Cassette players and tapes are fertile hacking ground. One reason is that their electromechanical and analog nature provides easy ways to fiddle with their operation. For example, slow down the motor and the playback speed changes accordingly. As long as the head is moving across the tape, sound will be produced. The hacking opportunities are nicely demonstrated by [Lara Grant]’s cassette player mod project.
The device piggybacks onto a battery-powered audio cassette player and provides a variety of ways to fiddle with the output, including adjustable echo and delay, and speed control. At the heart of the delay and echo functionality is the PT2399, a part from the late 90s capable of some pretty impressive audio effects (as long as a supporting network of resistors and capacitors are in place, anyway.)
[Lara] provides a schematic for the PT2399’s interface to the cassette player’s output, which is handy should anyone want to try a similar modification. Speed of playback is controlled by adjusting the cassette player’s motor with PWM. Volume control swaps a photocell in place of a rotary volume potentiometer, and additional audio jacks provide flexibility for mixing and matching input and output with other equipment.
You can see it in action in the video embedded below. Intrigued, and want a few more examples of modified tape players? How about a strange sort of cassette synth, or this unique take on a mellotron that uses a whopping 14 modified tape players under the hood? And really out there is the Magnetotron, which consists of a large rotating cylinder with tape loops stuck to it — the magnetic read head is mounted on a wand which the user manually moves across the tapes to create sounds.
Tape players are accessible, hackable things, so remember to drop us a line if you make something neat!
Continue reading “Messing With A Cassette Player Never Sounded So Good”
Tape may not sound that great compared to vinyl, but cassette players can be tons of fun when it comes to making your own music. See for instance the Mellotron, or this relatively easy DIY alternative, [Rich Bernett]’s Cassettone cassette player synth.
The Cassettone works by substituting the trim pot that controls the speed of the tape player’s motor with a handful of potentiometers. These are each activated with momentary buttons located underneath the wooden keys. In the video after the break, [Rich] gives a complete and detailed guide to building your own. There’s also a polished Google doc that includes a schematic and the pattern pieces for making the cabinet.
Speaking of which, isn’t the case design nice? It’s built out of craft plywood but aged with varnish and Mod-Podged bits and bobs from vintage electronics magazines. This really looks like a fun little instrument to play.
Would you rather control your tape synth with a MIDI keyboard? Just add Arduino.
Continue reading “Cassette Synth Plays With Speed Control”
[Scott Campbell] built a cassette-based synthesizer that sounds exactly like everything you’ve heard before. The sound generation comes straight off cassettes, but the brainbox of this synth varies the volume and pitch. It’s called the Onde Magnetique, and it is what you would get if you combined a Mellotron and Ondes Martenot.
The key component for the Onde Magnetique is a Sony cassette recorder that conveniently and inexplicably comes with a ‘tape speed input’ mini jack. By varying the voltage sent to this input jack, the speed of the tape, and thus the pitch of the sound being played, is changed. Build a box with a touch-sensitive button for volume, and a few tact switches for different speeds, and you have an electromechanical bastard child of a Mellotron and an Ondes Martenot.
By itself, the Onde Magnetique produces no sound – it only controls the pitch and volume of whatever is on the cassette. [Scott] produced a few single-note cassettes for his instrument, with ‘voice patches’ including a flute, choir, and a synth. With the CV and Gate input, these sounds can be sequenced with outboard gear, producing the wonderful sounds heard in the video after the break.
Continue reading “Onde Magnetique Will Wow And Flutter Your Ears”
Ever heard of the Mellotron? It was a British made audio sampler that used the most cutting edge technology available back in 1963… Magnetic tapes. You could record different sounds, music, beats or rhythm onto these magnetic tapes, and then play it back with the keyboard, much like a MIDI Sampler keyboard today. Well, someone has gone and made a newer version of one.
He calls it the Crudman, and it’s the same concept of a Mellotron, but uses slightly more modern components. Specifically, audio cassettes.
A MIDI keyboard sends output commands to a series of cassette players outfitted with Teensy microcontrollers. Depending on the settings, pressing a key can speed up or slow down a tape in order to generate a note. If it sounds simple, trust us, it’s not. The project has been a labor-of-love for the unnamed creator, who has spent nearly 10 years designing it. He now sells them (but demand is pretty high) — you’ve gotta take a listen — they produce some of the most unique sounds we’ve ever heard.
Continue reading “MIDI Sampling Off Magnetic Tapes”
Way back in the 60s, strange electronic instruments were all the rage. The most famous of these made before the era of the synthesizer was the embodiment of musique concrète, the Mellotron. This instrument had an incredibly complex arrangement of magnetic tape that allowed a performer to play a keyboard and have the sound of any instrument come out of a speaker. This system was prone to failure, and there has been a lot of technological improvements in tape over the last fifty years, leading [Mike Walters] to build a new version of his famous Walkman-based Mellotron, the Melloman.
This build is an upgrade over the previous Melloman made in 2009. Like the original, this build uses 14 portable tape players, each loaded up with a continuous tape for each note. The tapes contain two octaves of the same note, one each on each channel, which are routed to the output whenever a key is pressed.
There are a few improvements over the old Melloman. Instead of transistors, [Mike] is using optocouplers to send the recorded sounds to the output. This build is also a whole lot cleaner, with the wiring looking very professional. As for a sound demo, you can check out the video below.
Continue reading “The Melloman, Mk. II”
[Michael] is a huge fan of old media formats. There’s something special about quarter-inch thick 78s, fragile blue cylinders holding music, and thin strips of mylar that preserve the human voice. He’s had an idea for a tape-based instrument for a while, and now that the Magnetotron is complete, we’re in awe of this glass harmonica and Mellotron mashup.
The Magnetotron is a large rotating cylinder that has dozens of strips of audio tape attached to it. The cylinder rotates with the help of a small motor. As the strips of tape rotate in front of him, [Michael] presses two tape heads up to the instrument, making some sort of sound.
Each strip of tape contains a recording of one note, like the venerable Mellotron. Instead of physical keys, the Magnetotron is played in a much more tactile fashion like the glass harmonica. The output of the Magnetotron is interesting with a whole bunch of wow and flutter. Check out the demo of [Michael] playing his instrument at NIME in Brooklyn after the break.
Continue reading “Magnetotron Is An Armonica Mellotron Mashup”
[Michael] tipped us off about an incredible build from back in 2005. The Melloman is a keyboard that uses a different tape loop for each key. The instrument is generally known as a Mellotron, and consists of a different looping tape for each key. When a key is depressed, the head comes into contact with the key and plays the sound sample.
This particular implementation uses 14 Walkmans to supply the tape loops. The Walkman units are constantly playing but the audio output is not enabled until a key is depressed. The main description of the instrument is on the final project page linked above but there are many construction photos available in the build log.
Update: After the break we’ve embedded a video that will take you on a tour of the components of the Melloman. To clear up the looping issue: a Mellotron uses tape loops, but the Melloman uses tapes that are 30 minutes on each side instead of loops.
Continue reading “Melloman Tape-looping Keyboard”