MATRIXSYNTH: Doepfer Musikelektronik MS 404: Modular at Heart

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Doepfer Musikelektronik MS 404: Modular at Heart

video upload by rejected synths

"Ah, the 90s! Those were easier days. No Covid, no masks, and sadly 303s!

While this is an issue that has prevailed ever since, back in the 90s, when Techno ruled supreme, this lack of 303s also gave rise to a whole cottage industry of 303 cloners, companies small and tiny, set up to give ravers what they wanted: one of those shiny acid boxes or, a bit later, when techno production became more professionalized, handy 19 inch rack clones that integrated well into a studio setup, complete with midi and controls over parameters.

Dieter Doepfer, possibly best known for fathering the Eurorack standard, also tried his hand in the cloning business, or at least it seemed, because apart from the obvious naming reference, the MS 404 actually has very little to do with a faithful 303 emulation. Doepfer instead went ahead and created a far more capable machine, that can do about 101 things a 303 can‘t, but, ironically, also can‘t really do 303.

In this video, I will show you some of these things, also including this one thing it obviously can‘t.

So lean back and enjoy some fine German engineering!


0:00 Intro
1:05 Introduction
3:39 Controls and Connectivity
6:50 Demo I: Not quite 303
8:45 Demo II: Noisy
10:35 Demo III: Does it PWM?
12:36 Demo IV: Dual LFO Mayhem
14:49 Demo V: Filter Input
16:32 Demo Jam
20:21 Concusion
20:59 Outro"

RS046.1 Doepfer Musikelektronik MS 404 'No Talking Edition'

RS047 Tech Support: Doepfer MS-404 - Some Simple Mods

video upload by

"As a kid, growing up on shows like A-Team and Mc Gyver, I used to think that, with some knowledge, you could just hack things together, like they did on these shows, building useful gear from junk that happened to be around. This fascination never quite left me and led to me unscrewing broken electronics to have a peek inside, imagining I would be able to build something cool.

But, growing up in the 80s meant there still wasn’t any YouTube or even basic internet around just yet, so the only resources where I could have learned some basic electronics stuff were wildly confusing and much too complicated for me back then, so I resorted to Legos.

Much later, I learned how to (barely) handle a soldering iron and toyed around with some simple electronics projects, collecting some knowledge here and there. So when I finally ended up with the service manual of the MS 404 I knew the time had come to try some synth modding.

The Service Manual didn’t only provide me with schematics but even included some suggestions on how to mod the 404. Even better, during it’s very design, the synth had already been created with expandability/moddability in mind. And because it ain’t no tiny electronics Volca, even my limited soldering skills are suffice to realize some of these modifications.

The first, and probably easiest thing I did, was to tap into multiple jumpers layed out around the board, this way, it’s super easy to add switches for LFO waveform selection and filter envelope behavior.

The second mod is a little more demanding, it’s something I came about when trying to build a tiny crossfade mixer. Utilizing a pot, it’s actually possible, to mix the signals of the saw and square wave VCO outputs, so I did that as well as adding a second pot in order to be able to mix in some noise into the VCO signal, sh101 style.

I’ve tested my ideas thoroughly before going as far as drilling holes into the faceplate, and from what I’ve learned about electronics so far, which isn’t too much to be honest, they should be safe modifications when applied correctly. Still, I just want to make it a 100% sure that I will not take any responsibility when you damage your 404 while applying any of these mods."

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