Thursday, December 13, 2012

Choosing 3U Modulars

Hi guys,

So I was chillin' on AnalogueHaven (as I tend to find myself doing) and found that they were advertising Pittsburgh Modular. I decided, hey, why not? I went there to look up Gorilla Boxes (which cost way too much), but why not look around a bit? I also added the 4ms PEG and Cyndustries Quad Transient to my list o' wanted modules for the Monster Modular.

So looking through the PM section, I saw all the stuff that I normally do when I look at their stuff, except for one thing: the Foundation. It's a simple 3U modular system, 3U referring to how many rack spaces it takes up. Eurorack modules are 3U tall, so a 3U system is one row of Eurorack modules, usually fitting into a 19" rack (84HP).

Anyway, so I looked at it, and checked out the video, and was blown away. So then I decided to look up other 3U (Eurorack) modular systems by different brands: Doepfer (of course), Analogue Systems, Analogue Solutions, and Blacet. I looked at others, but decided to set myself a price limit  $1700 (about half of the Doepfer BS1, what I originally wanted).

The Pittsburgh system is $1700, Doepfer $1300, Analogue Systems $1200, Blacet (with LFO) $1300. Analogue Solutions only has two similar things: Telemetry $1600, Station-X $650. Neat fact: the AS Telemark (not Telemetry, mind) is part of the Monster Modular :) But I'm only talking about fully modular systems here, that's more like an SEM.

Now, you may just go for the cheapest, the Station X, right? Well, the thing about modulars is, well, modularity. Let's compare parts:

PM: MIDI-CV, 2xVCO, 2XLFO, ringmod, mult, mixer, MMF, 2xADSR, 2xVCA, output
Doepfer: Advanced MIDI-CV, noise, random voltage, 2xVCO, 2xringmod, mixer, LPF, VCA, ADSR, LFO
AS1: ringmod, mult, noise, S+H, clock, VCADSR+repeat, LFO, VCO, MMF, VCA
Blacet:VCO, MMF, ADSR, 2xVCA, splitter/buffer/mixer/VS, LFO (or MIDI-CV)
Telemetry:MIDI-CV, 2xVCO, LPF, 2xLFO, S+H, noise, ADSR+repeat, Joystick, pin matrix
Station X: MIDI-CV, VCO, LPF, VCA, EG, LFO, S+H, noise, clock

Personally, I would rule out the Analogue Systems and Blacet systems because Blacet is rather limiting due to limited functions and the AS is only special because it has a repeating ADSR, which is only somewhat useful, and has no MIDI-CV. Then I would rule out the Telemetry because, even though it is in a way dually modular (patching and pin matrix), it has a repeating ADSR and the matrix is annoying to use, just in my experience. Then, I would rule out the Station X because it's pretty unintuitive and not very functional.

Side note: You may wonder why I like the MIDI-CV stuff, though. That's because, along with doing automated patches, which is what most modular users do, but you can also connect your modular with MIDI and use an external sequencer or arpeggiator with it, or even just a keyboard.

"Wow, either he's picky or he just hates those brands..." Well, kinda both. I want a usable modular system with plenty of possibilities. That's my main thing. Which, also rules out Doepfer in this case (but not in the BS1 case) because even though I love the sound and it has a really nice MIDI-CV, I... well, there's many reasons:
-the MIDI-CV converter is complicated to use for many beginner modular users, and it ends up getting unused. Hence, Doepfer came out with simpler interfaces.
-it only has a low pass filter (LPF). Many more sonic capabilities can be had with more filter types.
-the random voltage module (noise+S+H) is only useful to a point and for certain things.
-It has less ADSR's, LFO's and VCA's, no mults, and has 2 ringmods. One is still pretty powerful.

'Nother side note: And, yes, if you really wanted you could buy individual modules and a 3U case and build your own 3U system, but usually, and in these cases, buying in bulk is cheaper than buying individual modules.

Don't get me wrong, I still love Doepfer, and if I found myself with a spare amount of cash to get a BS1 (with the other parts that I have planned) I would choose that over any 3U system. I also still respect the other manufacturers named here.

But, overall, I would say that the Pittsburgh Modular Foundation system is the best 3U system for the money. Yes, also the most expensive, but you can do everything from complex automated patches to a simple drum machine to making it a kind of MiniMOOG if you connect a MIDI keyboard. It is also the most useful and functional system, and has a really interesting sound and clean look. Unless something better comes out, I will probably be saving my money for one of these, even over a BS1 (just because of price and I want a modular NAO!!).

(As per usual, I wasn't paid or given anything to say any of this. All my own research :)

Oh, and thank you all for 13,000+ pageviews! That's epic!

P.S. I realised later after writing this that the Foundation is a fairly new modular system. Before this, the Doepfer Minisystem would prevail.

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