Recap; Earlier this year I built a PAiA 9700 modular synthesizer. What a fantastic toy. Even with only a few modules I am able to generate some very cool sounds. Further, the 9700 interfaces well to my Moog Sub 37’s Control Voltage (CV) jacks allowing it to modulate features of the Sub 37 to create even cooler sounds. I’ve also played with outputting audio from the 9700 to be modulated and twisted by the Sub 37. This has yielded some very interesting results. These will be out soon on a recording my band Fizzbin will be releasing soon on SoundCloud.
Modular synthesis has always fascinated me as have synthesizers in general. As a youngster I first saw a massive modular in the movie The Phantom of The Paradise. That modular was Tonto and although it wasn’t showcased in the movie I was intrigued by all the panels with their knobs, switches and ports.
After building the 9700 I began to seriously look at the modular synthesizer scene. I discovered that for the most part the scene was common across the board except for formats. I’m not going to get into East Coast versus West Coast philosophy here although that is another variation of the formats. The size of the panels themselves is the big differentiating factor. Power supplies are another main difference. If you’re interested in learning details about modular synthesizers I highly recommend the documentary I Dream of Wires. It’s available on Netflix.
The 9700 and other PAiA modules use a size called Frac (5.25″ tall or 3U). One of the most popular sizes of modules now is the EuroRack (5.06″ tall or close to 3U). These modules are easily mounted in portable cases making them ideal for schlepping around to live performances without too much effort. The modules that most caught my attention, however, are sized in MU or Moog Units (8.75″ or 5U).
While MU modulars can definitely be made portable they are more often seen in studio based cabinets. The MU factor gives the modules more space on which to mount nice big knobs which are easily manipulated. They also permit more clear labels and less cramming of controls. These are, of course, my personal opinions and the primary reason I like the format.
Having said all this I set out in search for an MU style platform from which to launch my modular synthesizer project. In a perfect world I’d purchase a Moog Modular system, however, it’s 5 figures just to get into that game so I searched for an alternative. That’s when I discovered Synthesizers.com. DotCom (as they are known) systems are designed with a very Moogy flavour not only in looks but also in sound. They are made in Texas by hand. Many DotCom modules are available and you can mix, max and expand as you require. My initial system consists of a 22U rack (width), power components, MIDI to CV interface, 2 oscillators, 2 envelope generates, a noise source, multi-port patch panel, voltage controlled amplifier, voltage controlled filter and reverb. A nice start.
So what about this Oakley business?!?!
I still love the DIY aspect of synthesizers and because of this I was looking for a way to build my own modules for use in my new DotCom unit. I should mention that as I write this my DotCom synth is in transit and I have not even seen it yet. Oakley Sound Systems is a manufacturer in the UK which produces a wide variety of PCBs which you can build yourself. They not only provide the boards and select components for them but also excellent documentation and design specifications for panels. These panels are available in a variety of sizes so the same board may be used in different format synthesizers. Not only are the boards very reasonably priced they are excellent quality and very well supported.
I started off by purchasing two boards; The 4014 Ring Modulator and the Dual LFO board. I have completed the 4014 at this time. This board is based on the ARP4014 Ring Modular used in the ARP 2500 and 2600 modular synthesizers. These modulars were ground-breaking in the 1970s and I felt that using some of their components in my modular would make for some awesome sounds.
The build went very smoothly because as I mentioned, the documentation is excellent! It would have been finished a day early if I would have paid closer attention to my parts order and not ordered an incorrect part. No harm done though. I can’t plug the unit in to test until I receive a bench power supply that I ordered from Synthesizers.com. I don’t intend to plug any home-built modules into the actual synthesizer’s power supply until I’ve confirmed they’re working ok in a closed environment. That’s a holdover method I used as a software developer and network engineer for 30 years and it’s as wise today as it was way back when.
More to come when I build the LFO and especially when my DotCom unit arrives. Until then, here are some pictures of the 4014 Ring Modulator build…