The abacus has been around since antiquity, and takes similar forms over the hundreds of cultures that have embraced it. It may be one of the first devices to be considered as having a “user interface” in the modern context — at least for simple arithmetic calculations. But using an abacus as the UI for a music synthesizer seems like something entirely new.
Part art concept project and part musical instrument, the “Abacusynth” by [Elias Jarzombek] is a way to bring a more visual and tactile experience to controlling a synth, as opposed to the usual knobs and switches. The control portion of the synth consists of four horizontal rods spanning two plywood uprights. Each rod corresponds to a voice of the polyphonic synth, and holds a lozenge-shaped spinner mounted on a low-friction bearing. Each spinner can be moved left and right on its rod, which controls the presence of that voice; spinning the slotted knob controls the modulation of the channel via photosensors in the uprights. Each rod has a knob on one side that activates an encoder to control each voice’s waveform and its harmonics.
In use, the synthesizer is a nice blend of electronic music and kinetic sculpture. The knobs seem to spin forever, so Abacusynth combines a little of the fidget spinner experience with the exploration of new sounds from the built-in speaker. The synth also has a MIDI interface, so it works and plays well with other instruments. The video below shows the hardware version of Abacusynth in action; there’s also a web-based emulation to try before you build.
Continue reading “Abacus Synthesizer Really Adds Up”
Older readers may remember the Stylophone, a small battery powered electric organ using conductive PCB pads and a stylus to create notes. The simple multivibrators in those instruments made them monophonic, but here in 2021 we can do better than that! [Sjm4306] has gone the extra mile with a PCB organ, by making a capacitive-touch instrument that boasts four-note polyphony.
At its heart is an ATmega328p whose software sports four tone generators that each emerge on a different pin. These are summed using a set of 100 Ω resistors and fed to a tiny speaker. Power comes from a CR2032 lithium cell, and he notes that a higher voltage delivers more volume.
The full story is detailed in the video below the break, along with a bit of four-note polyphonic action. We’re guessing that this instrument would sound sensational when hooked up to a reverb unit.
Continue reading “Polyphony On A Tiny Scale”
[Tommy]’s POLY555 is an analog, 20-note polyphonic synthesizer that makes heavy use of 3D printing and shows off some clever design. The POLY555, as well as [Tommy]’s earlier synth designs, are based around the 555 timer. But one 555 is one oscillator, which means only one note can be played at a time. To make the POLY555 polyphonic, [Tommy] took things to their logical extreme and simply added multiple 555s, expanding the capabilities while keeping the classic 555 synth heritage.
The real gem here is [Tommy]’s writeup. In it, he explains the various design choices and improvements that went into the POLY555, not just as an instrument, but as a kit intended to be produced and easy to assemble. Good DFM (Design For Manufacturability) takes time and effort, but pays off big time even for things made in relatively small quantities. Anything that reduces complexity, eliminates steps, or improves reliability is a change worth investigating.
For example, the volume wheel is not a thumbwheel pot. It is actually a 3D-printed piece attached to the same potentiometer that the 555s use for tuning; meaning one less part to keep track of in the bill of materials. It’s all a gold mine of tips for anyone looking at making more than just a handful of something, and a peek into the hard work that goes into designing something to be produced. [Tommy] even has a short section dedicated to abandoned or rejected ideas that didn’t make the cut, which is educational in itself. Want more? Good news! This isn’t the first time we’ve been delighted with [Tommy]’s prototyping and design discussions.
POLY555’s design files (OpenSCAD for enclosure and parts, and KiCad for schematic and PCB) as well as assembly guide are all available on GitHub, and STL files can be found on Thingiverse. [Tommy] sells partial and complete kits as well, so there’s something for everyone’s comfort level. Watch the POLY555 in action in the video, embedded below.
Continue reading “Peek Into This Synth’s Great Design (And Abandoned Features)”
We’re pretty sure there’s no internationally recognized arbiter of records like “World’s smallest full-featured polyphonic stereo MIDI synthesizer that fits in a DIN shell”. If there isn’t, there sure should be, and we’re pretty sure [mitxela]’s Flash-Synth would hold that particular record.
This is one of those lessons that some people just can’t leave a challenge alone. First [mitxela] built a MIDI synthesizer into a DIN connector, then a couple of months later he made a somewhat more streamlined version. While both were feats of engineering derring-do, neither was entirely satisfactory. With only square wave synthesis and a limit of eight voices, plus some unpleasant audio issues and a total lack of manufacturability, the next challenge was clear.
We won’t pretend to follow all the audio arcana, of which the video below and the build log have plenty, but the technical achievement is obvious enough. The Flash-Synth has an STM32, a tantalum SMD filter capacitor that dwarfs it, and a few support components on a flexible PCB that folds back on itself twice. This bit of circuit origami is connected to a 5-pin DIN plug and stuffed into the connector’s shell, which in turn mates to a custom-machined metal housing. A stereo audio jack lives at the other end of the assembly, and the whole synth is powered parasitically off the MIDI port.
The first half of the video below is mostly a demo that proves the synth sounds great and can do just about anything; skip to the 22-minute mark for the gory build details. Suffice it to say that [mitxela]’s past experience with ludicrous scale soldering served him well here.
Continue reading “World’s Smallest MIDI Synth, Now Even Better”
Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.
Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:
- The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
- The pros and cons of making music digitally
- Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals
You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.
Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.
You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.
[Otermrelik] wanted to experiment with the Teensy audio library and adapter. That, combined with his 3D printer, led to a very cool looking build of the teensypolysynth. The device looks like a little mini soundboard with sliders and 3D printed knobs. You can see (and hear) it in the video below.
The Teensy audio library supports several output devices including several built-in options and external boards like the audio adapter used here. The library does CD-quality sound, supports polyphonic playback, recording, synthesis, mixing, and more.
Continue reading “Teensy And 3D Printer Make Beautiful Music Together”