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 Forum index » Instruments and Equipment » Modular Synthesis
First decisions: format and DIY case
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Poldenstein



Joined: Aug 04, 2013
Posts: 4
Location: Italy

PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 7:10 am    Post subject: First decisions: format and DIY case Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Hallo everybody
So, I'm afraid I've been bitten.
Recently, after some 20 years of digital synths, I had an analog epiphany with a friend of mines' monotribe. So I got me an elektron analog four, that I love deeply. Problem is that it has CV outs, and I started looking at things to connect them to. Now I'm done, and want a modular system.
I mean to build it getting one piece at time, so that the financial draining will be tolerable, and I will be able to make decisions on the modules to add from an "in the field "experience and not on abstract hypothesis. Also because I can start making music straight away just with one oscillator, if I send its output into elektron a4's signal chain.
So, module-wise, I would like to focus your expert advice just on oscillators.
But first of all I have to decide on format: eurorack or 5U?
It seems that eurorack has a wider range and many "new modular wave" esoteric modules that I find very sexy, but 5U's sturdy layout and big knobs seem more playable. Also I could consider in the future to start learning how to solder and do some DIY modules, and maybe bigger is easier. On the other hand I live in Europe and most of 5u's manufacturer are overseas..
Then the case: I think I will go DIY. Any hints to projects, measurements (the critical one should be the height between the rails, am I right?), etc?
Also I wonder if it is better to build a big (studio) case with plenty of space for the future, or doing something smaller so that I will allow myself the freedom to move to other formats if I want so.
Thanks in advance for your input.
P
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elmegil



Joined: Mar 20, 2012
Posts: 1447
Location: Chicago
Audio files: 14

PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 7:59 am    Post subject: Re: First decisions: format and DIY case Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Poldenstein wrote:
Hallo everybody
So, I'm afraid I've been bitten.
Recently, after some 20 years of digital synths, I had an analog epiphany with a friend of mines' monotribe. So I got me an elektron analog four, that I love deeply. Problem is that it has CV outs, and I started looking at things to connect them to. Now I'm done, and want a modular system.


Welcome to the insanity Very Happy

Poldenstein wrote:
So, module-wise, I would like to focus your expert advice just on oscillators.
But first of all I have to decide on format: eurorack or 5U?
It seems that eurorack has a wider range and many "new modular wave" esoteric modules that I find very sexy, but 5U's sturdy layout and big knobs seem more playable.


Warning up front: I am here because I'm an engineer who likes to make noises, not because I'm anything remotely resembling a working musician.

Do you plan to "play out"? If so, the portability of the Eurorack format is a big plus.

I personally prefer 5U (I've gone with a mutant MOTM style, thinking in U just makes sens to me, and dotCom messes with that). But I only ever expect to take modules out of the house for synth meets (and I'm building a small cabinet for that specific purpose now...). And there are plenty of cool things in Euro that sometimes make me wish I'd done otherwise--in fact my current "main" rack has a Euro supply in it specifically so I can have the Euro Klee sequencer and a couple other goodies.

Poldenstein wrote:
Also I could consider in the future to start learning how to solder and do some DIY modules, and maybe bigger is easier. On the other hand I live in Europe and most of 5u's manufacturer are overseas..


I don't think I'd put much weight on the idea of 5U being easier to DIY. Most of the DIY projects I've done recently were originally intended to be Euro, and they typically have had a "panel PCB" which mounts all the panel components. This is MUCH easier to deal with than wiring panels for 5U, and size doesn't really come into it. Thonk and Fonik have several excellent Euro kits, just to name a couple.... (I'd also include hexinverter.net, but he's on this side of "the pond")

Poldenstein wrote:
Then the case: I think I will go DIY. Any hints to projects, measurements (the critical one should be the height between the rails, am I right?), etc?


For 5U, the Ikea RAST rack idea is really very simple to DIY (can provide a link if you have trouble finding it; drip.feed on Muffwiggler posted the main discussion I've seen of it). I can't speak to Euro; I'm currently doing a small multi-format rack (10U wide, fits two rows of 5U and one row of Euro so I can drag out my Klee and a couple other things), and you're right, the internal rail to rail height is probably the most critical measure, followed by the panel height (128.something mm for Euro, 8.75" for 5U).

Poldenstein wrote:
Also I wonder if it is better to build a big (studio) case with plenty of space for the future, or doing something smaller so that I will allow myself the freedom to move to other formats if I want so.


I think I would start with relatively small, so if you find something about a given format you don't like you don't have to scrap the case or have lots of open unused space in it. My first "rack" wasn't really a rack, more of a frame, and it was 13U wide with 2 more 2U positions stacked horizontally on top of it. It was more than enough to get me going well with 5U modules. I think since you're talking about going slowly anyway, 10U or 20U (easy small cases to build) ought to do fine.

As for VCOs.... not a lot I can say other than I think my VCO-555 by Thomas Henry with PCB by Fonik is probably the easiest to calibrate/best tracking of all the ones I currently have. And it fits in 1U in the large format. And it can be done in Euro format too. If i were doing it over again, I'd probably want 4 or 5 of them Smile.
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Poldenstein



Joined: Aug 04, 2013
Posts: 4
Location: Italy

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Thanks elmegil for your kind and learned reply.
I think I will follow your advice and begin with a small case.
Regarding format I cannot decide myself. I don't mean to take the synth outside my studio, and as long as I keep a perspective and don't degenerate in building something as the fat bastard, space should not be a problem.
MOTM is very tempting, if a bit on the pricy side. I'm also considering the curetronic range, that has very interestingly priced kits and is in Europe.
Anyone has experience about assembly? And the sound?
On the other hand eurorack simply offer more choice and access to the bleeding edge of development, but maybe in the end, fashion aside, a classic setup offers enough modulation weirdness for a couple of lifetimes by itself.
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Paradigm X



Joined: Feb 15, 2011
Posts: 276
Location: Null and void

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

for me, euro is so small and fiddly i had to go 5u. you can actually use it!
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elmegil



Joined: Mar 20, 2012
Posts: 1447
Location: Chicago
Audio files: 14

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Poldenstein wrote:
MOTM is very tempting, if a bit on the pricy side. I'm also considering the curetronic range, that has very interestingly priced kits and is in Europe.


Actually when I say mutant MOTM I mostly mean that I use the size (1.75" rack units as width units as well). Most of my stuff uses home built panels and it's all DIY at least at the PCB level (as in, I soldered everything myself). Some are stripboard or protoboard as well. So not SO pricey that way.

While I've had hands on with some MOTM kits, I don't own any myself.
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Antimon



Joined: Jan 18, 2005
Posts: 3686
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 3:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Re: Curetronic - I'm happy to see there's a working shop again. I filled a cabinet with ~10 modules a few years back and I'm happy with it.

The "kits" are pre-assembled pcbs, meaning that Mathias solders all resistors, chips etc to the board for you, calibrates the module, and what you have to do yourself is make a panel somehow, mount pots (included in the kit) to it and make the wiring.

I made some really crappy panels that I have been thinking about fixing a better replacement for...

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Poldenstein



Joined: Aug 04, 2013
Posts: 4
Location: Italy

PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Thanks for your replies.
I do not think it would be wise to start soldering components on a PCB with my level of knowledge, but connecting pots and jacks to it should be doable, and at that price it seems a real bargain. I've seen bare PCBs costing more. Beside connections where do you house the PCB? You stick it to the panel? How?
Regarding panels, I could not find much on the net.
Any link to resources? What is the best material? Any tip? Sellers of blank panels to drill? This would be useful also because I think the easiest way to build a case would be to start making a square with rails and blank panels and then building the case around it.
One more question, be patient please.
Do 5U use aluminum rails as eurorack or what else?
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Antimon



Joined: Jan 18, 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 10:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think I stuck my boards to the panel using spacers - there are holes in the corners of the pcb.

While pcbs and components may cost a bit, knobs (not included in a kit) cost a fair amount, and making panels seems to be a major hassle generally. People talk about finding sheets of scrap aluminium for cheap - I don't know where to begin looking for that stuff. Then anodizing and whatnot... I'm always interested in ways to make panels with as little effort as possible. You get into diy modular focussing on the electronics, but the main pain (and equipment- demanding thing) seems to concern panels and knobs.

Hoping for a real expert to chime in! Smile

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elmegil



Joined: Mar 20, 2012
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Here in the states we have metalsupermarkets.com. I can get MOTM sized 2U panels (3.5 x 8.75) at 1/16" for just under $5 each. Not scrap, but not breaking the budget either. The site then contracts with local metal shops (or else has local metal shops, I'm not 100% certain which) to actually provide the goods. I live close enough to be able to pick mine up and save the shipping of very heavy goods.

I use photoshop to design the panels, or sometimes borrow someone else's (the emdot design for hexinverter's postman quad AR was very sweet).

I use a hammer and punch, and a drill press to manufacture the panel.

I print the design, inverted, onto clear sticker paper (mostly black after being inverted, and the silver of the aluminum shows through), do my best to line it up on the panel, cut out all the holes, and then spray with a clear coat to keep the ink from rubbing off.

I build brackets out of aluminum roof flashing which can be cut with tin snips, mount the PCBs on with standoffs, and wire up to the panel components.

There's a fair bit of work glossed over in that description, and some experience with techniques that do and don't work, and some amount of still figuring out better ways.

I would say the panel components (pots & knobs & jacks) are the most expensive part of the whole deal, depending of course on the price of the PCB to begin with.
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Poldenstein



Joined: Aug 04, 2013
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I see. The best solution would be to go to a place near me where they cut aluminium foils with exact decimal metrical measurements and ask for having some cut.
So I am starting to consider that I could go the curetronic way for a basic starter and maybe later add a little eurorack cabinet for those esoteric modules.
To keep cost down I could go with the kits for the more general purpose modules vcas lfos mixers multiples etc, and buy ready made and maybe from other manifacturers the more delicate ones, namely vcos and filters.
So, if I buy this
http://www.bild-schall.com/product/curetronic-power-one-15v

And this
http://www.bild-schall.com/product/curetronic-bus-board-small

Can I add modules from other brands without adapters?
What are the differences in panel measurements between 5U formats?
As I said my first module would be a vco. I guess that being my first foray it would be more rewarding to get a ready made module.
My budget for it would be in the 300-400 euro range. Opinions are welcome.
Ad lastly, this maybe is embarrassing, but can I use my existing jack audio cables for patching in 5U?
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