Quality Upgrades Give Old Synth New Lease On Life

Technology marches on at a rapid pace, but in many fields much love remains for older hardware. While still highly capable, there’s often room for improvement thanks to components made available in the intervening years. After longing for his SY-77 synthesiser of the 90s, [Mark] sourced a tired SY-99, the next model up in the line – and set to work on some upgrades.

The SY-99 relied on floppy disks for storage, but the mechanical drives are now difficult to maintain, to say nothing of the unreliability of floppy media. [Mark] installed a SD Card HXC floppy emulator instead, using a Sparkfun SD breakout to neatly install the card slot in the synth’s case. The tired LCD was replaced with a newer model using the same controller, with an LED backlight proving a nice upgrade over the original EL unit.

Additionally, [Mark] realised that there was scope to create his own upgrade modules with off-the-shelf SRAM chips. This proves far cheaper than sourcing second-hand Yamaha stock off eBay, and is readily achievable by anyone with a basic understanding of digital logic. The ICs can be had for a few dollars, versus well over $50 for the original cards – if you can even find them. Some labor is involved, but it’s a lot less painful to the wallet.

[Mark]’s work is a great example of how hardware that was once prohibitively expensive can be given greater functionality at a lower cost thanks to new technology. We’ve seen other synths modded too, like this Korg Monotron. If you’ve been tinkering away in a keyboard yourself, be sure to let us know!

[Thanks to CRJEEA] for the tip]

Adora-BLE Synth Wails Without Wires

Isn’t this the cutest little synth you ever saw? The matching sparkly half-stack amp really makes it, visually speaking. But the most interesting part? There’s not a wire in sight, ’cause [Blitz City DIY]’s futuristic rig sends the bleep boops over Bluetooth LE.

Hardware-wise, both the synth and the amp are fairly simple. Underneath each of those cute little printed keys is one of those clicky momentaries that usually come with bright button caps in primary colors — the keys themselves just press-fit over the tops. All twelve ebonies and ivories are connected up to an Adafruit Feather, which communicates over Bluetooth LE to a CircuitPlayground Bluefruit (CPB) in the amp. Each time a note is played on the synth, its corresponding color circles comet-like around the CPB’s NeoPixels, which shine through the amp’s speaker grille.

The super interesting part is that all the hard work is happening in the code. Both boards have the same array of colors in rainbow order, and the CPB has an array of tone frequencies that match up one for one with the colors. For every note played, the CPB looks up the color, swirls it, and plays the note. If you want to build one, this project is wide open — [Blitz City DIY] even made a learn guide with all the dirty details. Be sure to check out the demo and extended walk-through after the break.

More in the market for making a computer keyboard? Just grab the nearest ESP32.

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Nifty Soundbender Built From EBay Modules

Custom audio greeting cards are a trifling gimmick, and a hefty investment compared to their paper-based colleagues. However, the technology inside can be twisted and hacked towards more interesting ends, as [lonesoulsurfer] demonstrates with his sound-bending build.

Rather then go to the trouble and expense of gutting a greeting card, [lonesoulsurfer] simply purchases the sound recording module off eBay which often turns out cheaper anyway. It’s hacked with a couple extra buttons and a speed control, and then wired up with a reverb module that itself gets tweaked to add an echo mode. It’s all bundled up with a speaker and microphone and installed in a case that formerly held an ignition tuning analyzer from the 1970s.

The final result is quite handsome, with a wooden panel holding the speaker and a smattering of knobs, buttons, and switches to play with. After recording an audio sample, it’s possible to speed it up, slow it down, and add echo and reverb until you’re left with something unrecognizable and weird. We’ve actually seen similar projects before, like this author’s first ever article for these hallowed pages. Video after the break.

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Synthfonio Makes Music Easy Like Sunday Morning

This one goes out to anyone who loves music and feels it in their soul, but doesn’t necessarily understand it in their head. No instrument should stand in the way of expression, but it seems like they all do (except for maybe the kazoo).

[FrancoMolina]’s hybrid synth-MIDI controller is a shortcut between the desire to play music and actually doing it. Essentially, you press one of the buttons along Synthfonio’s neck to set the scale, and play the actual notes by pressing limit switches in the controller mounted on the body. If you’re feeling blue, you can shift to minor scales by pressing the relative minor note’s neck button at the same time as the root note, e.g. A+C=Am. Want to change octaves? Just slide the entire controller up or down for a total of three.

All of these switches are muxed to two Arduinos — an MKR1010 for USB MIDI control, and a bare ‘328 to provide the baked-in synth sounds. Power comes from a stepped-up 18650 that can be charged with an insanely cheap board from that one site. [Franco] has all the code and files available, so go have fun making music without being turned off by a bunch of theory. Push that button there to check out the demo.

If ‘portable’ means pocket-sized to you, then let this mini woodwind MIDI controller take your breath away.

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Programmable Wrist Synth Pushes The Envelope

Synths are a ton of fun no matter how good or bad they sound. Really, there are no bad-sounding ones, it’s just that some are more annoying to listen than others to if you’re not the one making the beep boops. [Clem] had built a tiny LDR-based synth into a watch case a few years back and took it to many a Maker Faire, where it delighted and annoyed until it ultimately broke.

Naturally, it was time to make a new version that’s more capable. Whereas the first one was Atari-punk-console-meets-light-Theremin, this one has a bunch of inputs and can be programmed on the fly to record and play back bendable tones. It’s driven by an Arduino MKR, and the inputs are managed by an impressively squash bug-wired shift register. [Clem] used beefy switches this time in the hopes that this one will last longer. We think the slide pots are a great touch, as are the candy-colored knobs printed in PMMA.

Our favorite part is that [Clem] took advantage of the random states the microcontroller pins are in when it’s first powered on. If you don’t want to program any notes, you can use the ones generated at boot and just play around with those. Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

We’ve seen our share of synths, but few as delicious-looking as KELPIE from this year’s Hackaday Prize.

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Dub Siren Synth Does It The Old School Way

There’s little that can compare to the sheer obnoxious thrill of mashing the DJ siren when its your turn behind the decks. We’ve certainly been guilty of abusing the privilege at local house parties, and unsurprisingly have not been invited back. If we ever get another shot, though, we’d be glad to have [lonesoulsurfer]’s dub siren at the ready.

This is a build for the old-school purists. There’s no microcontrollers or digital hardware here. The synth relies on two 555 timer ICs as the oscillators and an LM741 op-amp. These parts harken right back to the dawn of the integrated circuit era, and still do a great job in this application. There’s also a cheap reverb/echo module added in to fatten up the sound. It’s all laced up in an old CB radio enclosure, with the classic woodgrain applique doing much to add to the aesthetic.

It’s a build that’s simple enough for the electronics beginner, and would make a great tactile, analog addition to any DJ’s rig. If you need some wubwubs to go with your woowoos, then consider building a Ball of Dub, too.

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Finally Your Air Drumming Has An Outlet

Two engineering students are hard at work on this air drum which they hope will help disabled people and people in nursing homes. Though, we think it just looks fun!

Each board is its own module consisting of the electronics and 3D printed cases. The modules each contain an arduino mini, IR sensor, and LEDs. They share power, audio, and communicate with an i2c bus. Two modules are special, one holds the power system and the other a Raspberry Pi. The units can be put together in different configurations. Finally, they are capped with speaker units.

The demo shown in the video, which you can see after the break, looks fun. The response time is pretty fast and it looks like you can measure all sorts of parameters. This can then be translated into different velocities, pitches, and instruments. It’s somewhere between a theremin and a drum kit, very cool.

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