MATRIXSYNTH: A Critique on Eurorack Format Modulars

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Critique on Eurorack Format Modulars

The following is from David Kronemyer (Sentience Studio). Note this pertains to Doepfer rack enclosures and not cases like those provided by Monorocket which support both Doepfer and ASys style power connectors. Feel free to comment.

"There’s a semi-not-obvious issue with the now-popular Eurorack format, which is that while the modules may be economically-priced, the racks are expensive. And while they are amazing, many of the newer modules no longer are so economically priced. Doepfer’s dealer in the U.S. is Analogue Haven/Shawn Cleary. Shawn sells Doepfer Euroracks for $530 + shipping (approximately $35) + California’s confiscatory 9.75% sales tax (if you live in California, at least). This pushes to $620 per rack. If one has 10 modules in a rack (which seems to be about the average width), this adds an extra $62 to the cost of each module. Compare: a set of MOTM rails, which will accommodate 10 single-width modules, is $54 + shipping; a set of rails, which will accommodate eight single-width modules, is $65 + shipping; and a set of Blacet (frac rack) rails, which will accommodate five double-width modules, is $79 + shipping. Even if you double these to reach the same average module density as a Eurorack, you’re still at about 25% of the cost.

Please understand I’m not bagging on Shawn or saying the Eurorack isn’t worth it. In fact we have about a dozen of them! It’s a highly specialized business and I’m sure Shawn’s margins are really thin. I’m just making an observation about relative cost. Also, there are less expensive alternatives. For example, Monorocket (also available through Analogue Haven) makes a portable case for $350 (though it’s not a rack mount).

There’s another problem with Euroracks, which is the power supply. While the buss board offers +5 VDC, all Doepfer power supplies now are +12/–12 VDC. If you want +5 VDC – a necessity for many modules from Analogue Solutions, for example – you’re out of luck. Doepfer makes a little thingy that converts +12VDC to +5VDC. While we’ve never tried it, the picture on Doepfer’s site makes it look not all that sturdy, capable of handling one or two modules at most. On top of that the Doepfer power supply is 1200 mA, which leaves little head-room. Doepfer used to make a power supply with only half that much! As a general principle, the more head-room, the better the sound.

We are very careful with module count, correct polarity, etc. However, mysteriously, the –12 VDC on one of our Doepfer power supplies recently disappeared. The +12 VDC was just fine, as were the buss boards. We realized we were exhausted by this tomfoolery and decided to install our own power supply, which also would provide +5 VDC. Power One makes a high-quality linear power supply, sold by DigiKey (Part No. 179-2317-ND). It gives +12 VDC, –12 VDC and +5 VDC, all in one convenient unit. So we removed the now-deceased Doepfer power supply and installed this one instead.

This power supply is way overkill for the rack. As you can see the Alcatel connectors also are ludicrously huge for this application. The only reason why we used them, and the heavy-gauge wire, is because we had them lying around from a previous project. It was a happy moment to see all of the LEDs on the Doepfer buss rail light up. We are eyeing our other Doepfer racks guardedly.

WARNING – do not try this at home unless you know what you’re doing!"

Update: two shots of David Kronemyer's Sentience Studio.

Be sure to see the comments of this post for further discussion.


  1. Mmmm.... if you have a dozen $600 Deopfer racks full of modules, money's probably not an issue... so what's the problem? Add to cart!

    Unlike you, I'm NOT careful with module count, correct polarity, or anything, and I haven't blown up any of the eight Doepfer racks I got from Shawn. I bought a ton of this stuff precisely because I thought it was so unbelievably cheap that it was basically disposable... I kind of thought that was the point? Compared to the thirty years' worth of pricey boat anchors filling up my storage space, from Aardvark to VS-Rack to Zendrum, EuroCrap™ is as cheap as dirt for what it does. At $600 per cage, keep a spare, or get one of his DIY kits to have spare boards to swap as needed. When you have a dozen of anything you've gotta know one's gonna blow up every year or so.... and to fill those racks you'll be clicking "add to cart" all freaking day anyway, so add a couple extra PSUs to your order, what's the big deal? Besides, by the time you've got that many racks you've got to be thinking about a custom housing anyway... I know I am and I only have eight. So you'll be solving the power supply "problem" anyway.

    Don't forget, eight 6-space Doepfer racks are almost exactly the same price as the double-monster, which holds the same amount of modules, so it's not like the racks are a rip-off.

    Another thing to keep in mind - I don't know who made the janky third-party housing I played with once, but instead of the Doepfer-style tapped rails it had captive nuts that slid back and forth in the channels. This meant that when you wanted to install a module you had to slip and slide the nuts around to get one underneath each of your four screws.... total pain.

    As to the 5v problem... there is no problem. Use the little gadget from Doepfer and get on with your life. It works fine. It's $20. Not too spendy when you're filling eight racks with modules. How many AS modules would anyone want, anywyay? The ones I have are crap and they're all in odd widths that leave 1hp gaps all over the place. Skip 'em.

    As to Euro being more expensive in general than 5u etc... what's 5u got that's worth the stupidity of 1/4 patching? If I HAD to go 5u to get teh awesomeness of the Flame Clockwork or MFB SEQ02, then I would (not really)... but fortunately I don't. The world of 5u is just the same old modules that have been boring me to tears for 30 years.

    VCO, LFO, LPF.... BFD.

    (Yes, I do have an original 1969 Moog Modular system, and no, it never gets used.)

    You know, dude, you blew up one power supply, swapped it with basically a Radio Shack piece, and you're already "exhausted by all this tomfoolery"? That's not tomfoolery, son... that's SOP for a recording studio, so nut up 'n' shut up. That's nothing.

    (Plus your panel's not mounted straight.)

    My opinion after 30 years of buying synths:

    - Euro is cheap-n-cheerful.
    - 5u is boring.
    - If you have a dozen of anything don't be butt-hurt when one of them breaks.

    EuroCheap™ FTW!

  2. Oh, man, if those pics on are from your rig, I apologize for implying you were a noob. Obviously you know which end of a soldering gun gets hot.... but... let me get this straight: handwired Jensen output transformers onto crap ROMplers from the 1990's?

    Okay. That IS hard-core. It ain't right, but it's hard-core.


  4. DIY is the only way to go for euro cases and power. I use the Power One HCC15-3-A+G

    This thread was helpful:

  5. Ya, ass blast the guy for stating his opinion. He is significantly invested in euro, I don't see him tearing it down, just making an observation. He isn't stating that 5U is superior as a format, just that the mounting is less expensive. If anything Charlie, you sound but hurt by the lengths you go in your reply.

  6. Charlie,

    Spend some time in front of my system and I'll change your mind about being bored to tears.

    Also: the fact that 5V is on the distribution board but not on the PSU _is_ completely stupid. the regulator doohickey stopgap is insufficient and sloppy.

  7. I'm glad you guys got your chance to vent. I could vent too, but it always sounds so... well, you know.

  8. Wait, a Condor PSU is Radio Shack quality? Yeah...ok....

  9. I wonder if that's actually Charlie Clouser? It would blow my mind if it was.

  10. great points, charlie. the euro format is awesome because of the incredible variety of innovative modules from the harvestman, tiptop, make noise... yes, the cases are expensive. those sliding nuts in the monorocket and pb rails are a pain, but at least you can line up all your modules nicely without any gaps. you just need a small tool, like a paper clip or a toothpick, to slide them into place. euro rocks! cool volta faceplate pic, too.

  11. it is charlie clouser.

  12. Via David Kronemyer: "Without getting into a big thing about it I would like to come to the defense of Analogue Solutions. We have some of their bigger set-ups such as the Vostok, the Red Square and the SEMblance, which are amazing. We also have a good assortment of their Concussor percussion modules, which are of uniformly high quality, functionality and versatility. I have whiled away many a pleasant afternoon with them and some sequential switches devising intricate sequences I doubt would be possible using other equipment. Tom Carpenter is very responsive to questions and inquiries. BTW here are a couple of pictures of our noobie studio, too." See the post update.

  13. Have to say that the original post re-Euro case prices versus 5u. Lets start by forgetting the California tax ( most of the world don't have this hang up ) and lets also forget the postage as no matter what you buy online you're always going to have to pay a shipping cost ! ... so that brings us back down to $530. A Doepfer style case will house on about 11 modules of medium to larger sizes.... but 15 or even more of the smaller sizes !

    The MOTM 5u dilema isn't as clear as you've put it... for a start the rails will hold 10 single width modules..... but 90% of the MOTM modules are double you're only going to get 5 modules on one set of rails. To really get 10 modules housed you're going to need Two sets of rails..... $108.. Now you need a powersupply .... which as we're talking about +5v would need to be a MOTM 950...$289... and that has to occupy one of your double rack rail spaces too ( unless you spend another $54 for a rear racking to hold the power supply )

    So now you have $389 for the MOTM rails and power... but you still don't have an enclosure to rack the rails into...... this assumes you already have a 19" ... some people won't have one.... mores expense... lets say $70 ( if you're lucky ! ) ?

    Now you have a 'solution' that costs $460...... BUT... you can ONLY put MOTM 5u modules in this space.... (When you happen to be lucky enough to get them made !.) No cross pollination like the wonderful flora and fauna of Euroland modules ! ha ha

    I don't think it's a 'case' of one being better than the other re-housing




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