NES Light Gun Turned (Video) Synthesizer

[Russell Kramer] made our day today. We’re tremendous fans of minimalism in electronics design, dirty noise hacks, and that old NES  light gun. He’s posted up a project that combines all three to make a light-gun controlled, VGA video display that makes bleepy-bloopy noises to boot. Check out the video below!

To appreciate this hack, you really need to read through the project logs in detail. Start with the VGA signal creation, for instance. The easiest way to go these days is to throw a microcontroller at the problem. But because he’s done that to death, [Russell] takes a step back thirty years and generates the sync pulses periodically with a relaxation oscillator and a binary counter IC. The rest of the build follows this aesthetic choice: everything is op amps and CMOS logic. The rainbow effect, for instance, is created from the audio signal through a three-stage, 120-degree phase-shift oscillator sent to the R, G, and B channels. Kudos!

The high-level overview is that the light intensity and position hitting the gun’s sensor is converted into a voltage that drives an audio-frequency oscillator. This audio output is then piped back into the video generator. Watching the video, it’s obvious that pointing the gun at different parts of the screen changes the pitch, but playing a given pitch is nearly impossible on this thing with all the feedback going on. [Russell] added a bit of more control into the system — when the gun’s trigger is pulled, it registers full-brightness regardless of the video input — but even so, we’d be hard-pressed to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

But that’s not the point. The point is awesome, light-gun-waving noisy madness set to a responsive colorful video background. And that’s been achieved in spades!

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Oh Baby, Baby10 – Build a Classic Analog Music Sequencer

Recently I’ve been learning more about classic analog music synthesizers and sequencers. This has led me to the Baby10, a classic and simple analog sequencer design. In this article I’ll introduce its basic operation, and the builds of some awesome hackers based on this design.

Sequencers produce, a sequence of varying voltages. These control voltages (CV) can then be use to control other components. Often this is a simple tone generator. While the concept is simple, it can produce awesome results:

A basic sequencer is a great beginners project. It’s easy to understand the basic operation of the circuit and produces a satisfyingly entertaining result. The Baby 10 was originally published in a column called “Captain’s Analog”, but has now been widely shared online.

The original Baby10 article.

The circuit uses the 4017, a simple CMOS decade counter. The 4017 takes an input clock signal then sequentially outputs a high pulse on each of 10 output pins. As such, the 4017 does almost everything we need from a sequencer in a single IC! However, we want our sequencer to output a varying voltage which we can then use to generate differing tones.

To accomplish this variable resistors are connected to each of the output pins. A diode in series with the variable resistor stops the outputs fighting against each other (in layman’s terms).

To make the sequencer more visually attractive (and give some feedback) LEDs are often also added to the output of the 4017. A complete Baby 10 sequencer is shown in the schematic below. The original circuit used 1N917s, these are no longer available but the part has been replaced by the 1N4148.

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Hackaday Links: January 25, 2015

Misumi is doing something pretty interesting with their huge catalog of aluminum extrusions, rods, bolts, and nuts. They’re putting up BOMs for 3D printers. If you’ve ever built a printer with instructions you’ve somehow found on the RepRap wiki, you know how much of a pain it is to go through McMaster or Misumi to find the right parts. Right now they have three builds, one with linear guides, one with a linear shaft, and one with V-wheels.

So you’re finally looking at those fancy SLA or powder printers. If you’re printing an objet d’arte like the Stanford bunny or the Utah teapot and don’t want to waste material, you’re obviously going to print a thin shell of material. That thin shell isn’t very strong, so how do you infill it? Spheres, of course. By importing an object into Meshmixer, you can build a 3D honeycomb inside a printed object. Just be sure to put a hole in the bottom to let the extra resin or powder out.

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer invented an automatic hammer? It’s been reinvented using a custom aluminum linkage, a freaking huge battery, and a solenoid. Next up is the makeup shotgun, and a reclining toilet.

[Jan] built a digitally controlled analog synth. We’ve seen a few of his FM synths VA synths built from an LPC-810 ARM chip before, but this is the first one that could reasonably be called an analog synth. He’s using a digital filter based on the Cypress PSoC-4.

The hip thing to do with 3D printers is low-poly Pokemon. I don’t know how it started, it’s just what the kids are doing these days. Those of us who were around for Gen 1 the first time it was released should notice a huge oversight by the entire 3D printing and Pokemon communities when it comes to low-poly Pokemon. I have corrected this oversight. I’ll work on a pure OpenSCAD model (thus ‘made completely out of programming code’) when I’m sufficiently bored.

*cough**bullshit* A camera that can see through walls *cough**bullshit* Seriously, what do you make of this?

The Solafide Forbes Nash Organ


A few years ago, [Chad] wanted to build a musical instrument. Not just any musical instrument, mind you, but one with just intonation. Where modern western music maps 12 semitones onto a logarithmic scale per octave, just temperament uses ratios or fractions to represent notes on a scale. For formal, academic music, it’s quite odd especially if you’re building an analog synth for this temperament. In a remarkable three-part write up (parts one, two, and three), [Chad] goes over the creation of this extremely strange musical instrument.

The idea was for this synth to produce sine waves for each of the tones on the just intonated scale. [Chad]’s initial experiments led him down the path of using strings and magnetic pickups to produce these sine waves. These ideas were initially discarded for producing sine waves electronically on dozens of different homemade PCBs, one for each tone.

The keys are an extremely interesting design, working on the principle of light from an LED shining on a photodetector, blocked by a shutter on a spring-loaded key made on a laser cutter. The glyphs on the keys seen above actually have meaning; each one describes the ratio of the interval that key plays, encoded in some schema that isn’t quite clear.

What does it sound like? There’s three videos below, but because this synth isn’t tuned to the scale you’re used to, it doesn’t sound like anything else you’ve heard before.

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Prophet 600: A Classic Synthesizer Gets Processor Upgrade


We love classic synthesizers here at Hackaday. So does [gligli], but he didn’t like the processor limitations of the Prophet 600. That’s why he’s given it a new brain in the form of a Teensy++. The Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 was a big deal when it was released back in 1982/1983. The 600 was the first commercially available synthesizer to include a MIDI interface. The original design of the 600 could be called a hybrid. A Zilog Z80 microprocessor controlled modular analog voice chips. The Z80 was a bit stressed in this configuration though, and a few limitations were evident. An 8 bit processor just wasn’t quite enough for software driven envelopes and a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) control. This was further exacerbated by the fact that everything was driven through a 14 bit DAC.

[gligli] discovered most of the limitations in the 600 were due to the processor. By beefing up the processing power he could really unlock the potential within 600. Since he didn’t actually have a Prophet 600, he started with the schematic. [gligli] created a PC based emulator for the digital circuits, learning the whole system as he worked. With that phase complete, [gligli] bought a used Prophet and started hacking. The Teensy++ required a few hardware mods to fill the Z80’s shoes, including cutting off a pin and adding a few jumper wires. We really like the fact that no changes to the Prophet 600 itself are required. Pull out the Teensy++, drop in the Z80, and you’re ready to party like it’s 1982 again.

The new processor interfaces directly with the Z80’s 8 bit bus. Since the AVR on the Teensy has built-in RAM and ROM, it simply ignores the ROM and RAM address spaces of the original system. Interfacing a fast micro with older parts like an 8253 timer and a 68B50 UART does have its pitfalls though. The system bus had to run slow enough to not violate timing requirements of the various peripheral chips. To handle this, [gligli] added a number of wait statements in his firmware. Once the system was working, [gligli] was free to start adding new features. He began by smoothing out the stepped envelope and filter generators, as well as adding new exponential modes. From there he added new keyboard polyphony modes as well as pitch and mod wheel changes. The full lineup of new features are listed in the instruction manual (PDF link). Since this is an open source project, adding a feature is as simple as cracking open your favorite editor and writing it up.

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Building a synth on a breadboard


Building an analog synth is a challenge, but with the [Tymkrs] protosynth, it’s easier than ever. It’s a 25-key keyboard attached to a stack of solderless breadboards to make analog synth prototyping a snap.

Earlier, [Tymkrs] acquired a whole bunch of solderless breadboards and decided to put them to use by making a component-level modular synth. The earlier incarnation tied each key on the keyboard to a few wires behind the breadboard and tied them in to a shift register so they could be read with a Propeller dev board loaded up with a Commodore SID emulator. The new version keeps the very clean through-the-back keyboard connector, but this time the [Tymkrs] are adding a few more components that add a sequencer setup and a rotary encoder.

The eventual goal for this really cool breadboard synth is to explore the world of Moogs, Arps, and other analog synths easily on a breadbaord. The [Tymkrs] have already put together a breadboard-compatible low pass and high pass filter. While there’s still a lot of work to be done to make an analog synth a reality, the [Tymkrs] are off to a great start.

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