How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

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george_sve
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How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by george_sve » Thu Apr 02, 2020 6:12 am

Hi everyone! :help:

I recently started working on a design project and I was wondering what are the main problems you are faced with when working with your modular synthesizers. How could design help you overcome them? I'm trying to create something that could bring more people into the world of modular synthesizing and improve the overall experience when working with modules.

I have already been thinking about:

1) Beginners and how difficult it might have been for you when you first started

2) The cases in the market and in which way you would like them to get improved

3) The working space and ofcourse

4) Aesthetics

... but I think there are many more problems that you would like to get improved that are either not mentioned or listed here.

Any suggestions ?

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by revtor » Thu Apr 02, 2020 1:26 pm

Maybe something with patchbays and interconnecting all the separate items in a typical “analog” studio these days..?
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Pelsea » Thu Apr 02, 2020 10:13 pm

I like designs that make the signal flow clear. That means sensible grouping of jacks, major controls distinguished from tweaks, and clear and attractive labeling. That’s not just for beginners, when I’m composing any need for “scientific” thinking is a distraction.

The ergonomic issues are mostly that everything is too small and close together.
I’d like to see a case where a row of modules would tilt out to simplify connecting power cables.
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by KSS » Fri Apr 03, 2020 9:30 pm

Pelsea wrote:
Thu Apr 02, 2020 10:13 pm
I’d like to see a case where a row of modules would tilt out to simplify connecting power cables.
Spoken like a true moog CP enthusiast! 8-)

Far simpler to have a hinged back panel. Ths issue with rotating modules forward on a pivot is that depth of module changes how much space is needed between rows for clearance. It wouldn't be hard at all to mount an M3 nutstrip to a few hinges using short M3's on the nutstrip backside. And mounting the hinge to the case wall or mid divider. That would give you the front panel access you want. But module depths will determine how well it works out overall.
Putting a removable 1U row in between two 3U rows could deal with this, at the cost of added complexity.

Don Buchla showed how to eliminate a bunch of mounting screws by using overclamped strips. A few screws hold the strips, and the strips hold many modules. This can be done in Euro also, but it covers the panel markings top and bottom. There was a guy who presented a case like that here a couple years ago and he used additional pieces screwed to each module which were then held down by the overclamps. Don't know what became of that, but it's here on MW somewhere.

Moog Console Panels work because they factor in the arc of opening and don't have any interference points beyond it.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by thelowerrhythm » Sat Apr 04, 2020 1:57 am

A case design document that is easily accessed and well-designed (pun intended) so as to make it easy to access / follow.

No clue how design could help here, though I know it could:

1. Avoiding linearity in both organization and patching.
2. Introducing important concepts visually, such as signal flow.
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Xomrys » Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:05 pm

More nuance and resolution with controls. It seems Moog was the only one who understood this. Large knobs with plenty of labeling for controls. Also the labeling really needs to be accurate, such as .001 vs .01s envelope time. This way you get more out of each module, you get into the nuances of each parameter.

Also many knobs/Pots are just horrible in terms of fine physical control, when you turn them slightly they overshoot or spring back. You can understand this if you ever work with a tuner, to get the pitch precisely ‘on’. It can be hard!

Finally not enough emphasis on basics, such as routing, logic, CV mixing and CV capable VCA. Only the Serge world does this well. It gets boring rather quickly just to make cool bleeps. The real fun is in broader compositional strategies and ways to bring in and fade out elements both programmatically and during a performance. All time scales from micro (the sound material) to macro (many seconds or minutes) should be both freely composable and linkable. One can forgive many a ‘boring’ sound if there is this kind of organic, multilevel composition, for instance the many video examples from Suzanne Ciani.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Teusa Rass » Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:08 pm

I'd like sheets of peel off adhesive rings in green and red to shove over
jack necks sticking on the panels,
marking the ins and outs to avoid the somewhere mentioned
plugging the out of rings to out of plaits.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by KSS » Sun Apr 05, 2020 3:04 am

Teusa Rass wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:08 pm
I'd like sheets of peel off adhesive rings in green and red to shove over jack necks sticking on the panels,marking the ins and outs to avoid the somewhere mentioned plugging the out of rings to out of plaits.
Use sharpie or craftstore paint pen to color the washers under the nus of your jacks. Thin colored plastic washers can be bought from places like Bokers.

If using Eurorack, you can use round nuts along with hex nuts to distinguish inputs-Hex from outputs-Round.

The round style nuts have a slot along with the knurl so you can also turn these over to show the slot or not. Slot showing is input, because slot ="I". No slot for output since no slot looks like "O" Tightening with knurl in both cases.

There are colored plastic nuts for 1/4" jacks. Black, blue and red are common.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by ATW » Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:49 pm

I'm encouraged by the trend of a more user-friendly design philosophy in modular synth hardware, cases, etc.

Cases, cables, and modules with shrouded headers, reverse polarity protection, voltage 'health' indicator LEDs (like the Mantis case)—all of these things are becoming more standard—and help people not fry modules, and instead get more comfortable with their gear sooner.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by MarcelP » Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:11 pm

Xomrys wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:05 pm
...such as .001 vs .01s envelope time. This way you get more out of each module,
I think it has been previously demonstrated that markings that go up to 11 let you get more out of each module.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Stice » Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:17 pm

Designers just need to clearly label the expected voltage range on both inputs and outputs, that would solve a ton of problems for everyone.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by wavecircle » Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:40 pm

Nice thread, I really spend a lot of time thinking about playability and where pots/jacks are located so patching and playing are as stress free and enjoyable as possible. So many great Euro modules suffer from this lack of care, use of pots in locations which are impossible to access once the system is patched up.
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by GuyaGuy » Thu Jun 25, 2020 4:03 pm

Here are some panel design problems I see often:
  • Inputs are not labeled as input
  • Outputs are not labeled as outputs
  • Normalization is normally not represented on the panel
  • Jacks are often labeled "CV In" without indicating what can be C'd by the V
  • Push buttons are sometimes labeled for 2 values like "S/P" or "LP/HP" with no indication of whether being depressed means the first or second value is active

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Cpaf » Thu Jun 25, 2020 4:03 pm

A more social perspective on your question - bringing more people into modular? = get children excited about modular. Now how can you design such excitement?

Awareness - e.g. get some small ones (semi-modular is also a great possible entry point e.g. Moog Mother 32) into the school music class room or physics class and learn kids how to solder a simple module, or wood working to built a simple case.

affordability (DIY or semi-modulars come to mind) ,

"hype"/ get Drake (or "any popular hip hop star") to play a modular and brag about it.

And yes, dead serious, I think this is what it takes - and it is a great design problem!

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by KSS » Thu Jun 25, 2020 5:02 pm

@Cpaf :agree:
Excellent post!

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by pugix » Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:30 pm

Stice wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:17 pm
Designers just need to clearly label the expected voltage range on both inputs and outputs, that would solve a ton of problems for everyone.
I'd be happy if this information was at least put into the user manual. Can't see panels having room for it, though.

Most everyone would appreciate a visual distinction of inputs v. outputs. I doubt there can ever be a standard for this, but each maker should be consistent about it (thankfully, many are).

Design is separable into two major categories: circuit design/function and panel design. Then there's also design for the user manual, which often gets short-shrifted. These different design aspects call for different skill sets on the part of designers.

Which sorts of design are being asked about here?
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by beepnsleep » Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:46 pm

Teusa Rass wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:08 pm
I'd like sheets of peel off adhesive rings in green and red to shove over
jack necks sticking on the panels,
marking the ins and outs to avoid the somewhere mentioned
plugging the out of rings to out of plaits.
befaco banananuts are good for this as well

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by attacca » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:14 pm

Cpaf wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 4:03 pm
...

"hype"/ get Drake (or "any popular hip hop star") to play a modular and brag about it.

And yes, dead serious, I think this is what it takes - and it is a great design problem!
Ah yes just what we need, another generation of mindless consumers buying shit because a celebrity told them to...

The correct way would be have a hands on demo day at your local library once a month or so. Or get modular/DIY into elementary/middle school curriculum, it is a fun blend of shop/STEM/music class all in one. As you pointed out.

I have proposed this in my own town and was supposed to start last March but Covid messed that up. I was to start teaching an introduction to soldering class and a 3d printing class at the local community center. The idea is to start simple, soldering up mults etc, then move on to cases/power/modules until the community center has a nice synth that anyone add to, play, and teach with.

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by KSS » Sat Jun 27, 2020 7:59 pm

attacca wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:14 pm
Cpaf wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 4:03 pm
...
"hype"/ get Drake (or "any popular hip hop star") to play a modular and brag about it.

And yes, dead serious, I think this is what it takes - and it is a great design problem!
Ah yes just what we need, another generation of mindless consumers buying shit because a celebrity told them to...
Or maybe you could look at it another way? That this time the celebrity -whoever it may be- is giving real and useful advice within their field of popularity, and the advice is neither "mindless" or "telling someone what to do"

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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Rex Coil 7 » Sat Jun 27, 2020 11:41 pm

KSS wrote:
Fri Apr 03, 2020 9:30 pm
Pelsea wrote:
Thu Apr 02, 2020 10:13 pm
I’d like to see a case where a row of modules would tilt out to simplify connecting power cables.
Spoken like a true moog CP enthusiast! 8-)

Far simpler to have a hinged back panel.
Agreed. Well, with the overall premise of accessing modules from the back rather than the front. A hinged rear panel is fine, so are removable rear panels. In any case, rear access is the idea here. Starting with simpler notions like this helped to dictate many other factors in the design of my own project synth. For example, since I decided to go with rear access, that dictated which way the power and normalizing terminals faced of each module. And then, many other aspects fell into place as further design work was done. So that's just one example how a single choice made regarding a "foundation item" (that would be ~the commitment to having rear access~) set the course and heading for one hell of a lot of other decisions and choices regarding design and construction.
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by Pelsea » Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:28 pm

In fact, I leave my case backs open, with crossbars to hold the bus connectors. Of course, that doesn't help me much as the modular lives up against a wall, and I'm too lazy to do all of the stuff moving required to get at it in my tiny space.
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Re: How could design help you with your modular syntesizers ?

Post by DrReverendSeance » Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:39 pm

I’d like to see some “design thinking” give to patch cables: when looking at a spaghetti of cables it can be hard to identify what goes where. There are only a limited number of colours.

Also Banana cables are so brilliant as a way to extend patching easily. Could the same banana concept be applied to 1/8” and 1/4”?

Many other great ideas in this post. Good question to have raised!

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