[Simon the Magpie] found himself in possession of a Behringer mixer that turned up in someone’s garbage. They’re not always the most well-regarded mixers, but [Simon] saw an opportunity to do something a bit different with it. He decided to show us all how you can use a mixer as a synthesizer.
[Simon] actually picked up the “no-input” technique from [Andreij Rublev] and decided to try it out on his own equipment. The basic idea is to use feedback through the mixer to generate tones. To create a feedback loop, connect an auxiliary output on the mixer to one of the mixer’s input channels. The gain on the channel is then increased on the channel to create a great deal of feedback. The mixer’s output is then gently turned up, along with the volume on the channel that has formed the feedback loop. If you’ve hooked things up correctly, you should have some kind of tone feedbacking through the mixer. Want to change the pitch? Easy – just use the mixer’s EQ pots!
It’s pretty easy to get some wild spacey sounds going. Get creative and you can make some crunchy sounds or weird repeating tones if you play with the mixer’s built in effects. Plus, the benefit of a mixer is that it has multiple channels. You can create more feedback loops using the additional channels if you have enough auxiliary sends for the job. Stack them up or weave them together and you can get some wild modulation going.
If you’ve been paying even a minimal amount of attention you’ll know right away that this comes to use from [mitxela], who while not playing with volumetric POV displays is often found building smaller and smaller synthesizers, including putting them in DIN plug shells. The current synth is based on his “Silly Synth,” which puts all the guts for the synth inside a USB connector. This time around, though, it’s USB-C, and rather than fitting everything inside the connector shell, the entire synth sits on a PCB that’s smaller than a tiny piezo speaker. The whole thing runs on a CH32V003 microcontroller, and aside from a few support components and the right-angle USB-C plug, not much else.
The PCB is what really shines in [mitxela]’s design, especially the routing. He’s got a 20-pin QFN chip on one side of the board and the USB plug right behind it on the other side to deal with, plus the big through-holes for the speaker and the physical connections on the plug. It’s quite a crowded design, but it gets the job done. What’s more, he panelized the design so that mass production is possible; the reason for this is revealed at the end of the video below.
Pretty much every time we see one of these “smallest synth” videos we’re convinced that we’re seeing the lower limit of what’s possible, but every time, [mitxela] goes ahead and proves us wrong. That’s fine, of course — we don’t mind being wrong about something like this.
[Love Hultén]’s work often incorporates reactive sound elements, and his Ferrofluid drum synth is no exception. Sadly there are no real build details but have no fear: we’ve gathered plenty of DIY insights when it comes to ferrofluid-based projects.
First of all, ferrofluid is shockingly expensive stuff. But if you can get your hands on some old VHS tapes and acetone, you can make your own. Second, working with ferrofluid to make reactive elements is harder than it may look. Particularly, making the stuff dance to sound beats isn’t as simple as putting a container of the stuff in front of a speaker coil, but people have discovered a few ways that work more reliably than others.
[Love Hultén]’s drum synth was inspired by this custom Bluetooth speaker with dancing ferrofluid by [Dakd Jung], which drives an electromagnetic coil with frequencies selected from the audio with an MSGEQ7 equalizer. That way, only frequencies that work best for moving the fluid in interesting ways get used for the visualization. The MSGEQ7 spectrum analyzer chip is very useful for music-driven projects, as demonstrated by these sound-reactive LED shades which illustrate the audio element nicely.
Synthesizers can make some great music, but sometimes they feel a bit robotic in comparison to their analog counterparts. [Sound Werkshop] built a “minimum viable” expressive synth to overcome this challenge. (YouTube)
Dubbed “The Wiggler,” [Sound Werkshop]’s expressive synth centers on the idea of using a flexure as a means to control vibrato and volume. Side-to-side and vertical movement of the flexure is detected with a pair of linear hall effect sensors that feed into the Daisy Seed microcontroller to modify the patch.
The build itself is a large 3D printed base with room for the flexure and a couple of breadboards for prototyping the circuits. The keys are capacitive touch pads, and everything is currently held in place with hot glue. [Sound Werkshop] goes into detail in the video (below the break) on what the various knobs and switches do with an emphasis on how it was designed for ease of use.
The phrase “Lego Guitar” can be a stressful one to hear. You might imagine the idea of strings under tension and a subsequently exploding cloud of plastic shrapnel. This build from the [Brick Experiment Channel] eschews all that, thankfully, and is instead a digital synth that only emulates a guitar in its rough form factor.
The heart of the build is a Lego Mindstorms EV3 controller. It’s acts as the “body” of the guitar, and is fitted with a Lego “fretboard” of sorts. A slide is moved up and down the fretboard by the player. The EV3 controller detects the position of the slide via an ultrasonic sensor, and uses this to determine the fret the user is trying to play. The button the user presses on the controller then determines which of five “strings” the user is playing, and the selected note is sounded out from the EV3’s internal speaker. It’s strictly a monophonic instrument, but three different sounds are available: a bass guitar, a rock guitar, and a solo guitar, with all the fidelity and timbre of a 90s Casio keyboard.
It’s a fun and silly instrument, and also kind of difficult to play. The slide mechanism doesn’t offer much feedback, nor are the EV3 buttons intended for dynamic musical performance. Regardless, the player belts out some basic tunes to demonstrate the concept. We doubt you’d ever be able to play Through The Fire and Flames on such a limited instrument, but [Brick Experiment Channel] used their editing skills to explore what that might sound like regardless.
For most of us, an 8-bit microcomputer means one of the home computers which set so many of us on our way back in the 1980s. But this ignores an entire generation of 1970s 8-bit machines which filled the market for affordable office and industrial desktop computing before we were seduced by Pac-Man or Frogger. It’s one of these, an SWTPC 6809, that’s found its way into the hands of [Look Mum No Computer], and in direct contradiction to his branding, he’s used it to control a synthesizer.
As you’d expect from the name, the computer hides a 6809 processor, and comes from the end of the 1970s when that chip had been released in an effort to stave off the market threat from the likes of Zilog and MOS Technologies. It has an SS-50 bus motherboard, and the saga in the video below the break is as much about the production of a custom DAC and trigger port for it to drive the synth as it is about troubleshooting a four-decade-old computer. It’s a credit to SWTPC that the machine is largely working after all this time, however it succumbs to some damage during the development of the interface.
At the end though, there’s a fully functional sequencer on a 1970s computer, playing some pretty good electronic music from an analogue synth. This is EXACTLY the future we were promised, back in 1979!
The BBC Micro:bit, while not quite as popular in our community as other microcontroller development boards, has a few quirks that can make it a much more interesting piece of hardware to build a project around than an Arduino. [Turi] took note of these unique features and decided that it was the perfect platform to build a synthesizer on.
The Micro:bit includes two important elements that make this project work: the LED matrix and a gyro sensor. [Turi] built a 5×5 button matrix for inputs and paired each to one of the diodes, which eliminates the problem of false inputs. The gyro sensor is used for detuning, which varies the pitch of any generated sound by a set amount according to the orientation of the device. It also includes a passive low-pass filter to make the sound more pleasant to the ear, especially for younger players of the machine. He’s released the source code on his GitHub page for anyone interested in recreating it.
While this was a one-off project for [Turi], he notes that using MicroPython to program it instead of C led to a lot of unnecessary complications, and the greater control allowed by C would enable some extra features with less hassle. Still, it’s a fun project that really showcases the unique features of this board, much like this tiny Sumo robot we covered over the summer.