Synthino Arduino-based Synthesizer


The year 2014 has been the year of synthesizer design for nootropic design! After releasing the Audio Hacker Arduino shield last year, I continued to get more interested in audio processing. I started designing audio synthesis software for the Arduino, and by collaborating with my good friend Alex at GetLoFi, eventually came up with a completely standalone version called the Synthino. The Synthino has lots of great features and we think it’s going to be so big it has its own website: A small number area being sold by Foxtone Music on eBay. Sign up on the mailing list to get updates about when more will be available. The next generation Synthino is already in the works and will feature a much more powerful ATxmega microcontroller (stay tuned!).

The coolest thing that happened while developing the Synthino is that the 80’s synth band Information Society got connected with us (long story) and asked us to design a special version of the Synthino for their deluxe box set to be released with their new album _hello world. I worked with lead singer Kurt Harland to choose waveforms that would provide the sound he wanted. We also used colored buttons to match the Information Society logo and created custom laser-cut acrylic with the band logo on the bottom. Over the summer, we manufactured Synthino units at a furious pace in the GetLoFi garage in south Minneapolis. It was a fun project, and Information Society sold out of deluxe box sets immediately.

Image courtesy of Information Society

Published by Michael, on November 11th, 2014 at 4:54 pm. Filed under: Audio. | No Comments |

Using a Relay Trigger with the Defusable Clock

Many of our Defusable Clock customers use the device in Airsoft competitions where participants must find the device and defuse it before the timer expires. A great thing to do in these games is to trigger a loud siren or smoke grenade when the timer reaches 00:00. The new version V2 of the clock has a connections for such a trigger and we are now selling relay modules in the nootropic design store.

Below is a picture that shows how to connect a relay. The red wire is 5V and if you have an older kit it needs to be soldered to the output pin of the voltage regulator. It then connects to the 5V red wire on the relay module. The 5V output is the rightmost pin of the voltage regulator when looking at the front of the board. The green wire is the trigger connection and goes to the green wire on the relay module. The trigger ground connection is the black wire going to the relay module.

Relay connections

UPDATE: there is now a 5V pad next to the trigger and ground pads that you can use:

To send 9V to your destination device like a siren or smoke grenade, connect a wire to the + connection near the power connector, and a ground wire to the – connection. These are shown as yellow and black wires in the picture. This assumes you have a 9V input voltage to the clock. If you are using a different voltage like 12V or a 7.4V lipo battery, that’s fine. This is the voltage available on the + connection.

The black ground wire connects directly to your device. The positive voltage (yellow wire) connects to the relay module terminal marked “COM” (for “common”). The gray wire in the picture is connected to the relay terminal marked “NO” (for “normally open”) and this wire is the positive voltage to your siren or smoke grenade or whatever.

When the countdown reaches 00:00, the trigger voltage (green wire) will cause the relay to close and connect the 9V yellow wire to the gray wire, thus providing 9V to your external device for a duration of about 2.5 seconds while the clock goes through the “detonation” sequence. If you want power to be disconnected when the countdown reaches 00:00, connect the gray wire to the terminal marked “NC” (“normally closed”) instead.

Have fun, and as always, stay out of trouble!

Published by Michael, on October 28th, 2014 at 11:14 am. Filed under: Uncategorized. | 11 Comments |

Defusable Clock Used as Prop in ‘The Tomorrow People’ Episode

I am so excited that the nootropic design Defusable Clock was used as a prop in an episode of the new TV show The Tomorrow People on the CW Network! The episode “Kill or Be Killed” aired on October 30th, 2013. If you watch the episode online the Defusable Clock scene is at about 29:30. Here is a short clip showing the prop in action:

A special effects company providing services to this Warner Bros. production contacted me in August about using the Defusable Clock as a prop in the TV show. I worked with the propmaster to deliver several assembled devices quickly to the show’s shooting location in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

I then collaborated with a member of the special effects team to provide modifications to the Arduino code to better suit their needs. I doubled the display refresh rate to 976Hz to avoid flicker on camera. I removed the clock functionality and gave them better control over the timer display. I also modified the input functions so that wires connected to the terminal blocks could be used to control the timer dispaly. This way the crew could change timer from off-camera without having to touch the device.

They made a few other cosmetic changes, including removing my logo (!), but I think they did a great job using this device in the dramatic scene. It was a real thrill for me to watch!

Still frame from "The Tomorrow People"

Still frame from “The Tomorrow People”

Published by Michael, on October 31st, 2013 at 8:30 pm. Filed under: Arduino,Art. | 2 Comments |

Audio Hacker Voice Changer

This Audio Hacker example shows how you can manipulate audio to radically change recorded samples. This project uses a technique called granular synthesis, to raise and lower the pitch of a sample. It’s easy to change the pitch of a sample by playing it slower or faster, but granular synthesis allows you to alter the pitch without changing duration of the sample. So if a recorded sample was 5 seconds long, we can play it back at a higher or lower pitch, but the played sample will still have a duration of 5 seconds.

The technique is rather complex, but it involves dividing the sample up into small fragments called “grains”. When playing back a sample, if we want the pitch higher, we play the grain at a higher speed, but we play it over and over again until it takes the same amount of time as the grain played at original speed. Likewise, to lower pitch, we play each grain at a slower speed, but move onto the next grain sooner so that the overall sample has the same duration.

This technique introduces some noise, but it works really well with voice recordings. To send your voice into the Audio Hacker, I recommend using Audacity. Enable the monitoring feature for the microphone so that anything picked up by the computer’s microphone to the computer’s audio output, which is connected to the Audio Hacker input.

For this project I used the DJ Shield because it has 5 buttons and 3 pots. Record a sample with a button on D5, and playback with a button on D6. A potentiometer connected to A0 changes the pitch after recording. Before recording, set the A0 pot to the midpoint. When playing back a sample, use A0 to alter the pitch.

But there’s more! A potentiometer connected to A1 changes the size of the grains. And a potentiometer on A2 allows you to “stretch” each grain and play it multiple times. Now using all of these controls, we can do some really fun stuff! Here’s a video showing what you can do:

The Arduino sketch source code is an example in the Audio Hacker library: File->Examples->Audio Hacker->VoiceChanger.

Published by Michael, on July 5th, 2013 at 9:55 am. Filed under: Audio. | 8 Comments |