Friday, July 19, 2019

3.5mm Breakout Board--No More Sequencer Flipping!

Hello again! I don't work for these guys and here's a plug for what I think is a very good and affordable (not DIY) sequencer:

It's an Arturia Beatstep Pro. I have used all sorts of sequencers, from cheesy/crappy/cheap to homemade to buggy to the really high end ones, and I go back to the Beatstep, it's extremely affordable for what you get, surprisingly well made, and has best of all, has awesomely musical "swing"settings.  Does it do everything you can think of? Of course not. But for $250 or so USD new in the box, it's a damn amazing bit of kit.

So what is so DIY about this? (Hello?)  Nothing yet--Go ahead--build a better sequencer for $250--when you do let me know and I will most-definitely post it.

By George no sequencer has everything! Not a feature, a bug: all the Beatstep Pro's 3.5" jacks are all on the back. That makes plugging this sequencer into other modules, at least in my rack, a bit of a pain--lift it up, turn things over, plug in your patch cables, wiggle the cable to see if it's in all the way, etc.

DIY to the rescue!

To connect the front TS to back, solder jumpers in the box in the middle. The remaining pads are for whatever else I might think up for this PCB....

The PCBs used in my prototype are super simple--it's 10x Switchcraft 35RAP2CAV 3.5" PCB mounted jacks mounted end to end, 5 per side. Two PCBs make 10 front to back connections good to go, ready to plug into whatever 3.5 gizmo you have in your rack, for easy front panel access.

Note that I had to create the eagle device for 35RAP2CAV for this (how to do create new parts in Eagle is posted here), I couldn't find it on the net, and it worked. Anyone interested? I am happy to get you the Eagle part description. Comment below.

The 35RAP2CAV is a useful jack for all sorts of DIY, solidly built, not too expensive--I find myself using them more and more. The jack has a switch built in, which is wired up on my breakout board, but not used in this application.

For my Beatstep Breakout board: here is what I came up with so far:

The front panel, which now has p touch labels, will be, after a shakeout and some more noodling, replaced by a 2mm thick frac panel from Front Panel Express.

Cables used to connect from the back of this panel to the sequencer are 6' Euro color thin patch cables, I bought them from Modular Addict, here.

The only hitch, to get everything to fit I had to Dremel off about 1/4" from the front of the PCB.  Oh well.  Maybe next run I'll fix this, but it wasn't hard to just cut off a bit of the PCB.

Beyond that, this is another "Simple as it can be" sort of project.

You can get Eagle files, PDFs etc. for the breakout board on my website, go here. If you modify it (use different jacks, more jacks, less jacks, whatever) please let me know in the comments below. I will probably cook up variations myself and post more down the road.

OK back to the studio! Now that this breakout panel is mounted to my frac case I can get clocks, CV's etc quickly, no more having to flip the sequencer around! Yeh!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Electronotes Sample-Hold Modded with SMT!

Continuing from last time--it's time to keep holding my nose and fab using SMT (surface mount technology).  It's not 1980 any longer!

This time I take a classic Electronotes preferred circuit "SH-2" (EN#61, posted online here) designed by legendary Cornell Professor Bernie Hutchins and add the SMT op amp boards discussed here to make the module a bit more compatible with my setup.

I initially laid out the PCB and built this S/H module in 2017. I believe the design to be 35+ years old--all analog; none of this 5V 10 bit Arduino ADC rubbish!  I am impressed how flexible this S/H is, you can sample damn near anything and run very fast clocks into it and get good sonic results. Go Big Red!

A great Electronotes design!!  You can get the original schematic here or buy the book; I highly recommend Electronotes Preferred Circuits and the entire Electronotes package to any synth DIYer, you will get a lot of ideas from it.

For me, my somewhat simplified version of the Bernie S/H PCB worked first time, but there were a few problems interfacing it to my DIY setup: for external clock, as I initially laid it out: only clock signals going a few volts below ground would tell the circuit to sample.  But: many of my clock generators go 0V to 5V or more, not 0V to -5V or whatever.

Lots of ways to change that; for me, it is easily corrected with the fully familiar op amp setup (you could of course use single stage but I have a buttload of dual op amp boards sitting around, leftover from other projects):

I also wanted to add a bipolar LED to indicate if I was using external or internal clock and (extra credit!) have it pulse for each sample held. Again, time to use the SMT op amp proof of concept board from last time:

For both boards I tweaked the 2 100K trims until the LED colors looked the way I wanted.  For internal: bright green, for external flashing red.  Yeh!

So there it is: the main PCB (Green) with the two SMT daughter boards are the red ones on the back.

Only the op amps are SMT, I am still a bit chicken to go all in.  And even for the IC, I could have used PDIP I guess, but this mod would have been harder; the boards need to be small to fit the footprint of a 1U frac.

OK that's it, it was a fun morning modding this board and it made a really useful and reliable S/H even better.  Not sure where the SMT thing is going to go right now, but I'll think about it.

See ya next time!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Getting Started with SMT

 As my eyesight gets worse, the parts I use for DIY get smaller.  I guess it had to happen?  Pushed into surface mount technology by my desire to do DIY in the Eurorack format, it was time to tool up and solder my first SMT parts.

First off, I needed to be able to see what I was doing, so I bought a microscope used for SMT work and rework:

There are many scopes to choose so picking one was hard. After some research, I decided to go with AmScope and ultimately the scope recommended by this youtube dude--find it on Amazon here.

(Apparently the YouTube repair dude makes some sort of spiff?  Fine with me. He makes funny, acerbic videos, and has a great NY accent and the NY/NJ screw-you attitude. Someone has to make some money here....)

The microscope it turns out works great....there was no instructions about setting up the stand (I just followed the photos from Amazon but it was still a puzzle at times). I had to wing that. Also, you will need the microscope light (the scope does not come with one; you will need it), a Barlow Lens, and eyepiece eye shields.  And of course: appropriate solder, a good iron, tweezers, flux and most all the rest of the stuff you'd use with through hole. Go to the web page here for links to a lot of what you'll  need.

OK from Tayda I bought the tiny parts, and from JLCPCB I got some Eagle boards fab'd for proof of concept.

Some tiny TL072s.....

Here's the Proof of concept board:

Use 100K resistors for R1-R4 for higher impedance at input.....

So how did it go? Turns out building this board, with the microscope, was easy.  I knew zlich about soldering SMT so I followed the tutorial here. I made a few solder mistakes but as per the tutorial it's easily cleaned out and fixed up with solder wick. 

Let's motorize this pursuit? I whipped up 4 boards:

And then built one out enough to test that a bipolar LED works.  It does!  

Input -5V relative to ground: blue

And 5V relative to ground--red.  Works!

UPDATE 7-13-19: to further shake out this SMT op amp board I modded my trusty Electronotes sample and hold, more in this post.

OK onward!

As with many things in life, this was all much easier than I thought; plunking down the dough for the Microscope helped a lot, although it was a pretty big investment.  But, this would have been hard to do without it.  I am serious: don't breathe the fumes.  See you next time

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

3x Passive Audio Attenuator: One Hour Build!

Time for another easy one, and maybe my shortest AudiodiWHY post to date, which may not be a bad thing? Simple Passive Attenuator.

You can build something like it out of junk parts, but it might get used a lot!

No decal yet, might skip straight to FPE?  I'll update this post after sorting what I want to do for front panel graphics....

I needed this module because I have gotten into Eurorack recently (not DIY--yet?) and there seems to be not a whole lot of consistency in output P/P voltages. Some of them output (say) 2V P/P while for others it's about 10V P/P?

Maybe that "hot" output signal needs to be turned down so the next module doesn't distort--since we know it's never cool to smoke Doepfer. But the good news: it's silly easy to attenuate them hot signals using something like this:

I built this up out of junk parts and an "alubase" panel I had leftover from a PCBWAY order.

Here's the obligatory photo of the back:

Another bonus: I am a rare but devoted Frac guy, and Frac power supplies can get a bit over sized; they can stick out into the module next door when you beef 'em up, which you usually need to do. Putting a passive panel, with no PCB sticking out the back, next to the Frac's "wing" power supply keeps things from shorting out. Thank goodness!

Not much more to say here except it's fun to think up passive modules--i.e., no need for DC power. Can a Low pass gate be passive?  Yep. Can a distortion module be passive?  Yes--check out the previous post here.

Hours of fun, maybe not? but an hour of fun?  yep.

OK it took me less time to write this post than build this module but not much. Again maybe not a bad thing. See ya next time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Quick One: Front Panel Express

I'm still looking for a way to DIY small quantities of professional looking front panels for projects, but until recently, no dice. I've written about using decals on metal, but that process is time consuming, hogs your oven ("sorry honey, no dinner tonight, I'm cooking my nerdy front panels"), and takes a fair amount of practice to get good results.

And, even when decaling comes out spot on, compared to the real deal, it's still a bit lacking. They're decals!

I may have found the answer--I finally broke down and got my first panel from Front Panel Express (in Europe, same sorta thing here).

Good news, it came out looking really good I think, and was easy. (No I don't work for or get any sort of promotional consideration from these guys).

Front Panel Express' "Hammer Cocktail" panel
Same thing--metal from PCBWAY and graphics via Adobe Illustrator and Lazertran

The panel you see at the top of this post cost me about $59 USD including shipping, tax etc., compared to about $10 each for bare metal and decals, that's a lot more piasters. It would have come down a bit per panel if I bought more of the same design. You know: "The more you buy, the more you save." Shipping is free for orders over $50 and shipping alone for the panel here was about $12USD.  A lot of shipping dough I think for a single 1oz scrap of metal....but it came in a beautifully packaged, carefully prepped box, no way it was going to get scratched or smooshed on the way to my shop and the whole thing came out, really, perfect.

To use Front Panel Express you have to use their software. No choices--it's their way or the highway. Sadly you can't say send these guys a gerber and they'll make a panel from that (which you can with PCBway--use "alubase" and black silk screening).

I tried this FPE CAD software a few years ago and failed horribly; I couldn't even get a 1u Frac panel sized, much less the drills and whatnot. But this time for whatever reason--maybe more time working with Eagle? I was OK. Turn on the grid, draw the panel, no sweat.

Good news is: FPE has the ability to import graphics from a variety of formats. This is very helpful! For me I prepped the artwork (including little circles for drills) in Illustrator, moved it into Photoshop for some touch up, saved it as a print quality PDF, then laid it over a blank 1U frac panel in Front Panel Express' designer app.  Then, used drills in the FPE designer to punch the holes right over the art. I was nervous that thing wouldn't line up when I got the panel (which would have been $50 odd bucks down the toilet?) but, worked great.

If you want to engrave your panels for a more Moog/ type look you can do that too (how to here) but for me, graphics is just fine.

So now I'm going through other modules where the front panel came out a bit butt, and I'm finding it super fun to make FPE panels, since you can go hog wild with graphics. For instance, further immortalize Don Buchla's photo on your DIY "source of uncertainty."  Why not? I am going to convert more of my homemade panels to FPE over the next few months, it just looks more professional.

OK that's it for this one. I am happy going panel crazy; perhaps the mo-fessional part of me that wished I had Bob Moog's chops will kick in.  Until next time, don't breathe the fumes.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

GABBAR--High Performance AR/ASR

There are those who think outside the box and there are others for whom there is no box at all,  gabbagabi from the EM forum is the ladder!

gabbagabi and I started corresponding after the "FAITW" posts; we are both interested in high performance EG's. In his messages, gabbagabi said he had designed a AR/ASR that attacks around 1ms and is still  musically useful. He sent me his schematic and I (embarrassed to say) couldn't figure out how it worked.


The GabbAR uses a couple of opamp stages as comparators. There is a 100nF cap in there that blips the comparator to start the attack. For me AR's were always 2 diodes, a cap and a couple of pots, and sounded like, well, 2 diodes a cap and a couple of pots, but this ain't Kansas any longer.

I tried putting stages of gabbagabi's design into a SIM site but the results were--inconclusive?

gabbagabi reassured me he strip-boarded this ASR a couple of times and it worked great. We traded Eagle files; even though gabbagabi usually uses a design program called "Sprint Layout" he ported his work to Eagle, which is what I've always used. Thanks dude! Also, gabbagabi wanted to fab what he calls a "humanized" PCB, meaning that the PCB is laid out to roughly match the schematic--which takes more PCB space, but makes understanding what's going on and troubleshooting/modding a lot easier. Something I've not seen before.

I sent a gerber of his humanized design to fab along with some other things I was working on, it came back a week later, and I built the GabbAR in a couple of evenings. Guess what? gabbagabi's design works and sounds friggin' GREAT.

It says AD CSLAMMY on the schemo--that's my EM avatar--but this is Gabi's work.

The AR does fine with +/-12V DC or +/-15 supplies, and its outputs scale based on the supply voltages. So for me, in Frac +/-15V land, the max output of the ASR is about 7.5V.  That works.

Gabi's "humanized" PCB layout....

You can mess with C7 and the pots (use audio taper, I think it sounds better) to get sub 3ms attack and to my ears--no click.Very nice! Of course bigger caps and/or bigger pots mean longer AR times. gabigabba suggests using 100K pots and 100uF for C7 for "normal" AR speed, or 1M/2uF for very fast AR.  For me, I ended up putting 10uF and 100uF caps for C7 on a switch and using 12mm 100K audio tapers. So: If you build this AR, you may want to mess with the values for C7 and the A and R pots.

One gotcha: make sure the transistors used for T2 and T3 match the schematic.  Depending on what you use, you may have issues. I used a 2N3906 which was silk screened correctly on the PCB but had to flip a 2N3904 to get this to work. Follow the BOM, bottom of this section.....

I also added an op amp buffer on a tiny daughter board. Now, I get inverting output from about 7.5V to 0V in addition to the native 0V to -7.5VDC and 0 to 7.5VDC "native" output signals. 1001 uses.


More testing. Daughter board gives me an additional inverting output....

Once I had this EG up and running I tried to figure out how it works, for anyone truly interested please read my explanation docx here. I'm not an EE so please, feel free to comment or message me if you have other ideas about how this board works--it's tricky.

You can get the PCB and the usual downloadable dookie (BOM, gerber, etc) here.

Going Forward: gabbagabi and I have been IMing again; it'd be nice to shrink this design so 2x or 4x  fit in a single board and (am I really saying this?) see if I can get this shoehorned into the smaller Eurorack format.

But that's for another post. In the meantime it was super fun working with gabbagabi on this. I hope to post more of his stuff down the road. So until next post--go ahead, take a whiff, it's June!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Hammer Cocktail--Low Parts Count 4069UB based Low Pass Filter

Привет! Continuing from last month's post re: using 4069UB CMOS chips. The grunge alternative to boring op amps!!

This time, I build a low parts count low pass filter design from the mind of Russian techno master HAMMER. Good news, it's a quick build and sounds like nothing else I've heard, maybe a bit like an MS10 filter but not even that. This thing presents icy cold and then suddenly screams like a gorilla in heat. So: if you're after a pretty sounding 3320 based Chariots of Fire VCF this one isn't it. But for me, when pushed really hard the Hammer Cocktail sterilizes frogs at 20 paces. It's an interesting addition to my DIY rack-o-filters.

UPDATE!! 6-14-19 new front panel from Front Panel Express.  More here.

Front panel made using Lazertran decaling

Sound demo is here. About the demo: I pretended I was scoring a 70s US TV sci fi detective series called (of course) "Hammer". But, to not fry speakers, I toned down the really obvious distortion a bit. You can hear bits of it coming through and that's all from the filter.  No outboard distortion used.

The design:

The schematic for this VCF is way less complex than it looks--a simplified schematic can be seen at the top of this E-M post.  It's really only a few parts, and I  like low parts counts....and I hate stripboarding.

For the prototype I included 3 buffers on the PCB (the op amps on the left) since I figured something, not sure what, would have to buffered. I ended up using 2 of them to buffer incoming CV and outgoing audio.  For the output buffer I needed about 8x gain so I used appropriate resistor values--your own setup may require different buffering.

You can get the PDFs, Eagle files, BOM etc., on my website here....the PCB could be made much smaller and really ambitious DIYers could probably fit 2 of these Hammer Cocktail VCFs on a single Euro 14-18ishHP panel.

But for me, I took the easy route, and the over sized PCB was put behind a 1U FRAC panel.

Warning and an aside: I am running out of space in my studio and thus getting into Eurorack, which from a DIY standpoint is much more challenging; Euro is tiny compared to Frac or 5U and thus, space is much more constrained. That means DIYing surface mount, skiff boards, and the like. What that means: You may hear increased weeping and OCD meltdown in the coming posts as I get into this, but please note: I held off as long as I could. And BTW it's really, really, really hard to beat Intellijel. Figuring I will never be smart enough to DIY a great DSP based tap delay, I bought their rainmaker module and almost wept, because it's so bodacious. Maybe sometimes you have to let the players play?

About the Russian 4069UB chip: Hammer tells us that the Russian equivalent of the 4069UB "screams wilder" so I bought a few of them spuds from the former USSR. They showed up a few weeks later looking like the vendor forget about Peristroika. I mean these things were beat!


But it wasn't hard to bend them back, to me they were built a bit tougher maybe than western CMOS ICs.

Nota Buena! Hammer tells me older K561**2 chips might sound better--look for old daycodes (8712 means dec 87 I think?) and round logos--which he says are better sounding

I dropped the Russian IC into the Hammer Cocktail circuit and yep, the Russian 4069 equivalent did sound different, and maybe a bit more "Hammer Like"? Hammer says the Russian version has less distortion, perhaps allowing me to push the filter even harder before it became audibly intolerable. Hard to say, but it was only about $20US for the chips on Ebay, including shipping, so you might want to check it out.

For CV Hammer says use 0-2.5V and power from 5V DC.  I powered from 5V alright, there is a 5V reg on my Hammer PCB since Frac is just +/- 15V.  The resonance pot, which adds the insane uber MS10-like distortion, isn't linear, the interesting distortion is in the upper 15% or so of the pot's travel. I have confirmed with Hammer that for this particular version of his filter this is normal behavior. I might try replacing this with a reverse audio taper pot down the road.

OK that's it for now.  I still have a high performance EG and Lunetta circuit on the bench, more collaborative projects with other DIYers. More on those soon, I hope, but until next time, Прощай

3.5mm Breakout Board--No More Sequencer Flipping!

Hello again! I don't work for these guys and here's a plug for what I think is a very good and affordable (not DIY) sequencer: I...