Modular Beginner Advice

I am a long time ‘in the box’ music maker. Had a Moog subPhatty for a couple years. I’ve been playing with Reaktor for the last few weeks. Got interested in buying a semi modular such as Moog mother or a pittsburgh sv-1, but am now considering just starting with some modules. I ordered a Plaits today to start with and am still looking for a case.
I’ve spent hours playing in vcv rack and modular grid trying to plan out a system but there are so many choices to make. Maybe one of you can advise on where to go next.

I have a Mac and run Logic and Ableton. I have a apogee quartet Audio interface that has no CV capability. I have a Arturia beatstep on the way that I planned to use with reaktor. Seems like it can send some clock and cv. Also have a Arturia drum machine that has CV clock that I hope to clock modules to.

I’d like to build a synth to use for pulsing bass synths and arpeggios for use in productions I’m working on. Would need to feed sequences from Logic and get the audio back in. I used the external instrument plugin to do this with the Moog and it worked well.

I’d also like to have a hardware synth to connect to the drum machine and also pass guitar and other sources to for treatment and live performance. Just something to have fun with that me and the family can enjoy (wife and kids like music gear too). When fully built, would be able to generate some sounds without external sequencer.

In most plans I’ve had these modules:

  • Plaits
  • Ripples
  • Clouds
  • Envelope of some kind. Tides or basic adsr.

What other modules should I look into that might pair well? I hope to have a case that has power and some IO built in to leave space in a small 84hp rack. The beatstep should be about provide some sequencing capabilities.

Thanks for your help

Hi Sam,

This seems like a good starting point

  • Plaits * Ripples * Clouds * Envelope of some kind. Tides or basic adsr.

I’d recommend Mutable Stages instead of Tides. It may seem complicated to begin with, but with a bit of practice it is very intuitive to use and I never have to reach for the manual. The advantage of Stages in a small system is that you can make it do many things depending on how you patch it up.

For example: you can patch up an an ADSR envelope, or an AD or just a decay envelope, or any other kind of envelope. Each stage has it’s own shape, ie adjustable from sharp exponential through to linear through to steep logarithmic. You can also patch an lfo; free running or beat sync’d with built in clock divider. You can use it as a portamento/glide. If you have a noise source you can patch up sample and hold (stepped or smooth). If you have a full or half wave rectifier you can patch up an envelope follower. There are lots of other ways you can patch it up. You can patch up a primitive LPF or bit crusher and other fun things you might use occasionally. Watch Divkid’s Stages youtube video which covers most use cases.

The other modules I find the most fun would be:

Mutable Marbles. You can use this for pitch sequencing, beat sequencing and as a random modulation source.

Make Noise Mimeophon: a great sounding delay (with or without beat sync). Can be used as a looper. Can be patched as a synth voice. Their are also some interesting granular effects that can be had using the hold feature.

With modular you will benefit massively if you have utility modules such as attenuators, mixers and vca’s.

You will need some attenuators for some of you modulation inputs. If you want to go fancy the Mutable Blinds is my favourite because it can also act as a VCA, CV and audio mixer and ring modulator. Other suggestions would be happy nerding MIA or a passive attenuator like WMD/SSF Quad Atten (which because it doesn’t need power can be outside the rack to save space).

Mutable Kinks is also a very helpful utility module which can be patched in lots of different ways.

There are lots of good cases and power supplies out there. If I was starting out again I would get an Intellijel 104hp 7U case.

I’ll leave it to others to comment on the interfacing with the computer as I have no experience with that.

Good luck and have fun.


Thank you for the advice, very helpful. Just understanding what each of these modules can do takes quite some time. It just so happens I watched part of that that video on segments earlier today. I’ve had fun playing with tides, but it doesn’t seem very flexible - but segments looks like it warrants a further look.

I’ll look into attenuators, was wondering if VCAs could handle that or if something dedicated is needed.

VCA’s are just, in most cases, a voltage controlled attenuator. So yes, they will do the job and potentially in very interesting ways…

Tides is flexible, but maybe not in a ‘starting out kind of way’… and besides you will have the Tides oscillator mode in one of the Plaits modes, but with one output instead of 4 musically related outputs.

As far as the understanding of it all goes: start out small. You will have moments where you’ll want to do something, only then will you know what your approach needs next and you can focus on buying that type of module.

Plaits, Ripples, Clouds, Stages, Marbles and Blinds would have just about all the core building blocks you’d need to keep you patching for a long time. Anything from there becomes expansion. p.s I would also get Kinks too!

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A few things to add: Ripples has a built-in VCA and Plaits has a LEVEL input. VCAs can do a lot more than just modulate the volume of a sound though. You can use them to shape the level of a CV, create AM or ring mod sounds (if the VCA is bipolar) etc.
Blinds can be a nice compromise solution, because it can process audio and CV and is bipolar (so you can also do ring modulation). it’s only downside is that dialing in 0V can be tricky. This is not a bit deal for CV in my experience, but can be a bit fiddly with audio sometimes. But then, as previously said, you have built-in VCAs on Ripples and Plaits to do that.
In general: if you plan to use the modular to do standard VCO > VCF > VCA stuff, don’t get a modular. Any desktop synth can do that, costs a lot less and is more fun to use.
If you want to get modular, fully embrace it. Patch stuff where you think it shouldn be patched. Use filters as oscillators, oscillators, as CV sources, create feedback, and chaos, be imaginative!
This said, you can of coruse do that with the modules mentioned so far.

I can totally second the advice on the Intellijel case and on starting small.
If you do not plan on moving the modular from the studio I would recommend the TipTop Mantis. it’s cheap, has a good PSU and can be tilted. It’s made out of plastic but it’s a sturdy, good quality one. Also it’s relatively inexensive.
I’m very happy with mine.
The Intellijel case actually has one big strengh which can also be a weakness: the 1U row.
1U modules can be nice, but there’s a very different standards and I think the Intellijel case can only host intellijel modules.

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Welcome Sam :slight_smile:

The only proper advise I can give is: “Get to know your modules”. And by that, I do not mean: “Learn by heart what`s on Modulargrid”.

When you own a module, take your time to really get to know it. Plaits seems a nice start to me with a lot to discover.

Is the beatstep a “pro” version?


Thank you! It’s interesting finding the ‘hidden functionality’ of some of these modules, definitely adds to the versatility (Warps/Tides VCOs, many more I’m sure).

If you want to get modular, fully embrace it.

Understood and am interested in modular for this aspect of it. Playing with Reaktor and then VCV has yielded some sounds I have not gotten before as well as being loads of fun to do. There’s a chance it won’t be for me, which is why I’m getting into it slowly and asking for some advice from experienced people such as yourself. Worst case, the used market seems healthy and modules seem sold out many places, so I can likely sell off pretty easily if I’m having regrets.

Case talk - $700 for just a case hurts… plus all the 1U modules to make it work. I’m budgeting somewhere in the 200-300 range. I have noticed the Mantis, but may just hold on for the creat8audio nifty case. They say they will be in stock jun and the $200 price seems nice for the built in usb/midi/cv/audio. niftyCase. I am slightly limited on space, so taking the smaller/cheaper/+features option is appealing.

Here is a rack based on advice in this thread. Like I mentioned, I’ll probably start with 2 or 3 modules. From what I’ve read, I’ll have a few options of sending cv from the beatstep, through the beat step (using Reaktor or Logic), and through the USB->CV interface on the NiftyCase.
Starter Rack

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Hi Maarten, thank you for the welcome.

No, it’s basic version to sit on top of my controller keyboard and was originally meant to give me a few knobs to control VSTs and Reaktor modules with.

Hi Sam,

Your starter rack would be a lot of fun!

However, you would have to be a seriously disciplined person to stop with 84hp. The general consensus when people look at their eurorack start in hindsight, is that two rows of 104hp is enough to create a really interesting system. Whatever sized setup you go for, you have to think carefully about the user interface of the modules you choose. Many people try to keep to their rack small by using lots of 2hp, 3hp or 4hp modules, then find with all the patch cords that it’s very hard to wiggle the knobs.

What is the advantage to you of a physical setup over VCV rack or other in the box ways of working?

An entirely different approach is to join the two worlds of in-the-box and physical manipulation. To do this well you need to know what you want to achieve, which things you really want to wiggle knobs of and what the signal flow is likely to be. In my opinion a good example of this approach is Omri Cohen. His modular is primarily synthesis in the box and sound processing and granular synthesis in eurorack. The two worlds talk to each other via Expert Sleepers modules. Keep in mind that with his type of setup there is very little you can do without being plugged into a computer.

This is a good question and something I need to figure out!

I took Omri’s Subhamonicon patch and got it working in CVC rack and connected it to Logic using an IAC bus and Soundflower… that took about 30 minutes of fiddling around, but got it going eventually. I tried this out the other day but gave up after a short while after not getting the MIDI routing working. Thanks for the link and the things to think about.

The beatstep does not have a clock out.

The Drumbrute has a clock out.

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Ended up routing midi through a few pieces and slaving everything to the beat step - worked out!

Great! I assumed you wanted to clock by pulse :slight_smile:

Mutable Instruments Rings features in most of my patches. So alongside my dual Clouds, Plaits, Marbles, etc, Rings is a fav. You’ve already heard good advice, I can only echo the need for utilities modules and learning deeply the multiple faces of each module. I’d also recommend Pamela’s new workout. I’ve got it clocking my Sequential Pro 3, my Mother32s, my Modular, and my GrpR24 sequencer. Have fun!

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Pamela’s New Workout has come up quite a few times during my travels. Thanks for the advice!

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Hi All, so I’ve taken the plunge and ordered a case and an array of modules. Bottom row are purchased and either shipping or waiting on stock. Top row is not decided on.

Arturia 6u/88x2HP RackBrute case to hold it - took the advice of going with a bigger case. Additions since my first revision:

  • 2 Disting mk4 for Midi IO/quantizer/flex.
  • Branches
  • Segments (removed tides/marbles)

I know you have removed Tides in favor of Stages, but I think it would fit greatly with the rest of your system, both as a modulator and as a sound source.
I have 2 tides in my system and they always come in hand

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Cool… What you’ve got on order is enough to keep you busy.

branches is great

For a bit of extra hp over the chronoblob (which is great From using in vcv), Mimeophon can stereo filter the wet signal, add a smeary reverb, act as a unique looper with granular and glitchy fun in a scaled back morphagene kind of way.

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Thanks for the heads up! Haven’t looked into that module yet. I looked into morphogene yesterday and it kinda blew my mind. I wrote some max/msp stuff years ago to control the looper and Ableton with a Behringer foot controller and had a blast. I ordered a tc electronics Ditto 4x pedal last week and then saw the morph - will probably be sending that back to put $$ towards it when I can find one in stock.

We’ll see how it turns out - like I mentioned, stages seemed more flexible to me as all the tides outputs are tied together based on the first output - right?

I’d also like marbles, and wouldn’t mind a tides too.