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Modular synths have a long history—at its inception, analog synthesis was by necessity modular. Exploring systems connecting discrete oscillators, filters, envelope generators and noise circuits shaped the building blocks of what we expect in synthesizers today. Originators like Bob Moog and Don Buchla experimented with different modules and formats, but improving technology and market forces quickly shaped synthesizers into predominantly fixed, unified instruments.

Starting in the '90s, boutique builders began to revive the modular designs of yesteryear. The trend quickly blossomed into a variety of formats (such as Eurorack) and focuses ranging from DIY recreations of past designs to open formats focused on driving synthesis into new territory.

You can find the best range of modular synths on Reverb, from modern MOTM, Eurorack and 500 series modules to vintage units from Moog, Buchla, and Roland.

What is a modular synth?

A modular synthesizer is an instrument that is composed of separate, interchangeable modules that are manipulated to create sound. The modules are circuits designed to make, alter, or mix sounds together.

Unlike a keyboard synth, which features different modules that are hardwired together in a specific order, modules in modular synths can be rearranged via patch cables. Modular synths also don’t have a keyboard that you press to make sounds. Instead, sound is produced via control voltages signals that you feed through your different modules.

How does a modular synth work?

In short, modular synths work by manipulating voltage sent through them to produce sounds. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Let’s start with modular synth basics. There are three main types of modules that are involved in modular synths:

  • Modules that generate sound (e.g., VCO or voltage-controlled oscillators)
  • Modules that change sound (e.g., a VCF or voltage-controlled filter)
  • Modules that change sound behavior over time using an envelope curve (i.e., Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release controls)

A basic modular synth setup will include all three types of modules, connected in the user’s preferred order.

How much does a modular synth cost?

The cost of a modular synth depends on which modules you use, their brand, their age, and their condition. However, modules can range in price from about $80 to hundreds of dollars or more.

A modular synth starter kit, which is a bundle of the basic building blocks of a modular synth, will likely be an investment of a few hundred dollars.

Why are modular synths becoming so popular?

Modular synths are increasingly popular for several reasons, including their use in popular music over the past several decades and the ability of their user to make the exact sounds they want. Whereas a standard keyboard synth has hard-wired components that live in the same order, modular synths can grow and shift and be moved around to the player’s content.

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