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Best of 2017: Eurorack Synth Modules
Scott Riesterer on Sun, March 4th | 0 comments
Yes, we know it's 2018 already. But with so many great synth modules to choose from, picking 2017's best took a little longer than expected. So here's our favorites, with something for everyone...

The eurorack world continued to expand in 2017 with a large number of new modules, as well as improvements on old modules unleashed into awaiting racks and eager hands. Distilling these new additions to the landscape into a top ten list seemed like an exercise that was doomed to fail. Instead I decided to list a few module highlights in a few categories. So here are some of the modules that caught my eye, or created enough buzz for me to take notice.  

Best New Versions  

2017 was a big year for new versions of existing modules. Whether they were alternatives or improvements, some of the most talked about modules this year were ones that weren’t completely new products. I felt it would be a good idea to start with this category so you don’t think I’ve excluded these guys. 

Noise Engineering Basimilus Iteritas Alter  

Web: https://www.noiseengineering.us/basimilus-iteritas-alter/ 

For this digital drum module, Noise Engineering took their existing Basimilus Iteritas and added a few new control features and shaved off 2HP. This little guy can create a wide range of tones and has some serious grit. Feed it a bunch of rhythmic gates to trigger it and modulate parameters and away you go!  

Make Noise Morphagene 

Web: http://www.makenoisemusic.com/modules/morphagene

Make Noise upgraded their Phonogene with a front panel MicroSD card slot to further modernize Musique Concrete style tape looping and splicing techniques. They also have a number of “Reels” available to load onto a MicroSD card to get you started. 

ALM Busy Circuits Pamela's New Workout 

 

Web: http://busycircuits.com/alm017/

A lot of people were raving about this one and how it changed the way they use their system. I have yet to get my hands on one, but it sounds like it can serve as a capable nervous center for your clocking and rhythmic needs. 

Synthesis Technology E352 Cloud Terrarium

 Web: http://synthtech.com/eurorack/E352/

This was another module that kept coming up in forum conversations again and again. Synthesis Technology took features from both their Cloud Generator and Morphing Terrarium, crammed them into one module, and then expanded on them further and improved the overall quality to create a serious 16-bit wavetable digital oscillator.  

Expert Sleepers Disting Mk4

Web: http://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/disting.html

Disting has been a go-to module for years. It adeptly fills in that last required role for a patch, but it can also help a wiggler determine what modules they need for their rack. The fourth iteration added a crisp dot-matrix display, a front accessed MicroSD card slot, and upped the algorithm count to 73.

Intellijel Springray II 

Webhttps://intellijel.com/eurorack-modules/springray-ii/

Version two of the Springray saw a complete overhaul of the internal circuitry to improve its frequency response. The result is a spring reverb with an unusually articulate top end, and a feedback circuit with an evolving character. Intellijel also replaced the shelving tilt EQ with a sweepable bandpass filter. 

Best Sound Sources

Intellijel Plonk

Web: https://intellijel.com/eurorack-modules/plonk/

2017 was a big year for Intellijel. They put out 10 new modules including Plonk, which is the fruit of a collaboration with Applied Acoustics. Plonk is a physical modelling module focused on percussion, with the ability to edit and modulate parameters related to the exciter and resonator sections. 

Pittsburgh Lifeforms Double Helix Oscillator

Web: https://pittsburghmodular.com/lifeforms-double-helix-oscillator/

Pittsburgh Modular’s Lifeforms line saw the addition of a west coast style complex oscillator. This 28HP monster features both carrier and modulator oscillators, an LFO, a low pass gate, and a modulation routing section. 

Soulsby Synthesizers Oscitron 

Web: http://soulsbysynths.com/oscitron/

The Oscitron is a digital oscillator designed with chiptune character in mind, but it has a ton of tricks up its sleeve. A filter is included with multiple shapes and slopes, along with a scale quantizer, and selectable audio resolution.

Best Filters 

 

Verbos Bark Filter 

Web: http://www.verboselectronics.com/modules/

The Bark Filter is a massive 12-band fixed filter bank with envelope followers. This guy is perfect if you want to set up an analog vocoder. 

ALM Busy Circuits Mum M8

Web: http://busycircuits.com/alm018/

The Mum M8 is inspired by the filter from the Akai S950 12-Bit Sampler, which was a favourite for early jungle and hardcore artists. 

Rabid Elephant Natural Gate 

 Web: https://rabidelephant.com/products/natural-gate?variant=17578840001

The Natural Gate is a dual mirrored low pass gate with selectable material parameters designed to offer more variation in character than the average low pass gate.

Best Sequencers

Winter Modular Eloquencer

Web: http://winter-modular.com/

The Winter Modular 8-track Eloquencer packs a huge amount of control into 38HP. It was designed to be powerful and versatile, but also provide “controlled chance” with probability options. 

XOR Electronics Nerdseq

Web: http://xor-electronics.com/nerdseq/

The Nerdseq provides another powerful eurorack sequencer, only this one is inspired by tracker software. It offers six tracks with 18 CV outputs along with four sample tracks with two outputs.

WMD Arpitecht

Web: https://wmdevices.com/products/arpitecht

The Arpitect isn’t strictly a sequencer, but it’s way more than a quantizer. It uses 16 scales and “note masks” to create various note combinations and rhythms for all kinds of melodies. 

Qu-bit Pulsar

 

Web: http://www.qubitelectronix.com/modules/pulsar

The pulsar is inspired by stars that output beams of electromagnetic radiation. In this case that radiation takes the form of euclidean, random, and fractal rhythms to create cosmic grooves. 

Best Controller 

 

Intellijel Tetrapad

Web: https://intellijel.com/eurorack-modules/tetrapad/

The Tetrapad arrived in stores fairly late in 2017 after its NAMM announcement, but it was well worth the wait. This module is certain to change the ways that many people interact with their systems. It features nine modes with different behaviours for the pads, outputs and knobs. You can use it as a keyboard, a drum pad, a set of faders, switches, or specific voltage triggers. Add to that the ability to slew many of the parameters and you have a powerful live performance tool indeed! 

Best Effects  

 

4MS Tapographic Delay

Web: http://www.4mspedals.com/td.php

4MS bring their innovative approach once more to delay. In this case you have the ability to tap in a rhythm for the delay to follow, along with a host of other controls and modulation possibilities intended to break away from static delay patterns with performance and interaction in mind. 

4MS Stereo Triggered Sampler 

Web: http://www.4mspedals.com/sts.php

This one could have also appeared in the sound source category, but my effect list was a bit lean and the fact that you can record samples while playing them back makes this module at home in the effect category. A whopping 600 samples can be accessed using a front accessed MicroSD card and they can be recorded in high resolution 96kHz/32-bit fidelity.

Best Utilities 

Intellijel Quad VCA

Web: https://intellijel.com/eurorack-modules/quad-vca/

Not the most exciting module, but undeniably useful. The cascading architecture of this VCA makes it particularly functional, and the 6db boost is nice for giving signals that extra leg up. 

Intellijel Shifty 

Web: https://intellijel.com/eurorack-modules/shifty/

Shifty is a handy little module that can function as either a digital emulation of an analog shift register, or a voice allocator for up to four targets. It can also be useful as a basic clock divider.  

Best Clocks and Modulations Sources

Erica Synths Black Octasource 

Web: http://www.ericasynths.lv/en/shop/eurorack-modules/by-series/black-series/black-octasource/

The Octasource is basically an LFO, but with some pretty exciting twists. The eight outputs can either send phase shifted copies of an LFO, or eight different wave shapes. One interesting performance feature is that the LFO freezes at 12 o’clock.

Shakmat Modular Time Wizard

Web: http://www.shakmatmodular.com/products/tw.html

8HP of clock wizardry! This module provides six time divisions split between two sections that can be clocked independently.

 

Shakmat Modular Knight’s Gallop

Web: http://www.shakmatmodular.com/products/kg.html

Shakmat provides further rhythmic goodness and loveable module names with the Knight’s Gallop. This one is a dual output algorithmic rhythm generator with selectable “flavour”.

 

Frap Tools Sapél 

Web: http://frap.tools/products/sapel/

For those who take random seriously, the Sapél has you covered. It features four noise spectra and four random CV generation paths. Furthermore, there are probability controls and two independent random clocks 

Best Desktop Unit

 

Koma Field Kit

Web: https://koma-elektronik.com/?product=field-kit-fx-modular-multi-effects-processor

This cool little kit was designed as a tool for electro acoustic sound design, and comes either as a desktop unit, a eurorack module or a DIY kit. The module includes an AM/FM/Shortwave radio and a number of input for various sources. The accessory kit seems like a necessary add-on as it gives you contact mics, a DC motor, solenoid, electromagnetic pickup, and a speaker made specifically to interact with the kit. 

Retired Modules

 

Mutable Instruments Clouds and Braids

2017 also saw the end of the line for a pair of notable modules from Mutable Instruments, with Braids and Clouds being discontinued. There may be a few kicking around at various stores, but if you have Max4Live you can actually take advantage of software versions of these modules created by Timo Rozendal. Of course this begs the question: What does Olivier plan to replace them with? 

Web: http://www.timorozendal.nl/?p=535 

Conclusion 

Well, that’s my round up of the best modules of 2017. This year saw some great additions to the modular landscape and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us. I’m sure I missed some great modules, so please let me know what your favourite picks were from this year!

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