay, that count has discontinued modules included, but still a whole lot of options. So choosing modules that are a good fit for your needs requires some research. When you’re new to Eurorack or planning on dipping your toes into the waters, make a plan first. It’s really easy to get lost. Determine how you want to use your rig, If you want to make music you could go hybrid and record into a DAW. Or you could start with an Arturia Beat-/Keystep (Pro). That way you fill your basic need for sequencers and arpeggiators in a budget-friendly way. The Keystep Pro gives you 4 independent polyphonic sequencer tracks, one of them is a drum sequencer.
The in-and output modules are another important step, it’s how your system will connect to the outside world. Again, many different flavors and possibilities. I picked Joranalogue Audio Design Transmit 2 and their Receive 2. I wanted high quality in a small footprint. There are tons of options, the Expert Sleepers ES-8 and ES-9 for example, very versatile audio devices that pack a ton of features. These would be my first choice if I was to build a fully hybrid modular. See what is the right fit for you and continue from there.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still imposing restrictions around the globe, testing new modules isn’t all that easy. Luckily there are virtual ways to get an idea of what’s out there and if that would be something to add to your case. VCV Rack might be the easiest (and cheapest) way to try if Eurorack is for you. It has a ton of hardware clone emulations, I’m having a ton of fun in the virtual rack with the Befaco modules while waiting for the psychical ones to arrive. VCV Rack has free and commercially released virtual modules. VCV Rack 2 has dropped and it’s amazing, VCV2 still has a free version, but also a commercial version that adds a lot of cool functionality, like using your rack builds as a VST plugin inside your DAW. The HetrickCV, Vult Modules, and Audible Instruments are amongst my favorites.
Another great virtual Eurorack option is Voltage Modular by Cherrie Audio. They added some great functionality that isn’t available in hardware modular. Worth checking out!
Plugins and Rack Extensions.
When your main DAW is Reason and you would like to get some of that Noise Engineering Feng shui going on, you can check their amazing Reason Synth Bundle One and Two here. You can also find the new Freequel Bundle on that page. They come in the AAX, AU, and VST3 flavors. I was fortunate enough to test those in an early stage and I love them as much as I love my hardware modules from them. The free bundle has the Ruina, the Sinc Vereor, and the Virt Vereor. Get yourself some DOOM in your DAW.
HELP! There are till too many choices..
Youtube is another great source to find out what modules do and if they are the right fit for your rack. When I read or hear about an interesting module, I usually see if there are some overview videos of it. There are some excellent content creators on Youtube, reviewing and doing deep-dives into modules. I frequently find myself watching videos on the DivKid, Synth Diy Guy, and Loopop channels. All three do a thorough job of going through modules and manage to keep it interesting for the viewer. I find these reviews helpful as you get perfect demonstrations, without having to read a manual first
RTFM. Yes, you really should.
RTFM in Eurorack is more important than with any other piece of gear. Improper installing the module can lead to serious damage. But it also will help you learn your way around it faster. Modern, digital modules can be really deep and they often make use of shared controls. Often the manufacturer gives you cool patch ideas as a quick start for learning your new module. Look at the Kermit MkIII or the NerdSEQ for example, complex and extremely versatile modules that have many shared controls and nifty hidden tricks.
More of the RTFM Gospel
Part of my research route became reading the manual before I buy a module. Most manufacturers have them on their websites. I usually put them into a reader App on my tablet, so I have them with me all the time and can read whenever I have a spare minute. Once I decided that a module is a right choice for me, I usually do a double-sided print of the manual. But be mindful of printing things, don’t make a hard copy just to throw it out in a few days or weeks.
Mine are in a binder, ordered by their brand name. Taking notes while watching module videos is something that helps me to learn a module. Sometimes a friend tells me cool tricks or patch ideas with a module. Writing all that info down in the printed version helps me to create a nice reference archive for myself. You can also get muscle memory by doing some patch practice daily.
Have fun and take it slow.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found some useful info in it. If there are still questions about certain modules that you are interested in. You can always visit the websites and socials from the manufacturer. That’s the beauty of Eurorack, most module creators are truly excited about their products and happy to provide you with additional info or answer questions. Noise Engineering writes great blogs on modular basics, patch ideas, and deep-dives with their modules. Neuzeit Instruments has an incredibly detailed website, just look at the product page of their Orbit.
Your local (or international) retailer or boutique shop might be of help too. 95% of my Eurorack purchases come from Schneidersladen, they provide an (IMHO) unique service to the modular community. Hoping to visit Berlin soon again and meet their team that has been so helpful the past eleven-and-a-bit months.
Happy Patching my noisy friends!