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Completed Eurorack

I’ve finished my 6U Eurorack synthesizer. It took me 9 months to build, buying a couple of modules a month.

Goals

I wanted to make a self-contained dual voice synthesizer that would interface with my 2x Doepfer Dark Energy MK1s and my Microbrute, on a budget. I also wanted to add some random sound generation features.

I chose to make the synthesizer out of Doepfer modules because they are easy to find cheap second-hand, and also because they are well-engineered. (If they’re good enough for Kraftwerk, who am I to complain?)

eurorack

Oscillators and Sound Generation

  1. 2x standard Doepfer A-110-1 VCOs with pulse-width modulation. I am no expert, but find these oscillators sound good enough for the money.
  2. A-118 Random Noise module, which outputs white and coloured noise. This has been useful for adding noise to a patch, as well as feeding the random noise generator through the quantizer and S&H modules for interesting random effects.

LFOs and Envelopes

  1. A-143-3 Quad LFO, which has been very useful in modulating my external gear, such as my Microbrute and Doepfer Dark Energy synths. I find it’s a good utility module to just patch something up for modulation, even though I rarely find myself using all 4 LFOs at once.
  2. A-145 LFO – I actually find myself wishing this was a VCLFO so that I could make midi-synced LFO sweeps, and might replace it with one eventually. I like the reset feature though.
  3. 2x A-140 ADSR – Standard envelopes, I bought two so I can modulate the VCA and filter separately at the same time, as is standard in synthesizers.

Mixers and VCAs

  1. A-132-3 Dual VCA – Another standard module, this is particularly useful as it has two VCAs, so I can feed each oscillator into its own separate VCA. I would like another one of these so I could amplify the output of the noise module separately from the VCOs.
  2. 2x A-138 Exponential Mixers – I have two so I can mix multiple waveforms from the VCOs with the white noise output from my noise generator module. The mixer in the bottom right corner of the case has rubber no-slip knobs, and I use it for the main output from my synth.

Quantizer and S&H

  1. A-156 Dual Quantizer – This is a really fun module which I use with LFOs, envelopes and my noise generator to make musical sounds from non-musical sources. I think it will come into its own when I get the Make Noise Maths module, which is on my ‘next steps’ list.
  2. A-148 Dual Sample & Hold – This is a module I haven’t quite grasped the utility of yet, I currently use it wired up to filters and a LFO for S&H filter effects.

Filters

I love filters.. so I got quite a few!

  1. A-120 VCF1 Low Pass Filter (Moog style) – The standard moogy filter, nothing wrong with it. I like the sound but mostly use it for filter sweeps.
  2. A-127 Triple Voltage Controlled Resonance Filter with Breakout Box – This is the key element of my setup. It allows for some really nice multiple filter chaining effects. I have the top filter set to ‘Low Pass’ mode, and the second and third filters set to ‘Band pass’ mode. Since I already have a LP filter in the Moog style A-120 I may change this back so it becomes a triple BP filter, which is the default. You can make some really nice patches with the inbuilt LFOs modulating the filter sweeps, but usually I will wire it up to my Quad LFO for modulation. As a unit, it is really good at making vowel-like sounds for eerie ‘almost human voice’ effects. The breakout box, which I haven’t soldered in yet, so haven’t actually used, will expand the possibilities of the unit even more, allowing me to put separate filers on each oscillator, for example. Love this module.
  3. A-106-1 Xtreme Filter – I haven’t used this much yet, but I just had to have the MS-20 style LP/HP filter in my case, and this filter ticks all the boxes.

MIDI Interface and Multiples

  1. Kenton Pro Solo MIDI-to-CV interface – I use this with my computer, allowing me to send CV for the oscillators through the Intelligel Buff Mult. It has clock out and a bunch of different features, such as portamento and even a LFO.
  2. Intelligel ‘Buff Mult’ – My only non-Doepfer module. This is a buffered multiplier, meant to make sure that fast pitch changes are duplicated correctly over the oscillators. I also wire up my Doepfer Dark Energy Mk1s to this, so I can have 4 oscillators playing at once.
  3. A180-1 Multipler – Just a standard multiplier which I use because I don’t use stackable cables (can’t afford them).

Things I’d like to Learn More About

Some things I have been meaning to investigate in my own time, but haven’t, because life just gets in the way.

  1. Maths
  2. – It might surprise a few people that, as a software developer, I never took maths to A-level. I picked up a bit of maths in my CS degree, but I never really got a firm grounding in it. This has prevented me from understanding and coding advanced stuff in game development, understanding audio to a decent level, and generally doing things in which I consider the more interesting fields of computing.

  3. Music Theory
  4. – I have been getting better at playing the piano/keyboard by ear, but I have never fully learned to read music, and I would like to.

  5. Electronics
  6. – I would love to be able to build simple DIY synthesiser module kits for my Eurorack setup. I imagine I’d have to start on something small though.

It would be great if I could take courses in these subjects, via the OU or something similar. I just have to find the time.

Goals for the Year 2015 – Midway Update

Winding Road

Now that I am midway through the year, I thought I’d revisit the goals I set myself at the start of the year, to see what has changed.

Career Goals

  • Settle into my new role at the BBC as Test Manager – I suppose this has not been achieved. I will have more updates soon (hopefully) but a change of direction is likely to happen.
  • Pushing for a place to be opened up in Platform Test to employ someone from the Extend Scheme – This has been achieved, and someone will be joining Platform Test from the Extend scheme in October, I’m happy to say.

Creative Goals

  • Get better at music production – This has been achieved. I have been working with my friend I will call ‘G’, which has massively improved my production skills. I have posted music that I see as much better to Soundcloud.

Social Goals

  • Getting married – Well.. things didn’t work out with that. But I have a new girlfriend who will hopefully be moving to live with me, so things seem to be recovering there.
  • Making friends with more people that share the same interests – Partly achieved. G is a good example of someone that I have met through looking for friends with the same interest.

Financial Goals

  • Saving more over the course of the year – Partly achieved. I have bought a house, so now I am in a quite a bit of debt, but the money I will be putting towards my mortgage will be money I am effectively ‘saving’ because it will be put into the value of the house.
  • Joining a pension scheme – Achieved.

Health Goals

  • Adopt a regular form of keeping fit – Not achieved. I have a gym even closer to where I live, 5 minutes walk, so hopefully I will use it more soon. It is difficult for me, as the medication I’m on makes me feel tired all the time, but they do say that exercise improves energy levels.

Conclusion

Although I’ve achieved the majority of my goals, I haven’t achieved two of the major goals – around my job and around exercise, which are both things I need to work on. There is still time left this year to make a difference in these areas.

Use Siri, Apple Earphones and Apple Music Together

This requires you to have a subscription to Apple Music and a 3G/4G/wireless data connection, but it is so useful! Using this tip, you can be walking along with your iPhone in your pocket and your Apple earphones in, and then change music just by pressing a button on the earphones remote control and saying ‘Play (your favourite band)’.

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1. Activate Siri and subscribe to Apple Music. I used to subscribe to Spotify so I switched to Apple Music when I realised the advantages of the integration on my phone, and the wider selection of music. You will also need to set Siri to stream music over your cellular network, this can be done in the ‘Music’ section of iOS settings.

2. Put the iPhone in your pocket with the standard Apple Earphones plugged in. With the standard Apple Earphones, there is a remote control on the cable with one button on it. To activate Siri, hold that button down for a couple of seconds until you hear the ‘Siri’ ‘bleep’.

3. Say ‘Play The Prodigy’ if you want to listen to The Prodigy, for example. This may require a couple of tries occasionally, but usually it just works.

4. Siri should look up The Prodigy on Apple Music, find their most popular songs, put them in a playlist, start streaming them and playing them through your earphones. To skip a song, press the remote control button twice in quick succession. To adjust the volume, press the edges of your remote control, the top edge to increase volume, the bottom edge to decrease. To pause all music playback, just press the remote control button once. To resume playback, press the remote control button once again.

A limitation of this is that you have to be in an area with good reception, enough to stream your tracks from Apple Music. You shouldn’t have a problem if you live in a city like Manchester, I usually get 4G across the whole city.

Modular Progress

Modular Synthesizer
modular layout

My Eurorack modular has been progressing. I’ve added several low-cost modules, a Doepfer A-138b audio mixer module so I can mix the audio outputs of the oscilators, the noise output, and my Doepfer Dark Energy modules. I found this so useful with the Dark Energys that I have ordered another mixer. This I can use to mix audio before sending it to the filter, for example, or mix audio before sending it to a VCA to be amplified. I also added another envelope generator, Doepfer A-140, a sturdy workhorse and also useful for triggering the filter independently of the VCA envelope. Then I added a syncable LFO.. I already have 4 LFOs from the quad-LFO module in the top right, but I wanted a LFO with a reset option that I can use for MIDI syncing. On order is also a A-148 S&H (sample and hold) module which I will use for generating interesting random tones once I have expanded the ‘generative music’ theme of my setup a bit more.

I also added a secondhand Kenton Pro Solo, a small midi-to-cv converter which has a lot of features, including clock sync output as well as CV and gate.

Next purchases may include (all Doepfer) a ring-mod, small essential module that it is. I also want a clock divider and clock sequencer, allowing me to take the midi clock output of my Kenton Pro Solo and link it up to activate timed triggers. I eventually want to get a Make Noise ‘Maths’ module as the highlight of my small modular, but the budget does not permit that right now.