Modular synthesizer

Revision as of 13:12, 27 June 2004 by (talk) (→‎Modern manufacturers of modular synthesizer hardware (alphabetical): Added Analogue Solutions and Analogue Systems)
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The modular synthesizer is an early type of synthesizer consisting of separate modules which must be connected by wires to create a so called patch. These synthesizers are very flexible. Instead of audio, every output generates a voltage (or a current). All inputs expect a voltage, so that almost any combination of connections between the modules is allowed and valid.

There exist many different modules and even the modules with the same function have different inputs and output on various models. But there are some standards which manufactures followed for their range of synthesizers. Connecting synthesizers from different manufactures often requires converters however.

Some standard modules found on almost any synth are:

  • VCO - Voltage Controlled Oscillator, which will play a note in a simple waveform (most usually a square wave or a sawtooth wave)
  • VCF - Voltage Controlled Filter, which filters out all sounds above or below a certain frequency
  • VCA - Voltage Controlled Amplifier, which controls the amplitude or overall volume
  • ENV or ADSR - Envelope generator, which is used to modulate an VCA to change the volume of the sound to simulate the volume contour of natural sounds. Because of the modular nature of the synthesizer the Envelope can also modulate other parameters like the cutoff frequency of the filter, so the timbre of the sound can be changed while the sound progresses.
  • LFO - Low Frequency Oscillator, from which the output is a low frequency waveform, most usually a sine or triangle wave, usually used as a control for some other module (for instance, to modulate the frequency of the VCO's output)
  • Sample and Hold, which takes a snapshot of the input voltage on a trigger pulse and keep it steady even when the input voltage changes.
  • Sequencer, which produces a sequence of notes, usually a music loop

Modular synthesizers were largely replaced by highly integrated keyboard synthesizers, racks of MIDI-connected gear, and samplers. However, there continues to be a loyal following of musicians and manufacturers who prefer the physically-patched approach of traditional modulars.

Modern manufacturers of modular synthesizer hardware (alphabetical)

Computers have grown so powerful and inexpensive that software programs can realistically model the signals, sounds, and patchability of modulars very well. While potentially lacking the physical presence of knobs, sliders, cables, and LEDs, software modular synthesizers offer the infinite variations and visual patching at a more affordable price and in a compact form factor.

Modular synthesizer software (alphabetical)