Modular without the modules? Here’s a convenient way to get into modular synthesis. We’re looking at some of the best semi-modular synths for starting your own patch-lead spaghetti empire.
Semi-modular synths first rose to fame with instruments like the Roland System 100, ARP 2600, the EMS VCS 3 and Synthi AKS, and the Korg MS-20.
Although these instruments are revered for their sound, they provided a different approach to sound design than the workflows of classic subtractive synths like the Minimoog.
Choosing the Best Semi-Modular Synths
Semi-modulars differ from regular analogue keyboards and desktop modules in that they provide CV I/O for the various sections of the synth. This enables the oscillator, filter, and envelopes to interact with each other as well as with external instruments.
This allows a huge range of real-time tweaking, which makes them especially useful in electronic music production workflows. Also, many of the semi-modular desktop units you’ll find have their own sequencer, which means you can get creating straight away.
If you’re looking for analogue sounds, the Behringer Crave provides a great entry point into semi-modular synths. You get plenty of patching I/O (18/14) and sound-shaping capabilities, plus the VCO chip is based on the CEM3340 which was used in classic synths.
In addition, the 32-note step sequencer and arpeggiator means you can immediately begin creating synth patterns. The Crave offers poly-chaining, and there is a good deal of connectivity for incorporating it with other gear in your setup.
cre8audio East Beast and West Pest
Keen on exploring East Coast and West Coast style synthesis? cre8aduio and Pittsburgh Modular have created the perfect duo that allows you to experience the quirks of these two opposing schools of thought in synthesis.
cre8audio East Beast
- With the East Beast you get the classic East coast design with a multimode filter
cre8audio West Pest
- Meanwhile, the West Pest offers unique features like wave folding, FM, and an LPG-like dynamic section similar to the Taiga
Both are equipped with sequencers, mini button keyboards, and the versatile multimod modulation routing tool. You can also use either of these as Eurorack provided you have 40 HP of space.
The Malevolent is a simple keyboard-orientated semi-modular synth with a great layout, which makes it a nice choice for beginners. The design feels somewhat familiar, with a few similarities to the Korg MS-20.
You have all the basic necessities, including two oscillators, two envelopes, and an LFO, as well as distortion if you’re looking to get crazy. In addition, the internal arpeggiator has both MIDI and CV outs which makes the Malevolent useful for controlling other gear.
Pittsburgh Modular Taiga
It provides a huge amount of creative controls, but the layout of the Taiga is still straightforward enough to get going without having to RTFM. From the extensive 3-oscillator sound generation section to the analogue delay, each section has its own corresponding CV I/O below the controls.
What’s more, there’s a preamp with overdrive below the mixer, a multimode filter, and a dynamics controller. There’s no step sequencer per se, but the MIDI to CV interface allows you easily sequence patterns from your DAW or another sequencer.
Pittsburgh Modular Taiga
The Moog Studio
With the Moog Studio, you get a complete modular desktop system, with 3 unique synthesizers neatly racked up and a 4-channel summing mixer and 3-way power supply unit.
- The Mother-32 is a single oscillator synth with a 32-step sequencer and a 4 x 8 patch matrix
- The DFAM is a percussion synthesizer with a simple 8-step sequencer and a 3 x 8 patch matrix
- The Subharmonicon is a 2-oscillator synth with an 8-step polyrhythmic sequencer and a 4 x 8 patch matrix
*Each unit offers Eurorack compatibility in a 60 HP format.
Moog Sound Studio: Semi-Modular Bdl
More about the Best Semi-modular Synths:
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- Behringer Crave: Behringer
- cre8audio East Beast and West Pest: cre8audio
- PWM Malevolent: PWM
- Pittsburgh Modular Taiga: Pittsburgh Modular
- The Moog Studio: Moog