Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Video: I unbox, assemble, and play the new $39 open source, 8bit/chiptune miniAtmegatron synth kit

A first look at the Soulsby Synthesizers miniAtmegatron.

The Soulsby Synthesizers miniAtmegatron was launched yesterday, and I recorded a video showing the unboxing, assembly, and a quick demo of the unit (video below).

The miniAtmegatron is an Arduino compatible shield in kit form. All the parts for the shield were included, along with some (very) basic instructions. Here's some quick thoughts on the assembly of the miniAtmegatron:

  • Have a fine pencil/conical tip for your soldering iron, and hopefully very fine (small diameter) solder! (more on this below)
  • Other things you'll need: Arduino Uno or compatible board, soldering iron, wire cutters, mono 1/8 inch/3.5 mm audio cable, computer for uploading the source code & libraries and USB cable, optionally some machine screws to hold the shield to the Uno.
  • Use the parts list as the order of assembly, i.e. proceed down the 1st column (left), then 2nd column and so on.
  • Warning: the pitch of the leads from the RGB LEDs is tiny! I used a very small screwdriver type tip on my soldering iron, and still made a solder bridge between two of the leads on each LED. After unsoldering with a solder sucker (solder braid/wick was too difficult for me to get in there) I had to switch tips to a fine pencil one, and even then it was tricky, even with .38 mm (.014 in.) solder.
  • Some type of magnification will not only help double check your soldering of the LEDs, but to read the values of the caps (black on dark blue, small font - luckily there's only 3)
After assembly, download the miniAtmegtron source code and libraries from the Soulsby website. Extract the libraries (not just the Library 2-0 folder) into your Arduino Library folder (Documents\Arduino\Libraries)

Start the Arduino IDE, open the miniAtmegatron source code (sketch), and upload to the Uno. Install the miniAtmegatron shield onto the Uno (I used some small machine screws to keep it in place), plug your audio cable into the miniAtmegatron and whatever speakers/audio system you will be using, and you should be up and running.

Beyond this point, there doesn't seem to be much on the way of instructions (as of today) beyond the "cheat sheet" on the back of the part's list, and the screen printed labels on the PCB. You can watch my brief explanation of the controls towards the end of the video below (they're similar in theory to the full Atmegatron).

It sounds pretty great for such an inexpensive item. Once there's some info on MIDI control and other items, I hope to post another video explaining the operational aspects of the miniAtmegatron in more detail. 

At $39, it seems like a no-brainer if you're into this type of sound. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Update: See the new case for the miniAtmegatron here.

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