Tubes on a Chip

The tubes you’ll find in guitar amps and high-end stereos were first designed in the 30s and 40s, and when you get to really, really advanced tube technology you’d be looking at extremely small tubes made in the 70s for military applications. For 40 years, there really haven’t been many advances in tube technology. Now, at last, there’s something new.

The Nutube 6P1, as this curious invention is called, is a full triode or half of a 12ax7 you’ll find in just about every tube amp ever. Unlike the 12ax7, it consumes 2% of the power required of a normal tube, is 30% of the size of the normal tube, and lasts for 30,000 hours.

This new tube-chip thing was brought to life by Korg, makers of fine musical equipment and Noritake Co., manufacturers of vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s no word on what these tubes will be used in and there’s no data sheet. There will be further announcements this year, so don your speculation spectacles and head to the comments.

Mixer for Korg Volcas

Korg, everyone’s third or fourth favorite synth company, but one of the only ones that still in business, recently put out a new line of synths, drum machines, and groove boxes. They’re called Volcas, and they’re cheap, analog, and very cool. [Jason] has a few of these Volcas, and while he enjoys the small form factor, using an off-the-shelf mixer to dump send the audio from these machines to his computer takes up too much space. He created a passive mini mixer to replace his much larger Mackie unit.

The circuit for this tiny passive mixer is an exercise in simplicity, consisting of just a few jacks, pots, and resistors. [Jason] overbuilt this; even though the Volcas only have mono out, he wired the entire mixer up for stereo.

The enclosure – something that looks to be a standard Hammond die cast aluminum enclosure – was drilled out, and a lovely laser cut acrylic laminate placed on top. It looks great, and for anyone interested in learning soldering, you couldn’t come up with a better first project.

The Ondes Martenot; Better than a Theremin


[Ville] loves the sound of an ondes martenot and decided to build his own. No, it’s not made of vacuum tubes like a 1920s original, this one is made out of a cheap, off-the-shelf analog synth and just a few extra parts.

The ondes martenot is a theremin-like musical instrument; instead of waving your hands around aerials on the theremin, the ondes uses a small ring attached to the player’s finger on a wire loop and a volume lever. The ondes isn’t a common instrument by any means, but Radiohead uses one several in any event.

[Ville] began his build by taking a small, cheap, and new Korg Monotron analog ribbon synth, cracking it open, and reading the schematics. A 100k multiturn pot was wired into the monotron and fastened to a printed paper keyboard with a system of pulleys and a small metal ring. With the multiturn pot wired into the pitch input on the monotron, [Ville] had a semi-accurate and very functional ondes martenot replica.

You can hear [Ville]’s ondes in action after the break. It’s a little rough starting out, but by the time he’s looping multiple phrases it really does sound wonderful.

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MIDI out for a Korg CX-3 organ


[Michael] loves this old organ of his, but recently he wondered if it would be possible to add MIDI out without altering its original functionality. With a bit of research and more than a bit of hard work he accomplished his goal.

The nice thing about working on a quality piece of hardware like this is the resources you can find regarding how they work (which we bet is tailored for how to repair them when they break). [Michael] found a website with plenty of info on the circuit boards and how they work. From this he was able to locate a few chips which stream serial data regarding which keys have been pressed. Bingo!

Once he located the three signals he was after he built a board to translate them to the MIDI protocol. His circuit is based around an ATtiny2313. It is supported by a liner voltage regulator circuit as well as a buffer chip which converts the incoming signals to the 5V levels needed. His home etched board is clean and well mounted, and the success of the project can be heard in the clip after the jump.

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Programming an Arduino using an audio file

This proof-of-concept is just waiting for you to put it to good use. [Mike Tsao] wrote an Arduino sketch that lets him decode incoming audio data which could be used to program the device. He’s calling the project TribeDuino because it decodes an audio file which is actually the firmware update for a Korg Monotribe.

Earlier in the month [Mike] read our feature on a project that reverse engineered the audio-based firmware update for the Korg hardware. He wanted to see if he could write some code to read that file on his own hardware. All it took was an audio jack and two jumper wires to get the Arduino ready to receive the audio file. His firmware reads the Binary Frequency-Shift Keying encoded data as the audio is played, then echos a checksum to prove that it works.

This would be a fantastic addition to your own projects. Since the audio connection only needs to be mono, it only takes just one Arduino pin to add this jack (the other is a ground connection). Having just played around with alternative ways to push data to a microcontroller ourselves, we might give this a try when we have some free time.

Reverse engineering a Korg Monotribe

Yesterday, Korg released a firmware update to their ribbon controller synth, the Monotribe. The firmware is just an audio file that needs to be played to the sync input of the box. [gravitronic] thought this was rather interesting, so he decided to decode the monotribe firmware. It’s the first step to custom Monotribe firmware, and on the path towards reverse engineering this neat box.

After converting the firmware update to a .wav, [gravitronic] looked at the file with a hex editor and found that each sample is two bytes, and the left and right channels are the same. That made enough sense, so after getting rid of one channel, he sent it through Python to take a look at the patterns of ones and zeros.

Of course, [gravitronic] arbitrarily chose high = 1, low = 0, and little-endianness. The first result didn’t produce a nice “KORG SYSTEM FILE” in the header, so he tried other combinations until the output file looked reasonable. The result is the actual .bin file that’s going to serve as the basis for a nice homebrew firmware. You can grab [gravitronic]’s Python script here and decode your own firmware.

Adding a Compact Flash reader to a Korg Triton

[Roberto Barrios] has a Korg Triton sampling keyboard which he enjoys very much, but has grown tired of using media of yesteryear to store his work. He had the option of floppy disk or Jazz drive and for a time he was using a floppy-to-USB emulator, but the keyboard still insisted on a 1.44 Mb storage limit using that method. He decided to crack open the case and add his own CF reader.

It should be noted that this hack could have been avoided by using the 25-pin connector on the back of the keyboard. He didn’t want to have external hardware, which is understandable if you’re gigging–it’s just more equipment to keep track of. His solution uses the floppy disk drive opening to mount the card reader. His electrical connections are made with a ribbon cable. He cut off one end, and soldered the individual wires to the contacts on the motherboard. The reader is seen as a SCSI drive by the Korg firmware thanks to a SCSI-to-IDE adapter, so the storage limitation is based quite fittingly on the size of the CF card used.

Look at that cable management. You’d think it came straight from the factory like this!