Skip to main content

How to design your perfect modular system: utilities

modular
(Image credit: Future)

While other categories we’ve talked about in this series of features fall into neat groupings, utilities cover a wider range of uses. The clock divider is a common one. This does what the name suggests – breaking an incoming clock into subdivisions, so a single bpm can output a number of others, all in sync. 

Mults split a signal, often into three, creating copies of the original. Buffered mults are best for splitting volts-per-octave – to counter voltage dropoff and retain accuracy.

Mixers do as you’d expect, although not all are made equal. Some only give you an amount control, while others add stereo panning, mute buttons and headphone amplifiers. There are also unity mixers that combine incoming signals with no controls.

VCAs, or voltage controlled amplifiers, are seen by many as the cornerstone of a good rig. The genius of a VCA is that not only can they control the volume of an audio source but also voltages so, combined with modulation sources, they can be used for many tasks, from dialling in further modulations, all the way to constructing sections of a track, to mixing tasks and much more. They really are valuable modules, so investing in a quad version is wise.

Envelope generators could be given a whole section of their own here but in essence, they provide the shape of a signal. Most often with attack, decay, sustain and release (although simpler models are plentiful too) an obvious use is to plug one into a VCA, so that a note rises in volume when triggered, decays to a set point, sustains for as long as desired, then falls off at the end, negating the on/off situation you would otherwise have. Envelopes can be used for many things other than this, often employed to shape the cutoff of filters, or add some swell to an effect.

There are many other utilities, such as logic modules, sample and hold, mute switches, booleans... The list really does go on, so investigate and see what sparks your interest. 

Three utilities to consider to consider...

1. ALM Pamela's New Workout

ALM

(Image credit: ALM)

This little module is a beast. It’s a clock, clock divider, trigger output, sequencer and so much more, and should be in every rig. It is that good.

2. 4ms Rotating Clock Divider

4ms

(Image credit: 4ms)

A small but incredibly useful utility, this does what it says on the tin, taking a clock signal and splitting it into eight subdivisions, from 1/1 to 1/8 and the handy rotate patch point lets you change how these output.

3. 2hp Mult

2hp

(Image credit: 2hp)

A tiny but incredibly useful little mult, this is an easy win. It has two channels of three duplicates, so splitting a signal for use across a patch is a doddle, fitting into pretty much every rig that you can imagine, easily.

Future Music is the number one magazine for today's producers. Packed with technique and technology we'll help you make great new music. All-access artist interviews, in-depth gear reviews, essential production tutorials and much more. Every marvellous monthly edition features reliable reviews of the latest and greatest hardware and software technology and techniques, unparalleled advice, in-depth interviews, sensational free samples and so much more to improve the experience and outcome of your music-making.

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine