The Problem With Eurorack Modular Planning and Power Supplies

Make Noise recently brought up a topic on a board that is critically important, but not often thought about when going forward with Eurorack Modular synthesizer systems. There is a popular site called Modular Grid that offers people the ability to plan out modular synthesizer systems. One of the things which the site does not do a good job of incorporating though is the power consumption for modules or cases.  The problem that has crept up for Make Noise is people returning modules when that break when they have blown past the capacity of their power supply. They may plan a very elaborate system, but not have the sufficient power for the system itself. This is not a hard issue to run into, and there are reasons for it.

I am making this a very specific post because while I like to promote modular synths, they are something that does take a little special consideration. Some modules are very power hungry and it is easy to blow past the power consumption limits of ones modular power supply. The Metasonix modules for example are famous for using vacuum tubes, which are extremely power hungry. They were such an exception that Monorocket made special cases with significantly more resources for the power supply. In addition to the tube driven modules, there are also the modules that use modern digital processors. While these are not as power hungry as Metasonix modules, they do require more power than older analog modules. Enough of these more sophisticated modules, and you begin to run into problems.

The problem for Eurorack is sourced at it’s own history. When Eurorack started with Doepfer in the 1990s through the early 2000s, many of the cases were designed for modules which had a much lower power footprint. As Eurorack has changed over the years, the power consumption for more cutting edge modules forced the necessity for higher power ceilings as a result of higher consumption.  I will be honest, the newer modules with sophisticated functions and digital modules are what brought me into modular.  The “Buchla-lite” nature of eurorack is one of it’s greatest advantages considering it’s lower price point.

While I purchased many used modules starting off, I actually bought a new case because of these issues with power consumption. Even as far back as three years ago the problems of the older cases and power supplies were creeping up. While the older cases are a great way to get started with the less expensive and lower consumption modules, when one begins to feel they will be moving on to the next level, the case is generally the first thing people should replace if one bought used. In addition when getting custom made cases, it is highly recommended that there is enough power in the power supply for modern modules. Especially when one gets into the more power hungry modules that use digital technology.  It is one thing to go off of a low power consumption set up that uses mostly analog technology, it is another to be running a true modern modular hybrid system with the mostly recently produced modules. This is where getting a case with a power supply with a great deal of power headroom is very helpful.  Plan for your future modules, but keep in mind, you may need more power than you are anticipating. Because going over the limits of your power supply can have some very real costs for your modules.