Playing with DSP and building a guitar pedal

Building guitar pedals has come a long way from hooking up a few transistors and building a simple boost circuit. [Cloudscapes] has been working on a Anti-nautilus auto glitch, auto repeat pedal, and if you’re looking for something that sounds like a spaghetti western soundtrack skipping on a record player, we couldn’t think of anything better.

[Cloudscapes] was already familiar with 8-bit AVRs, but when doing real-time audio sampling, a more powerful microcontroller was in order. He turned to the MikroElektronika MINI-32 board for development purposes. This small board fits a PIC32 microcontroller into an easily breadboardable DIP-40 form factor, perfect for playing around with some very capable hardware.

For the DAC, [Cloudscapes] had some experience with the 16-bit PT8211, but finding a good 16-bit ADC in a convenient package was a bit of a challenge. He eventually settled on the 12-bit MCP3201 ADC, more than enough for a pedal that is supposed to sound lo-fi.

After [Cloudscapes] got a few boards made, he started on his DSP adventure. Unfortunately, the initial code used unsigned 16-bit words to represent each sample, meaning every time the loop repeated it would start at 0 and produce a short pop in the speaker. After a week of debugging, [Cloudscapes] realized signed integers are a much better data format for storing audio data and got rid of the problems plaguing his project.

Now [Cloudscapes] has a wonderful DSP dev board, perfect for making new and strange guitar effects. After the break you can listen to a demo of what the Anti-nautilus pedal actually does, and we’ve got to say it sounds great.

Thanks [Chris] for sending this one in.

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Putting an Atari POKEY in your pocket

The Atari POKEY served as the main I/O chip on the venerable Atari 400/800 and XL/XE 8-bit computers. While a chip designed to get voltages from game paddles and scanning a matrix of keyboard switches wouldn’t normally be remembered 30 years later, the POKEY had another function: generating very, very distinctive music and sound effects for those old Atari games. [Markus Gritsch] wanted a portable version of the POKEY, so he emulated one on a modern microcontroller. Now he’s able to take those old Atari chiptunes where ever he goes.

The build uses the Another Slight Atari Player by emulating a 6502 and POKEY chip inside [Markus]’ PIC32MX-based microcontroller. There’s not much physical hardware [Markus] had to deal with – the board is built on a QFP proto board [Markus] picked up with a few buttons and a jack added for some simple I/O.

This isn’t [Markus]’s first attempt at portabalizing chiptunes – last year, we saw a truly awesome portable SID player that used the same PIC32 microcontroller and an emulated 6502. Between the Atari SAP Music Archive and the High Voltage SID Collection, [Markus] has more than enough chiptunes for days of listening pleasure.

Maximite harkens back to the days of BASIC

Any self-identified geek that spent some time in the 80s will tell you how they used to type out programs into their ‘microcomputer’ with BASIC. It was a simpler time when a computer’s raison d’etre was simply being a BASIC interpreter. These days are long past us now; you can’t simply turn on a computer and have it load a BASIC prompt anymore. This is where [Geoff]’s Maximite single board computer comes in. It’s a tiny little box that whose only purpose is to play around with BASIC.

[Geoff]’s used a PIC32MX microcontroller with 128k of RAM for the CPU of his Maximite. Unlike an Apple ][ or TRS-80, the Maximite version of BASIC can do floating point arithmetic out of the box. To connect to the outside world, the Maximite has VGA or composite out to display the BASIC interepreter. A PS/2 keyboard port provides the input, and a USB port and SD card can be used to load and save programs from a PC.

The Maximite includes a 20-pin breakout for whatever IO you can imagine. This is duplicated on [Geoff]’s mini Maximite that is designed to be the retro throwback of an Arduino. We though those were called BASIC stamps, but if it gets kids programming, we’ll let it slide.

Build a standalone BASIC interpreter

Here’s a photo of the circuit board for the Maximite, a BASIC interpreter that [Geoff] built. The design idea was sparked when he was exploring the possibilities of the PIC32 family of chips. [Geoff] wanted to write about the hardware for a magazine article but needed an actual product to really show it off.

The design can utilize one of two microprocessors, a PIC 32MX795F512H or 32MX695F512H. The 32-bit chip has more than enough power to emulate BASIC, and even allows for floating point calculations. It’s VGA compatible and has a jack for a standard PS/2 keyboard, which makes it a standalone device. You can store programs on an SD card, or it can be interfaced with a computer via the USB-B port that you see next to the power jack. The microprocessor is a surface mount chip, but the rest of the components are through-hole, making this an easy kit to assemble. But if you’re not afraid to etch your own 2-layered PCBs there is board artwork available in [Geoff’s] download package.

[Thanks Bill]

chipKIT Sketch: Mini Polyphonic Sampling Synth

In our hands-on review of the Digilent chipKIT Uno32, we posed the question of what the lasting appeal might be for a 32-bit Arduino work-alike. We felt it needed some novel applications exploiting its special features…not just the same old Arduino sketches with MOAR BITS. After the fractal demo, we’ve hit upon something unique and fun…

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Portable SID plays chiptunes

[Markus] on the DangerousPrototypes forum came up with a great little SID player.

The SID was (is?) the awesome sound generation chip inside the Commodore 64, and along with Game Boys and NESs laid the foundation for the chiptune scene. We’re happy to finally see a small SID player that doesn’t resort to SID emulation or a relatively huge MIDIbox.

The SID player itself is a shield on a CUI32 PIC dev board. The PIC32 emulates the 6510 and 6526 CPU and CIA chips found in the Commodore 64. A small USB memory stick stores the High Voltage SID Collection and the file system is navigated with an OLED screen. [Markus] says that the player draws 370 mA, so he runs it off a small wall wart. Still, we’re wondering if it’s possible to run this off of an SD card with a SwinSID so power draw can be reduced and a fully portable SID player can be realized.

We’ve got a touch of nostalgia for chiptune and demoscene music right now, so we’re going to listen to some [Nelly Furtado] [Janne Suni] right now, but you can check out the video demo [Markus] posted after the break.
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chipKIT Uno32: first impressions and benchmarks

Following Maker Faire, we’ve had a few days to poke around with Digilent’s 32-bit Arduino-compatible chipKIT boards and compiler. We have some initial performance figures to report, along with impressions of the hardware and software.

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