Synth Gains Plug And Play Analog MUX

High school computer engineering teacher [Andy Birch] kept losing track of I/O pins on his home-built synth, so he made a custom plug and play addressable MUX system to solve the problem. [Andy]’s synth is based on the Teensy microcontroller, and he was already using CMOS analog 8:1 multiplexer chips (CD4051) to give him more I/O pins. But I/O pin expansion means that now there are more I/O pins to forget. Did I hook up that pitch potentiometer on U3 pin 13 or was it U10 pin 2?

He proceeds to design an addressing system for each I/O card using three bits (expandable to four) supporting eight cards, with a maximum of 16 possible in the future. Since each card may not use all eight signals, each card can tell the Teensy how many signals it has. [Andy] does his address decoding on each card using OR and XOR gates. We would have considered using a single 74HC85 four-bit magnitude comparator instead. That would require only one chip instead of two, but would deprive his students of the opportunity to learn gate level address decoding.

When seeing the term “I/O card”, you may be fooled like we were into thinking this was using PCBs and some kind of motherboard. [Andy]’s I/O cards are actually solderless breadboards mounted on the back of the synth control panel. We really like his bus technique — he removes the power strip sections from several breadboards and repurposes them as address and data buses. Check out the thorough documentation that [Andy] has prepared, and let us know if you have ever designed your own plug and play method for a project in the comments below.

[Ed Note: We love us some muxes!]

I/O Cards — Note the use of Power Strip Bars as Data / Address Buses


Music Production Studio In A Box

[Emil Smith] is an electronic music producer in the Greater London area. He spent a lot of time commuting in and out of central London, so he decided to put together COVERT-19, a portable music production studio. After making a couple of prototypes, [Emil] settled on what he needed from his portable studio: a sampler, a sequencer, a synthesizer, a mixer, and a way to record his work.

[Emil] didn’t overlook any details with his mechanical design. Taking the beautiful London weather into account, he designed a laser-cut plywood case that has a neoprene foam gasket to keep water out when closed and put all of the inputs and outputs on the interior of the case. Inside the case, he opted for machine screws with threaded inserts so he could disassemble and reassemble his creation as often as he liked, and he included gas springs to keep the studio open while he’s making music. [Emil] even thought to include ventilation slots to keep the built-in PC cool!

A portable studio is useless without a power supply, so [Emil] taught himself some circuit theory and bought his first soldering iron in order to create the custom power delivery system. Power is supplied by a battery of twelve 18650 cells with switching converters to supply the three different voltages his studio needs. Even with all of his music-making gear, he manages to get about four hours of battery life!

The music-making gear consists of a sequencer and synthesizer as well as a touch-screen NUC PC running Xubuntu. The built-in PC runs software that allows him to mix the audio, apply extra effects, record his creations, and save his patches when he’s done working. The system even has an extra MIDI output and audio input to allow it to incorporate an external synthesizer.

If you’re interested in getting started with MIDI synthesizers, but you’re more interested in building than buying, check out the KELPIE.

Homebrew Grain Synth Has A Rad Step Sequencer

In the world of homebrew synthesizers, there are plenty of noiseboxes and grooveboxes that make all kinds of wacky and wild noises. However, common projects like the Auduino and Atari Punk Console are often limited in that they can’t readily be programmed to play multiple notes or any sort of discernable rhythm. [Nick Poole] changes this with his Auduino step sequencer build.

The build takes the Auduino grain synthesizer, and modifies it by adding a step sequencer. This is possible as the Auduino code, which runs on the old-school ATMEGA-based Arduinos, is incredibly fast, leaving plenty of processing time for extra features to be added. [Nick] adds eight LEDs and eight buttons to the build, allowing the user to select one of eight steps to modify. Then, the sound parameters for the step can be altered with the standard Auduino controls. This lets the user quickly and easily build up 8-step melodies, something that was previously impossible with the Auduino.

It’s a fun build, and one that makes a great intro into the world of DIY synth builds. The techniques learned here will serve any aspiring maker well if they dive further into the world of modular synthesis and associated arcana. Video after the break.

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Peek Into This Synth’s Great Design (And Abandoned Features)

[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.

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Cassette Synth Plays With Speed Control

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.

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Procedural Barcode Synth Is As Simple As Black And White

We are no stranger to peculiar and wonderful musical instruments here at Hackaday. [James Bruton] has long been fascinated with barcode scanners as an input source for music and now has a procedural barcode-powered synth to add to his growing collection of handmade instruments. We’ve previously covered his barcode guitar, which converts a string of numbers from the PS/2 output to pitches. This meant having a large number of barcodes printed as each pitch required a separate barcode. As you can imagine, this makes for a rather unwieldy and large instrument.

Rather than looking at the textual output of the reader, [James] cracked it open and put it to the oscilloscope. Once inside, he found a good source that outputs a square wave corresponding to the black and white lines that the barcode sees. Since the barcodes [James] is using don’t have the proper start and stop codes, the barcode reader continuously scans.  Normally it would stop the laser to send the text over the USB or PS/2 connection. A simple 5v to 3.3v level shifter feeds that square wave into a Teensy board, which outputs the audio.

A video showcasing a similar technique inspired [James] with this project. The creators of that video have a huge wall of different patterns of black and white lines. [James’s] next stroke of brilliance was to have a small HDMI display to generate the barcodes on the fly. A Raspberry Pi 4 reads in various buttons via GPIO and displays the resulting barcode on the screen. A quick 3d printed shell rounds out the build nicely, keeping things small and compact. All the code and CAD files are up on GitHub.

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Adding MIDI To A Mini Synth Is Easy As Pi

There are a handful of relatively dirt cheap synths out there like the KORG Monotron, but many of them use ribbon controllers that aren’t very precise.  Ribbon controllers basically slide pots that you operate with your finger or a stylus.  They’re painted to look like piano keys in order to show you approximately where the notes are supposed to be. The Stylophone is another extremely affordable synth that does even less as a synthesizer and uses this type of input. It’s a fun input if you don’t mind imprecision, but can be annoying otherwise.

[schollz] isn’t satisfied to synth this way, so they added MIDI input to their KORG Monotron using a Raspberry Pi and a DAC. Fortunately, the Monotron is quite the hackable little synth, with nice, big, labelled pads on the PCB.

All it really took was a couple of solder joints in the right places, plus a clever Python script. The script listens for MIDI input from a keyboard, and then controls an MCP4725 DAC, which sends voltages to the Monotron. [schollz] wrote a tuning function that computes the FFT of the MIDI tones to find the fundamental frequencies of each to send along to the Monotron. Check it out after the break.

If liquid control is what you’re after but all you have is a keyboard, try making your own ribbon controller.

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