Hello. I’m a total newbie to the synth party so I have a slightly silly “beginner question”. lol
Which modules should I build first?
What I mean?
I have a huge ambition to make a damn modular synth but I don’t know where to start!! Unacceptable!
Maybe I’m being too impudent here (sorry for my english ) but it would be super cool if some of you guys could give me a list of modules (unlimited list welcome) and some types (models) of different modules (because, as I understand it, there are many different ones) that I need to collect to make my first synthesizer cabinet! (Any information would be helpful).
This will be an unaffordable luxury FOR me, with incredible gratitude FROM me!
“Oh shit, im sorry”
You’ll want an oscillator early on, because that’s something you can hear. But VCOs tend to be among the more complicated modules, so not necessarily the best thing to build first.
Partly it depends on your level of experience — if you’ve built other electronics projects before a VCO may be a fine starting point, if you’ve built little or none then maybe a simpler module would be better. Or even a non module, like a simple Atari Punk Console which is easy to build and does produce interesting sounds.
Otherwise the simplest modules tend to be the least interesting — mixers, buffered multiples, etc.
The ones you’ll want to have early on I’d say are a VCO, a VCF, a VCA, a noise source, an LFO, and an envelope generator. See here for definitions and descriptions. As for which specific ones, again it depends on multiple factors. Do you want to build in Kosmo or Eurorack or other format? Do you want to build from kits that include PCBs and panels and parts, or PCB and panel sets you need to get parts for, or do you want to use and/or create PCB designs you can get fabricated, or ones you can etch and drill yourself, or do you want to build on stripboard or protoboard with homemade panels? That’s roughly most to least expensive, and roughly easiest to hardest. Roughly.
You’ll also need to buy or make a case and a power supply.
Faced with a similar conundrum a couple of years ago, I chose to buy a semi-modular synth. It’s a Behringer Crave, and at around £150 including tax it was much cheaper than anything similar I could build myself. If I ever do build any synth modules I will always have a sound and well tested synth to build them on. You get a VCO, a VCA, and envelope generator, an LFO and more, all very configurable using a well designed patchboard. And on top of that you get a basic keyboard and sequencer. It’s a completely playable instrument, and it also has MIDI in and out.
Eurorack - no, only KOSMO.
Prepared diy from the store - no. Firstly, this is not interesting, and secondly, I live in a country in which almost nothing of what is more or less known can be ordered. For example, even if I really want to, I won’t be able to order Sam’s diy modules.
So depending on the situation, I choose a stripboard (But sometimes I think I will be able to order pcb according to some schemes (designed by someone or edited by me) custom made in china (jlcpcb can help me). But this will not be often, so basically I’ll be using a stripboard, yeah).
If I could go back and restart I think I’d focus on doing something like 3 VCO, Quad VCA, ADSR, Rene’s H/LPF and an output module (if not using a mixer or amp) then think about effects and utility.
That way you have a working voice that you can tune to your liking with things like distortions, delays, waveshapers.
Though it does somewhat depend on your goal. What do you want your synth to be… for me I want it to be my drummer and bassist that can play melodies as I noodle on guitar. (Pretty much building around the BSPs outputs) Rather than something that will make sci-fi sound effects.
I totally understand the bewildering bewilderment of choice when it comes to the starting point for modules.
I think a good amount of choices can be made by thinking of the genre of your synth. Is it a generative synth get lots of clocks and utility like mults and mixers. Is it a drum machine, get mixers, sidechaining and reverbs.
If it’s a basic voice you’re after so you can make a more informed idea (lets face it, modular will always evolve for the user) then start basic. Vco, envelope generator(ad/ar), dual vca, Rene LPF. That will get you a starting point and is only going to take up 40cm of a case if using Sams Kosmo format
Speaking of format… I recommend making a case that will do euro (129mm) and Kosmo (200mm) so you don’t have to make 2 cases to begin =D
Ultimately, draw a plan and think it through.
No one’s even mentioned PSU or bussboards yet.
Haha! I sit corrected. I must have meant ‘In detail’
I like kristian blastols (modular in a week) psu. They’re small and cost effective but aren’t meant for big systems really so multiple are needed. I haven’t felt the need to upgrade… yet.
Another thought, has anyone made a list of basic and most used DIY components?
Like pots 100k 50k, resistor mix bags, caps 10n 100n, Ecaps 10uf, ICs TL072/4 LM13700, Diodes 1n4148 1n4001 LEDs, transistors BC558 3904 3906
AnalogOutpu’s and Bitnik’s advices are very good.
I got myself a Crave (and just recently sold it) to have it as a sort of “platform” to test other modules. With a machine like that you can start wherever you want and simply hook the modules to the Crave and make them work.
If you are pretty well familiar with electronics, I definitely recommend you to buy kits or at least PCBs, starting with VCOs and next VCFs, ADSRs and VCAs.
I have a Polivoks that I have refurbished (new potentiometers and caps). Have a look at that one and if you are comfortable att designing your own PCBs or building on veroboard, using the Polivoks modules could be a way to go = modulizing the Polivoks.
Erica Synth has developed modules based on that same synth and can be an inspiration.
I guess you should be able to find most components in Russia. I have a favourite shop in Ufa that holds a lot of components: https://magazin-elektronika.ru.
Buying from China can be tricky - not seldom fake components are sold, but I have managed to get cheap PT2399 echo modules working perfectly.
Yes, polivox is an interesting idea. I like the filter sound of this synth. But I’ll do it sometime later))
And what about components from China, is it worth ordering tl07x operational amplifiers there? How risky is this?
Having computer programming experience, and absolutely no commercial modular gear, I’ve found that a DCO based around a microcontroller like HAGIWO’s Arduino Nano stuff was an easy way to get started, and to end up with results that are useful in isolation. It’s easy to reason about such a circuit for a beginner, it’s all about connecting inputs and outputs to pins.
TL07X are cheap stuff and I cannot see no real reason why the Chinese would fake them, but who knows. Can you buy them locally, that’s a better choice.
Aria came up with another good idea: there are cool things to do with Arduinos like the smaller Nano. There should be some info out there how do construct various modules or even complete synthesizers using microcontrollers.
(Check out the T-synth where a Teensy 4.1 and an audio board + a ton och switches and potentiometers do the work)
Agreed that building a parts stash makes little sense from a cost savings point of view. You usually don’t get much of a price break until you buy industrial quantities, you don’t really save on postage if you need place a new order for parts for a build you don’t have in your stash (and that almost always is the case), and the parts that are particular to the module you want to build are almost always the parts that cost the most. Still, buying 200 1k resistors once is a good deal less trouble than buying 10 of them 20 times, and having a stash means you’re not as likely to have a build come to a screeching halt when you discover there was a mistake in the BOM, or you misread it, and you don’t have a crucial part. Or if you fry/burn/step on/lose a part. (I order spares of almost everything, and stash the spares I don’t use.) It also gives you greater freedom to experiment, try out ideas and see if they work, or see if a component value change will improve the behavior of a design.