The Best Eurorack Modules of 2021

So far, 2021 has seen an amazing amount of additions to the Eurorack landscape. This article will highlight seven of our favourite new modules from reputable manufacturers.

Hopefully these modules will find a way into your racks and inspire you to create your own universe of sounds, both classic and avant-garde. 

Three Re-inventions of Eurorack Instant Classics  

It seems that many Eurorack manufacturers have embraced the concept of renaissance with  the release of updated modules that replace former offerings. It may sound grandiose to call a Eurorack module a “classic” when the format has existed for a relatively short amount of time. 

The following modules build upon former releases that many users consider to be classics. Two of these modules are themselves recreations of older synth modules/components. The other gains the “classic” reputation from the implemented ingenuity and fresh take on digital signal processing (DSP) standards.  

Mutable Instruments – Beads 

Clouds… name a more prolific module! Many consider Clouds to be the most famous Eurorack module of all time. Clouds’ fame extends beyond  the Eurorack sphere and users perhaps not well versed with the format have found themselves charmed by its novelty, often building small systems exclusively based around the processing of signals with this module. 

Back in 2017 when Mutable Instruments announced that the module was being discontinued, it caused confusion in the community, with many questioning the decision. Shortly after, the sales and value of the original versions of Clouds sky-rocketed through online marketplaces. In addition to this, due to Mutable Instruments’ open source philosophy, clones and reinventions of the module (such as the µclouds and monsoon) became both more abundant and desirable. 

Nevertheless, it did not take long for the rumour mill to start churning, with hopes of a newly  designed version becoming available. On February 16th 2021 the wait was finally over and  Beads was announced to the world. 

So what is Beads and how does it differ from Clouds? 

Beads is a texture synthesizer… 

What is a texture synthesizer?

Well let’s start by quoting the wonderful description in the manual… 

“Beads is a granular audio processor. It creates textures and soundscapes  by playing back layered, delayed, transposed and enveloped fragments of  sound (‘grains’) taken continuously from the incoming audio signal” 

- Mutable Instruments Beads Hardware Manual 2021 

It is a difficult task to explain all of the features of Beads without going too deep into its  specific functionality. There are a few ways to think of it: one may be as an elaborate stereo  delay system, another may be as a complex reverb. The module can function as a standalone  reverb too, as the built-in reverb is at the end of the effects chain, applying the reverb after the grain processor. 

Like most of Mutable Instruments modules, it provides many options for the user to determine their own way to find unique sounds within the module and inspire new  workflows when creating audio.  

How does it differ from Clouds? 

To begin with, the firmware has been completely rewritten. It has been designed with the goals  of cleanliness, wider tonal options and intuitive control. The audio engine has been upgraded  to include higher audio quality, a longer buffer and the use of better interpolation and anti aliasing algorithms.

The recording quality can be chosen with the push of a button, ranging  from; “Bright Digital” to “Scorched Cassette”. In addition to this the module is smaller, 14 hp  down from 18 hp, has a different panel design and organization of parameters. It also features not just attenuverters but an ingenious Mutable Instruments concept… attenurandomizers!  

What on earth is an attenurandomizer? 

Attenurandomizers are essentially a fusion of attenuators (increases or decreases the strength of a signal) and built in random modulation sources. They function differently depending on whether a patch cable is present at the corresponding jack and whether they are turned clockwise or counterclockwise. 

Where can I learn more about Beads? 

The Mutable Instruments website is an excellent source of information, presented in a stylish  and easily digestible format. The manual itself is a work of art and is a must-read for those looking for a detailed description of capabilities of the module.  

Émilie Gillet of Mutable Instruments has detailed the journey from the initial concept of a Clouds version 2 in 2017 through to the arrival of Beads in an illustrated post on the mutable instruments forum. A strongly recommended read for those interested in module design.  

Like its predecessor, this module is sure to reach “instant classic” status within the Eurorack community. Be sure to pre-order yours as soon as possible as this module is in high demand!  

Pairs well with…  

Mutable Instruments - Rings  

Rings into Clouds is an iconic duo, a rite of passage in the creation of Eurorack ambient music.  Rings into Beads is sure to gain an equally iconic status. The two outputs of rings provide a wide stereo image when plugged into the dual inputs of Beads. Simple, yet incredibly deep.  Highly recommended. 

Make Noise - QPAS  

Not quite as famous or obvious as the aforementioned Rings, however there is something special when combining a stereo filter like QPAS and a spacey effect like Beads. They complement each other well and are well suited to being swapped in the signal chain in order to create different effects.

Intellijel - Metropolix 

Before the creation of Eurorack, modular synthesizer systems were often larger, more expensive and therefore less widely available to the masses. In addition to this, manufacturer designed modules were intended for use exclusively within their own system, defining specifications such as power requirement and size. 

One of the more famous modular systems of previous decades is the Roland System  100m. Ryk of RYK Modular was smitten enough by the 100m to  design a sequencer for the format, the RYK M-185, which was released for the 100m in 2009. 

It was inspired by the desire to create an analog sequencer that did not just play every note for a set duration in a sequence, but provided the option to skip, repeat  and adjust the gate length of a given step, thus creating interesting and evolving rhythms. This was implemented through the use of eight-way slide switches, a unique component that Ryk discovered on a trip to Beijing in 2008.  

Ryk licensed the M-185 sequencer concept to Intellijel in 2012 and shortly after the Metropolis was released. The Metropolis brought the funky rhythms of the M-185 to the Eurorack format in a 34hp package. Its distinctive sound and intuitive interface made it a popular choice amongst those looking for a quick way to create rhythmic, melodic and evolving melodies. 

 

On February15th 2021 the newest incarnation of the M-185 sequencer was announced: the Metropolix. There are many features that set the Metropolix apart from its predecessors, most notably its ability to output not one but two sequences simultaneously. This and the OLED screen make for a vastly expanded version of the original.

It still keeps the tactile interface of pitch, pulse count and gate mode sliders and switches that made the original unique. The Metropolix is also in the same 34hp form as the original, the slide/skip buttons have been upgraded to illuminating buttons that provide further functions. 

Using headings from the Intellijel website, the following functions are described: 

Eight Modulation Lanes - Accessible via the MOD button, this gives the modules lots of modulation routing possibilities both internally and externally via the two assignable outputs. 

Three AUX Inputs and two Cntrl knobs - A key to getting the original module to generatively create evolving melodies (without manually changing module parameters) was to send voltage from modulation sources such as LFOs and random voltage modules into the two AUX inputs. The Metropolix features an additional AUX input and also features two Cntrl knobs, allowing for direct access to the parameters. 

Performance Looping - The so called “Loopy” mode allows the user to play subsequences of the currently programmed sequence and play the stage buttons like a small keyboard. This hands-on control extends the creativity of the module and seems particularly suited for live  performance situations.  

64 Total Recall Presets - The Metropolix stores 64 preset configurations. In addition to this, all  live settings are stored in EPROM which allows settings to be recalled when the module is powered on. This is particularly useful for those that like to leave their system patched and  return to it after a break.  

Gx Gate Expander Module - This gate expansion module connects to the back of the I2C expansion port on the back of the Metropolix via ribbon cable. It provides up to eight additional  trigger/gate outputs. If you do not own a drum sequencer, this adds that function, allowing you to create basic rhythms that will play in time with your Metropolix sequences, essentially acting like a programmable clock divider. The Gx is a nice and slender 4hp so you can add a  lot of functionality without compromising valuable Eurorack real estate.  

All things considered the Metropolix is the ultimate tool for melodic and rhythmic inspiration and creation. The substantial number of features and additions from its ancestors make it an essential tool for those creating rhythmic based sequences. It seems that all of the potential downsides from the original have been addressed and the result is a jaw-dropping piece of engineering destined for “instant classic” status! 

The Metropolix is available for purchase here and the Gx expander is also available here

Pairs well with…  

System 80 - 860 mk2 

Classic Roland polyphonic synthesizers from the 1970s and 80s are still some of the most sought after pieces of equipment to this day. Staples of the industry such  as the Juno-106 have created some of the most recognizable polysynth sounds.  

While slightly less well known, the Jupiter-6 is still a vintage Roland polysynth and therefore a classic in its own right. However, it is often shadowed by famous synths like the aforementioned Juno. Due to this, it would seem like a less than obvious choice to emulate.

System 80 have decided to trust their instincts. Instead of going down a predictable road, they have thrown caution to the wind and created a Eurorack filter based on that which is found in the Jupiter-6, and we are all thankful for that decision. Make no mistake, even though the Jupiter-6 is a less celebrated synth overall, it still contains a massive sounding filter. Nothing pyowngs (definitely not a made-up onomatopoeia) like a Roland filter! 

The first iteration of the Jupiter-6 inspired filter appeared in the form of the Jove filter. This 14hp filter looks like it has travelled straight for the 1980s into a modern Eurorack package. The creamy-smooth filtering of the module is perfect for sculpting monophonic  and polyphonic sounds alike. It responds very well to modulation in addition to providing tactile hands on control. 

The module features control over resonance, frequency, two frequency CV inputs, (one unipolar input and one attenuverted input), and one resonance CV input, non-attenuated. It also features two audio inputs, one attenuated and one non-attenuated. This means that it could also function as a mixer, though the inability to attenuate one of the inputs made balancing signal strength a little difficult at times. After the release of the Jove, requests were made to make the module smaller. Due to this, the 860 was created, fitting the functionality of the Jove into an 8hp module.

On February 24th 2021 System 80 released the 860 mk2. The 860 mk2 replaces both the  860 and Jove filters in System 80s current product line up. The 860 mk2 module takes  everything that is loved about the previous versions of the module and builds upon them with added features. 

First of all, somewhat of a middle ground has been met in the size of the module as it is in a 10hp enclosure. Secondly the 860 mk2 has a quad OTA filter core as opposed to the dual LM13700 OTA found in the Jove. The Jupiter-6 filter used a quad OTA design so the 860 mk2 seems to pay even more homage to the original.

Sonically, it would be hard to tell the difference between the Jove and the 860 mk2 (those with the sharpest ears and scopes may be able to). Arguably the best addition to the 860 mk2 is the ability to attenuate the input of both channels, allowing for better balanced mixes. 

This module is a must have for fans of classic Roland synths. The filtering is so smooth, that even with the resonance cranked, it still produces lush warm filtering that will complement any audio source that it’s applied to.

The 860 mk2 is available for purchase here. 

Pairs well with…  

Monophonic Analogue VCO’s  

 

Intellijel - Dixie II+ 

On its own or paired with another VCOm, the Dixie II+ is a killer oscillator with lots of easily approachable functionality. Try patching this oscillator into one input of 860 mk2 and something else into the other for a massive pseudo-polysynth sound.

Duophonic and Polyphonic VCO’s  

Roland - SYSTEM-500 512 

Dual VCO, dual filter, another great pairing for this incredible filter. Duophony aplenty! 4ms Company - Ensemble Oscillator  

Polyphonic sounds are really where this filter excels, giving the filter more harmonics to chew on. Dialing the frequency and resonance just right really makes the filter sing.

Envelope Generators/ Modulation Sources  

Make Noise - Maths  

The 860 mk2 works great on its own but given some nice modulation from a quick envelope to  a slow moving LFO and you can really bring extra character to this already charismatic beast.  

Exciting Eurorack Compatible Desktop Enclosure  

Make Noise - Strega 

Though not strictly a Eurorack module, the newly released Strega from Make Noise is a Eurorack compatible desktop synthesizer with lots of tricks up its sleeve. The Strega follows the Ø-coast and Øcontrol in its sleek enclosure designed to be used a singular instrument or to play along with others. 

Like the Ø series units, the synth can be mounted into a Eurorack case if desired. This requires some modification, especially if you want to power it from the Eurorack power supply - this process is not recommended unless you have your heart set on it. It is designed to complement Eurorack systems or other desktop synthesizers.

So what is it and how did it come to be? 

Make Noise describe the unit as an “audio alchemical experiment.” Strega was designed in collaboration with Italian synth extraordinaire Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails. It is arranged to be: a standalone sound source through its built-in oscillator, an effect capable of processing its own and incoming audio, a modulation source with a built-in LFO/envelope generator and a playable instrument with its many touch sensitive plates named “touch bridges and gateways” which allow you to introduce modulation as you play.

It is not a synth designed to appeal to the masses, as it features a rather strikingly unique take on synthesis and signal processing. It has a warm distortion that can go from very subtle to almost white noise. Alessandro Cortini has described Strega as being “the equivalent of leaving something underwater for thirty years and fishing it out again!”

The Strega comes with patch cables and a power supply - everything you need to instantly start creating cinematic soundscapes. This is a strongly suggested unit for those looking to create industrial sounds with a small footprint. 

How do you plan to incorporate Strega into your workflow? 

The Strega is available for purchase here.

Pairs well with…  

Make Noise - Ø-Control 

The Ø-Control is a desktop sequencer in the same form factor as the Strega. It pairs incredibly well allowing for further performance control over the Strega with its touch sensitive plates.  

Make Noise - Ø-Coast 

Add an additional voice to the Strega with the Ø-Coast, create harmonies with the two voices, process the Ø-Coast with Strega, modulate one with the other. The possibilities are endless and are sure to result in unique and immersive sounds.

Interesting Innovative Utility Modules  

ALM Busy Circuits - Jumble Henge 

The Jumble Henge is an 8hp,16 input compact stereo spectral mixer module designed in collaboration with Worng Electronics. The module is essentially a smaller version of the Worng - Soundstage. 

The module is designed to provide space for the components of a mix via fixed pan values and carefully tuned resonant analog filters. Additionally there is a dry stereo input for inputting other sound sources.  

This module occupies a unique space in the Eurorack Landscape as one would be hard pressed to find a more compact way of creating spacious mixes within a system. It’s ideal for  those wanting to create full mixes within their system, or create spacious sub-mixes within a larger arrangement. It works with both mono and stereo signals and makes a welcome addition to effects-based systems as it works excellently as a way to sum stereo effects returns.

The Jumble Henge is available here.

Pairs well with…  

ALM Busy Circuits - Squid Salmple

In ALM’s own words… “We appreciated the inspiration from the SP1200’s mixer section and how it nicely relates to the Squid Salmples output arrangement.” 

 

Pairs well with…  

Small Eurorack cases such as the 4ms - Pod Series or the Intellijel - Pallette cases. 

Ever Evolving FX Modules  

Noise Engineering - Ruina Versio 

Last but most certainly not least is the latest is the latest iteration in the Versio series  of modules from Noise Engineering. The Versio series is a DSP platform, meaning  that the module’s firmware can be interchanged via a micro-usb connector on the rear of the module. 

This latest addition to the family is a distortion module, and very flexible one at that. It features different distortion techniques such as multi-band distortion, wave folding and even a DOOM parameter. Ruina Versio also features a 128db drive! 

Not for the faint hearted, this is not your standard cranked amp drive— this is inter-dimensional, hold-on-to-your-seatbelt drive!

If the firmware is interchangeable what makes this different from the Desmodus Versio and the Imitor Versio?  

At their core, the modules are the same, the difference being the faceplate and the firmware that the module ships with. Noise Engineering are a fantastically crafty bunch and the open-ended nature of the platform allows for customization like no other. If one is to upload a different firmware onto the module and decide that said firmware is how they intend on using the module indefinitely, then separate faceplates can be purchased if the parameters need to be labelled correctly.  

The Ruina Versio is available here.

Pairs well with…  

Any sound source that will benefit from being mangled by a ruthless piece of equipment! From “pretty” sounding modules like Mutable Instruments - Rings or something already brutal like the Noise Engineering - Manis Iteritas to make it even more…. DEVASTATING! 

The Eurorack community has already been spoiled with the amount of incredible releases so far this year and the manufacturers are showing no sign of slowing down. To keep up to date with new releases and be the first to get your hands on exciting new Eurorack products, consider subscribing to the Moog Audio newsletter here.