How to design your perfect modular system: effects

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Out of all the modules available, effects units are possibly the most widely varied. These come in many styles and types, so let’s deal with a few of the most common here.

Perhaps the most widely used is reverb. Spring reverbs, whether digital emulations or a real tank, give a classic retro sound admired by many. There are modules that bring this into Eurorack format, although an authentic tank will need housing somewhere. Then you have a vast array of digital reverbs. Some replicate plate reverbs or older, classic digital reverbs, while others take things into new territories. 

Recently modules have appeared that take reverb further than ever, offering effects like shimmer and glimmer that accentuate harmonics and produce beautiful soundscapes, often with built-in modulation.

Delays, again, come in various flavours. Some give simple repeats of incoming audio, others boast deep sound design tools. Others pay homage to tape delays of old, with authentic-sounding wow and flutter.

As well as phasers, flangers, choruses and other common effect types, there are a number of other processors types frequently seen in  modular synth rigs. Ring mods, and filter banks (although these could arguably live in the filter section just as easily) are common. 

Perhaps the best example of these kinds of modular-centric units is the wavefolder. These modules take the wave produced by a VCO and flip it back on itself to make new, interesting tones with boosted harmonic content. Similarly, waveshapers alter the waveform based on user-defined inputs, away from the initial VCO’s output.

As with effects pedals favoured by guitarists (many of which also find their way into a synth player’s signal chain) you can also find multi-effect units, some aimed at a specific type of effect, others with a wider application, covering many processor types from within a single module.

Three effects modules to consider...

1. Tiptop Audio Z-DSP


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A fantastic time-based unit, the Z-DSP sounds wonderful and is easy to use. The magic here is in the swappable chips that transform it between various effect types, from reverb, delay, to chorus.

2. Erica Synths Black Hole DSP


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A stalwart multi-effects unit, with 24 different effects, covering delays, reverbs, choruses, flangers, phasers and more. Great layout and a space saver, at just 16hp.

3. Strymon Starlab


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A personal favourite, this reverb does a lot. Typical Strymon design and build, it features massive spacey reverbs, a delay and even a Karplus-Strong voice and has a built-in filter and LFO.

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