About 18 months ago I bought a Make Noise 0-Coast synthesizer. Fast forward to today and I have filled out a pretty healthy 504hp of modules hosted within a 12u by 126hp case. Does this seem like a familiar story affecting you or someone you love? When I began this journey I thought of cases as an unexciting utility purchased solely to house modules. Today I know that not all cases are created equally and that it is possible to spend a lot of time, money and emotional energy trying to solve noise and power issues if you don’t make smart purchases from the very beginning.
The great thing about modular technology is that there are many choices at different price points for hardware, and cases are no exception. Even though none are necessarily cheap there are lower cost options to help *new addicts* get into Eurorack and make music (alleged) straight away. The Elby Studio Tree definitely sits at the higher end of the scale as far as price, quality, user experience, vendor support and aesthetic are concerned. The intention of this article is to explain Elby cases and to help you decide whether or not they are right for you.
My requirements are not unique, but I will make them clear:
- Around 504hp of space.
- Ergonomics are key for me due to neck and shoulder pain issues.
- Power supply to modules must include headroom for all scoped modules to operate as expected and not sweat.
- Quality of power feed must be high so that no additional noise or interference issues are created.
- Aesthetics are definitely important. I want the case to look like fantastic.
- Shielded headers. Any case that doesn’t provide these should be put out the front of your house for hard waste collection.
- Ability to scale beyond 504hp, if required. Please. God. No.
- 126hp format due to width and ergonomics.
- Ability to separate enclosures for some amount of portability.
You didn't mention price
Price is of course a factor, but I had been through three previous case iterations and knew I would need to spend money to get what I wanted. I also knew that if a solution could meet my requirements then the price would be underpinned by tangible value.
What is a Studio Tree?
The Studio Tree is a member of the Elby Studio System family. The Studio System family also includes the Studio 500 and Studio 700 eurorack enclosures. Elby refer to the enclosures as boats, and up to three boats (or enclosures) may be mounted within a single Studio Tree. Please keep in mind that I am going to use the terms boat and enclosure interchangeably for the rest of this article. The Studio 500 and 700 boats are the fundamental elements of the Studio System. The Studio Tree exists to host the boats in a comfortable to play format. You can find more information about the Studio System on the Elby website.
Do you need a full Studio Tree solution?
Whether or not you need to go full Studio Tree depends on how you want to access your modules. There are four main ways you can take advantage of the Elby eurorack products.
- Boats Only. You could buy the boats on their own as enclosures (with rails and power) and install them within your studio environment in any way you see fit. If you have the skills you could build your own rack frame and ignore the Studio Tree design.
- Boats and End Cheeks. You could buy the boats with the optional end cheeks which provide a nice angle for use and protect your desk from scratches. Your boats will look great and be easily portable.
- Studio Master. You could buy your boats within a Studio Master system which, unlike the Studio Tree, is a static framework that is less easily separated for mobile use. The Studio Master is designed to host up to three Elby boats and is an older design released prior to the Studio Tree.
- Studio Tree. The Studio Tree will host up to three enclosures, where one unit is placed on the desktop and one (or two) are mounted in an upright position. The Studio Tree allows easy separation and portability of your desktop enclosure.
If you look back up at my requirements list you will see why I gravitated to the fourth option above. Additionally, I don’t have the DIY capability to build a frame myself. At least, not one that looks remotely attractive. If you have the skills then you could go for option one and spend a weekend making something perfect for your studio.
If the above is confusing then you can find all the diagrams and part identifiers here
Elby Elby Elby
The Studio System range of products by Elby are designed to work together as a preference. That is not to say that you could not buy some Elby power boards and use them in another case, or that you could not buy a segmented enclosure and fit your own power. But that is not really the use case that Elby had in mind when designing the Studio Tree and boats.
The design and layout is definitely focussed on the Elby product set. This approach makes it as easy as possible for the end user to assemble and make changes to their Elby setup as they add to and evolve their solution.
Each Studio Tree order can be heavily customised to user requirements, but will have similar elements to the below. I am going to explain each element so you can get a sense of what you need to think about when designing your solution.
- Boats are the steel enclosures which host rails, power board/s and switching. I purchased Studio 500 (desktop) and a Studio 700 (vertical) boats. Each boat comes pre-assembled from segments (20 or 42hp) which are described below.
- Rails are 10mm deep so knurlies are not an option. Elby do sell a variant of the knurlie but I have stuck with standard M3 10mm screws and washers.
- Cheeks are attached to the boat end pieces and provide a bit of protection as well as an improved aesthetic. They are an arctic white colour and feel quite nice to touch.
- The Studio Tree framework which hosts multiple boats (with cheeks applied) and allows them to be presented in an ergonomically pleasing format. A Studio Tree may host up to three boats but mine holds two.
- ED705 power board - provides +12v @1.2A and -12V@1A and hosts 12 shielded headers. I purchased two per boat.
- ED704 power board - provides no additional power (feeds from your ED705) but present an additional 12 shielded headers. I purchased one per boat.
- 5v Adapter for connecting any 5v modules to an ED705 or ED704 shielded header. I bought one just in case.
- 0V Connector Cable - provides a single 0V reference. This means, for example, that a 1V output from boat A will be interpreted correctly by boat B. Without this capability additional noise or hum can be introduced to your audio signal.
- Power Supply - I went with Laurie’s recommendation for dual 4.5A power adapters that plug into the wall and present a screw on attachment to each boat. The power supply feeds directly to an ED705 which may then connect to an ED704.
Power switch module
Elby also provides a 4HP module which acts as a plug in point for a power adapter and also provides and ON and OFF switch for your rack. You would need one per boat, or one for multiple boats if a single adapter supplies power to more than one enclosure. I elected not to consume precious hp in this manner and use my power point on and off instead.
Boats are constructed by combining enclosure segments which may be 42hp or 20hp wide. Common boat widths are 42, 84, 104, 126 or 168hp (being the maximum that Elby support). Other sizes are possible.
The interesting thing about Elby cases is that many components do not change based on enclosure width. These include the side panels, cheeks and most of the Studio Tree components. Parts that do change are the rails (although they do come in different lengths) and brace structure (reinforces the lower legs of the Tree) which are built to match the width of the boat. This means that if you do expand your solution most of your investment will be reusable and may be taken apart and reassembled by a user competent with basic DIY skills (no soldering!).
The arctic white end cheeks are a necessary part of the Studio Tree and allow the Studio Tree framework to be slotted and screwed into place. The current end cheek design includes a pre made slot to allow a lid to be attached. For vertically mounted Studio Tree boats the slot is also used to attach the bird head shaped support frame.
Laurie will assemble most (and test all) components prior to shipping if that is what you want. All you need to do is attach the Studio Tree side pieces to finish the job. It took me about 10 minutes to assemble the boats, cheek fixtures and Studio Tree framework. Studio Systems can also be provided in flat pack format which enables some savings on delivery charges, and assembly processes are all documented on the website. My power is connected via the rear of the boats and I elected not to use the 4hp power ON/OFF utility that Laurie usually provides. This means I turn my system on and off at the wall point.
The fantastic thing about the solution I have purchased is that I have two possible options for expanding HP capacity, being vertically and horizontally. Currently I have 504hp in a 12u solution but using the parts I have today I could easily purchase enough additional components to morph my solution into an 18U x 168HP monster providing a mighty 1008hp.
If I do this please perform an aggresive intervention and remind me that food (other than 2 minute noodles) is essential for a happy life and good skin condition. But when I go ahead and do it anyway I will simply need to buy enough additional boat segments, rail capacity, power board and power supply materials to bring the behemoth to life.
Laurie tells me that a user who can follow instructions and manage a screwdriver could complete the expansion assembly themselves and that no soldering (even for the power boards) is required. From what I have seen of the system I see no reason to believe otherwise.
Design and Aesthetics
You can see the photos. In my mind the Studio Tree is gorgeous retro futurism (I just made that up on the spot, behold my genius and despair). The white Studio Tree sides and large black thumb screws look very classic Sci Fi to me. Conversely, the black metal (not the corpse paint type of black metal) and minimally presented boats have a very futuristic, clean look. Somehow it works well together with a Tom Baker era Doctor Who vibe.
My case was supplied with a prototype for a brace which provides additional support to the Studio Tree. This is something Laurie had been planning and the timing of my order meant I got the first swing at the design change. The brace is designed to match the boat width and screws handily between the tree legs to keep them perfectly placed.
Service and Support
Laurie is extremely contactable and even spoke to me on the phone on the weekend a few times about his product prior to my commitment to purchase. Since then I have asked a bunch of questions (mostly in relation to this review) and his responsiveness has been incredibly consistent. Laurie clearly has a passion for what he does behind simply selling you a product and getting on with his day. He believes in what he builds and wants YOU to believe in it too.
I am not an engineer and have no electronics or soldering skills so some of the conversation around power spec and so on would have been hard for me if Laurie had not been so proactive in explaining the options and helping me decide what I need. The website can be a little overwhelming as there are so many options to build your solution. Fortunately Laurie is very good at explaining his product so that is less of an issue than it would be otherwise. So if things are confusing email Laurie. You can also ask me and I will do my best to answer based on my experience but certainly am not an authority on power requirements or consumption.
The photo directly below shows my rig dismantled for transport to a Melbourne Modular Theme Time (MMTT) afternoon hosted by Age Rachele at the Wick Studio in Brunswick. Five people who had never played before, and barely met, performed a few hours of modular inspiration and it sounded pretty damn good! I learned a lot. You can check out this really innovative concept here.
Dismantling and rebuilding the Studio Tree is not hard but does require care while doing so. Elby also make case lids which you can purchase to fit the Studio 500 and 700 boat configurations.
Clearly I am a fan of the Elby Studio Tree solution. I love the complete nature of the solution and the scalability it offers into the future. My eurorack is also notably quieter than it has been in any other configuration with my Make Noise Morphagene being a key module where the noise floor has been greatly reduced (to almost nothing). If you scroll back up to my requirements list, you will see the Studio Tree ticks all the boxes.
If the price was more of a concern I might have looked at other options but from what I can see I would have had to compromise my requirements, especially around scalability and potentially also ergonomics, to do so. I outlined at the start, this purchase was made with the intention to buy something that will last me many years of use.
I have no reason to think the Studio Tree wont take root and be with me for many years. It really does float my boat. I waited the entire article to use those puns. Please don't hate me. Look - a gorgeous ginger cat!
- Massively configurable and easily expandable once you buy into the system.
- Looks fantastic up close and feels nice to touch.
- Offers some portability and even a lid option if you move your case around regularly.
- Power is very well resourced and I have noticed my rig is quieter and seems to sound better with the Elby solution.
- Quality like this comes at a price some will find too high to entertain but those who do will not be disappointed.
- It is not as easily moved as some other options however none of those are as expandable or ergonomic.
- If you want to buy the enclosures and mount your own power it wont be as easy as some other solutions. But why would you?
I purchased this solution myself and decided to write an article about it of my own free will, your honour.