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theshaggyfreak

OCR DIY Analog Synth Club

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This is something that I've been pondering about starting up for quite some time. I know that most of us are interested in synths on a general level. Like me, I'm betting that there are several of you who have a deeper interest in building your own equipment. I've had a lot of starts and stops with doing this myself but I'm now trying to get in the habit of sitting at my work bench for a couple hours a week.

So, what would the OCR DIY Analog Synth Club be? Well, some of you may know that there are lots of various kits out there as well as schematics for building various contraptions that make noise as well as creating a full modular system. In most cases, it's cheaper to buy parts and PCBs in bulk. You usually get a price break for doing so as well as saving on shipping. My idea is to get a group of people together who want to get into such a hobby and work together on the same projects.

Working on the same projects together would provide a network of support to help each other troubleshoot and come up with various modifications to available circuits. I'm thinking that 2-3 projects per year would give everyone enough time to work on whatever the current project is. Those that finish early can assist others when necessary. Some projects would be given more time than others depending on the difficulty level.

In the beginning we'll mostly be making circuits that create a lot of cool drones, bloops, and bleeps. Eventually, we'll be able to create some music with these home built machines. I find the idea of that awesome and I'm hoping that there are others that do too.

Now, I have a decent amount of knowledge when it comes to electronics and such. I have a good deal of equipment and reading material and I would be able to give recommendations to newbies. So, does this interest anyone or do you think this is a terrible idea? I personally want more than to just build my own synth. I want to really understand how these circuits work. I think it'd just be nice to have a group of folks that are all on the same page.

As a first project, I would probably start off with a modified version of the Atari Punk Console. It's a fairly simple circuit with a lot of room for modifications. This little video shows the basic circuit that I built the other day.

The second project would probably be the Noise Toaster from MFOS. This is a really fun little machine that seems to be able make some interesting sounds. It also has a fair amount of mods that can be done to it.

If you really just want to study this sort of stuff on your own, though, here's some great books to get you started:

Getting Started In Electronics by Forrest Mims - I cut my teeth on this book many years ago. He's got several other books that are also worth picking up.

Electronics (Learning Through Discovery) - I've actually been reading through this one lately to brush up on some stuff. It's an amazing book that explains things on a fairly basic level. It also gives enough technical info for your brain to dive into.

Analog Synthesizers - This book by Ray Wilson will be what I'll use when building the Noise Toaster. Ray Wilson has some amazing circuit designs via his website, Music From Outer Space. He's got everything you need to build just about any type of analog synth you'd be interested in.

Basic tools that you would need to purchase before even thinking about getting started:

1) A decent sized breadboard. I'd get the largest one you can find for between $5-$10. You can find these on Amazon or any website that sells stuff or hobby electronics.

2) A multimeter. Get the best you can afford. They tend to start at around $10 and go up from there. You can find these locally at the big hardware stores.

3) A solder iron (20-25watt), solder (0.8mm in diameter), and a small spool of desoldering wick. Get the best solder iron you can afford but there are cheap ones out there at around $10 or so. Amazon or electronics stores will have these.

4) Some hookup wire. Solid core 22gauge is what you'll want to look for. This stuff is fairly inexpensive but it's nice to have at least three colors at your disposal. You can pick this stuff up online at various places or your local hardware store.

5) A multi-tool kit with wire cutters, wire strippers, needle nose pliers, etc. You can find these pretty easily at any hardware store for fairly cheap.

Jameco has a really nice kit that has everything you need to get started! You'll even (most likely) have about half of the components to breadboard the Atari Punk Console!

Optional stuff that does come in handy:

1) magnifying glass. Reading the values on these tiny parts can give you a headache and it's sometimes necessary to have a magnifying glass to get a good look at them. It's also handy to have one when troubleshooting your solder joints.

2) A set of alligator leads. These will come in hand when bread boarding.

3) A drill. If you want to put your finished project into a nice project box, you'll need at least a drill to create the holes for mounting hardware. If you obtain one, get a set of step drill bits. They make drilling nice holes into plastic, wood, and sheet metal a breeze. I learned the hard way when I once modded a old Gameboy.

4) A solderable breadboard or two. This will be the cheapest and best way to complete some of these first little projects that I'm looking at. It might not be a bad idea to pick up a few different sized ones.

If your'e curious as to where I order parts from, I'll give you I've personally had the best luck with:

1) Digikey and Mouser are probably the two most popular sites but they're not always the cheapest. On the upside, they pretty much have anything you might be looking for except for obsolete stuff.

2) Jameco is a pretty big company and Ray Wilson always recommends them. I've always had positive experiences when ordering from them.

3) MCM Electronics - These guys have a fairly wide variety of stuff and they're pretty reliable. They remind of Radio Shack in some ways.

4) Futurlec is where I often go for bargains. They don't always have the best stuff but you usually can get certain things much cheaper there than anywhere else. The big downside is that the stuff gets shipped directly from China and it takes about two weeks to get here. If you're on a budget, though, waiting that long isn't too big of a deal.

5) PacTec Enclosures have a variety of boxes to put your final project in. You can even get 'free' samples for some of their smaller boxes. I've gotten several things from them. They make nice stuff.

6) Ponoko - This is a print on demand website that you can get custom enclosures made if you're handing with Illustrator or a similar program.

7) Ray Wilson's website, Music From Outer Space, is the best place to find kits and PCBs for DIY analog synths. He has a HUGE selection of projects and the guy knows what the hell he's talking about.

Please make note that I really want to keep projects CV (control voltage) controlled. A MIDI to CV converter project might be in the future or you can look at purchasing one of the many that are available on the internet. MIDI control is something a bit beyond the scope of the projects I'd like to bring forth.

Well, I'll throw this out there and see what kind of response I get. Feel free to ask any questions you might have.

Project #1 - Atari Punk Console - Click here for a good explanation of what this circuit actually is doing.

This is a great place to start with this group. You can go about it a couple of different ways.

1) Obtain the parts yourself via some of the links I posted above. I'm using the schematic located here to build mine. I'm going to breadboard it so that I know it works and then I'll be soldering it all onto a solderable breadboard. I have an enclosure that I received from PacTec that I plan to use.

2) Buy a kit and build it from that. Probably one of the better kits around is the one from Synthrotek. This will end up being more expensive than the first option. A simpler kit that's less expensive can be found at Makershed.

Edited by theshaggyfreak

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I would love to get involved, though I am personally immersing myself in the world of DSP in both of my jobs (I work part-time at a game technology studio and full time at a Music Technology lab in Drexel) and don't think I can stretch my brain to include the analog world and also the world of circuits and physical devices at the same time. I may in the future, though!

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Encouraging a musically-gifted community to expand their talents beyond DAWs? How could this not be a good idea? I love it. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to participate given the shoe-string budget I'm on at the moment, but it's a wonderful idea. Everybody should watch this thread, if not actively be a part of it.

Also, endorsement seconded for Forrest Mims' book. It's been no end of help for me. Give it a read, prospective solder-monkeys.

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I updated the main post with the basic tools one would need. While this isn't an extremely expensive hobby to get into, there are some things you'll have to invest in prior to starting out. Like most people, I started out with really cheap tools and have slowly upgraded here and there.

For building synths, it's really nice to have an oscilloscope but it's not absolutely necessary to get going. I have an antique one from the 1960s that is good enough to see wave forms. It's not super accurate but it only cost me about $40 from Craigslist. It doe weigh a ton, though!

My philosophy on the whole thing is this: If you're that interested in electronic music, you can learn quite a bit from seeing how the basics actually function. It'll also give you a much deeper appreciation for what the pioneers like Bob Moog did. How awesome would it be to tell someone, "Hear that sound? I built the thing that made it with my own two hands!" I don't know about you but that always impresses me.

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Other projects that can easily be explored are things like a DIY spring reverb and maybe some other basic effects. Actually, building a spring reverb has been been on my mind for a while and I have several ideas for building one.

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Other projects that can easily be explored are things like a DIY spring reverb and maybe some other basic effects. Actually, building a spring reverb has been been on my mind for a while and I have several ideas for building one.

How would that work, you make an IR out of it?

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any interest in midi related stuff? I sometimes see the coolest midi devices that people cook up using arduino.

and while im on the topic of arduino, can you use it to make synths too?

edit: i hope this takes off, because this actually sounds really fun.

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I'd rather keep this to simple stuff at least in the beginning. Most of what I'm looking to do here will deal with CV (Control Voltage). CV to MIDI converters can be found, though. There is some DIY stuff out there for it but it can be a bit quirky to get working properly. I actually use my Arturia Minibrute for this function. It has CV, MIDI, and USB. It can also translate from one to the other without any problems but it's only for Gate CV and Note CV. The only thing I personally might want to look at Arduino in the future is for a step sequencer.

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The easiest way to get started with MIDI is to hack an existing piece of MIDI hardware rather than building one from scratch. I ripped up an old keyboard controller and wired a set of pedals from a church organ into it, which involved figuring out some of the simpler circuit boards in the unit and constructing replacements for them. Quite a lot of fun.

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hi shaggy.

I was putting together a Doepfer DIY synth:

In the video I'm using an Arduino Due to create control voltages from a keybed I removed from a broken oxygen8. I'm trying to create a panel/enclosure for it using laser-cut acryllic but I haven't had time to work on it.

Also I have the Ray Wilson book you mentioned, I put together some of the simpler circuits e.g. the pulse-wave oscillator made from a Schmitt trigger. Again, when I have more time I'll try some of the more interesting circuits.

Not analogue, but currently awaiting delivery of an FPGA starter board for me to play with. I was thinking of designing an 8-bit style sound chip for it and well, writing some chiptunes for it? We'll see.

cheers.

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My plans are to eventually build a CV keyboard. I have a keybed that I've ripped out of an old Casio keyboard. I'm actually kind of excited about working on the mechanical aspect of it. I'm going to have to put a mini-switch under each key to create the setup that I need to trigger the CV. I'll probably use one of Ray's circuits for that project but that's one that will be done in the future.

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I updated the main post with a list of places that I buy parts from in case anyone wants that information. There's a TON of places out there that you can shop at and it's not always easy to tell who's reliable. So, I thought I'd throw out there the ones that I've shopped from in the past.

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Hi analoq!

I got no clue on schematics and soldering, sadly. One thing that'd interest me is how feasible it'd be to build something similar in sound to the SID chip - like, a couple rough digital waveforms smoothed out by an analogue filter, and a few other shaping tools to go with that.

I'm aware of sidstation and midi controlled c64 options and such - not looking for the exact sound, but for DIY jobs that are somewhat inspired by old soundchips, and like the SID involve some analogue components.

Not DIY, but there was a synth by one guy a couple years back that kind of went for that sound, even though the lofi was introduced by bitcrushing instead of the waveforms themselves.

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Super cool thread. I'm a member of hackerspace that is only a block away, I have zero experience and tons of ideas (plus stuff like a broken electric organ stored away). Sadly I just don't have the time (or is it mind) to put into any of it. But I still wanted to post in the super cool thread. Maybe some day!

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Nase,

You can get a lot of milage out of various analog synths to get a 'chiptune' like sound. The Atari Punk Console I spoke have has many mods out there and some of them will let you play it like a typical keyboard synth. Just do a search on Youtube for an idea of what some people have done. There are TONS of videos out there.

If you want to go authentic, you need to look for various designs that utilize a SID chip, SN76477, AY3-8910, etc. Finding those chips can be a hassle and it's not that simple to get them working properly either. I use a Commodore 64 with a MSSIAH cart for SID stuff as it seems to be the most economical way to get that sound. I actually have the other two chips I mentioned in my possession and I'm just waiting for the right project to put them into use. There is a fairly decent one for the SN76477 and I'm hoping the guy that designed the PCB makes more of them (I have one). As far as the AY3 goes, someone is now selling little boxes that use this chip. It's not DIY but it might be desirable.

Edited by theshaggyfreak

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Haven't read it all but if your talking about building a device in which you can plug your current controller with a MIDI in port, and have already the parts list for everything, I'd be up to it.

MIDI Controlled stuff might be in the future but I think with projects like this it's better to stick to CV circuits. A MIDI to CV converter could be in the future at some point, though.

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I updated the main post with a kit that Jameco has put together that gives you all the tools you need to get going. If you're starting out, this a really good way to get it all in one shot. Yes, it's $100 but thats a pretty good deal considering all that you get. Since you get a grab bag of resistors and capacitors, you'll have about half of the components needed to build an Atari Punk Console.

http://www.jameco.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_10001_10001_2099171_-1

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After doing some research, it seems that's quite a bit of stuff going on out there with synths and Arduino. I guess I wouldn't mind bringing that into the mix but I know very little about the platform and very little about coding in general. My knowledge is completely in the analog world. I'm just beginning to understand logic gate circuits at this point. If someone knows more about this end of things, I urge you to maybe start something on that end. This particular project would probably be of interest to some: http://playground.arduino.cc/Main/SID-emulator

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After doing some research, it seems that's quite a bit of stuff going on out there with synths and Arduino. I guess I wouldn't mind bringing that into the mix but I know very little about the platform and very little about coding in general. My knowledge is completely in the analog world. I'm just beginning to understand logic gate circuits at this point. If someone knows more about this end of things, I urge you to maybe start something on that end. This particular project would probably be of interest to some: http://playground.arduino.cc/Main/SID-emulator

Well, I have a bit of knowledge of digital circuits and digital sound processing, but I've never done any sound creation only conversion etc in embedded systems. But it would be interesting to use an arduino for a synth, perhaps I'll read a bit about it when I have time.

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I've set up a quick survey to see how many people would be interested in building an Atari Punk Console. I'd like to have at least 10 people (including myself) working on things as a group project. Otherwise, it wouldn't really be worth doing things in that sort of format. Here's the link:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1B-CNobPZhv4iY1061ighK_6o9qDvicZ2dvcHdhdozLA/viewform?usp=send_form

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If you ever work with analog sounds/synths, knowing your note ratios is critical - 440Hz "A" is a common standard, and you can get every other note by multiplying the previous note by the twelfth root of two. That is, if you want to get A#, multiply 440 by 12th root of 2, and if you want B, multiply that result by the 12th root of 2, etc. This also works backwards - that is, you divide the number by the twelfth root of two to get the number previous.

It's pretty easy to get some really cool sounds off of any microcontroller that can turn a channel on and off, and has access to timers in the programming. Make a program that oscillates from on to off at a rate of 440, for example, and attach a speaker to it and you'll get a natural "A", as a result.

I made the Zelda theme for my microcontroller final project this way, it was pretty fun. ;)

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