The Tangerine Dream Analog, Modular Synthesizer.

  • Based on circuit designs from Ray Wilson, Thomas Henry, Michael Barton, YuSynth, Saint Gillis, Roman Sowa & SixBySeven.ca
  • 110VAC 1.5Amp Power Input with +/- 12VDC operation
  • Total build time: About 350 hours

Constructed into a hexagon with the following modules:

  • 5 – VCOs, trackable over 7 octaves
  • 1 – LFO
  • 6 – VCAs
  • 3 – VCFs
  • 3 – Envelope Generators
  • 1 – Ring Modulator
  • 1 – Delayed Modulation
  • 1 – Phase Shifter Module
  • 1 – Wave Modification (Freaker)
  • 1 – Sample & Hold Module
  • 1 – Noise Module
  • 1 – Wah Module
  • 4 Channel Mixer, with effects routing
  • 1 – Voltage Controlled Echo Module
  • 2 – MIDI to CV programmable converters
  • 1- CV & Gate Signal Expansion Module
  • 1- Voltage Quantizer Module
  • 1- Multi-Function Expanded Arpeggiator
  • 2 – Variable DC power supplies.

 

Ok, so how many times have you heard someone say they would like a “Modular Synthesizer”? Maybe you have even said this before, when visions of Rick Wakeman, Kieth Emerson, or Wendy Carlos pop into your head. There you are sitting in front of a massive panel of knobs, switches, lights and wires….. Tons and tons of wires. Oh, you are in glory…. STOP!

Before you read any further…. Run! Run as fast as you can, and as far away as you can and go purchase one of the latest hybrid commercial synths. Or, take up model railroading. I beseech you because this page is a possible gateway to Euro-crack!  However, if you really want to understand how synthesizers really work, a modular is really the only way to go. They scream hands on experimentation, and many times composers use modulars, because they are highly adaptable, you can expand them easily and they can produce sounds all-in-ones or mini synths can’t do.

Well, I was warned once too. But me, being me, likes to build synths so I thought I would try a modular but I also didn’t want some big square, boxy shaped behemoth. And, I also don’t much like the small Eurorack format, which works great mind you, but I wanted the large MU (Moog Unit) module sizes, large knobs and dials but I just hated the wall space I would need to hang it on. I also wanted to use this synth for demonstrations and performances. It had to look cool, be utilitarian and somewhat easy to move around. The problem with a “standard rack” type modular is that it has to be mounted to a wall, with all of the patch cables hanging down in the front, covering most of the cable jacks. Your back then, is to the audience so that idea is not really what I wanted. I was thinking about something that you could walk around or turn. It could even hang from the ceiling. I then thought of a cube, then pentagon. But once I tallied up all the various modules I wanted, it was going to be a rather large pentagon. So, I considered a hexagon. Six sides, with up to 5 modules each would give me space for 30 different modules. Here is a basic video of the completed synth with modules installed.

I decided then, to paint it tangerine in colour and name it after my favourite, and the band had had the most influence on my electronic music tastes, Tangerine Dream.

The Build:

The entire cabinet is custom made from plywood I had lying around. I wanted to be able to either suspend it from the ceiling or have it mount on a heavy duty speaker stand.

 

I used 2×2 scrap wood to make the columns to hold the top and bottom together and contain main power rails. I needed +12VDC, GND, -12VDC for each of the 30 possible circuit boards.

 

I built a decent power supply, that was capable of a 1Amp output. I did not figure I would need that much.

I initially used a single 110VAC to 12VAC  transformer to give me a 1/2 wave rectified power supply. After testing and applying a load, I noticed my voltages dropping to 11 VDC so I replaced the single power supply with two full wave variable supplies, each able to output 1 Amp cleanly. I split the rails, and maintained the ground but each side of the synth hits about +/- 350mA for a total of 700 mA on each of the power rails. The black thing in the middle is an insert that is used for the tripod mount. Basically the inserts used in large audio speakers.

 

Finally, I inlaid both the inside top and bottom with orange EL wire to give it a really cool lighting effect when the synth is on standby (it make a high frequency squeal over the audio if left on while using the synth).

The modules Build

Each of the modules used a hand constructed method for mounting the circuit card. I used small ‘L’ brackets which sit under the potentiometers, and then hold a 1-1/2″ wide piece of wood material for the PCB to connect to. For power, I use a pair of flying leads, one from the PCB and one from the power rails. This method allows modules to be pulled out and service or tested while under power and gives a good amount of space.

All of the panels are cut from sheet aluminum with a hack saw. I then made the panel artwork and had them printed onto thick vinyl sticker material. Once the vinyl is stuck onto the aluminum, I drill out the various size holes for the switches, pots and LEDs.

For more on each of the modules in this synth, go here.

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