A Six-Voice Synth Built On The Raspberry Pi

Over the last few decades, audio synthesizers have been less and less real hardware and more and more emulations in software. Now that we have tiny powerful computers that merely sip down the watts, what’s the obvious conclusion? A six-voice polyphonic synthesizer built around the Raspberry Pi.

The exquisitely named ‘S³-6R’ synthesizer is a six-voice phase modulation synthesizer that outputs very high resolution (24-bit and 96 kHz) audio. It’s the product of R-MONO Lab, who have displayed interesting musical devices such as a recorder-based pipe organ in the past. This build is a bit more complex, offering up some amazing sounds, all generated on a Raspberry Pi 3.

While talk of oscillators and filters is great, what’s really interesting here is the keyboard itself. The S³-6R is using the Roland K-25m, a tiny MIDI keyboard meant to serve as a ‘dock’ of sorts for Roland’s recent re-releases of the classic Jupiter and Juno synths. Building a MIDI keyboard is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and using this little keyboard dock is a cheap way to pipe MIDI notes into any project without a lot of fuss.

Below, you can check out the audio demos of the S³-6R. It’s a real synth and sounds great. We can only hope the software will be uploaded somewhere eventually.

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Bringing The Best Laptop Ever Made Back To Life

Eight or nine years ago, Apple was on top of the world. The iPhone just revolutionized phones, Apple was still making computers, and these computers were actually repairable. Of the late 2008/early 2009 MacBook Pro, iFixit said, “What an incredible machine. We are very impressed by the ease with which the new MacBook Pro came apart. This machine should be a joy to work on”. Apple has come a long way since then.

macbook-reflow-shield[DocDawning] has a bit of a Mac hoarding problem, and frequently pays $20 for broken laptops of this vintage. Most of the time, the fix is simple: the RAM needs to be reseated, or something like that. Rarely, he comes across a machine that isn’t fixed so easily. The solution, in this case, is a deep dive into heat guns and thermal management. How do you bring a laptop back from the dead? [Dawning] shows you how.

Like the old XBox towel hack, the first thing to look for in dead electronics is broken solder balls. Of course, actually looking at broken solder balls is pretty hard, so you might as well just get out a heat gun and go at it. That’s exactly what [Dawning] did. With the clever application of an aluminum takeout tray to direct the heat flow, he blasted each of these chips with enough heat to hopefully melt all the balls.

With that, a working MacBook Pro was just a liberal application of thermal paste away. From $20 at the scrap heap to a working computer, [Dawning] did it. He successfully resuscitated a broken computer.

Reverse Engineering Ikea’s New Smart Bulbs

Over in Sweden, Czech, Italy, and Belgium, Ikea is launching a new line of ‘smart’ light bulbs. These countries are apparently the test market for these bulbs, and they’ll soon be landing on American shores. This means smart Ikea bulbs will be everywhere soon, and an Internet of Light Bulbs is a neat thing to explore. [Markus] got his hands on a few of these bulbs, and is now digging into their inner workings (German Make Magazine, with a Google Translate that includes the phrase, ‘capering the pear’).

There are currently four versions of these Ikea bulbs, ranging from a 400 lumen bulb designed for track lights to a 980 lumen bulb that will probably work in an American Edison lamp socket. These lights are controlled via a remote, with each individual bulb paired to the remote by turning the lamp on, holding the remote close to the bulb, and pressing a button.

Inside these bulbs is a Silicon Labs microcontroller with ZigBee support, twelve chip LEDs, and associated electronics that look like they might pass the bigclivedotcom smoke test. After tearing apart this bulb and planting the wireless module firmly in a breadboard, [Markus] found he could dim a pair of LEDs simply by clicking on the remote. Somewhere in these bulbs, there’s a possibility of doing something.

As with all Internet of Things, we must ask an important question: will it become part of Skynet and shut down the Internet, like webcams did last summer? These Ikea bulbs look pretty safe in that regard, as the bulb is inexorably tied to the remote and must be paired by holding it close to the bulb. We’re sure there are a few more interesting exploits for these bulbs, so once they’re released in the US we’ll take a look at them.

Hackaday Links: February 5, 2017

A lot of people around here got their start in electronics with guitar pedals. This means soldering crappy old transistors to crappy old diodes and fawning over your tonez, d00d.  Prototyping guitar pedals isn’t easy, though, and now there’s a CrowdSupply project to make it easier The FX Development Board is just that — a few 1/4″ jacks, knobs, pots, power supply, and a gigantic footswitch to make prototyping guitar pedals and other musical paraphernalia easy. Think of it as a much more feature-packed Beavis Board that’s still significantly cheaper.

How do Communicators in Star Trek work? Nobody knows. Why don’t the crew always have to tap their badge before using it? Nobody knows. How can the com badge hear, ‘Geordi to Worf’, and have Worf instantly respond? Oh, we’ve argued about this on IRC for years now. Over on Hackaday.io, [Joe] is building a Star Trek com badge. The electronics are certainly possible with modern microcontrollers, but for the enclosure, we’ll have to review a few scenes from Time’s Arrow and The Enemy.

[Alois] was working with an Intel Edison on a breadboard. He was generating a signal, and sending it through a little tiny breadboard wire to an oscilloscope. The expected waveform should have been a nice square wave at 440MHz. What he got out of this wire was a mess. You shouldn’t use long wires when probing circuits. That little breadboard wire was a perfect radiator for 440MHz, and the entire setup turned into an antenna.

[Douglas] is running a Kenwood TM-D710A as his amateur radio rig. This radio does APRS stuff, but it requires an external GPS and power source to do it right. GPS receivers are now very small and very cheap, so [Douglas] just stuffed a GPS module inside his radio. The module itself is a GP-20U7, a tiny GPS module the size of a postage stamp, and wired it up to a few pads on the radio PCB.

Here’s an upcoming Kickstarter that’s going straight to the front page of Boing Boing. It’s Pong, in coffee table format which we first saw last Spring. Instead of racing the beam, this version of Pong is mechanical. The ball is a cube, the paddles are slightly longer cubes, and the entire game is a highly refined CNC machine. Here’s something from seven years ago that’s also Pong in coffee table format. Pongmechanik is electromechanical Pong, built entirely out of switches, relays, and a few motors.

Olimex Announces Their Open Source Laptop

A few months ago at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference, [Tsvetan Usunov], the brains behind Olimex, gave a talk on a project he’s been working on. He’s creating an Open Source Hacker’s Laptop. The impetus for this project came to [Tsvetan] after looking at how many laptops he’s thrown away over the years. Battery capacity degrades, keyboards have a fight with coffee, and manufacturers seem to purposely make laptops hard to repair.

Now, this do it yourself, Open Source Hardware and hacker-friendly laptop is complete. The Olimex TERES I laptop has been built, plastic has been injected into molds, and all the mechanical and electronic CAD files are up on GitHub. This Open Source laptop is done, but you can’t buy it quite yet; for that, we’ll have to wait until Olimex comes back from FOSDEM.

The design of this laptop is completely Open Source. Usually when we hear this phrase, the Open Source part only means the electronics and firmware. Yes, there are exceptions, but the STL files for the PiTop, the ‘3D printable Raspberry Pi laptop’ are not available, rendering the ‘3D printable’ part of PiTop’s marketing splurge incongruent with reality. If you want to build a case for the Open Source laptop to date, [Bunnie]’s Novena, random GitHub repos are the best source. The Olimex TERES I is completely different; not only can you simply buy all the parts for the laptop, the hardware files are going up too. To be fair, this laptop is built with injection molded parts and will probably be extremely difficult to print on a standard desktop filament printer. The effort is there, though, and this laptop can truly be built from source.

As far as specs go, this should be a fairly capable laptop. The core PCB is built around an Allwinner ARM Cortex-A53, sporting 1GB of DDR3L RAM, 4GB of eMMC Flash, WiFi, Bluetooth, a camera, and an 11.6″ 1366×768 display. Compared to an off-the-shelf, bargain-basement consumer craptop, those aren’t great specs, but at least the price is consummate with performance: The TERES I will sell for only €225, or about $250 USD. That’s almost impulse buy territory, and we can’t wait to get our hands on one.

Building A Wavetable Synth

Every semester at one of [Bruce Land]’s electronics labs at Cornell, students team up, and pitch a few ideas on what they’d like to build for the final project. Invariably, the students will pick what they think is cool. The only thing we know about [Ian], [Joval] and [Balazs] is that one of them is a synth head. How do we know this? They built a programmable, sequenced, wavetable synthesizer for their final project in ECE4760.

First things first — what’s a wavetable synthesizer? It’s not adding, subtracting, and modulating sine, triangle, and square waves. That, we assume, is the domain of the analog senior lab. A wavetable synth isn’t a deep application of a weird reverse FFT — that’s FM synthesis. Wavetable synthesis is simply playing a single waveform — one arbitrary wave — at different speeds. It was popular in the 80s and 90s, so it makes for a great application of modern microcontrollers.

The difficult part of the build was, of course, getting waveforms out of a microcontroller, mixing them, and modulating them. This is a lab course, so a few of the techniques learned earlier in the semester when playing with DTMF tones came in very useful. The microcontroller used in the project is a PIC32, and does all the arithmetic in 32-bit fixed point. Even though the final audio output is at 12-bit resolution, the difference between doing the math at 16-bit and 32-bit was obvious.

A synthesizer isn’t useful unless it has a user interface of some kind, and for this the guys turned to a small TFT display, a few pots, and a couple of buttons. This is a complete GUI to set all the parameters, waveforms, tempo, and notes played by the sequencer. From the video of the project (below), this thing sounds pretty good for a machine that generates bleeps and bloops.

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Two Guitars, Two Amps, And Three Pole Dual Throw

[Alexbergsland] plays electric guitar. More accurately, he plays two electric guitars, through two amps. Not wanting to plug and unplug guitars from amps and amps from guitars, he designed an AB/XY pedal to select between two different guitars or two different amps with the press of a button.

The usual way of sending a guitar signal to one amp or another is with an A/B pedal that takes one input and switches the output to one jack or another. Similarly, to switch between two inputs, a guitarist would use an A/B pedal. For [Alex]’ application, that’s two pedals that usually sell for $50, and would consequently take up far too much room on a pedalboard. This problem can be solved with a pair of 3PDT footswitches that sell for about $4 each. Add in a few jacks, LEDs, and a nice aluminum enclosure, and [Alex] has something very cool on his hands.

The circuit for this switcher is fairly simple, so long as you can wrap your head around how these footswitches are wired internally. The only other special addition to this build are a trio of LEDs to indicate which output is selected and if both inputs are on. These LEDs are powered by a 9V adapter embedded in the pedalboard, but they’re not really necessary for complete operation of this input and output switcher. The LEDs in this project can be omitted, making this a completely passive pedal to direct signals around guitars and amps.