Virtual Analog Synth Brings Tunes To The Masses

Part of the problem with getting involved in a new hobby is the cost. Whether you’re learning to surf, weld, garden, or program, often the entry cost is several hundred dollars. We’re huge fans of things with low barriers to entry, though, so we were happy to see the latest project from [pappas.chris] which promises to introduce newcomers to the musical hobby of synthesizers for just over $20.

The build revolves around an STM32F7 microcontroller and offers a 6-voice virtual analog synthesizer. The build is expandable, too, so if you want to build on the STM platform with any other add ons the process is relatively simple. This might not be necessary for a while, though; the current iteration offers many features that a typical synthesizer would have. Exhausting the possibilities with this tiny device will take some effort.

Since the synth is built on a common microcontroller platform, it’s easily programmable too, which isn’t often a feature of commercial synthesizers. You can listen to a sample audio file on the project page, and get started building your own as well. If you don’t have your own keyboard to use with it, there are other DIY synths that cover that area as well.

18 thoughts on “Virtual Analog Synth Brings Tunes To The Masses

  1. FYI the STM discovery board board pictured (MB1035B) doesn’t have audio output. You’ll be wanting something like the MB997C. That has a codec and an audio spigot.

    1. it seems like the picture used for this article is wrong. The linked project page explicitly states the project requires the NUCLEO-F746ZG or NUCLEO-F767ZI and shows one of those. The STM32F7 that is on those has a 12 bit DAC which is used for the project.

  2. “virtual analog” is just another confusing term to add to my vocabulary.

    “Part of the problem with getting involved in a new hobby is the cost” hmmm… doesn’t that count for anything! And offcourse now there’s something new that isn’t free but waaaaaaaay cheaper then the real thing. Why not emulate the whole thing on a PC, just software, completely virtual and when combined with virtual reality glasses it would be even more realistic. And if it was open-source or perhaps a pirated version of that same software well then it would cost nothing at all.
    Cost, should never be the reason to stay away from any kind of hobby, if you really want something, you’ll find a way, not being able to do/get something sometimes makes people more creative and in most cases respect the hobby for what it is. You can see it as a sort of filter, if you get past it then you are fit for it. If you quit to easily, well then you are simply not motivated enough and you would have quit anyway.

    So if we just forget the introduction of “getting into the hobby for next to nothing” then the project in itself is very interesting.

    1. Sounds like your VR glasses a deeply rose tinted, to me. Cost IS a big issue for many people with many hobbies and there isn’t ‘a way’. For example, I’ve always fancied playing battleship with real battleships. Others would love to join me but, sadly, this hobby is beyond the reach of most of us :)

      Many people familiar with this area will find your comments quite uneducated. There are multiple reasons for not developing on a the host system; among them are latency issues (where the host OS is busy doing other things and makes the sound glitch – a serious issue in a real time instrument), portability (and, no, a laptop is not that portable – ask any musician who has used VST synths compared to dedicated hardware), cost (20 quid for the main hardware, another 50 or so for case and twiddly knobs/hardware and knocking it off a desk in a busy session is less painful than if it were your 1500 quid laptop; and it would most likely survive, unlike the laptop) and risk of damaging an expensive computer.(see the previous point).

      As for innovation, you really need to see what people have done over the years with DDS using micro-controllers inventively. ?You will go a long way before you find more impressive innovation under limited resources in some cases :)

      SO, the title is very valid.

  3. The standard of free soft synths is ZynAddSubFX. It will run on Win and Linux doesn’t take much and has so much to give. It will just about fit on a floppy disc it’s that small. Faster platform just gives more simultaneous notes.

    1. Yes, because it was done by a Romanian guy from Cluj Napoca and he did not have big fuck all powerful computer to do it… he also did that famous time stretching program that many people use and don’t have a clue who is the genius behind it… and he gave these to the world for free! Paul Nasca- Paul stretch is the software that some dude used to slow down some crickets sound and reveal an angelic choir…

  4. Instead of this, Axoloti gets my $$$ .. its a much more viable (also cheap) platform for people to use to discover synthesis .. comes with everything you need to run it standalone, and has an amazing software system to boot. Plus, community!

  5. I may give it a whirl with the board sirmanlypowers suggested. I am interested to play around with it but like others have noted a host PC is kinda like bringing a log to hold a stick. Still kudos to pappas.chris for getting things going.

    To add to the list of fun virtual synths I add the Android/iOS app Caustic
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.singlecellsoftware.caustic&hl=en
    It is like having Reason on your phone. Very handy for flights or buses or when you are bored.

  6. Axoloti would be really cool if the firmware could be easily ported to newer industry-standard boards like the STM Nucleo-F767ZI. I am in the USA, and it is basically impossible to inexpensively order an Axoloti Core board. Shipping is too high, and customs taxes, etc. I see that there is a switch in the firmware code that will produce a build for the old F4-Discovery board, but those boards are old and outdated now.

  7. SirManlyPowers is right, the article should have a picture of the STM32 Nucleo-F767ZI board, which is the board that I recommended, not an STM32 F3-Discovery board, which at this point has become another old outdated board (not to mention the fact that the micro-controller doesn’t even contain a DSP core).

  8. The NucleoSynth “Host” project is standalone. The PC hookup is only for those who want to modify the software to fit their individual needs and preferences. The NucleoSynth “Device” project is for those who want to use the board as a Midi device, in which case it requires a PC with MIDI Sequencer software to drive it.

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