Synth Thoughts: Dieter’s Diet (Doepfer 2019 Modules Overview)

Superbooth 2019 is over, and with it came lots of new modules, from prototypes and POC devices to those available immediately.

I always take a look at what Doepfer, the mother of all Eurorack, has to offer. So let’s have a look at the new additions that were shown there, most of which are available immediately.

Note that I haven’t been there. All of my info is from info from Doepfer or from youtube videos. So this post is most probably only of interest to me.

Context

From the early beginnings, Doepfer was always for a “one module, one function” approach, and had through most of the time also followed a design concept that modules with knobs had to be at least 8TE wide.

Since then (“then” being 1995, i.e. we’re nearing the 25th anniversary at a rapid pace), a lot of manufacturers have challenged that unwritten installation width law: there’s now modules which go considerably below that, and one company (which I like) does nothing but 2TE wide ones (fittingly called 2hp).

And an exception from the first rule had also existed in the form of voice modules. However, with the CEM3320 no longer being available (although this is no longer true), the A-111-5 Mini Synth was discontinued.

On the other hand, the man himself had quietly prepared to challenge his own design principles regarding width: while the A-140-2 Dual ADSR is still 8TE wide, you can easily see where this is going: this is two identical halves on the front panel, so you could just cut it through and have one envelope with 4TE (at least from a design standpoint).

The Modules

For a quick overview, why don’t you have a look at Doepfer’s brochure?

All of the available modules are following the design approach of the A-140-2. The major changes include:

  • Replacing the hex nuts around the jacks with round ones (thus being able to pack them closer),
  • Replacing knobs by smaller ones (which are rubberized).

And with that, most of the modules violate Doepfer’s Law and are 4TE wide. But let’s go through them one by one.

A-130-2 Dual Lin/exp VCA

Two VCAs with gain and CV knobs and switch for choice of linear and exponential characteristics. In the end, it’s a copy of the A-132-3 only with half the size.

Depth remains constant at 50mm (which can create problems with some skiff cases). What changes is the price: at 80€, it’s 20% cheaper than the larger version.

What’s more, with the exact same feature set as the Synthrotek MST 2164 Dual VCA, it beats that competitor by one third both in price and space. And the Synthrotek was the smallest so far (status: 2/19) with that feature set (I know because I researched that).

Summary: This is the thing to get for a VCA with switchable characteristic.

A-145-4 Quad LFO

Once again, they tell us what this is based on: the A-143-3 Quad LFO. Now this module occupies 14TE with a depth of 40mm, so there’s no way you can fit that into a mere 4TE, right?

The short answer is “you can’t”. From the original’s feature set, the sawtooth output and the switches for frequency range are gone.

The frequency range switches have been replaced by jumpers, and the available range has changed as well and goes from 50Hz at the top end to 0.002Hz (yup, that’s around eight minutes) at the low end.

Installation depth actually went down to 30mm, and for that 4TE package Doepfer charges 80 bucks, as opposed to the 120 bucks for the slightly more powerful original.

Summary: Doepfer says it’s a “bread and butter demon for work”, and they’re right. Nothing exciting, but four LFOs on 4TE is cool, as is the price. My only point of criticism is the limitation to triangle and square.

A-118-2 Noise/Random/T&H/S&H

The model number says it all: most of this module is the (8TE/40mm/€69) A-118, which offers coloured noise and a random voltage.

Once they cut that in half at identical depth, there was obviously still so much place left that added a sample&hold/trigger&hold circuit, essentially half of a A-148.

At 80 bucks, it’s on the same price level as most of the other new modules (and if you take the price of the A-118 and half of a A-148, it also stays with the trend of reducing price considerably).

Summary: How long have I looked for a small analogue noise source? It’s here!

A-138n Narrow Mixer

Four input channels and two identical outputs in 4TE/30mm/€50 is what this brings to the table. Meaning it’s twice as wide but half the price compared to the 2hp Mix (of which I have more than one).

Note that the ins and outs are DC-coupled, so it can be used for audio as well as for CV signals.

Summary: If space is not your primary concern, this is the perfect choice for e.g. oscillator mixing or mono output or…anything you want to mix, really.

A-138i Interrupting Mixer

At 6TE, this is one of the larger things (depth is 40mm, and price €80). It’s another DC-coupled four-channel mixer, however with two interesting additions:

  • Each channel has a mute switch,
  • There’s direct outs (post attenuator/switch) per channel, one which removes the signal from the mains when connected, one which doesn’t.

I’m not exactly sure why I want this. At first I thought it could also be used as four individual attenuators, and that is the case, but then again, the inputs are not normalled to high, so its usefulness in that role is a little limited.

Summary: I can’t see myself using that. Your mileage may vary.

A-121-3 12dB Multimode Filter

The A-121-2 12dB Multimode Filter has been a mainstay of the Doepfer filter world, and is also one of the few filters out there which allow modulation of filter Q. Incidentally, it’s the same filter as used in the Dark Energy II and III synth modules.

Once again, they left the depth identical (here, 50mm so not that skiff-friendly) and cut the width in half. Loss of features? There’s no longer a knob to attenuate the Q CV input. And there’s a lower price again (100 vs. 115).

So how does this sound? Here’s something I found on the original thing, which reportedly sounds the same:

This filter distorts and screams nicely at high level and Q settings, so the Q CV should be a nice addition to the arsenal here. While I wouldn’t call it an innovative addition to the filter world, the nice sound (both in tame and aggro regions) and the large feature set make this a nice option.

Summary: I’m not in the market for a filter right now, but I could see how this could greatly benefit both a newly established compact setup and an existing one looking for another nice filter.

A-182-2 Quad Switches

Now we’ve arrived at the only passive module in the overview.

This is not something that’s a smaller version of an existing product. What it does is this: there’s four groups of three jacks (let’s call them top, bottom and middle). Using a three-position switch, you can connect the middle to either the top, bottom or nothing.

Sounds boring? Is boring. But then again, it’s only 20mm deep. For completing the information, it’s 4TE again, and costs €60.

Summary: I don’t have something like this yet – but can definitely see the use of it, especially in the context of a longer live performance.

Best for Last: A-111-6 Miniature Synthesizer

What’s a reasonable size and price for a synth voice with three-waveform oscillator (with PWM), sub oscillator, four-pole filter and one envelope? What if it sounds great?

As of today, the answer is 10TE and €180, and it’s called A-111-6 (see their description here).

Rather than writing a lot, let’s hear what the man himself has to demonstrate on the topic:

(the first part has an interview with Dieter Doepfer by Sound on Sound, so feel free to consume that, too).

All in all, a fantastic thing if I may say so. Why it doesn’t come with any fancy, innovative or otherwise surprising stuff, it’s a beautiful-sounding subtractive synth voice at a great price – consider the small size an added bonus!

Here’s another video because I like this so much:

Are there any downsides? Well, it’s not available yet (Doepfer says “non-committal summer/fall”). And we don’t now the installation depth. I may need to work some wooden tricks again to fit it into a skiff…

Summary: I want this!

Wrapping it up

You don’t need kaikaku all the time, kaizen is often plenty, especially for an industry leader.

In that context, Doepfer hasn’t really brought as anything surprising, innovative, never-seen-before or anything of that sort. Rather, they’ve taken mostly true and trusted designs and made them smaller and cheaper. And remember that that size reduction also means cheaper, as a single TE costs about 2 bucks.

Add to that the fact that, based on my own experience with the A-140-2, it’s safe to assume that these things aren’t “too small”, and we get a set of proper evolutionary innovation there.

If I had to pick my faves, it’s the A-111-6 and the A-118-2, but I could myself equally see getting one of the A-182-2 and a A-130-2 to either complement or replace the larger Synthrotek thing.

The Eurorack world is cool!

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