Virtual Analog Synth Brings Tunes To The Masses

Part of the problem with getting involved in a new hobby is the cost. Whether you’re learning to surf, weld, garden, or program, often the entry cost is several hundred dollars. We’re huge fans of things with low barriers to entry, though, so we were happy to see the latest project from [pappas.chris] which promises to introduce newcomers to the musical hobby of synthesizers for just over $20.

The build revolves around an STM32F7 microcontroller and offers a 6-voice virtual analog synthesizer. The build is expandable, too, so if you want to build on the STM platform with any other add ons the process is relatively simple. This might not be necessary for a while, though; the current iteration offers many features that a typical synthesizer would have. Exhausting the possibilities with this tiny device will take some effort.

Since the synth is built on a common microcontroller platform, it’s easily programmable too, which isn’t often a feature of commercial synthesizers. You can listen to a sample audio file on the project page, and get started building your own as well. If you don’t have your own keyboard to use with it, there are other DIY synths that cover that area as well.

This Synth Is Okay

While this 3D printed synthesizer might just be okay, we’re going to say it’s better than that. Why? [oskitone] did something with a 555 timer.

The Okay synth from [oskitone] uses a completely 3D printed enclosure. Even the keys are printed. Underneath these keys is a small PCB loaded up with tact switches and small potentiometers. This board runs to another board loaded up with a 555 timer and a CD4040 frequency divider. This, in turn, goes into an LM386 amplifier. It’s more or less the simplest synth you can make.

If this synth looks familiar, you’re right. A few months ago, [oskitone] released the Hello F0 synth, a simple wooden box with 3D printed keys, a few switches, and a single 4046 PLL oscillator. It’s the simplest synth you can build, but it is something that can be extended into a real, proper synthesizer with different waveforms, LFOs, and envelope generators.

The sound of this chip is a very hard square wave with none of the subtleties of A,S,D, or R. Turn down the octave knob and it makes a great bass synth, or turn the octave knob to the middle for some great chiptune tones. All the 3D models for this synth are available on Thingiverse, so if you’d like to print your own, have at it.

You can check out the demo of the Okay synth below.

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The Sound of (Synthesized) Music

What’s an ADSR envelope generator? If you are a big music hacker, you probably know. If you are like the rest of us, you might need to read [Mich’s] post to find out that it is an attack-decay-sustain-release (ADSR) envelope generator. Still confused? It is a circuit used in music synthesis. You can see a demo of the device in the video below.

Before the Altair–which was sort of the first hobbyist computer you could actually buy–electronics magazines were full of music synthesizer projects that had a lot in common with the analog computers of old. A lot of people took that very seriously and then computers took over the collective consciousness and we found musical hackers started working with (digital) computer-based synthesizers. But the old analog synth designs just won’t die. [Mich’s] ADSR is based on an ancient design, and the amount of information and additions he provides makes it worth a read, even if you don’t fancy building one.

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The Monolith Brings the Boom to Maker Faire

[Ross Fish], [Darcy Neal], [Ben Davis], and [Paul Stoffregen] created “the Monolith”, an interactive synth sculpture designed to showcase capabilities of the Teensy 3.6 microcontroller.

The Monolith consists of a clear acrylic box covered in LED-lit arcade buttons. The forty buttons in front serve as an 8-step sequencer with five different voices, while touch sensors on the left and right panels serve as a polyphonic arpeggiator and preset controller, respectively.

In order to control all of those buttons, the team designed breakout boards equipped with a port expander, 16-channel PWM driver chip, and N-channel MOSFETs allowing the entire synth to be controlled from a single Teensy 3.6.

In terms of software, [Paul] made improvements to the Teensy Audio Library to accommodate the hardware, improving the way signal-controlled PWM waveforms are handled and enhancing the way envelopes work. Ultimately they combined three Arduino sketches into one to get the finished code.

After showing off the project on Tested, the team set up the Monolith in the Kickstarter booth at Maker Faire Bay Area. The project was a hit at the Faire, earning a coveted red ribbon and inspiring countless adults and kids to check it out. We love a project that inspires so much interaction. Not only can three people play with the Monolith at once, but they can see through the clear case and get an idea of what’s going on.

If you want to learn more you can download project files from [Paul]’s GitHub. In the meantime, check out some other synth projects we’ve published on Hackaday: we’ve grooved on a synth-violin, a 3D-printed synth, and a single-PCB synth, among many others.

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Starship One: The Ultimate 90’s Synthesizer

We’ve seen some crazy music production stations over the years. But this synthesizer system may just take the cake. Starship One is the creation of [Marc Brasse]. At first glance, this music battle station looks like it belongs on the bridge of the Enterprise. The resemblance is not entirely unintentional. [Marc] himself says “Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation might actually (have) like(d) it if he did not have such a conservative taste in music.”

At the core of Starship One are two underappreciated synths from the 90’s. The Technics WSA1, and a Gem S3 turbo. Both were keyboards ahead of their time. The WSA1 is a modeling synth, a sound generation trend in the ’90s which sounded great, but never quite caught on. The other strike against it was that it was built by Technics, who had a reputation for building HiFi equipment and home keyboards. Professionals just didn’t pick it up.

The Gem S3 had a similar story — built by a company called General Music, the keyboard was a great design with incredible piano action, but never quite made it. [Marc] wasn’t turned off by the lineage of these two synths. In fact, he embraced them. [Marc] explains more about his philosophy in creating the Starship One in this PDF document.

[Marc] combined these two instruments with Fatar MP1 bass pedals, a ribbon controller, and more additional components than we could ever hope to name here. The frame of the synth is built from a discarded retail CD sales rack. Extruded aluminum pieces came from a sun slat curtain. Just about every part was reused to build one beast of a workstation.

If you’re wondering what the strange keyboard layout is, it’s a Janko keyboard adapter [Marc] custom made. Instead of 88 notes, there are 264 keys, arranged so that every chord has the same fingering, regardless of the scale being played.

Want more modulation? Check out this ARM based FM synth, or this monster post of open source synths!

Bring Home a Classic Synth with the DIY Fairlight CMI

[Davearneson] built a modern version of a classic synthesizer with his DIY Fairlight CMI. If there were a hall of fame for electronic instruments, the Fairlight CMI would be on it. An early sampling synth with a built-in sequencer, the Fairlight was a game changer. Everyone from A-ha to Hans Zimmer has used one. The striking thing about the Fairlight was the user interface. It used a light pen to select entries from text menus and to interact with the audio waveform.

The original Fairlight units sold for £18,000 and up, and this was in 1979. Surviving units are well outside the price range of the average musician. There is an alternative though – [Peter Vogel] has released an iOS app which emulates the Fairlight.

[Davearneson] had an old iPad 2 lying around. Too slow to run many of the latest apps, but just fast enough to run the Fairlight app. An iPad doesn’t exactly look like a classic instrument though. So he broke out the tools and created a case that looked the part.

The front of the case is made of framing mat board. The rest of the shell is wood. [Davearneson] used Plasti-Dip spray to replicate the texture of 1970’s plastics. The audio interface is a Griffon unit, which provides audio and MIDI connections. [Davearneson] extended the connections from the Griffon to the rear of the case, making for a clean interface.

The iPad doesn’t exactly support a light pen, so a rubber tipped stylus on a coil cord takes it place. The result is a device that looks and works like a Fairlight – but doesn’t need a steady diet of 8″ floppy discs to operate.

Interested in classic digital synthesizers that are a bit more budget friendly? Check out Al Williams’ article on the SID chip, or this 3D printed synth based upon the 4046 PLL chip.

3D Printing A Synthesizer

Before there were samplers, romplers, Skrillex, FM synths, and all the other sounds that don’t fit into the trailer for the new Blade Runner movie, electronic music was simple. Voltage controlled oscillators, voltage controlled filters, and CV keyboards ruled the roost. We’ve gone over a lot of voltage controlled synths, but [Tommy] took it to the next level. He designed a small, minimum viable synth based around the VCO in an old 4046 PLL chip

For anyone who remembers [Elliot]’s Logic Noise series here on Hackaday, this type of circuit should be very familiar. The only thing in this synth is a few buttons, a variable resistor for each button, and the very popular VCO for an analog square wave synth.

The circuit for this synth is built in two halves. The biggest, and what probably took the most time designing, is the key bed. This is a one-octave keyboard that’s completely 3D printed. We’ve seen something like this before in one of the projects from the SupplyFrame Design Lab residents, though while that keyboard worked it was necessary for [Tim], the creator of that project, to find a company that could make custom key beds for him.

The rest of the circuit is just a piece of perf board and the 4046. This project is all wrapped up in a beautiful all-wood enclosure with 3D printed hinges, knobs, and a speaker grille. The sound is phenomenal, and exactly what you want from a tiny monophonic square wave synth. You can check out a video of that below.

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