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A Shopping Guide for Modular Synths

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The modular synth industry, especially the Eurorack market is getting bigger and stronger every year. There are already about a hundred brands and several thousands of modules. In this article I will show you some tricks and tips on how to buy modules and systems in a clever way.

Planning a System

At Modulargrid you can plan a system visually and in much detail. You can also check the racks of other users and some trending modules.

Modular1
Modular racks in a local synth meet / Flickr / Knobs and buttons

Forums

The largest international forum for modular is Muffwiggler. There are more than 26.000 users so you can be sure there is always somebody to answer your questions not just in Eurorack but other formats as well.

Building Slowly

A best practice among experienced modular users is to buy one module at a time and acquire tools slowly. Some of the popular aims in which way to go could be:

  • sound design
  • sequencing
  • sound processing
  • playing melodies

Price Tactics

Generally there is little profit on modules even on expensive ones. If you want to save some money, the first strategy should be on choosing a brand with more affordable prices, such as Doepfer, Pittsburgh or Analogue Solutions. Of course the functionality usually won’t be quite the same, but there is some tradeoff to keep costs low.

The second strategy is to choose modules, that have several functions packed into one product. A good example would be the Make Noise Function module, which can be used as an LFO, Envelope, LAG, Sample and Hold or Track and Hold.

Fonitronik Rack
A rack of Fonitronik modules, VCO, LFO, Resonator / Flickr / Fonitronik

Waiting Lists

In the synth and modular world, a waiting list is an often appearing phenomenon. You have to decide how much that module is needed in your arsenal. In extreme cases the waiting could take half or one year as well. 

Note that the waiting list can’t be shortened by paying an extra fee. It is completely depending upon the brand that you buying.

Discounts

Sometimes there are discounts in the modular webshops, but more often only at Black Fridays or other special occasions. Usually there is a 5-15% discount.

Buying Second Hand

Used products could be also a way to buy cheaper, but the reduction varies a lot, and usually not more than 10-30% can be gained from it. And you have to factor in shipping costs as well.

Swapping Modules

Another approach is swapping modules with other modular users. This needs a couple of months of experience in the industry and clear aims regarding the upgrading path for a synth.

Doepfer and Intellijel
Doepfer and Intellijel modules / Flickr / michel banabila

Starting With Systems or Modules

Two approaches for buying modulars is to start out with a smaller system or a semi-modular, or using a system as an example for buying the modules separately. 

There is no trivial answer to this, but if you are just starting out, you could choose a small system and experience what you can do with that. After the first weeks you will understand the workflow and capabilities of the gear you have.

Systems From Small to Big

Shops

There are, fortunately, shops mainly in capitals and bigger cities around the world. Here are some good places to get the gear you want.

USA

Doepfer System
A nice Doepfer system / Wikipedia / Hens Zimmerman

 Canada

Europe

Germany 

Switzerland 

France 

Hungary 

Netherlands 

Sweden 

United Kingdom

Asia

Japan 

Australia

Modulargrid website
For planning your system, modulargrid is a great place to be

Favorite Brands

I recommend these manufacturers based on the range and type of modules on offer.

Doepfer and Analogue Solutions are on the cheaper side, while others are West-coast types, multi functional modules and the more expensive.

Conclusion

In the old 1960s and 70s modulars were exceptionally rare, experimental, academic and costed a price of a big house. 

Nowadays we can get into the Eurorack scene for a couple of thousands of Euros or Dollars.

Harvestman and Make Noise
Harvestman and Make Noise modules / Flickr / Chris Randall

Please don’t forget that you need a lot of cables for patching and those can be pricey as well. For Euro patching you can use Stackcables from Tip Top Audio. These can be used for multiplying an output passively without additional modules.

Good luck for buying and happy patching.

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