Tiny-TS: Just How Small Can A Playable Synethesiser Get?

The early electronic synthesizers were huge machines, racks of electronic modules that filled entire rooms. Integration of electronics over time successively reduced them, first to the size of a large piece of furniture, then to  tabletop consoles, to standalone keyboards, and to small MIDI black boxes taking their instructions from another instrument or a computer. The original mass of discrete electronics had been reduced to a pile of ICs, then chipsets, then finally single ICs and software implementations on microcomputers.

It’s thus possible to make a synthesizer these days that is pretty small. If you can fit a microcontroller in it, you can fit a synth into it. But how about a playable synthesizer? One with a keyboard, on which you can give a recital? How small can you make one of those? [Jan Ostman] has a contender for the smallest playable synthesizer prize with his Tiny-TS, a credit-card synthesiser with a one-octave capacitive keyboard and analog controls for synthesis parameters.

The heart of the synth is an ATMega328, for which he provides the software. The parameters adjustable by a series of pots are listed as DCO: Coarse pitch and Double, DCF: Filter peak and ENVmod, and ENV: Attack and Release affecting amplitude. You can build your own, or he tells us that he has the project up as a Kickstarter campaign if you fancy the chance of buying one ready-made.

In case you are wondering, it doesn’t sound too bad. Some minimalist synths sacrifice the breadth of sounds they can create, but not this one. He takes it through its paces in a YouTube video which we’ve put below the break.

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LEGO Looper Makes Modular Music

This LEGO synth made by [Rare Beasts] had us grinning from ear to ear.

It combines elements from LEGO Mindstorms with regular blocks in order to make music with color. A different music sample is assigned to each of five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white. The blocks are attached to spokes coming off of a wheel made with NXT an EV3. As the wheel turns, the blocks pass in front of a fixed color sensor that reads the color and plays the corresponding sample. The samples are different lengths, so changing the speed of the wheel makes for some interesting musical effects.

As you’ll see in the short video after the break, [Rare Beasts] starts the wheel moving slowly to demonstrate the system. Since the whole thing is made of LEGO, the blocks are totally modular. Removing a few of them here and there inserts rests into the music, which makes the result that much more complex.

LEGO is quite versatile, and that extends beyond playtime. It can be used to automate laboratory tasks, braid rope, or even simulate a nuclear reactor. What amazing creations have you made with it? Let us know in the comments.

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The Music of a Sunset

What would you do if you suddenly went blind and could never again see the sun set? How would you again experience this often breathtaking phenomenon? One answer is music, orchestrated by the sun and the Weather Warlock.

Built by the musician [Quintron] (builder and inventor of insane electronic instruments), the Weather Warlock is an analog synthesizer controlled by — you guessed it — the weather. It translates temperature, moisture, wind and sunlight into tones and harmonics with an E major root chord. UV, light, moisture, and temperature sensors combined with an anemometer set up outside feed the weather data to a synthesizer that has [Quintron] dialing knobs and toggling switches. The Weather Warlock steams 24/7 to the website weatherfortheblind.org so that the visually impaired are able to tune in and experience the joy of sunrise and sunset through music. Continue reading “The Music of a Sunset”

Modular Drum Machine Creates Random Rhythms

Don’t worry, the rhythms themselves aren’t random! That would hardly make for a useful drum machine. [kbob]’s creation does have the ability to randomly generate functional rhythms, though, and it’s all done on a breadboard.

The core of this tiny drum machine is two Teensy dev boards. One is an FM synth tuned to sound like drums, and the other is a random rhythm generator with several controls. The algorithms are from Mutable Instruments’ open source Eurorack modules. The entire thing fits on a breadboard with JIGMOD modules for the user interface. The machine runs on lithium batteries in the form of USB cell phone chargers. The battery holders were designed in Fusion 360 and 3D printed.

The function of the drum machine is pretty interesting as well. There are a set of triggers tied to the buttons on the machine. When a button is pressed, the drum machine plays that sound at the appropriate time, ensuring there are no offbeat beats. The potentiometers are polled once every millisecond and the program updates the output as required. There’s also a “grid” of rhythms that are controlled with two other knobs (one to map the X coordinate and the other for the Y) and a “chaos” button which adds an element of randomness to this mapping.

The modular nature of this project would make this a great instrument to add to one’s musical repertoire.It’s easily customizable, and could fit in with any of a number of other synthesizer instruments.

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Very Clever 555 Bassline Synth/Sequencer

If we had a dime for every 555-based noisemaker circuit we see… But this one’s got a twist.

[Tristan] does two things that elevate his sawtooth-wave noisemaker above the norm. First, he gets a clean sawtooth wave out of it so that it sounds about right. Then he manages to make it more or less playable. It’s a refined version of a classic hack.

555sawtoothosc2

The first trick is a matter of putting a constant current supply upstream of the timing capacitor. The usual 555-timer circuit just charges the capacitor up from the power rails through a resistor. This is fine if all you care about is timing. But because the current is proportional to the constantly dropping voltage difference, the voltage on the capacitor is an exponential function over time.

A simple transistor current source linearizes the waveform in no time. Raw sawtooth waves are “rich in harmonics” which is synth-geek code for “a bit grating”, but it will surely do well with a little filtering. The Javascript suggests that he’s already thinking in that direction, but we’re going to need video proof!

The second cool trick up [Tristan]’s sleeve is the light-dependent resistor (LDR) that determines the pitch. Yeah, we’ve all made those before — the light-dependent “Theremin”. But [Tristan] took the extra step and wrote up a Javascript application that makes his monitor brighter and darker, enabling him to get musical pitches out of the gizmo.

We’ve always wanted to implement LED-to-LDR control while writing the Logic Noise series, but never found a reliable way to make it work. It’s cool to see [Tristan]’s efforts. Maybe we’ll pull a 555 out of the junk box in his honor.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Cute Synthesizer

For electronics aficionados, there are few devices cooler than music synthesizers. The first synths were baroque confabulations of opamps and ladder filters. In the 70s and 80s, synths began their inexorable march toward digitization. There were wavetable synths that stored samples on 27-series EPROMs. Synths on a chip, like the MOS 6581 “SID chip”, are still venerated today. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Tim] is building his own synthesizer from scratch. It isn’t a copy of an old synth, instead it’s a completely modern synthesizer with a classic sound.

[Tim] is a former game developer and has already released a synthesizer of sorts. Rhythm Core Alpha 2 for the Nintendo DSi and 3DS is a fully functional synthesizer, but the limitations of the Nintendo hardware made [Tim] want to build his own synth from scratch.

The specs for the synth are more of a wish list, but already [Tim] has a few design features nailed down. This is a virtual analog synth, where everything is digital and handled by DSP algorithms. It’s polyphonic and MIDI capable, with buttons and dials for almost every parameter. For the few things you can’t do with a knob, [Tim] is including a touch screen display.

[Tim] already has the synthesis model working, and from the videos he’s put together, the whole thing sounds pretty good. The next step is turning a bunch of wires, breadboards, and components into  something that looks like an instrument. We can’t wait to see how this one turns out!

You can check out a few of [Tim]’s synth videos below.

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Smallest MIDI Synth, Again!

Not content with fitting a tiny square-wave MIDI synthesizer into a MIDI plug, [Mitxela] went on to cram a similar noisemaker into a USB plug itself.

Besides being physically small, the code is small too, as well as the budget. It uses V-USB for the USB library running on an ATtiny85, and a couple of passive parts. His firmware (apparently) takes in MIDI notes and spits out square waves.
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