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I recently started my modular journey with a similar idea - “what is the minimum viable setup that gives me physical knobs, is fun to use, and can be used with a computer”.
As my first purchase, I ended up getting:
- Rackbrute 3U case with builtin power supply
- Audiodamage Odio
- Some cables
- A passive mult “star”
These ran me around $800 total - don’t forget to take into account the surprising prices of cases and power supplies! Considering the ES-8 you mentioned is already around $475, your budget of $1000 might be a bit tight / you might end up starting with quite a brutally minimal setup. That being said, so did I, and it’s doable if you manage your expectations
In addition I already had a DAW, Bitwig, that has pretty good CV and hardware instrument support builtin.
One important tip: To get started, I configured a new virtual device in macOS “Audio MIDI Setup” setting panel. The virtual device uses the Odio as inputs and outputs as well as the headphone jack - to be able to listen to things live. After all, modular doesn’t work with headphones without a dedicated output module, and if you just try to use Odio or ES-8 as the audio device in your DAW, you won’t have the headphone or speaker outs. So make sure you have an option of configuring a virtual / software-mixed device on your computer! If you’re running Windows or Linux instead, there’s certainly similar settings to be found somewhere (but I haven’t looked into those yet, as I’m temporarily mac only).
That’s it! That’s how I got started and making bleep bloops, droning the Plaits on its own, “bouncing” composed midi data in DAW through lovely settings found on the knobs of Plaits, as well as playing manually by feeding in a USB MIDI keyboard via the DAW.
Personally, I think the Plaits is the perfect choice as a first voice module, due to its stunning versatility. It can do so much, and do it so well
Rather soon after that I ended up buying two more modules: Ears and a used Clouds. I love them. I can now play guitar through the modular too! It’s all so much fun. Modular definitely has a certain appeal to it
For one honest warning: I’m kind of torn with the Odio. On one hand, yes, it absolutely helped me keep the entry cost low when I was still hesitant whether I’d want to get into modular. After all, the initial entry cost can be pretty daunting, if you’re not sure if it would be your thing. On the other hand, two ins and two outs is extremely minimal. You get e.g. one pitch out and one level out - that lets you control one voice. Note that if you want to modify any other parameters, you’ll either get to use the knobs or get the CV from some of your modules (creativity with passive mults is an option, heh!) Similarly, two ins to the computer means you get a single stereo sound, or two mono sounds. If I were starting again, I’d probably consider getting the ES-8 right from the start.
For the second honest warning: while you can make an ultra-minimalist setup to start with, it’s highly likely that you’ll want to expand it soon. At least that’s where I’ve ended up now I’m not quite sure if I should walk away while I still can, or just let myself dive deeper (Next modules in mind… Leaning towards Marbles to get more generative action happening, both for melodies and control… That Clouds is begging to be pushed further! Perhaps a second voice too, Rings or something else, hmm? If I get those, I’d probably need some utilities - Blinds or Veils? Or Shades as a small compromise? What about drums - Peaks? …heh )
…oops, that became a wall of text. Sorry!