The Ubiquitous Atari Punk Console

The Atari Punk Console (APC) is a dual 555 (or single 556) based synth. Designed by the famous (and somewhat infamous) Forrest Mims in 1980 and originally simply named “Sound Synthesizer”, the circuit gained it’s more recent popularity when re-dubbed the “Atari Punk Console” by Kaustic Machines. The circuit however doesn’t bear much relation to the Atari 2600 which didn’t contain a 555 timer chip. However we assume the 2600 produced a similarly glitchy square wave audio output.

a2The circuits operation is easy to grasp and uses only 9 components. This ease of design and construction has allowed builders to focus more on the aesthetics of its construction, hacking it into interesting, and often unlikely enclosures and systems. One such hack is the “Atari Punk Bucket” (shown here) where the APC along with a simple amp was hacked into an old rusted bucket. The APC was built up on strip-board along with a simple amp and reclaimed speakers. [Farmer glitch] has used this as a prop in live sets and it both looks and sounds awesome. Continue reading “The Ubiquitous Atari Punk Console”

Modular 555 Synth is Controlled by MIDI

[Atdiy and Whisker] aka [The Tymkrs] have created a  MIDI controlled 8 note modular synthesizer. (YouTube link). The project was designed to highlight some of the modules they have available at their Tindie Store. Essentially, the synthesizer is 8 classic Atari Punk Console (APC) tone generators. Each APC is made up of two 555 chips, rather than the 556 used in the original design. The APCs are tuned to a Pentatonic scale, with the 8 notes covering 1.5 octaves. [Whisker] added a single potentiometer which controls all 8 of the monostable oscillators at once. Tweaking this knob gives the synth that classic Atari Punk Console sound we’ve all come to know and love.

The 8 APC outputs are routed to once side of an AND gate. The other side of the AND gate is connected to a 74hc595 shift register. A Parallax Propeller processor converts MIDI note data into a serial stream that can be daisy chained across several ‘595 shift registers. The outputs of the 8 and gates are mixed to a single combined output, which goes out to [The Tymkrs] studio amplifier.

Like many [Tymkrs] videos, this one ends with a MIDI driven jam session, outlining how the circuit would sound in a song. Click past the break to see it all in action!

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A 555 player piano


From simple buzzers to an Atari Punk Console, the simple 555 timer chip is the foundation of a whole lot of interesting lo-fi synth projects perfect for beginners. [Steven] put together a great tutorial for using the 555 timer in a rudimentary synth, and even went so far as to build a simple electronic player piano able to play a song from a sheet of paper with punched holes.

The basic 555 oscillator circuit is very simple – just a few caps and resistors and powered by a few batteries. [Steven] built the simplest 555 circuit, but used a line of graphite drawn on a piece of paper for the resistor controlling the frequency. It’s basically a drawdio built on a breadboard, and easy enough to build for even the most neophyte electronic tinkerer.

Going one step further, [Stephen] drew a long thick line of pencil graphite on a piece of paper and mounted eleven wire loops attached to the circuit over his improvised resistor. After cutting a few holes in a piece of paper, he was able to create a simple player piano with his 555 synth. It worked well enough to play Greensleeves, and is the perfect project for the budding electronics hacker.

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Atari punk stick puts a synth in a joystick

The Atari Punk Console, a tiny synthesizer based on the ubiquitous 555 timer chip, is the first build de rigueur for any budding electronic wizard wanting to build musical devices. With just a handful of caps, resistors, and a pair of pots, the APC is a fabulously fun and easy build made even cooler by [Pat]’s addition of a joystick.

The circuit of the Atari Punk Console consists of a 556 chip – basically two 555s put into the same package – and a pair of potentiometers to control the frequency and output of this very basic synth. Since most joysticks are just two pots arranged on an X-Y mount, [Pat] thought it would be cool to control his APC without twiddling knobs, and instead sweeping a joystick around.

After acquiring an old Microsoft joystick from his local Goodwill, [Pat] wired up his Atari Punk Console to the joystick, using the ‘fire’ button to turn the output on and off. The result is everything between a low machine gun-like tone to a nasal square wave that will hopefully keep pace with your chip-based audiophile friends.

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