Circuit Bending Those Adorable Voices

Leapfrog make some pretty awesome kids electronics. Especially admirable is the low cost, the battery life, and the audio quality of these devices. This circuit bending hack takes advantage of those audio circuits by turning the Alphabet Pal into your lead vocalist. The performance in the demo video begins with some impressive tricks, but just wait for it because by the end the little purple caterpillar proves itself an instrument worthy of a position beside that fancy Eurorack you’ve been assembling.

The image above provides a great look inside the beastie. [Jason Hotchkiss] mentions he’s impressed by the build quality, and we have to agree. Plus, look at all of those inputs — this is begging to leave toyland and join the band. With an intuitive sense that can only be gained through lots of circuit-bending experience, he guessed that the single through-hole resistor on the PCB was used to dial in the clock speed. That made it easy to throw in a trimpot for pitch-bending and he moved on to figure out individual note control.

All of those caterpillar feet are arranged in a keyboard matrix to detect button presses. After pulling out the oscilloscope for a bit of reverse engineering, [Jason] grabbed a PIC microcontroller and added it to the same solder points as the stock ribbon connector. The result is that the buttons on the feet still work, but now the Alphabet Pal also has MIDI control.

Take a look at the writeup for full details, and the video after the break to hear it in action. If you’re a fan of circuit-bent toys, this pretty pink keyboard hack always impressed us, especially the spring reverb that was added!

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The Motor Synth Is What You Get When You Forget Hammond Organs Exist

There’s nothing new, ever. It’s all been done. But that doesn’t mean you can’t invent something interesting. A case in point is the Motor Synth, a crowdfunding project from Gamechanger Audio. It’s what you get when you combine advanced quadcopter technology with the market for modular and semi-modular synthesizers.

The core feature of the Motor Synth is an octet of brushless motors tucked behind a plexiglass window. These (either through an electromagnetic pickup or something slightly more clever) produce a tone, giving the Motor Synth four-note polyphony with two voices per key. On top of these motors are reflective optical discs sensed with infrared detectors. These are mixed as harmonics to the fundamental frequency. The result? Well, they got an endorsement from [Jean-Michel Jarre] at Superbooth earlier this month (see video below). That’s pretty impressive. Continue reading “The Motor Synth Is What You Get When You Forget Hammond Organs Exist”

Hacker Dosed With LSD While Restoring Historical Synth

[Eliot Curtis] found himself a little too close to 1960’s counterculture while restoring a vintage modular synthesizer — he began tripping out on acid. The instrument in question is a Buchla Model 100. The Buchla is a modular synth. Instead of a keyboard, it used capacitance-sensitive touch plates. This particular model 100 was purchased by California State University East Bay Campus. The synth was popular for a while, but eventually fell into disuse, and was stored in a classroom closet.

Modular synths are experiencing a renaissance, as can be seen right here on Hackaday. The Buchla was pulled out of storage and given a proper restoration. [Eliot Curtis] is the Broadcast Operations Manager at KPIX 5, the San Francisco CBS TV station. He also is the hacker who volunteered to restore the Buchla.
During the restoration, [Curtis] found residue and crystals stuck under one of the knobs of the Control Voltage Processing Module. Was it flux, conformal coating, or something else? [Eliot] hit the board with contact cleaner and wiped it down. Within 45 minutes, he was feeling a strange tingling. It was the beginning of a nine-hour LSD trip. Three independent tests on the module came back positive for LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD for short) can be readily absorbed through the skin, which is exactly what happened to [Eliot]. Synth designer [Don Buchla] was friends with [Owsley Stanley], who worked for the Grateful Dead and allegedly cooked up some very potent LSD. Some of Buchla’s modules even found their way into Ken Keesey’s hands, where they wound up on his famous bus “further”. As it turns out there were rumors that modules had been dipped in LSD back in the ’60s. Why someone would do that to an electronic module, we’re not sure — they must have been on drugs. [Eliot] recovered from his brush with the ’60s and continued with the restoration with gloves on.

If there is a moral here, it should be to take precautions when working on equipment which might contain dangerous substances. We’ve learned this lesson ourselves cracking open broken laptops. You might find anything from coffee to soda, to pet urine or worse. A box of nitrile gloves definitely should be standard equipment in any hacker’s lab.

Eurorack Synth Module Runs On ESP32

The ESP32 is well known for both its wireless communication abilities, as well as the serious amount of processing power it possesses for a microcontroller platform. [Robert Manzke] has leveraged the hardware to produce a Eurorack audio synthesis platform with some serious capabilities.

Starting out as a benchmarking project, [Robert] combined the ESP32 with an WM8731 CODEC chip to handle audio, and an MCP3208 analog-to-digital converter. This gives the platform stereo audio, and the ability to handle eight control-voltage inputs.

The resulting hardware came together into what [Robert] calls the CTAG Strämpler. It’s a sampling-based synthesizer, with a wide feature set for some serious sonic fun. On top of all the usual bells and whistles, it features the ability to connect to the freesound.org database over the Internet, thanks to the ESP’s WiFi connection. This means that new samples can be pulled directly into the synth through its LCD screen interface.

With the amount of power and peripherals packed into the ESP32, it was only a matter of time before we saw it used in some truly impressive audio projects. It’s got the grunt to do some pretty impressive gaming, too. Video after the break.

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Nintendo’s Cardboard Piano Becomes A Real Working Instrument

Nintendo’s LABO piano is a strange kind of instrument. Hewn out of cardboard and used in combination with some advanced software, it’s entirely passive, with all the sound generation and smarts coming from the Switch console which slots into the body. [Simon the Magpie] decided that this simply wouldn’t do, and set about turning the LABO piano into a real synthesizer (Youtube link, embedded below).

In order to pull off this feat, [Simon] sourced an OKAY synth kit– a basic monophonic synthesizer designed to fit inside a 3D printed case. Instead, here it’s built inside the LABO’s roomy cardboard housing. The keyboard is reinforced with duct tape and tweaked to accept those common and horrible red SPST buttons, and the front panel is fitted with control dials where the Switch would usually sit.

After some careful crafting, the piano is ready to rock. It’s not the most responsive instrument, with the flexible cardboard struggling to reliably trigger the installed buttons, but it does work. [Simon] performs a small instrumental piece over a drum track to demonstrate that you don’t need a Nintendo Switch to have fun with the LABO piano.

Expect to see similar builds on stage at chiptune shows in the next few years – at least until mold gets the better of them. There are other ways to hack the LABO piano, too. Video after the break.

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This Old Korg Can’t Have Too Many Samples

The Korg DW-6000 is an entry-level synthesiser from the mid 1980s that has the classic sounds, but not enough of them. At least that was [Mateusz Kolanski]’s  view, as he hacked his model with a 16-fold increase in its wavetable memory.

At the heart of the DW-6000 is NEC’s UPD7810 16-bit microcontroller, a device stuffed with ports aplenty. The Korg doesn’t use all of those ports, so he was curious as to whether its relatively small 256 kbit ROMs could be upgraded to something much bigger with the use of four unused lines to drive their addresses. This proved to be no easy task, not least because the UPD7810 is hardly a chip with a lot of published work to learn from. A manual for it came from an unexpected source: an obscure game console used it so there is support within MAME.

A significant quantity of hardware reverse engineering and software experimenting later, and he had a ROM piggyback board to plug into his lightly-modified DW-6000. The initial model used stripboard, but naturally a decent PCB was created. That might be everything, but of course some means of working with those samples was required. Enter a Windows wavetable editor and organiser to create new ROM images, for the complete DW-6000 upgrade kit.

This project took several years, proving that persistence can pay off. If you’re not used to the way microcontrollers did their interfacing back in the 1980s then it’s definitely worth a read even if old synths aren’t your thing.

This isn’t the first bit of Korg reverse engineering we’ve brought you, either.

 

Fizzle Loop Synth Does It With 555 Timers

For every project that uses an Arduino to make soup or an ESP8266 to hash bitcoin, there’s always someone out there uttering the same old refrain. I could have done it with a 555. More often than not, this is true, even if it is tangential to the discussion being had. In this case however, such a statement is moot. [lonesoulsurfer] has built the Fizzle Loop Synth, featuring not one, but three triple-nickel timers.

It’s a build that delights in both presentation and performance. The hardware is elegantly slotted into a vintage metal flashlight case, which is absolutely covered in controls. It’s an aesthetic that gives us an irresistible urge to start twiddling knobs and flicking switches. Inside, two 555s are set up as basic flasher circuits, each feeding a vactrol – essentially a resistive optoisolater. Inside is an LED, which is optically coupled to a light-dependent resistor. The LEDs are flashed by the 555s, and this creates a varying resistance which is used to feed a third 555 which generates the tones.

The final result is a fun little noisebox that’s capable of generating quite the variety of bleeps, bloops and blops. There’s an onboard speaker for noodling on the go, as well as a line-out if you need to record your work on external hardware. It would be great fun to hear this circuit hooked up to a modular synth, too.

For a history lesson on the venerable 555, we’ve got you covered. Video after the break.

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