Eurorack Templates: Building a Basic Synth, Effects Rack, and Sampler

Eurorack can be intimidating, with so many modules on the market and synth forums strewn with pictures of giant systems spewing a spaghetti dinner of wires. But the fact of the matter is that with a small 60hp rack — the size of a Moog Mother 32 — you can craft a dynamic and powerful Eurorack system for a variety of purposes.

You can build anything, from a good old analog synth that'll ease your desire for that massive, $35,000 Moog IIIc to a great effects rack to a bonkers sampling system that triggers and mangles recordings in all sorts of fun ways.

These suggested rigs are a great way to create a small system that’s easy to take on the bus to your gig or easy breakout boxes to add to your giant wall of modules at home.

Best of all, a small rig equates to the relatively lowest out–of–pocket expense for getting into Eurorack. If you’ve been considering pulling the trigger but are intimidated by the sheer number of options, use this as a guide to curate your own small system with whatever budget is within reach.


Classical Analog

The goal behind this analog was to squeeze all of the classic synth essentials into a box but to keep it flexible enough that you'd never feel the synth’s size.

Voltage Controlled Oscillator: In the system pictured here, there are two Make Noise STOs. These have lots of flexibility, thanks to some great–sounding waveforms and built–in waveshaping capabilities. Make Noise is great for those Swiss Army Knife oscillators. The Intellijel Dixie is a great second choice, though.

Envelope Generator: As with the STO, Make Noise’s Function has lots of flexibility, doing typical envelope generator business while also offering sample–and–hold capabilities, LFO behavior, and so much more. I suggest putting two in your synth, since those combined take up less space that their 20hp big brother, Maths.

Voltage Controlled Amplifier: The Intellijel μVCA II is pretty much unparalleled in terms of a compact but effective VCA in 6hp or less. It’s a no–nonsense, super slim module with two sets of ins and outs.

Voltage Controlled Filter: The Harvestman's Polivoks VCF has amazing analog squelch, and its built–in two–channel mixer goes a long way, giving you versatile filter use in a small rack system.

Mixer: 2hp’s Mix gives you four signal inputs that can be used for mixing either audio or CV. Taking up just 2hp, it offers a functionality without sacrificing space.

Gate Sequencer: At the head of the chain, we have a module that is not analog per se, but still affords maximum utility in minimal hp for a distinctly analog sound. The Malekko Varigate 4 is a sequencer with step control over four essential parameters: probability, repeat, delay, and global. Clock and reset inputs allow the sequencer to converse with other systems, making your 60hp system integrate well with anything else you build.


Effects Rack

As far as dedicated effects racks go, variety is key. This is especially true when trying to cram a lot of power into a mere 60hp. Naturally, things will get a bit unconventional.

In/Out: First off, an effects rack should have a dedicated means of converting line–level signals to modular levels and vice versa. The Intellijel Audio Interface provides a clean and effective way to route signals from any line–level input into your Eurorack, and then back into your DAW, PA, or external FX units.

Low Frequency Oscillator: The Xaoc Batumi is a great dedicated modulation source, with four LFOs featuring assignable reset/tap tempo ins, as well as four separate modulation modes (free, quadrature, phase, and divide) and selectable waveform outputs.

Multieffect: The Expert Sleepers Disting is a famously multifaceted module that can be used as an effects processor (including waveshaper, vocoder, various filters, bitcrusher, tape or ping pong delay, and many more), LFO, AR envelope generator, function generator, and even a VCO with either linear sine and saw outs or waveshaping capabilities. The coming mk4 even has an SD card slot for playing WAVs.

This sheer configurability is sure to provide a wealth of both processing and modulation options. Using two Distings together means even more possibilities, allowing one to be used for something like bitcrushing while the other is used as a delay. They’re only 4hp, so you could build a formidable 60hp effects rack consisting of nothing but Distings and still not utilize all their functions simultaneously. That said, two will do the trick.

Voltage Control Filter: One great option is the Eurorack classic Doepfer A–105, which utilizes a –24dB low–pass filter and SSM2044 chip to generate the same squelchy tones boasted by the Korg PolySix, Emu SP–1200, and PPG Wave 2.2. Additionally, the filter provides voltage controlled resonance and exceptional input distortion that add even more flavor to its characteristically crisp sound.

Frequency Shifter: It’s hard to find frequency shifter effects outside of the modular world, so might as well put one in your rack. These shift the frequency of an incoming signal up and down for a variety of seasick warbles that can be used, for instance, as expressive melodies or to tune percussion.

The undisputed champion is the Cwejman FSH–1, which is worth the 14HP. Each of the FSH–1’s outputs are patched into ring modulators, allowing the module to cover double duties as a dual ring modulator. It lends metallic punch that could work well in a variety of styles, including things as seemingly diverse as IDM and pop.

Reverb: A reverb module will afford lots of functionality that’s inaccessible via software or a guitar pedal — especially when modulated by an LFO or another CV source. Since there is, sadly, no space for an Erbe-Verb, I opted for the Intellijel Springray II that comes with either a small, medium, or large external reverb rank.

For aquatic dementia, the Springray’s dedicated drive input can be used to overdrive the connected tank for aggressive, distorted reverb effects. You rarely think of a reverb as a unit capable of great overdriven sounds, but that’s the wild world of modular synthesis for you. This one would work extremely well alongside the FSH–1 for more industrial or avant–garde applications.


Sampler System

For the compact sampler system, I intentionally chose three different sampling modules with divergent intentions and paired them with a group of modulators and controllers intended to maximize functionality, spontaneity, and efficiency. This will work just as well with your beatmaking workflow as it will a standalone sampling system, thanks to modules that help send audio in and out of your system.

Radio–Style Sampler: The Radio Music module by Music Thing Modular uses samples loaded via SD in a manner totally unlike a looper or an MPC. The module contains 16 banks with 75 so–called stations each. You switch banks with a button but can change stations with either a knob or CV. It’s a great source of strange noise and odd radio timbres.

Trigger–Based Sampler: Tip Top Audio’s One is much easier to tame than the Radio Music. It’s ideal for triggering one–shot sounds loaded via SD card, and Tip Top sells multiple SD cards of percussive sounds. But you can load your own sounds via SD, as well.

Complex and wholly unique patterns are easily achievable, as the files on the SD card can be sequenced via CV. What’s more, the SD card can store both audio and CV, meaning One can be used for sampled audio and/or sampled modulations.

Slice–and–Dice Sampler: The Make Noise Morphogene is a mangler of a module that turns your samples into entirely new creations. Inspired by Curtis Roads’s book Microsounds, the Morphogene is an evolution of Mark Noise’s Phonogene, making use of the space between sounds.

The module can simultaneously record both manipulations and overdubs, as well as process sound in real–time. Samples are saved as “reels” to an SD card for convenient storage (48kHz/ 32–bit wav) and uploading. Additionally, the module boasts stereo I/O, a 24–bit codec, and a slew of external connections for precise synchronization with the rest of your small 60hp system or with your giant wall of modules.

Envelope Follower/Preamp: The modulation section begins with a Sputnik Envelope Follower that can take your line–level input and send it to any of your sampling modules for live sampling. It also generates an envelope signal based on fluctuations of the incoming signal’s amplitude, making it easy to sync other modulation system. The Doepfer A–119 provides similar functionality and is also a great option.

Low Frequency Oscillator: The modulation section continues with the Doepfer A–147–2 Delayed LFO. It has a wide frequency range and is incredibly versatile, with voltage–controlled waveforms, a switchable attenuator/polarizer, an internal VCA that can be used as intended or as a voltage–controlled polarizer, and a simple envelope generator. It’s great for modulating parameters on any of the sampling modules.

Envelope Generator: I selected the Make Noise Function again for this system, thanks to its additional envelope and S&H capabilities, allowing for a variety of synchronized modulations at varying lengths. It's perfect for modulating the Morphogene, triggering the One, or accenting the Radio Thing’s characteristic weirdness.

Voltage Controlled Amplifier: 2hp’s dual VCA provides VC amplification for both audio and CV signals. By pairing up signals from the rack’s modulation section and processing the through the VCAs before they hit the samplers, users can achieve complex amplitude modulations.

Mixer: The final module in the rack is the 2hp Mix, which provides a single input for the Radio Thing and One and two inputs for the Morphogene. Once again, 2hp’s tiny Mix module really juices the functionality of your 60hp rack.

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