A Passive Mixer’s Adventure Through Product Development

The year was 2014, and KORG’s volca line of pint-sized synthesizers were the latest craze in the music world. Cheap synths and drum machines were suddenly a reality, all in a backpack-friendly form factor. Now practically anyone could become an electronic music sensation!

I attended a jam with friends from my record label, and as was the style at the time, we all showed up with our latest and greatest gear. There was the microKORG, a MiniNova, and a couple of guitars, but all attention was on the volcas, which were just so much fun to pick up and play with.

There was just one problem. Like any game-changing low-cost hardware, sacrifices had been made. The volcas used 3.5mm jacks for audio and sync pulses, and the initial lineup came with a bassline, lead, and drum synth. Syncing was easy, by daisy chaining cables between the boxes, but if you wanted to record or mix, you’d generally need to stack adapters to get your signals in a more typical 6.5mm TS format used by other music hardware.

After mucking around, I did some research on what other people were doing. Most were suffering just like we were, trying to patch these little machines into full-sized mixing desks. It seemed like overkill — when you just want to muck around, it’s a bit much to drag out a 24 channel powered mixer. I wanted a way to hook up 3 of these machines to a single set of headphones and just groove out.

To solve this problem, we needed a mixer to match the philosophy of the volcas; simple, accessible, and compact. It didn’t need to be gold-plated or capable of amazing sonic feats, it just had to take a few 3.5mm audio sources, and mix them down for a pair of headphones.

I’d heard of people using headphone splitters with mixed results, and it got me thinking about passive mixing. Suddenly it all seemed so clear — I could probably get away with a bunch of potentiometers and some passives and call it a day! With a friend desperate to get their hands on a solution, I decided to mock up a prototype and took it round to the studio to try out.

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Doppler Module Teardown Reveals the Weird World of Microwave Electronics

Oscillators with components that aren’t electrically connected to anything? PCB traces that function as passive components based solely on their shape? Slots and holes in the board with specific functions? Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of microwave electronics, brought to you through this teardown and analysis of a Doppler microwave transceiver module.

We’ve always been fascinated by the way conventional electronic rules break down as frequency increases. The Doppler module that [Kerry Wong] chose to pop open, a Microsemi X-band transceiver that goes for about $10 on eBay right now, has vanishingly few components inside. One transistor for the local oscillator, one for the mixer, and about three other passives are the whole BOM. That the LO is tuned by a barium titanate slug that acts as a dielectric resonator is just fascinating, as is the fact that PB traces can form a complete filter network just by virtue of their size and shape. Antennas that are coupled to the transceiver through an air gap via slots in the board are a neat trick too.

[Kerry] analyzes all this in the video below and shows how the module can be used as a sensor. If you need a little more detail on putting these modules to work, we’ve got some basic circuits you can check out.

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FingerRing is Simplest Multichannel Mixer

It’s hard to make an audio mixer with any less technology than FingerRing (YouTube video, embedded below). We’re pretty sure that [Sergey Kasich] isn’t going to get a patent on this one. But what he does get is our admiration for pushing a simple idea far enough that it’s obviously useful.

The basic idea is transmitting signals using the human body as a conductor. What [Sergey] does is lay out multiple sound sources and sinks on the table, and then play them like a mixer made musical instrument. Pressing harder reduces the resistance, and makes the sound louder. Connecting to two sources mixes them (in you). Watch the video — he gets a lot of mileage out of this one trick.

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16-channel Sampler Tests Arcade Buttons with Style

The goal is simple: test a bunch of arcade buttons from different manufacturers to get the one with the best function and feel. The resulting build is anything but simple: this wonderfully over-designed 16-channel WAV sampler and mixer.

For those wondering why [Atarity] would go to this much trouble to test arcade buttons, we suspect an ulterior motive – skip to the 21:14 mark of the long video below to see the real design inspiration. Regardless of the motive, there’s no doubting the care that went into the build – CNC-milled birch case, extremely detailed laser-engraved graphics, and a carbon-fiber back plate covered with suede, because suede. We especially like the detail on the speaker grill: the embroidered fabric and puffed-up look really works with the rest of the design, including the leather hand strap.

It’s not entirely clear from the post what the end goal of the testing is, but we assume it’ll be some sort of MAME build. In which case, [Atarity] might want to check out our recent articles on a tabletop MAME cabinet or this portable MAME rig. But whatever he comes up with, we’re sure the craftsmanship will be there.

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Logic Noise: Ping-pong Stereo, Mixers, and More

So far on Logic Noise, we’ve built up a bunch of sound-making voices and played around with sequencing them. The few times that we’ve combined voices together, we’ve done so using the simplest possible passive mixer — a bunch of resistors. And while that can work, we’ve mostly just gotten lucky. In this session, we’ll take our system’s output a little bit more seriously and build up an active mixer and simple stereo headphone driver circuit.

For this, we’ll need some kind of amplification, and our old friend, the 4069UB, will be doing all of the heavy lifting. Honestly, this week’s circuitry is just an elaboration of the buffer amplifiers and variable overdrive circuits we looked at before. To keep things interesting we’ll explore ping-pong stereo effects, and eventually (of course) put the panning under logic-level control, which is ridiculous and mostly a pretext to introduce another useful switch IC, the 4066 quad switch.

At the very end of the article is a parts list for essentially everything we’ve done so far. If you’ve been following along and just want to make a one-time order from an electronics supply house, check it out.

klangoriumIf you’re wondering why the delay in putting out this issue of Logic Noise, it’s partly because I’ve built up a PCB that incorporates essentially everything we’ve done so far into a powerhouse of a quasi-modular Logic Noise demo — The Klangorium. The idea was to take the material from each Logic Noise column so far and build out the board that makes experimenting with each one easy.

Everything’s open and documented, and it’s essentially modular so you can feel free to take as much or as little out of the project as you’d like. Maybe you’d like to hard-wire the cymbal circuit, or maybe you’d like to swap some of the parts around. Copy ours or build your own. If you do, let us know!

OK, enough intro babble, let’s dig in.

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DIY Concrete Mixing Wheelbarrow Made from Recycled Parts

[Dan] had a bunch of concrete mixing to do. Sure, it was possible to stand there and mix concrete and water in a wheelbarrow for hours and hours but that sounds like a tedious task. Instead, [Dan] looked around the shop to see if he had parts available to make a concrete mixer. As you may have guessed, he did. Instead of stopping at just a concrete mixer, he decided to make a concrete mixing wheelbarrow!

The frame is built out of plywood left over from a past canoe project. The frame holds a mixing barrel that was also hanging around the shop. From the photo, the drive system looks simple but it is not. First, the small motor pulley spins a larger pulley that is in-line with the barrel. Gearing down the drive this way increases torque available to spin the barrel, and that gear reduction is necessary to spin the heavy concrete slowly. What you can’t see is a planetary gear system that gears down the drive train again. The gears are cut out of plywood and were designed in this Gear Generator program. The sun (center) gear of the planetary setup is supported by another scavenged part, a wheel bearing from a Chevy minivan.

Now [Dan] can mix all the concrete he wants, wheel it over and dump it wherever he needs it. With the exception of the drive belt and some miscellaneous hardware, all the parts were recycled.

Digital to Analog to Digital to Analog to Digital Conversion

[Andy] had the idea of turning a mixing desk into a MIDI controller. At first glance, this idea seems extremely practical – mixers are a great way to get a lot of dials and faders in a cheap, compact, and robust enclosure. Exactly how you turn a mixer into a MIDI device is what’s important. This build might not be the most efficient, but it does have the best name ever: digital to analog to digital to analog to digital conversion.

The process starts by generating a sine wave on an Arduino with some direct digital synthesis. A 480 Hz square wave is generated on an ATTiny85. Both of these signals are then fed into a 74LS08 AND gate. According to the schematic [Andy] posted, these signals are going into two different gates, with the other input of the gate pulled high. The output of the gate is then sent through a pair of resistors and combined to the ‘audio out’ signal. [Andy] says this is ‘spine-crawling’ for people who do this professionally. If anyone knows what this part of the circuit actually does, please leave a note in the comments.

The signal from the AND gates is then fed into the mixer and sent out to the analog input of another Arduino. This Arduino converts the audio coming out of the mixer to frequencies using a Fast Hartley Transform. With a binary representation of what’s happening inside the mixer, [Andy] has something that can be converted into MIDI.

[Andy] put up a demo of this circuit working. He’s connected the MIDI out to Abelton and can modify MIDI parameters using an audio mixer. Video of that below if you’re still trying to wrap your head around this one.

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