Synthesizers.com Modular Analog Synthesizers home page
Fine modular analog synthesizers featuring classic styling and world-class customer service

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions


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Ordering Questions

How do I order?
#1 For help deciding what to order, use our Contact form.
#2 Fill out the Quote form.
#3 We Email a quote showing the products, shipping cost, lead time and payment instructions.
#4 Confirm the quote via Email if everything is acceptable and make your payment.
#5 We ship your products.
What is the standard lead time?

Lead time is the time between your order payment and us shipping your product. This time varies from 1 day to 6 weeks depending on our backlog and other business factors. We provide an estimate when you request a quote.

99% of the time we meet or beat our quoted lead time.

Do you ship to other countries?

We ship all over. Fill out the Quote form to receive a shipping cost.

You are responsible for any taxes and fees imposed by your country. This link may help you determine these costs: http://export.gov/logistics/eg_main_018142.asp

Harmonized codes for all synthesizer products are 920710-0020.

Regulations vary country-to-country and change regularly. This may prohibit us from shipping certain products to certain countries.

Do you have dealers?
We only sell direct to customers.
Do you have a phone?
Our business is global and Email is how we communicate. We're very responsive with any type of question - give our contact form a try.
Returns
If you purchase a product and don't like it, you can return it and get a refund for the complete amount minus shipping charges. We ask that you do this within 10 days of receipt of the products. We can't take back damaged or modified products. See more details on our Policy page.
Warranty
All of our products carry a one year warranty. If a product breaks within the first year after you purchased it new from us, contact us for instructions. The customer is responsible for packaging issues and shipping charges. If the product is damaged from abuse or modification, this warranty doesn't apply. See more details on our Policy page.
See our policies in detail


Company Questions

Are yall still in business???
Believe it or not, I hear this question a few times a year and I'm not sure why because we and our customers make lots of noises in the synthesizer market. The answer is Yes. Synthesizers.com has been in business for more than 15 years. We have sold thousands of modular systems and modules over the years, many more than Moog and ARP combined. And our product line grows and grows. To my knowledge, our Facebook group is the largest modular synth group on the web. Join the fun!
Who is Synthesizers.com?
Synthesizers.com is a company in Tyler, Texas founded by Roger Arrick. See more on the About page. Synthesizers.com is part of Arrick Robotics and paperwork will have that name on it.
What about your company name?
It was around 1996 when I made the decision to design and produce a modular synthesizer. There was a renewed interest in analog synths and I could feel it. This was the .com era and the web was changing everything. Websites were just beginning to appear on TV ads. I decided to go out on a limb with a marketing experiment by making the company name the domain name. Many domain names were still available and I snatched up Synthesizers.com. The rest is history so they say.
Who is Patcher Jack?
Patcher Jack is the company mascot.


Product Questions

What new products are you going to make?
My policy is to never announce what product I'm going to create until the product is in production or ready to ship. This helps me keep my sanity, and it also avoids a common problem in this industry of companies making promises they can't keep. So, that's the way I do it and it's worked well.
Differences between Synthesizers.com and Moog

There are several aspects of Synthesizers.com systems that are enhancements over the original Moog systems. Some of these things are possible due to better electronics, some are because of design philosophy and OCD, and many are just simple improvements due to hindsight. Here are a few of those things:

Consistent Panel Graphics:
This includes font types and sizes, placement of graphics and layout of panels. Some original Moog modules have graphics that are covered by jack washers, sometimes above and sometimes below the described item, inconsistent use of font type and sizes, even the logos and headings sometimes don't line up on the same system.

True Modularity:
Synthesizers.com systems are hyper-modular. Even the power modules can be placed in any position - even on the back. There is no fixed normalization in a Synthesizers.com system. Moog systems had some un-modular aspects including some normalization. Moving modules to other places was often difficult or required special wiring. Moog systems also used a series of special half-size modules that were fixed on the bottom row and couldn't be placed anywhere else.

Universal Gate/Trigger Signals:
Synthesizers.com uses a simpler system for gate signals that gives the user more patching options. Gate signals indicate an on/off condition usually from a keyboard or sequencer. Gates are used to start envelopes, oscillator cycles or sequencers. All Gate signal inputs can be triggered by any audio or control signal - they even use the same connector. In a Synthesizers.com system, there is no distinction between audio, control, and gate signals. This greatly increases patching possibilities. Moog systems used both switch and voltage triggers with different connectors. To fire an envelope generator from an oscillator required a special conversion module and extra patch cords. Learn more about gates and triggers.

Larger Signal Levels:
Synthesizers.com systems use 10V Peak-Peak signal levels. Voltage levels throughout the system can often reach as high as 25V. These giant voltage levels help improve the signal to noise ratio. Moog systems use 1-2Vpp signal levels.

On-Module Attenuators/Inverters/Mixers:
Possibly the biggest difference of all is the ease of patching made by placing attenuators, inverters, and mixers on modules instead of requiring a separate module. This makes patching more intuitive and uses less cables. To control a filter with an envelope generator, simply use one patch cord. Moog systems often require signals go through an attenuator module before going to their destination. This can double the amount of cords or limit the user's patch.

Enclosure Consistency:
Ok, some people would say I'm being picky, but it's always bothered me that the Moog keyboard side panels had an angle that was opposite of the cabinets. On Synthesizers.com systems the angle of the keyboard enclosure matches the keyboard garage and the tilted cabinet.

Rear Enclosure Design:
Synthesizers.com systems studio cabinets have closed rear panels of walnut and also provide 4 module spaces on the back, typically for power modules. The rear of the system is worthy of show. The system doesn't have to be placed against a wall or away from an audience. Moog systems use perforated pressboard as a rear panel which looks like the back of a vintage TV.

Power System:
Moog power supplies produced asymmetrical voltages of -6v and +12 which limited design choices and reduced headroom. Later Moogs added a +/-15V supply which is what Synthesizers.com systems use. Moog used card edge connectors for power. Synthesizers.com also has a separate 5V power source for digital circuitry. Synthesizers.com DC power connector has become an industry standard for modern modular synths.

Panel Circuit Mounting:
Moog Circuit boards are very large since they are designed to fit inside of a metal frame and are perpendicular to the front panel. The mechanics are large and deep and use a lot of metal. My guess is that the main design influence was military electronics and radios. Synthesizers.com modules do not consume very much space behind the panel. The circuit boards are mounted parallel to the front panel giving us many more options when mounting modules in portable cabinets and racks. This image shows the difference between a Moog 960 and a Synthesizers.com Q960.

Environmental Issues:
Moog panels used anodized aluminium that was then etched to expose the lettering. This etching process used dangerous chemicals and created toxic fumes. Bob commented about this to me in the 90's. Moog module artwork doesn't have consistent widths which caused the exposed panel edges to be inconsistent. Synthesizers.com panels use a masking process, paint, then silkscreen printing. This is a bit more work but it's safer and the panels look great.

Synthesizers.com follows the Moog look, feel and sound because we think it's great. Moog has set the standard and we all appreciate Bob for that.

Is this a copy of a Moog modular?
Synthesizers.com systems are not copies of Moog modular systems but they use the same form factor (panel size), called MU (Moog Unit).

Synthesizers.com modules will physically fit in a Moog modular but use different power systems.

Synthesizers.com modules will patch together with a Moog modular since their signal levels are similar and both use 1/4" phone jacks. The exception to this is Switch Triggers.

The Q150 Ladder filter uses the core circuit of Bob Moog's famous ladder filter.

The Q960 Sequencer uses the same panel layout of Moog's 960 Sequencer, but the circuitry has been redesigned to use modern components that can be maintained.
Do you sell kits?

We have no plans to offer kits for 5 important reasons -

#1: You'll find that our assembled and tested modules are cheaper than most kits because we make them in volume. We also use several automated processes such as soldering and wire cutting/stripping which reduce the time (and cost).

#2: Some modules require fancy test equipment to calibrate correctly. This is especially true of Oscillators.

#3: The documentation required to describe building a module correctly would be much larger than the documentation to show how to operate it. Documentation is difficult to write, prone to errors, and costly to produce.

#4: Technical support of module builders with varying degrees of skill and experience is costly, time consuming, and frustrating for the customer.

#5: Having products built by the factory helps maintain their value by assuring future buyers of the quality standards.

Please compare an assembled Synthesizers.com product with other company's offerings. With Synthesizers.com modules, you'll be making sounds right out of the box.

What about quality, parts, price?
Our designs are very typical analog circuitry.
Much of it derived from data books and 30 year old texts.
We avoid exotic components that are difficult to find.
We put all ICs in sockets for ease of maintenance.
We only use microprocessors for modules that can really benefit from them such as sequencers and MIDI controllers.
We consider cost when designing a product because we want you to be able to afford it, and we want to stay in business.

We also control costs by doing what most companies will not do:
  • No dealers - Instead: Factory direct saves you 20%-50%
  • No color brochures - Instead: Informative web pages
  • Communication via Email - phones don't work well across time zones anyway
  • No aggressive marketing - Instead: We rely on our reputation for great products and service

Our products are built with commercial grade components using normal commercial grade processes. This is not a garage shop operation, we have full-time assemblers and techs that build electronics for a living. All circuit boards are multi-layered fiberglass with solder masks. All panels are made from .062" aluminium and painted with a professional industrial-quality coating. Studio cabinets are made from real, solid American walnut. No laminates. We use commercial grade jacks which work great. All modules are calibrated, tested, and burned in before shipping.

We use open frame pots because we do not believe that using industrial grade sealed pots justify their incredible cost. Both sealed and unsealed pots can become scratchy. Open frame pots can be cleaned if needed, sealed units can not.

110/220 Volt Operation
Yes, all of our current products will operate on either 110V or 220V AC. See our Power page for more info about power systems.
Moving modules

It's very easy to move modules around and most people eventually do so to match their patching style. Synthesizers.com systems are hyper-modular and most modules can be moved to any location in the cabinet.

Disconnect the AC Power cord, unscrew the module, pull it out, and disconnect the small DC power connector. Power connectors are Keyed to help eliminate incorrect connection.

Some modules have Aid modules next to them with cables that connect the two behind the panel. These modules and their Aid modules will need to be moved together.

Examples of Aid modules are the Q141 Oscillator aid and the Q140 Filter Aid.

The Q115 Reverb module is connected to the reverb tank with 2 cables behind the panel so make sure these cables will reach the new module location.

The Q107 Filter is sensitive to power supply noise so resist moving it directly in front of the supply.

Power Modules such as the Q101, Q102, Q103, Q137 are connected to the power supply and/or the DC power harness so the module must be mounted so that these cables will reach them.

Can I calibrate a module myself?
Every module that requires calibration comes with calibration instructions. Usually this takes a good frequency counter, volt meter (4+ digits), oscilloscope, and a precise voltage source (+/-1mv). All modules are calibrated before shipping with very accurate test equipment so you don't have to worry about this, but many people like to know what all of those trim-pots are for on the PCB. Many modules require no calibration at all. For the most part, we recommend not messing with the trimmers.
How are modules mounted to wooden cabinets?

The answer is - with wood screws, and it works well.

Initially I tried brass threaded inserts and machine screws to attach modules to the wooden cabinets. The insert didn't allow enough material thickness without making a larger flange on the modules, and that changed the look from the front. Another option was to use a machined metal bar but the price of this piece (and you need 2 or 4 for each cabinet) was way too much. After much debate with myself, I did many experiments with pre-drilled holes and wood screws with very good results. There was no wood splitting and you could move modules many times without problems. I custom ordered a nice black wood screw for the job. You have to be careful not to strip the wood by using an electric screwdriver but even that is rare with walnut. On the portable cabinets, the mounting rails are a hardwood too. If I thought customers would need to replace modules once a week (or even once a month) I would opt for the expensive metal bars and try to endure the complaints about price, but this isn't the case and it's turned out to be a good decision backed by many customers and years of evidence.

Terje Winther wrote:
"I am utterly amazed at the fact that even after multiple use of the predrilled holes, the screws still have a very firm grip on the wood, without any signs of wearing out the wood nor losing the firm grip."

Why don't you offer an LFO?

LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) are separate from waveform oscillators in some modular systems. They are used to supply low frequency control signals to filters, amplifiers and other modules. Typical LFOs have a limited number of waveforms and lack other features to save costs. Since many people want a full-featured LFO with accurate tracking, PWM, FM, and Sync, there ends up being no difference between a good LFO and a good VCO. Instead of creating a separate LFO module, I decided to make the voltage levels in our system standardized so an oscillator would work as an LFO also. This is the same philosophy as the Moog modulars and gives you maximum flexibility and it certainly gives you more features than using a traditional LFO. Check out the price/performance/feature ratio of our full-featured Q106 VCO/LFO compared to other companies LFO and you'll see this is the best solution. Like most issues concerning synthesizers, and music in general, there are differing opinions.

John Wrote:
I absolutely love the fact that the oscillators double as VC LFO's.

Tom Wrote:
The idea of wasting your Oscillator on simple modulation doesn't make sense.

How 'quiet' are these systems/modules?
In this 'digital' age of CD quality recording equipment, the question of noise comes up a little more than it use to back in the days ruled by vinyl. We've tried to be true to the 'analog' concept and are pleased with the results. We don't use Digital Signal Processors (DSP) in our products - that would make them more quiet but would also make them digital! There are plenty of products out there to give you that sterile digital sound. But you're here for a different reason - you want analog. Now to the answer: Using an HP 8903b audio analyzer through our Q108 amplifier shows a signal to noise ratio of 82db (CD quality is around 96db). How's that?
What about output voltage levels?
The signals in a Synthesizers.com modular are very 'hot' meaning they are often 20Vpp or more. These high levels help to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. Since amps and mixers are designed to deal with much smaller signals, you'll need to attenuate the signals from the synth to prevent clipping. This is very easy since most synth patches end with a VCA (Q108 Amplifier). Simply use the Control #1 attenuator to reduce the output level to whatever you need. Another way is to use a Q125 Signal Processor to attenuate the output signal.
Polyphonc/Monophonic

Modular analog synthesizers (and many normalized synths) are inherently monophonic meaning that only one note can be played at a time. Pressing more than one key will result in only one of the key's notes being played. Making a monophonic synthesizer act polyphonic is not an easy task since you would need multiple identical patches running in parallel. This would require many more modules than a normal monophonic patch. All of the settings would have to be the same which would be difficult and would not lend itself to real-time control.

In summary, don't expect a big polyphonic experience from a modular analog synthesizer. The sound of a modular synthesizer is very large in its monophonic form and it's best used that way.

What is a minimal system?

To build a minimal synthesizer system you'll need some basic modules to create and modify waveforms. We suggest you take a look at our preconfigured systems - you're likely to find something that meets your needs and budget.

A typical minimal system would consist of the following items:

1) QPS1 Power Supply
1) QDH20 DC Power Harness

Modules
1) Q137 Power Control
1) Q174 MIDI Interface
1) Q105 Slew Limiter
3) Q106 Oscillator
1) Q107 State Variable Filter
1) Q108 Amplifier
2) Q109 Envelope Generator
1) Q110 Noise
1) Q112 Mixer
1) Q116 Ring Modulator
1) Q117 Sample & Hold
1) Q124 Multiples
1) Q125 Signal Processor

If you will be using your system mostly for modifying sounds from a guitar, microphone or other instrument, add a Q118 Instrument Interface in place of one of the Q106 Oscillators.

If you want a VERY MINIMAL system that will simply make some sounds and allow filtering, then use these modules (doesn't include power products):

2) Q106 Oscillator
1) Q107 State Variable Filter
1) Q108 Amplifier
2) Q109 Envelope Generator
Microtonal Control

Normally a keyboard controller will produce 1 volt per octave with each key being 1/12 of a volt change. The oscillator is designed to respond to this exponentially so that a 1 volt change will result in a doubling of the frequency (pitch). There are many people interested in other tuning systems besides the western standard 12 semitones per octave. By changing the control voltage from the keyboard controller you can achieve different tunings. The oscillator has a variable exponential input which allows you to attenuate the control signal - usually from a keyboard. The result of attenuation would be that it would take more keys to produce one octave of change. While this would allow greater than 12 keys per octave, it would not allow less than 12. This can also be done using the Q125 Signal Processor which simply allows you to amplify or attenuate a signal - in this case a control voltage from a keyboard controller. Take the control voltage from the keyboard and patch it to the input of the top section of the Q125 Signal Processor, then patch the output into the exponential response connector of an oscillator. By adjusting the gain control you can change the 1 volt per octave signal into something else such as 1 volt per 2 octaves (24 equal tones per octave) and of course anything in between. You can also go the other way where 12 keys will represent a span greater than 1 octave. The control is continuously variable and can be done using a good set of ears or a frequency counter. As you can probably tell, this method only allows equal temperament and you're limited to a standard 12-keys-per-octave keyboard. Once you get over 36 tones per octave you'll start getting less accurate results. This is due to the tracking nature of an analog synthesizer. If you need perfect accuracy for 48 equal temperament, then use a digital synth.

Who says that a keyboard has to have the low notes on the left and the high notes on the right? After all, many written languages read right to left. The Q125 Signal Processor also allows you to invert a signal which would result in the the keys on the left being higher pitch than the keys on the right. Remember, this is a modular analog synthesizer - almost anything can be done - normal or not.

See our link page for pointers to the Microtonal universe.

DIY
We don't do DIY, that's for you to do. Our single goal is to provide assembled, tested and calibrated products that just work. We can't offer help modifying products. Please don't ask us how we build our products so you can build your own. We highly discourage DIY of any power system component for the obvious safety reasons and potential product damage. Please don't ask us to fix a product that has been modified or abused. I think you'll find this policy is similar to most other manufacturers in the world.


Compatibility Questions

General interfacing information
We use voltage levels that are very common to analog synthesizers which will make it easy to interface with other audio equipment. We use 1 volt per octave pitch control signals, and 10 volt peak to peak waveforms. Usually some attenuation is made of the final output before patching into mixers or amps. We also use 1/4" patch cables which also make life easier when connecting equipment from different manufacturers. The details can be seen on our Technical Information Page.
MoogerFooger compatibility?
Yes, MoogerFoogers can be patched with a Synthesizers.com modular with standard 1/4" patch cables.
Moog Voyager Interfacing
Yes, a Moog Voyager will interface with a Synthesizers.com modular. See this guide.
Using Moog switch triggers

Moog systems use a unique type of Trigger (or Gate) signal called switch trigger. These are on/off signals that are usually generated from a keyboard controller and are used to start an envelope generator or sequencer. Instead of the signal carrying a voltage that changes, the Moog 'Switch Trigger' is just dry contacts or a mechanical switch to ground. The one advantage to this is that triggers can be patched in parallel to create a logical OR - the disadvantage is that the trigger must go through a conversion module to interface to other voltage level signals. Synthesizers.com systems use voltage gate signals instead which allows for easier, more intuitive patching and much more flexibility without conversion.

Voltage to Moog Switch Trigger Cable
This special cable converts voltage gate signals from a Synthesizers.com system to switch trigger signals needed to activate Moog envelope generators. It has a male 1/4" plug on one end and a 2-pin Cinch/Jones plug on the other.

To convert from a Moog Switch Trigger to a voltage gate needed by Synthesizers.com modules, you'll need to run the Moog Switch Trigger signal through the Moog 961 module to create a voltage. You can also use the Q142 Pedal Interface which will convert any mechanical switch to a voltage level. You'll have to construct a special cable. The reason that a simple cable is not available to make this conversion is because a voltage source is needed.

Moog modular compatibility?

Synthesizers.com modules have the same panel size and mounting as a Moog modular system. The signal voltage levels are also compatible as are most modular synthesizer modules.

The difference is the way the modules connect to the power supply behind the panel. In a traditional Moog modular system, there is a card connector and wiring harness to route power and to connect modules together. Synthesizers.com modules are truly modular (modules can go in any location) and only need power applied from a simple power cable connector. See the technical information page for details on the power connections.

You can mount Synthesizers.com modules in a Moog modular cabinet but you would need to also install a power supply and cable harness.

You can mount a Moog module in a Synthesizers.com studio cabinet but you would need special wiring to provide power and possibly other signals.

Portable cabinets are not deep enough to house a Moog module.

MOTM Compatibility?

Yes. MOTM Modules are made by Synthesis Technology. We both use standard voltages for audio, control and pitch signals (1V/Oct). So there is no problem patching the two types of modules together. The difference is the power supply connectors and panel width.

MOTM modules are 8.75 high (5U) just like ours but come in width multiples of 1.75". This will leave a gap when placed in a Synthesizers.com cabinet which is expecting module widths in multiples of 2.125 like Moog modules. The gap can be filled with a small metal strip. Complete details about module sizes can be found on the Technical information page.

MOTM modules have the circuit board (PCB) perpendicular to the front panel which consumes about 4 to 5 inches behind the panel. Synthesizers.com modules have the PCB parallel to the front panel and consume only about 2.5 inches. Here is a picture of both modules.
Ultimately this means that MOTM modules have trouble fitting into some locations inside of Synthesizers.com cabinets because the PCB bumps into the cabinet or the power supply.

MOTM Modules use +15 and -15 power, Synthesizers.com modules use that also, but Synthesizers.com also has +5 volts. This helps keep the power supply clean from digital noise. Pinouts of the power connectors can be found on the Technical information page.

ModCan/Cynthia Compatibility?
Modcan and Cynthia modules have different panel dimensions (9" tall vs 8.75" for the .com and 2.25" wide vs 2.125" for the .com). This prevents using our standard cases to house both types of modules. Modcan and Cynthia modules use +15, -15 volts just like Synthesizers.com systems but the connector is different and special power cables will be needed. Modcan and Cynthia modules use banana jacks instead of 1/4" jacks so you can use our Banana Jack Interface to interface the two types of modules. Other than physical mounting, power connectors and panel jacks, the external signals such as pitch voltage, signal voltage, and gate signals are compatible with Synthesizers.com systems. Modcan has added a 'B Series' with a different form factor - see their website for more info.
Guitar interfacing

Yes, boost the signal level with a Q118 Instrument Interface. Signal levels of a guitar are very low and need to be boosted (amplified) in order to match those of a modular synth.

Synthesizers.com modules are not designed to work stand-alone, they need an enclosure such as a cabinet or rack frame, and a power supply system.

There is not a module that will extract pitch information from your guitar (Pitch to voltage converter). That is a very difficult task. But the Q118 instrument interface does create a gate signal indicating the start and end of a note. The threshold is adjustable. This gate can be used to trigger the envelope generator, start a sequencer, etc.

Our Box11p is a typical configuration of modules suited for processing external sounds such as those from a guitar. The system includes the Q118 instrument interface, oscillator, filter, envelope generator, voltage controlled amplifier, rack frame, and power supply. This system can be expanded into a full-blown modular synthesizer easily.



Website Questions

How does the website work?

Use a modern web browser and make sure Javascript is running to view the website. A knob-shaped icon on the top menu provides control of color themes and text size. You can also turn off the left-side navigation menu for wider view of product content.

The website was written by Roger Arrick in HTML 5, Javascript along with some PHP back-end. It has been tested on all modern browsers on the desktop, phone and tablets as of October 2014.


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