Geek Of The Week: Dieter Doepfer

Geek Of The Week: Dieter Doepfer

In the past we’ve featured several engineers who helped shape music synthesis as GOTWs. The list includes: Robert Moog, Don Buchla, Roger Arrick, Dave Smith, and more. Without a doubt, a key player is missing from the list and he will serve as our first GOTW of 2016. Dieter Doepfer is a German engineer and musician who is credited with the invention of the Eurorack standard. He is also the owner and chief designer for Doepfer Musikelektronik, a company that manufactures modular synthesizers.

Doepfer started building electronic instruments in 1979. Initially, he was a part-time musician and he designed the devices to use in his performances. He continued to experiment with building musical instruments throughout the 1980’s and finally founded Doepfer Musikelektronik in 1992. After starting the company, he realized he was a better engineer than a musician, so he stopped performing and concentrated on the business full-time. In 1995, he unveiled the A-100 analog modular system at a trade show in Germany. Initially, the system had only 10 modules, but has now expanded to over 120. Along with the system came a new format known as Eurorack.

A typical Doepfer A-100 modular system

The Eurorack design was 3U high and modules were measured in HP (horizontal pitch) units of width. The standard also included the pinouts for powering and interconnecting the modules. What’s more… Doepfer decided to publish all the specs so other manufacturers could build modules that would fit in the A-100 cases (and vice-versa). In essence, it was the open source movement of the synthesizer community. The idea offered musicians a great deal of flexibility. An A-100 system could be small enough to fit on the corner of a desk, or large enough to fill an entire room. You could add/remove modules at will allowing it to be easily expanded/contracted later. It also included blanking panels to make everything look nice and neat. Musicians loved it! Manufacturers adopted the Eurorack standard and by 1999 there were a handful of companies producing compatible modules. By 2008, this number had grown to well over a dozen. Today, there are close to 100 manufacturers of Eurorack modules and cases.

Doepfer continues to design/produce Eurorack modules and operate Doepfer Musikelektronik. He also travels around the world exhibiting his products at various trade shows. Additionally, Doepfer often conducts workshops in an effort to inspire musicians. He is a visionary who is passionate about the technology and his ideas have shaped the industry. Needless to say, this German genius is more than worthy to be the first GOTW of 2016.

About the Author

avatar KALE: A geek who works in the IT field and lives in Dallas, TX. He is also a music geek who has played in several local bands. Previous to his IT career, Kale worked as a photojournalist. He brings technical advice and artistic counterpoint to the podcast.