Hacking The Pocket Operator

The number of easily usable and programmable microcontrollers is small, so when selecting one for a project there are only a handful of very popular, well documented chips that most of us reach for. The same can be said for most small companies selling electronics as well, so if you reach for a consumer device that is powered by a microcontroller it’s likely to have one of these few in it. As a result, a lot of these off-the-shelf devices are easy to hack, reprogram, or otherwise improve, such as the Robot Pocket Operator.

The Pocket Operator is a handheld, fully-featured synthesizer complete with internal speaker. It runs on a Cortex M3, a very popular ARM processor which has been widely used for many different applications, and features everything you would need for a synthesizer in one tiny package, including a built-in speaker. It also supports a robust 24-bit DAC/ADC and all the knobs and buttons you would need. And now, thanks to [Frank Buss] there is a detailed teardown on exactly how this device operates.

Some of the highlights from the teardown include detailed drawings of how the display operates, all of the commands for controlling the device, and even an interesting note about how the system clock operates even when the device has been powered off for a substantial amount of time. For a pocket synthesizer this has a lot to offer, even if you plan on using it as something else entirely thanks to the versatility of the Cortex M3.

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Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It

Tool changing on 3D printers is hot right now, and it’s going to be really interesting to see the ideas that reliable tool changing lets people try out. One such idea is having the 3D printer use a marker to label the enclosure and buttons it just 3D printed.

The 3D print shown is an enclosure for a Pocket Operator by Teenage Engineering. [Marc Schömann] made the enclosure on Blackbox, a tool-changing 3D printer that he designed. The video below shows a pen holder drawing the labels directly onto the printed object. Pocket Operators may look like calculators, but they are clever electronic musical devices capable of producing real music. (The best way to learn about what they are and what they can do is to watch a tutorial video or two.)

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Can You Build An Open Source Pocket Operator?

Toys are now musical instruments. Or we’ll just say musical instruments are now toys. You can probably ascribe this recent phenomenon to Frooty Loops or whatever software the kids are using these days, but the truth is that it’s never been easier to lay down a beat. Just press the buttons on a pocket-sized computer.

One of the best examples of the playification of musical instruments is Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering. They’re remarkable pieces of hardware, and really just a custom segment LCD and a few buttons. They also sound great and you can play real music with them. It’s a game changer when it comes to enabling musicianship.

Of course, with any popular platform, there’s a need for an Open Source copy. That’s where [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield comes in. It’s a ‘shield’ of sorts for a Teensy microcontroller that adds buttons, knobs, and a display, turning this into a platform that uses the Teensy’s incredible audio system designer.

When it comes to the world of microcontrollers and audio processing, the Teensy is a champ. The Teensy Audio Library has polyphonic playback, recording, synthesis, analysis, and effects, along with multiple simultaneous inputs and outputs. If you’re building a tiny synth that can fit in your pocket, the Teensy is the way to go, and [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield does it all, with a minimal and useful user interface. You can check out a video of the Teensy Beats Shield below.

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Sync Your Pocket Synth With Ableton

The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators are highly popular devices — pocket-sized synthesizers packed full of exciting sounds and rhythmic options. They’re also remarkably affordable. However, this comes at a cost — they don’t feature MIDI connectivity, so it can be difficult to integrate them into a bigger digital music setup. Never fear, little-scale’s got your back. This Max patch allows you to synchronize an Ableton Link network to your Pocket Operators.

little-scale’s trademark is creating useful software and hardware devices using cheap, off-the-shelf hardware wherever possible. The trick here is a simple Max patch combined with a $2 USB soundcard or Bluetooth audio adapter. It’s all very simple: the Pocket Operators have a variety of sync modes that sync on audio pulses, essentially a click track. They use stereo 3.5mm jacks on board, generally using one channel for the synth’s audio and one channel for receiving sync pulses. It’s a simple job to synthesize suitable sync pulses in Ableton, and then pump them out to the Pocket Operators through the Bluetooth or USB audio output.

The Pocket Operators sync at a rate of 2 PPQN — that’s pulses per quarter note. little-scale says that KORG volcas & monotrons should also work with this patch, as they run at the same rate, but it’s currently untested. If you happen to try this for yourself, let us know if it works for you. Video below the break.

We’ve seen pocket synths on Hackaday before, with this attractive mixer designed for use with KORG Volcas.

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