The only way to use MIDI with a pre-MIDI analog synthesizer or a modular Eurorack system is to convert the digital signal into an analog voltage.
Although the task seems complex, fortunately, several choices are available in the marketplace to achieve this result.
It’s important to remember that some MIDI to CV converters must use a Eurorack solution, so a pre-MIDI analog synth can’t use that product, and vice versa.
You’ll find the five best options for MIDI to CV converters here, but more work goes into this process than merely buying the most appropriate product.
Eurorack Kits for MIDI to CV Converters
Although MIDI to CV converters used to be independent products for modular analog synths, they’re now incorporated into most Eurorack kits. That makes it easier to take advantage of this technology because musicians receive an all-in-one user experience within a compressed platform that individuals customize to fit their needs.
MIDI to CV converters were popular in the 1980s and early 1990s because modular or analog synthesizers were in numerous musical compositions.
When the world moved on from those sounds, those that wanted to stick with this technology used the converter to integrate their analog systems with updated MIDI controllers.
One of the earliest devices that accomplished this goal came from the company that would eventually start the Eurorack format: Doepfer.
Doepfer was a musical powerhouse in the 1980s that the average person doesn’t recognize. Their development of the MCV8 changed how synthesizers can get incorporated into a traditional or modern musical composition.
With the MCV8, it was possible to deliver eight voices from the MIDI to CV interface.
Although the initial design featured a single mode with minimal customization and zero memory, the eight voices with polyphonic capabilities was a groundbreaking venture.
When Doepfer updated the design, they included 2 by 4 and 4 by 2 voices for added complexity.
The third version of this technology minimized the design in spectacular ways, setting the stage for what would eventually become the modern MIDI to CV converter in 2023.
The Rocky Mount version came out in 1990, breaking out the connectivity on 16-1/4-inch connections, splitting them in half between the gates and the CV.
It even provided additional controls for various parameters, including gate polarity, pitch blind, and legato.
Six standard operation modes, with memory slots for up to six user presets, created some of the most customization possible at this time.
With the help from others that came along, including brands like Kenton, what eventually developed was the Eurorack methodology for creating a modular analog synth.
What Is a MIDI to a CV Converter?
The MIDI to CV converter takes the MIDI message and changes it into a specific voltage that a modular synthesizer understands. This product covers a wide range of features, which is why some items might work better than others for particular applications.
You’ll find that some of the most basic options convert MIDI note information into a pair of pitch CV and gate outputs.
That makes it a useable choice for a MIDI sequencer or keyboard when essential pitch and timing data to an analog synth voice is necessary.
Some MIDI to CV converters are better for sending CC messages than CV signals. A few even provide a small form factor when you have limited space, and there’s even a handful out there that deliver drum machine sequencing with numerous trigger outputs and gates for envelope initialization.
When you know what is possible out there, it’s much easier to find the correct MIDI to CV converter in 2023 or beyond that fits a broad application range.
It is important to recognize what MIDI version you’re using with your synthesizer. If you have an updated USB MIDI that sends information, most MIDI to CV converters won’t work in your situation.
You need to switch the signal from USB to the five-pin connection, then route the signal through the CV converter to accomplish the results you need for your music.
What Is a Eurorack System?
Eurorack is a modular synthesizer format Doepher specified in 1996. In 2018 it became the most dominant hardware format used by musicians, with more than 5,000 modules available from over 270 different manufacturers.
Roland and Moog are part of the Eurorack family, as are numerous boutique designers, DIY kits, and cottage industry professionals.
Its compact size makes it such a usable product, with the 3.5-millimeter mono Jackson cables working to patch all the signals. It also lacks a visual or audio aesthetic like other synthesizer formats.
Anyone who wants to approach the idea of an analog synth in modern music is likely considering how to use this technology to their advantage.
When shopping for a MIDI to CV converter for a Eurorack system, you’ll need to ensure that the product selected works with this platform or is meant for another. There are not many designs that have the chops to deliver a versatile option of this magnitude.
If you’re thinking about an analog modular synth today, here are the different pros and cons worth considering with this approach to music.
|Pros of Using a Modular Analog Synth||Cons of Using a Modular Analog Synth|
|An analog modular synthesizer allows you to select the specific modules you want to use, ensuring that the functionality and sound are appropriate for each situation.||It takes some time to get to know how to use a modular analog synthesizer correctly. |
Some people see this technology as an addiction, while others view it as a frustration point because it takes so long to learn.
|This technology is exceptionally flexible, especially considering that it’s been around for more than three decades. |
When you have different combinations, you can create unique sounds through filters, oscillators, and other choices.
|This option doesn’t allow you to create music quickly. |
Although the connections are straightforward and simple, each one delivers a specific result that you must know in advance before completing it.
If you start using this synth without that understanding, the results will always be unpredictable.
|It can become as big or small as you want it to be for your recording work, practicing, or performance. |
Some models are about the size of a tabletop, while others can take up an entire room.
|The initial cost is relatively inexpensive, but there is typically no end to the craziness of designing a synth from this perspective. |
When you add in the maintenance costs and other needs, it’s sometimes cheaper to buy something a bit more modern (which means “not” analog).
Best Eurorack Synth Kits to Purchase Today
Although MIDI to CV converters are somewhat outdated in 2023 than other choices, it’s still possible to use them with an appropriate Eurorack setup.
That means you’ll want to consider the different synth kits out there to create a setup that works for your signature sound.
Although the electronics for each are relatively similar, what you’ll want to review is the overall quality of the build.
How good are the connections? Is the case built to be solid, or does it look like it’ll fall apart at a moment’s notice?
It also helps to look at the purpose of each module before investing in the product. Are you looking for filters, oscillators, or something that can perform both functions for your music production needs?
Here is a closer look at the best options for a Eurorack that you can pick up today:
- Tiptop Audio Happy Ending Kit
- Division 6 Dual Mini Sequencer
- Cre8audio Eurorack Synth Kit
- Mutable Instruments Ears Contact Microphone Kit
- Blue Lantern Simple ADSR Looping Envelope
- Erica Synths Black Hole DSP2
With this product, you’ll receive a 19-inch rack to a Eurorack 3U mount. Although the power module offers a warning about it being a hot surface, you won’t need to worry about overheating unless you’ve got the entire thing filled with modules and let it run around the clock.
At 84hp wide, it delivers one of the best kits out there today if you’re just getting started with Eurorack.
It’s enough space to start putting together your first system while keeping the flexibility of this approach.
You’ll want to check the rail’s threaded connections before beginning the build. Kits like these sometimes have them pop a bit because of the shipping process. Tapping them down typically solves the issue.
When you grab this affordable Eurorack kit, you’ll be getting two sequencers with 32 steps. You can daisy-chain them together to create one super-long sequence or produce something more traditional.
If you have this DIY kit in standby mode, the sequencer functions as a small keyboard without altering the programming sequences.
You’ll receive the standard CV and gate out plus an ACC option. Use it to open filters trigger a percussion sequence or whatever else your imagination can envision.
It’s only 18hp wide, ensuring that you’ve got plenty of space in that initial frame. It draws 30ma, which isn’t unreasonable for what you receive.
In return, you’ll have a setup that produces the effects of an arpeggiator under the right conditions for a fraction of the expense or spatial requirements.
This kit comes with an 84hp standard synth case, ensuring quick placement within your setup. It delivers a dual LFO module and dual VCO to provide plenty of options. The power supply is also in the box to ensure you can get to work right away.
If you’re interested in a MIDI to CV conversion, this synth kit includes it with the setup. You can opt for DIN and USB choices, providing everything you need for modern sounds.
You’ll find six 3.5mm patch cables in the box, letting you get the hookup finished right away for the touch controls and sequencer module.
It is a little on the heavy side (6.25 pounds) for a Eurorack installation. It’s a great choice if you don’t have a synth foundation yet for your setup.
If you’re adding to an existing modular installation, you’ll first want to prepare for the expansion.
When you want to add a microphone to your Eurorack system, it usually makes more sense to use the module-based design instead of a standard plug-in choice.
The microphone is soldered directly to the front panel with this kit, turning the entire case into a pickup solution.
The design uses spaced ridges to generate sonic pulses or combs when rubbed. When added to the stage amplification built into the unit, you’ll have an appropriate option for guitars, acoustic instruments, external microphones, or even a plain line-level signal.
Its best feature is the envelope follower that translates amplitude decay, enabling users to tap into an envelope CV.
With a width of only 7hp, you’ll maximize space with your Eurorack when investing in this essential kit.
It provides attack, sustain, release, and decay effects with a time knob that alters the loop or stage length produced.
It works with the other modules, including VCAs, and delivers an audible output in its loop mode.
There’s a switch for a normal bass and the gated mode the kit provides. When working with the latter option, you’ll find it works a lot like loops but works only when the signal gets patched.
Two simultaneous enveloped outputs and a single input are part of the design.
With this Eurorack kit, you’ll receive 24 custom effects upon installation. Each one has three CV controllable parameters and manual options.
That means you have complete control over the sampling frequency, whether you want something crunchy and lo-fi or highs that reach all the way to 48 kHz.
With this kit, you have wet or dry control with all the parameter settings savable to its memory. It delivers instant recall with the effect, making this option an essential addition for anyone gigging or performing live.
It also delivers stereo ins and outs to ensure that the multi-effects processor can meet each need.
The results are helpful for virtually any musical genre, ensuring classic and experimental options are accessible.
It takes up minimal space at 16hp and only 35mm in depth compared to what it achieves.
Is MIDI to USB Better than MIDI to CV Converter?
Most recording software today functions on Windows or Mac operating systems. These computers and laptops have never had a genuine MIDI port built into them to use, which means you had to use an adapter to record direct music from a synthesizer.
Some models worked on the joystick port with the MIDI adapter, but now almost everything connects by wireless, Bluetooth, or USB.
The need for a MIDI to a CV converter has become virtually pointless outside of a Eurorack setup.
If you invest in of average interface for MIDI over USB, you’ll receive a fast input with as much reliability as a standard cable.
Think about it: USB connections transmit more information thousands of times faster from external disk drives than anything a single MIDI instrument could ever produce.
The only issue that some musicians might run into involves their stage work. If you must run a very long cable, a MIDI to CV converter could be a better option because the maximum rating for length is about four times longer.
Even then, you’re still in a better position with a Eurorack than the 1980s setup.
You can get a high-quality MIDI cable that functions well up to 50 feet – although 20 feet is about the safest limit.
According to the current USB specifications, the max length for 3.0 is about 16 feet, while 2.0 is approximately ten feet.
Is It Worth Investing in a MIDI to a CV Converter?
MIDI to CV converter technology is still useful in Eurorack operations, but other technologies provide a simpler and more straightforward solution to use for the average musician. With a MIDI to USB adapter, you can send information from any qualifying instrument to a DAW for recording or stage performances.
My parents decided to give me a synthesizer on my 14th birthday because they thought it would be quieter than the drum set that I was using in my room.
They were wrong.
I spent the first three months on that instrument, essentially learning how to play the piano. Once I figured out the chording, it was easier to pick out the melodies that I could hear in my thoughts when my creativity wanted to explore music composition.
In those days, a MIDI to a CV converter was the only way to create results from an analog and digital combination perspective.
With a Eurorack setup you can design controls for any monosynth with that one investment. The response times were rapid, it used high specification for steady pitches, and you could use any MIDI channel.
Anyone who wants to use that technique today can still take advantage of what a MIDI to CV converter can accomplish with a custom Eurorack. That’s especially important for those who still love using a modular analog synth.
For everyone else, I highly recommend switching to a MIDI to USB converter because of the countless software options available today to create a signature sound.