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As a bit of a preface, this series will focus on the Eurorack modular format; there are other formats that use patch-points. Eurorack is currently the most popular, by far. I’ll be using “Eurorack” and “modular” somewhat interchangeably, except where I specify that something is exclusively true for the Eurorack format, such as voltage specifications or physical measurements. You can assume that any module I mention in detail in this series is built according to (or compatible with) the Eurorack standard unless otherwise stated. Synthesizers like Jupiter 8, Minimoog, Minilogue, Prophet Rev2, Oberheim OB-6, that cannot have any parts replaced with a different part.

Take a look at the article Top Ten Terms to Learn Before Jumping into Eurorack part of the series.

Top 10 Things to Know Before Launching into Eurorack

If you make electronic music, you’ve likely stumbled across modular synthesizers. You’ve no doubt seen videos of blinking lights and rectangular panels connected by masses of cables, sometimes being deftly manipulated by hands reaching from off-screen, other times generating music without any human intervention at all. If you’ve felt a sense of wonder when watching these machines bleep and bloop, then you’ve tapped into the heart of the modular community. A constant sense of wonder, surprise, and discovery. Filling a rack with modules can be a deeply personal journey toward discovering your unique sound and style. Modular requires a lot of knowledge up-front and can seem overwhelming to a beginner.

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Synthesizes in an Amazing Way

Émilie of Mutable Instruments mentioned on a podcast that she had no idea Marbles would be so popular as a melody generator until she saw Lightbath using it extensively in one of his videos. Lightbath is a popular ambient artist in the Eurorack scene. Marbles is a particular type of random generator that can, among other things, create loops of random values.

Not Polyphonic

This is related to the above point. It’s worth addressing: a modular setup will almost never be a practical replacement for a powerful polyphonic synth (e.g. Nord Lead, DSI Prophet Rev2, Moog One). Even if you manage to replicate that functionality, it will likely cost many tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum and be much harder to use for achieving the same sounds. Modular allows deep dives and in-depth tweaking. If you want the sounds and accessibility of a polysynth, your best bet is to just get a polysynth.

Next Steps

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider before you even get into choosing modules and learning how to use them. If you’re feeling excited, but also overwhelmed after going through those points, I’d recommend taking a look at Knobs’s “Why to Modular”; it’s a video series that serves as a gentle introduction to the general philosophy of modular, and is very light and friendly. (I also recommend watching his other videos, like the one he did on the Octatrack, because he makes some truly beautiful gear demos.)

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