Questions (and answers)

Please post any questions about riban modular here. I will add some general descriptions of functionality here (hopefully preempting some questions).

This forms a FAQ topic. I may edit user’s questions to match the format of the thread, i.e. include the question and answer in a single post. If a question is more elaborate or detailed then it may be moved to its own topic to maintain a clean FAQ here.

Q. What is riban modular?

A. riban modular is a polyphonic digital modular synthesiser in Eurorack format You add different types of panels, each creating a corresponding module in the Brain. Panels are connected via an 8-way connector on a ribbon bus cable that runs within the Eurorack enclosure. The bus carries power and communication between the Brain and all panels. Audio input and output, USB connectivity (for MIDI controllers, external storage, etc.) and low-voltage d.c. power inlet is on the Brain.

Q. How to you patch signals?

A. A tradditional analogue modular would typically use patch cables to connect signals. riban modular uses push buttons. Each push button on a panel represents either an input (destination), output (source) or parameter control. The button is illuminated with a colour that indicates its action. Connecting signals together is called “routing” and is very simple:

  • Press a source (output) button - it starts to flash and all destinations (inputs) remain lit to indicate where you can route the signal
  • Press a destination (input) button - the button illuminations return to normal and the route (connection) is made

Source and destination buttons that are routed will light brighter.

To remove a route, do the exact same, i.e.

  • Press a source button - all destination buttons remain illuminated and all destinations to which this source is routed are illuminated brighter
  • Press a destination button - the button illuminations return to normal and the route (connection) is cleared

You can perform the operation in the reverse order, i.e. you can press a destination button first followed by a source button.

To cancel an operation just press the button again.

This is a really simple and intuitive process that takes longer to describe in words than it does to comprend when using a real device.

Q. How many voice polyphony is available?

A. Polyphony may be limited by some modules but in general modules support 16 note polyphony. It would be advantageous to be able to adjust the polyphony so that a user could set a module to monophonic, duophonic, etc. I would like to implement this but want to avoid complex GUI. Initially there will only be displays on panels that require complex interaction. Most panels will be knobs and illuminated push buttons.

Q. Why not just buy a traditional analogue modular system?

A. The key advantages of riban modular are:

  • Lower cost - making modular more accessible to everyone
  • Polyphonic - this is extremely difficult to do with analogue modular
  • No patch cables - the rig is tidier with less risk of problems during transit

Q. Can riban modular be interfaced with traditional analogue modular?

A. Not yet! I anticipate that this may be a desired feature and the functionality is already coded but the hardware and system management have not yet been designed. I don’t want to start work on such an interface until the core system is proven to be stable and we have sufficient panels to make it a useful and viable product. In many ways riban modular is a different instrument to traditional analogue modular. It gives similar experience (build your own unique synth with tactile, physical control) but it is its own thing.

Q. What modules are available?

A In theory, any module available in Cardinal or VCV Rack but in practice there are many factors influencing what modules can be made available. The primary aim is to provide a similar experience as a traditional modular rack so I aspire to provide similar panels that will enable similar modules. They’re may be technical limitations as well as licencing constraints which may limit availability.

Initially these panel types will be created, most probably based on Bogaudio modules:

  • VCO
  • VCF
  • VCA
  • ADSR (or other envelope generator)
  • MIDI interface
  • Noise generator
  • Slew
  • Mixer
  • Step sequencer

I expect all of these modules to be available at launch. User feedback will influence what other panels are built.

Q. What will a typical system cost?

A. Pricing will depend on all the usual product costing elements including cost of raw materials, labour, advertising, distribution, packaging and investment a well as an element of R&D recovery. I want to make this as affordable as I can and early predictions are that a Brain will cost approx. £300 and a typical panel cost of approximately £40. (All prices subject to additional tax and distribution costs.) Of course this is very much an early estimate which is likely to vary as we hone in on design and production. Every opportunity to reduce the cost to the user will be taken. Accessible cost is one of our prime objectives.

Q. Can I reduce the cost / space of a system?

A Not all modules require continual hands-on control so there will be a panel that allows adding and removing modules to a patch without the need for dedicated physical panels. It has a small display that allows menu driven operation to add, remove, route and control any module. I expect this panel will cost more than a typical panel but gives the user the opportunity to save money and space in their rack. This module has the working title, “Universal Panel”.

Q. How many modules can be installed?

A. We estimate between 10-20 modules will be able to be connected to a single Brain. The power supply and distributon supports 20 modules. We need to do more testing of the audio processing that can be supported by the Brain and heat management. We plan a future enhancement to link Brains together to expand a system beyond the maximum module limit.

Note: The limit will be based on both panel and module count, i.e. Universal Panels won’t allow exceeding the module limit.

Q. Why persist with the use of CV when there are no analogue voltages?

A. We could use different nomenclature and each time I write CV it feels wrong but it is a well understood concept that CV represents a control signal. I wonder if some (many?) users don’t even realise what CV is, like younger people not recognising the Save icon :floppy_disk: as a disc drive!

No patch cables is more than just ‘tidier’ (although that’s certainly a benefit, tidiness is next to cleanliness, and cleanliness is next to Godliness!). In addition it eliminates the problems inherent in cables - dirty or intermittent contacts, having to keep a stock of them in various sizes and losing the same, cables going ‘bad’, voltage drops, etc. OTOH, some analog enthusiasts probably consider those as part of the ‘Analog Experience’, so you might have to simulate it!

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That sounds a lot like…
But I’m sure it’s not!

Can we get a list of signals-pins on the ‘8 way’ connector?

The bus carries:

Pin Use Notes
1 5V
2 5V
5 DETECT 1-wire 100KHz
6 RESET Active low

[Updated with actual pinout]

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Thanks. So we have two ‘spares’ for future use?

No! Sorry, I didn’t explain that power supply takes two pairs, i.e. two wires for +5V & two wires for GND. This is to support the current capacity for up to twenty panels on a single bus.

BTW the reason we use 8-way is to avoid accidental plugging of traditional modular power supplies that are often carried on 10-way connectors.

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Can anyone add or edit tags in the posts…?

I believe anyone can add tags but I am yet to be convinced that tags are beneficial. Maybe if the forum is used for storing and recalling data that one would want to be structured then it may help but I’m not sure we want / need to do that

Is there a way to see the current state of the patch? If I recall a patch how will I know what is connected where? I thought maybe you’d use independent colors for this with rgb LEDs but it doesn’t look like it.