I noticed Steve R counting down on his twitter as the days went by and when R-Day came we were gifted with news of a line of fully customizable cases: Monorocket! And my initial thoughts were "ABOUT TIME!" - I'm so glad someone is taking it upon themselves to offer alternatives from the portable Doepfer cases and not just any alternative but an intelligent and customizable alternative. Also, who better than someone who's been in the industry for a while! I shot some e-mails back and forth with Steve to ask him how deep this venture goes. If you have some questions for Steve, please let me know - I'll ask and post them up here with his permission.
My primary background is really marketing/sales. I was a factory rep for computer hardware/software companies in the 90's and consumer electronics in this century. For the last 5 years my day job was leading teams of people who build and maintain a lot of what's called "the buying experience" when you go into big box retailers. This would probably a good time to apologize in advance for any buzzwords, marketspeak and hyperbole I may use. Its a language that's been difficult to lose.
My history with synths is actually pretty short. I'm a guitar player - synths were always something someone else had. Specifically, it was my friend Mike Brown (Livewire). He started talking to me about the idea of doing modulars and stuff controlled with CV around 2003. I was around for the launch of Livewire and worked for Mike in the background doing things like building modules, doing deliveries, special projects and booth duty at NAMM. In fact I'm still involved with Livewire and always will be to the extent I'm needed.
Building cases really wasn't an original idea. One of my favorite things about this community is that all the end users will flat out tell you what they want even when there are few working examples to refer to. I'm willing to bet more than a few can actually make the things they buy. I can't think of how many times I saw a post online about the possibilities for a manufacturer to produce alternatives to what was already available. It was probably the community reaction to a custom project Livewire was involved with in 2006 that served as the catalyst for Monorocket.
What do you feel is missing from the market with cases?
Variety in features and pricing. That may sound cold, but this is a normal occurrence in the evolutionary cycle of any market. Apparently I wasn't alone. Monorocket is one of three companies producing cases that launched in June of this year. It was like we all appeared on the same day.I just found out that ModularWorld is already selling out of inventory and - good for them - it's a indication that there's still room for more vendors. Even though Eurorack has seen an explosion of module manufacturers, we've basically had one case manufacturer, with a couple of choices. All someone had to do was listen to the things that end users - like you - were saying (and watching you do things like screwing mults directly into unused space) and make the stuff they wanted.
Do you think changes could still happen after your product launches?
Absolutely - yes. Monorockets current line only deals with "the known" - the things that all modular users say they want. The next step will be to come up with features/options that haven't been imagined yet. We (Monorocket) need to become just as creative as all the new module manufacturers popping up over the last three years. We've tried to go a little beyond what's considered traditional for modulars, but I think all we've done so far is offer "mass customizing" of things that have already been custom built (in most cases by the person who actually uses them).
Can you tell us of some specific features?
(buzzword hyperbole alert) Monorockets features fall into three categories: Individual appearance, Individual Application, Pricing Options.
Individual appearance: 40 plus shades/textures of tolex, ATA cases have a choice of veneers (solid colors, metal flake etc)
Individual Application: we'll vary dimensions to accommodate specific gear set ups, include routed cable channels, create gear mounting solutions, add circuitry and power options (you personally asked about switchable input voltages - 120v vs 240v - it's already being explored)
Pricing Options: more price tiers between bottom and top No wheels on anything yet. But if that's what you want, we can do it.
Can you give me an example of a customization job?
One example would be the Mission line. It would have been simple to take a cue from what's already available in an ATA case and just sell it at a lower price, but my personal approach is more about delivering something that will "make more possible" rather than racing to to the bottom by making something that already exists and pricing it lower until it becomes a loss leader for other things a company sells.
Using the example on the website - Instead of putting in 3 rows of Eurorack - we opted to make it possible to mount non eurorack gear and even take the extra controls resulting from circuit bending and integrate them into the case. We can still give you 3 rows of eurorack if you want, but Mr Doepfers already doing that and - honestly - it would be a better buying decision to purchase something that's already been done by a more reputable company (especially when Doepfer has the distinction of giving us the format to begin with) I'd rather give you reasons to take a chance on Monorocket.
Another example would be the Commander. It started out as a guitar pedalboard concept and currently has one row for modules. I made that decision based on what I know could be possible for processing audio signals. Once you consider that it could also be a solution for LivePA, then additional rows for modules doesn't seem like overkill anymore. I also have an audio routing solution that will reduce the cable clutter and still leave the possibility for changing the audio path on the fly.
It's my hope that everyone will look at the units on display at the website and just think of them as a place to start.
It takes very little time and effort to add functionality like mults, audio patching, simple circuits (like inverters, headphone amps, manual triggers, silent switching), etc into the enclosure itself. The more that space is used - the less space it occupies on the rails, leaving more room for complex circuitry represented by the modules. I really can't wait for the first person to order something done in burnt orange tolex : )
Do your products appeal to more than synth users?
It's possible. On one hand, there are plenty of instrumentalists more interested in "sound" than technique (whether they have it or not). Integrating different formats (ie. Eurorack and effect pedals) is a means to that end. One the other hand, if it's conceivable that someone could look at Monorockets stuff and add things, it should be equally conceivable to take things away and/or adapt our processes to produce a piece for something other than Eurorack. I just decided to start here because I was already involved with the Eurorack market.
Are there any base models that beginners can indulge in?
Sure... All the base pricing will be based on what you're probably referring to. But it should also be pointed out that a lot of beginners come into this after seeing performers like you and you're a big part of a pre-purchase education that happens online. They're going to know what they want earlier as beginner than you probably did because of your experience. In the long term - I'd like to see this community to keep customization and individuality as it's primary appeal.
Lexington - available August 2009 pricing tentatively set at $1000
Rack6 - available Sep 2009 pricing tentatively set at $250
Commander - availability TBD pricing tentatively set at $900 (ATA version. Non ATA version in development)
Mission9 - availability TBD pricing tentatively set at $500 (includes 1 12v ps, 3 rows 84hp wide, 2 utility rows of mults, external jacks and IEC connector with fuse)
Eurobuss - available August 2009 pricing tentatively set at $30 (includes power lines attached to female Molex style connector)
(all features subject to change prior to release)
Stiev A: When building a Eurobuss (nice: the AS-style connections), why repeat the imho error Doepfer made. Why does nobody use framed connectors (hope this is the right word, I'm not a native speaker) that are use e.g. in motherboard-design? The plugs (?) would sit tightly in the right place and no chance of reverse connection and destruction of modules.
Steve: Since an overwelming majority of the eurorack users and manufacturers don't adhere to a standard for keyed connectors we decided that labeling the buss to orient the red band was sufficient.