My DIY modular synthesizer
Motivation and goals of this project
In short: I like synthesizers and I like tinkering with electronics. This project combines those two hobbies.
AE modular is a good platform for DIY-ers. This was what drew me to it in the first place. The system works entirely on 5 V, which reduces the risk of breaking components. Modules are relatively inexpensive anyway, so accidentally damaging them isn’t the end of the world. 5 V is also the voltage used in DIY platforms such as Arduino.
All very well, however it is still not quite DIY-friendly enough for my taste. The physical format is just too small. Official modules make use of printed circuit boards and SMD components, but the average hobbyist does not have access to those technologies. Also, the depth of the standard cases and the back-mounting are limiting. I would like to have the freedom to go as deep as I need to. Finally, it is a bit of a challenge to manufacture such small front panels with the thin rectangular cutouts without laser cutters or other precision tools that not everyone has.
A second motivation for moving away from the AE format is that the tiny knobs and wires and the cramped patch sockets just don’t do it for me. Plugging in big cables and turning bigs knobs makes things more practical and enjoyable.
So how do I do things differently? Electrically my format it is pretty much identical to AE, and physically it looks much like Eurorack. The patch cords have banana plugs. Details about the format can be found below.
It was an important goal to be electrically compatible with AE modular because repackaging AE modules (and possibly enhancing them) is a good way to start out and quickly get a rack filled up. I want to give a shout out to bradaddle who showed with his Banaenae project that it can be done and this gave me the confidence to pursue the idea.
Ultimately, what I hope to get out of this project is creative expression, joy of building, and the idea of creating a unique synth.
Why the website?
Firstly, to document the build process, so I can look back at pictures of the build later, and to have the necessary information to repair or rebuild modules. I try to provide enough information for others to exactly replicate the modules if they want.
Secondly, I want to share with other people what I’m doing and maybe inspire them. By no means I want to discourage people to buy AE modular! I’m a big fan and will continue to buy modules. If anything, I hope I can encourage those people, that are not quite convinced by the physical part of AE but are attracted by the DIY aspect, to go for it. Finally, it is also a hope of mine that Tangible Waves will consider selling their modules as kits some day :-)
- 3U panels (no restictions on width and depth)
- rail mount, M3 mounting holes
- 0-5 V (modules may be powered individually but audio and CV signals are in the 0-5 V range)
- bus is a daisy chain power cord with 5.5 x 2.5 mm plugs that carries GND and +5V, center positive
- patch cords with 4 mm banana plugs
- 1 V/octave
These are the modules I have built so far. Obviously this is a work in progress. Be sure to check back on this page for updates.