The 5U format modular synthesiser is a popular type of modular synthesiser system. The "5U" name comes from its vertical height measurement, where 1U equals 1.75 inches or 44.45 mm. In simple terms, a 5U module has a height of 8.75 inches or 222.25 mm.

The 5U format originated during the early days of modular synthesis with the development of instruments like the Moog modular systems in the 1960s. These systems comprised various modules with different functions, such as oscillators, filters, envelopes, and sequencers. These modules could be interconnected using patch cables to create unique sounds and control voltage routings.

The 5U format typically includes fundamental modules essential for synthesis:

  • Oscillators (VCO): These modules generate audio waveforms like sine, sawtooth, square, and triangle. They often have additional features such as frequency modulation, pulse width modulation, and sync.
  • Filters (VCF): These modules shape the timbre of the sound by attenuating or emphasising specific frequencies. Common filter types include low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch filters.
  • Envelopes: These modules produce control voltages that shape the sound dynamics over time. They usually have parameters for attack, decay, sustain, and release.
  • Voltage-Controlled Amplifiers (VCAs): These modules control the level or amplitude of a sound using control voltages. VCAs are often used with envelopes to shape the sound's loudness.
  • Modulation Sources: These modules generate control signals or modulation sources that manipulate other modules. Examples include Low-Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) and function generators.
  • Sequencers: These modules enable the creation and manipulation of musical sequences by generating control voltages that can be sent to other modules. They often feature step-sequencing capabilities, allowing users to program evolving voltages over time.
  • Effects Modules: These modules provide various sound-processing effects like delay, reverb, distortion, and modulation. They enhance and shape the synthesised sound further.

The 5U modular synthesiser has gained popularity due to its larger physical size compared to formats like Eurorack. The increased size allows for more spacious and accessible controls and connections, which many musicians and sound designers prefer for their workflow and tactile interaction. This makes manipulating parameters and creating complex patches easier without requiring precise hand movements. Additionally, the larger format accommodates more circuitry and functionality, offering a broader range of features than smaller formats.

It's important to note that the 5U format is less standardised than other formats like Eurorack. Different manufacturers produce modules in the 5U format, resulting in slight variations in power requirements, panel sizes, and module heights. At KMR Audio, we focus on the MU format (Moog Modular), which operates at a 15V voltage and uses 6.35mm sockets. Some brands we carry, like Moon Modular, offer cases with dual connections to accommodate MU and MOTM formats, allowing modules of different formats to be hosted in the same powered case.

In summary, the 5U format modular synthesiser provides a larger physical space for controls and connections, delivering a hands-on and immersive experience when creating and shaping sounds. Its comprehensive range of modules covering essential synthesis aspects makes it a versatile and powerful tool for musicians, sound designers, and electronic music enthusiasts.

KMR is the UK’s premier dealer of 5U Modular Synthesizers (MU) carrying brands like Moon Modular, Freestate FX, Frequency Central, Corsynth and more. Visit our London Showroom to see our 5U system in action or discuss if a 5U system is right for you.

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