Here's a quick summary of the gift ideas covered in this article:
Multiples & Splitters
Other Gift Ideas
If you have a friend, family member, or significant other who is into modular synthesizers and Eurorack modules, you might think it would be easy to get them a gift they’d love. Modular fans are really into their synths and could tinker with (and talk about) their rigs pretty much indefinitely.
So, you want to get them something for their modular setup. What could go wrong?
Well, a couple of potential issues spring to mind. First of all, Eurorack enthusiasts tend to be very particular about what’s useful and what’s cool. Secondly, modular gear tends to be towards the higher end of the price scale as far as gift giving goes. So, you need to find something just right and within your price range.
There’s also the issue of just how deep into the modular/Eurorack world your lucky gift recipient is. Maybe they’re pretty obsessed with modular synths but haven’t started building their own yet. Or maybe they’re so deep into their Eurorack quest that it’s hard to imagine them needing anything else. Obviously, this will make a difference to your own quest.
If you’re hoping to put a modular-related present under the Christmas tree this year, though, you shouldn’t leave it too long to start your research. Given the issues raised above, finding the perfect item could potentially take a while.
Luckily, we’re here to make it a lot easier, with your guide to the best gizmos, toys, and accessories for the synthesist (or would-be synthesist) in your life. This guide assumes a basic knowledge of the Eurorack format. If you don’t have that, consider giving our Beginner’s Guide to Eurorack a quick read. If you don’t have time for that, please excuse our jargon.
Along the way, we’ll look at gifts in every price range – whether you need a secret Santa gift for a modular-obsessed workmate or something extremely special for your spouse or offspring, we’ve got you covered. We’ll look at affordable items like cables and multiples, as well as delving into bigger investments like modular starter kits.
Do Eurorack modules make good gifts?
(Image Credit: Erica Synths)
Among themselves, modular users will often comment that “you can never have too many VCAs.” It’s a truism and a meme and it’s probably not very helpful in this context. Although it admittedly might be fun to gift a friend one of the less expensive voltage-controlled amplifier modules on the market and, when they unwrap it, say: “Well, I heard etc. etc.”
Buying any module, even a VCA, as a present is always going to be tricky – unless you know exactly how much space your gift recipient has going spare in their rack. For this reason, if you really want to get someone a module, it would be safest to go with one of the more compact options on the market.
While there are certainly some decent compact VCAs available, it might be worth going for something more fun. For example, 2hp’s Pluck module is a remarkable synth voice that simulates plucked string sounds. Building any full synth voice normally uses up a lot of rack space, so this unusually compact, great-sounding module is a real winner.
The main competitor that 2hp has in the compact module space is Erica’s Pico range. The Erica Pico Voice module is a little more expensive and less compact than the Pluck, but it produces a much wider range of sounds. It’s hard to think of a module on the market that offers so much functionality in such a small footprint.
Even these mini modules are close to the $200 range, though, and there’s no guarantee that they will be what your gift-getter is looking for. Before you shell out for a module, make sure it is something they can use. Even if a modular can never have too many VCAs – which is arguable, anyway – that doesn’t mean just any VCA will do.
Fun with cables
(Image credit: Tendrils Cables)
Here’s something a Eurorack head really can’t get too much of and which is much more likely to be in your secret Santa price range: cables. Little or nothing is more essential to the functioning of a modular synth than a big bunch of patch cables. And using a modular is an experience inseparable from the anxiety that you might run out of them at any moment.
Standard 1/8” mono patch cables aren’t that exciting, but there are plenty of giftable cables on the market.
The cables made by producertools go a step further by featuring LEDs that light up red and green depending on the polarity of voltage passing through the cable. The LEDs use up a bit of the voltage, making these cables not that useful for sending on-key melodies. But they’re a lot of fun – and rather useful – for modulation voltages, and they definitely make fun gifts.
Even if you just opt for relatively bog-standard cables, you can’t go wrong. Anyone who has ever patched a modular synth has thought “I wish I had just one more red cable” or “I could really use another 18” cable right now” or something along those lines. You honestly never can have too many – making a bag of cables the perfect Eurorack stocking stuffer.
Multiples and splitters
(Image Credit: Boredbrain)
A more elegant and distinctly giftable alternative to using cables to split signals is the Intellijel Hub. This is effectively a cool-looking multiple that doesn’t have to be installed in the rack – it’s magnetic, so it can be stuck to the side of many Eurorack cases or even on top of a module, for maximum convenience. It also costs less than $15 Canadian.
The Hub is cool and inexpensive but – if anything – the Qu-Bit Elektronix Cable Splitter is even cooler looking, and it’s half the price. On top of that, it splits the signal five ways, compared to the Hub’s three. The Hub still has the advantage of being magnetic, though. Both options are extremely inexpensive, so what the heck – get ‘em both!
While you’re at it, why not pick up a Boredbrain Music Splix? This neat little item is like the Hub and the Cable Splitter – but, in addition to splitting signals, it can mix them together. There’s also a balance control, allowing you to emphasize one signal more than the other. It can even be used as an attenuator. Again, it uses zero rack space, making it easier to gift than a module.
Thinking outside the rack
(Image Credit: Korg)
The key to all these items is that they’re practical, inexpensive, and cool. Giving modular-related gifts may seem like a daunting prospect but there’s plenty out there that fulfils these three requirements. For example, every Eurorack user needs a good, appropriately sized screwdriver. 4MS has something that fits the bill and it also looks great.
There are also lots of potential presents that will appeal to modular fans without being designed for use with a Eurorack set-up as such. For instance, there are now quite a few miniaturized, almost toy-like electronic instruments on the market. One of these might be a good bet for anyone looking to give a rather more substantial gift.
Sometimes, one of these instruments will even manage to pack modular paradigms into its tiny desktop (or even handheld) format. The Korg Volca Modular is a wonderful example of this. It’s a dinky battery-powered synth with a built-in speaker, which nevertheless features eight modules that can be patched together in all sorts of great-sounding ways.
Of course, a modular-themed gift for a Eurorack fan doesn’t have to be a musical instrument, component, or accessory. It could be a book, or an item of clothing – the sky’s the limit. That takes us somewhere outside the remit of this particular article but here are a couple of suggestions that might be helpful.
Synthesizer history seems like an ideal subject for a coffee table book and Mike Metlay’s Synth Gems 1 from Bjooks is sure to delight anyone with an interest in exotic and unusual electronic instruments. For someone who spends hours online squinting at fuzzy JPEGs of curious keyboards, this book’s many finely detailed photographs will amount to a revelation.
Talking about big pictures of synthesizers, the world needs more T-shirts with big pictures of synthesizers on them. Roland offers a rather attractive shirt with a very prominent Juno 106 on it but other manufacturers need to step up. Yes, it’s nerdy but guess what – synthesizers are nerdy, being a nerd is fun, and us synth nerds demand more fun T-shirts!
Having gotten that off my chest (sorry), it’s probably time we got back to the world of electronic gadgets and gizmos that is our core concern here. Be warned though, we’re about to venture into gifts at higher price points. Some of these items are also very, very cool and you may even be tempted to gift yourself one of them. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Getting someone started with Eurorack
Earlier we mentioned that – based on anecdotal evidence – it seems quite common for a modular fan to go through a period of intense obsession before taking the leap and starting to build their own rack. If you have someone like this in your life who you think deserves a pretty darn special gift, then maybe you could be the one to nudge them in the right direction.
Probably the safest bet here is to get a very simple starter kit like the Tip-Top Happy Ending. This includes a basic rack and power supply, which is essentially a blank canvas onto which a small modular set-up can be painted. It is a fantastic low-cost, low-commitment way to get someone started with Eurorack.
If you’re looking for something to give to a more committed newcomer, it’s worth considering that – in the long run – they’ll probably want something more durable and portable than the Happy Ending. One of Intellijel’s powered cases would do the trick, and the compact Palette range is particularly suited to newbies.
While these starter kits are great templates, they don’t do very much until someone starts adding modules to them. If you want a more plug-and-play alternative, there are a few relatively affordable full modular systems that make it possible to get up and running right away. Remember, we used the word relatively – we’re way beyond secret Santa territory.
Still, the Erica Synths Pico System III and the 2hp Lunchbox Picnic Basket offer two of the most affordable ways to get a fully-functional modular synth. While these are standalone units, they conform fully to the Eurorack standard and can therefore be effortlessly integrated into any larger set-up your very lucky gift recipient may build.
The joy of giving
Whether you’re looking to buy some fun cables for the modular obsessive at your office, or hoping to wow your would-be synth wizard spouse, there are plenty of options. Despite the widespread perception that modular is inherently expensive, you are bound to be able to find something that fits your needs and budget.
On a personal note, whenever someone asks why anyone would use a modular to make music, rather than just a laptop or tablet, I always tell them it’s just more fun. In a world increasingly dominated by transitory online activities, present buying is something of a conundrum. While Eurorack-compliant gift giving comes with its own challenges, it’s also lots of real-world fun.