Tag Archives: Intellijel

The Paradox of Choice and Eurorack Modular Systems

My Eurorack system these days is looking kind of sad. I cleared out and sold many modules to fund a Serge/Ian Fritz (4U) modular synthesizer system.  They were mostly modules which were no longer fitting my specific workflow, so they rarely were used. This was not for an active dislike of Eurorack modular synthesizers, I am not religious about format as some others are outside of my preference for smaller sized systems. I appreciate being able to gig with a modular system.

My Eurorack system is not quite it used to be...
My Eurorack system is not quite it used to be…

With that being said, I have pretty complicated feelings about Eurorack these days. It was my introduction to modular synthesis, and I do like it. It is a decent format that provides a great deal of functionality in a small format.  As somebody living in a city were smaller row homes and apartments are standard living, this is appreciated. While some people have massive systems, it’s largest advantage is one of size.  It is a modular system that one can fit complete systems in very small cases.

Overtime the format exploded in popularity because of it’s relatively low price, high functionality, and portability. The thing is with it’s expanding popularity, also came a flood of new manufacturers to the format. This has left me in a bit of a conundrum. With so many boutique manufacturers producing so many modules with varying degrees of functionality, it can lead to frustration.  This frustration is not coming from  lack of options, but one of too many.

There was a book not to long ago called the Paradox of Choice, it focused on how too many options often left people confused. For the longest time I did not quite understand really if the concept held water. After all choice is wonderful in most cases, and to few if they do not match your personal preferences can be frustrating.

However, during the last few years of Eurorack I began to understand the paradox. I get it completely get it now, and it is very true.

The reality is there are so many spins on oscillators, complex oscillators, filters, low pass gates, random, vca, envelopes, LFOs, chaos, etc from an ever growing list of manufacturers, it is pretty easy to get lost in it all.

There was one point where one could keep up with the new modules, and make a determination on whether the functionality was something one wanted. That is becoming much harder right now. While there are some that try to buy as many modules as possible with a Pokemon type obsession of “catching them all”, for those of us with limited budgets, or room, this is not a wise position.

While the paradox of choice creates a conundrum for those of us who have been around for some time, it also presents confusion for those who are very new. The were to get started question has become something in which there is no easy answer with Eurorack. A complex oscillator, low pass gate, and some modulation, sure, but which ones?  In some ways this is where the smaller complete systems by Make Noise, EoWave, and Pittsburgh Modular help. With that being said, these focused systems often limit exposure to the wider universe.

For those of us who have experience there is a bit of a knee jerk reaction to stick with our favorite manufacturers, which are often well established. This is sometimes done without giving new ones a real shot. After all there is modules outside of intellijel, cwejman, and make noise, but these are the most desired manufacturers. Part of this is quality, but part of it is familiarity and the issues that arise from the paradox of choice. We seek what we know we faced with an array of choices.

As it stands my Eurorack system is neglected at the moment. I am still keeping it though, largely because things can change. The largest reason I am keeping it around is because most DIY eurorack modules just take a few hours to complete. Right now for DIY synthesizers Eurorack modules is all I personally have the bandwidth for, and I would like to refresh my soldering skills before diving into DIY serge format. There may be finally something that will break through my own conundrum of the paradox of choice and offer something very compelling in Eurorack. I have no clue what it will be at this moment though. In fact the solution may be at the end of my soldering iron after all.