How to Integrate MIDI with Your Eurorack Modular Synth Setup

Are you a synth enthusiast who’s new to Eurorack and wondering how you’re going to interface a case of modules with your trusty DAW?

How about an experienced knob wiggler who wants to synchronize a well-curated modular synth with a matrix of Roland Boutiques and Korg Volcas located outside your skiff?

Well, never fear, because MIDI is here: Eurorack manufacturers are releasing a variety of useful modules that convert digital musical messages (MIDI) into analog controlled voltage (CV). MIDI-to-CV converter modules let you easily incorporate MIDI functionality into Eurorack systems.

Read below to learn more about MIDI-to-CV conversion in the realm of Eurorack, including a list of feature-packed MIDI-to-CV modules available right now on Reverb.

How Do MIDI-to-CV Modules Work?

In operation, a MIDI-to-CV module is a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that translates binary data from external devices into analog signals for your modular synth.

MIDI-to-CV modules turn incoming MIDI data into corresponding amounts of CV. This includes common MIDI messages like note on-off and controller change (CC). The converted MIDI messages are subsequently routed throughout your modular synth as CV via patching.

Pittsburgh Modular MIDI 3

With a MIDI-to-CV converter module installed in your Eurorack system, you can:

  • Clock-sync a modular synth to external BPMs generated by DAWs and MIDI-enabled devices like drum machines and samplers.

  • Simultaneously influence the behavior of multiple filters, oscillators, and envelope generators in your modular synth with a single MIDI controller.

  • Transform MIDI note on-off messages into unique oscillator waveform shapes.

MIDI-to-CV modules add new levels of playability to Eurorack by assimilating MIDI controls in your modular synth. They’re essential for networking a MIDI-enabled digital band that features your modular synth at the center of its lineup.

Getting Started with MIDI-to-CV Modules

Mutable Instruments Yarns

Initializing a MIDI-to-CV module in your Eurorack system is a quick and painless process:

  • After you’ve installed the MIDI-to-CV module in your rack—and before powering on any devices—use the appropriate cable (typically a 5-pin DIN or USB) to connect the module’s input with the MIDI OUT port of your external device.

  • Now power up both devices and generate some MIDI note on-off messages with the external equipment—you should immediately see a corresponding visual indicator from the MIDI-to-CV module (usually a blinking LED) that confirms the two devices are communicating successfully.

It’s worth noting that most brand-new MIDI-to-CV modules are preset to receive data “globally” from all 16 MIDI channels. However, this might not be the case with pre-owned modules.

If you buy a used MIDI-to-CV module on the highly kinetic Eurorack resale market, you should reset its MIDI channel settings shortly after installation. This creates a clean slate for routing data in your rig—and helps you avoid potentially frustrating navigations through a previous owner’s presets.

Reverb’s Four Favorite MIDI-to-CV Modules

Now that you know the logic behind MIDI-to-CV conversion in Eurorack, it’s time to pick the right MIDI-to-CV module for your own system. There are many variations and added features, so check out the list below to find the one perfect for your needs:

The Midi 3 is Pittsburgh Modular’s third generation MIDI-to-CV converter. In addition to multiple 1/VO and gate outputs, the Midi 3 provides tap tempo clock division and a built-in arpeggiator to conjure interesting melodies with your modular synth. The Midi 3 is an ideal module for multi-voice synths due to its duophonic mode, which allows two notes to be played simultaneously. Expression control in the Midi 3 is provided by assignable CC and dedicated velocity outputs.

Mutable Instruments’ Yarns features four MIDI channels that can be assigned to four separate voices, making it the most polyphonic MIDI-to-CV module on our list. Yarns is loaded with an arpeggiator mode, a 64-note sequencer, and a euclidean pattern generator to create complex melodies. Yarns is an excellent module to pair with a keyboard-style MIDI controller, thanks to built-in LFOs that interpret mod-wheel messages as vibrato and pitch bend.

If saving rack space is a priority, check out the MIDI by 2hp. The smallest module on our list, MIDI measures a mere 2hp of rack space—but packs an impressive number of features, including monophonic, duophonic, dual mono, and quad trigger modes. While the other modules on our list use 5-pin DIN inputs, MIDI stays slim by using a USB mini connector to interface with external devices.

Perhaps the most esoteric module on our list, the MIDI Oscillator 103 from Electronic Music Works transforms incoming MIDI messages into three unique waveforms: sawtooth, square, and sub-oscillator. These waveforms can be adjusted with FINE TUNE and GLIDE control knobs—and influenced by other modules via PWM and FM inputs. The MIDI Oscillator 103 can also translate incoming MIDI data into trigger/gate outputs to open envelopes and initiate sequencers in your modular synth. While the 103 can be difficult to find on the used market, the similar though slightly less feature-rich MIDI Oscillator is more widely available.

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