About this project
First, a BIG Thank You!
The Synthino XM Kickstarter campaign was a huge success, with all available Synthino XM synthesizers claimed in record time. We know there is demand for this great product and it will be available for purchase at synthino.com starting in May 2015. Watch for campaign updates here or sign up for email notifications at synthino.com.
What is Synthino XM?
The Synthino XM is completely new polyphonic synthesizer with unique features running on a powerful hardware platform. It is compact, well-constructed, open source, and absolutely beautiful. Most importantly, it is really fun to play whether you are a musician or you just want to make some noise.
Synthino XM is a polyphonic, multitimbral synthesizer with many features:
- 5-note polyphony for superb playability
- 12 waveforms, 5 drum samples (kick, snare, hi-hat, tom, clap), and noise generator
- 12-bit audio at 25KHz output rate
- 4 MIDI channels, each with separate waveform and ADSR envelope settings
- MIDI over 5-pin MIDI jack or USB
- MIDI over USB works with DAW software on Mac and Windows computers as well as iOS and Android devices
- low pass filter with cutoff frequency and resonance controls
- 2 independent low frequency oscillators (LFOs): pitch and filter
- selectable waveform for LFOs
- 1V p-p audio output voltage with enough current to drive headphones
- arpeggiator mode, up to 16 notes
- 4 arpeggiator patterns: up, down, up-down, random
- 4 built-in arpeggiator chords or use MIDI to specify up to 16 notes
- arpeggiator pitch transposition control
- tempo control with MIDI clock input
- 16-step live performance "groovebox" sequencer
- save/load patches and sequences in EEPROM
- pitch fine-tuning adjustment
- programmable/upgradable over USB
1/4 inch ( 6.35 mm ) output jack: Works with headphones, line output for recording, and direct connecting to standard guitar amplifier. We will include a 1/4 to 1/8 inch stereo adapter with each Synthino XM for headphone/earbud use. When running on 9 volt battery power, the unit turns off when the audio plug is removed.
Standard 5-pin MIDI input jack: This allows you to plug-in any standard MIDI keyboard, interface, sequencer, or drum machine to control the Synthino XM.
USB mini jack: Allows MIDI over USB functionality. This modern implementation enables sequencing and control from iOS, Android, PC, and Mac devices. It can also be used to upgrade firmware using a simple upload utility. Synthino XM can also be powered from the USB port of cell phone charger, laptop power, or battery pack.
Laser-cut acrylic cover: The top and bottom of the device are laser-cut frosted acrylic that give the Synthino XM a gorgeous finish. We searched far and wide for acrylic with just the right look.
Knobs, Buttons, and Blinking LEDs
We wanted a fun, tactile, aesthetically pleasing user interface free of distractions and with just enough buttons and knobs that change your parameters on the fly so you can instantly explore new sounds. The software modes we designed are geared towards people to have fun playing around without any previous musical experience and at the same time we have a powerful live sequencer groovebox mode that every synthesizer fan will enjoy. The visual indicators are in the form of 4 bright orange LEDs located below the buttons.
The Synthino XM has 3 modes: synthesizer, arpeggiator, and groovebox. When Synthino XM is powered on, all the LEDs blink, prompting you to select a mode by pressing one of the buttons (1-3). In some modes, the pots have secondary functions labeled as "fn:". These functions are enabled/disabled by pressing button 4. When "fn:" functions are enabled, the LED under button 4 flashes. The entire device can be reset by holding button 4 for 3 seconds, allowing you to choose a new mode to use.
Mode 1 - Synthesizer
Synthesizer mode allows you to play the Synthino XM with a MIDI controller connected to the MIDI jack or from your favorite DAW (digital audio workstation) software with MIDI over USB. You can also play the synthesizer in standalone mode using the 3 note buttons. Explore different sounds by changing the waveform, controlling the note envelope parameters (ADSR - attack, decay, sustain, release), modulating the pitch and filter with independent LFOs for each, and adjusting the low pass filter.
There are 4 independent voices corresponding to MIDI channels 1-4. Each voice can have its own envelope and waveform, allowing you to play 4 completely different sounding instruments at the same time. Use the voice select knob to choose a voice (indicated by LED) and then use waveform and ADSR knobs to modify that voice's parameters. The LFOs and filter, however, are global and affect all voices.
The Synthino XM is 5-note polyphonic, and the 5 simultaneous notes can be played on any combination of voices. For example, all on one voice when playing from a keyboard, or the 5 notes can be spread across the 4 MIDI channels when sequencing the Synthino XM from DAW software on your computer.
Mode 2 - Arpeggiator
The arpeggiator lets you play predefined arpeggios or set your own arpeggio notes with MIDI. Use the pattern button to cycle through the patterns: up, down, up-down, and random. Use the chord/MIDI button to cycle through predefined 4-note chord arpeggios: major, minor, M7, and m7, or to select MIDI mode which creates an arpeggio with currently played MIDI notes (up to 16 notes!). Of course you can change the speed (BPM), transpose arpeggios up and down, and modify the envelope, waveform, and filter parameters. There's a ton of fun to be had, even when using the arpeggiator in standalone mode without any MIDI input.
Mode 3 - Live performance "groovebox" sequencer
Groovebox mode is the most sophisticated feature of the Synthino XM. It is a "live" 16-step sequencer which allows you to lay down 4 different tracks by playing a MIDI controller. For simplicity when performing a live sequence, this mode does not have secondary functions on the pots.
When the sequencer is running, any note or drum sample you play will be recorded to the current track and repeated as the sequencer runs. Change tracks using the track select knob. Each track can have its own envelope (AR) settings. The individual notes on a single track can even have different waveforms, so you can create very rich, complex sequences. The clear track button clears the currently selected track, and the preview button lets you play notes/samples with your controller without recording them so you can hear what it will sound like. The track fader knob lets you control the volume of each track individually, and transpose lets you transpose notes up/down (but drum samples won't transpose). You can even enable a metronome to help with your timing. The Synthino XM groovebox mode is incredibly powerful and expressive. No musical talent is required to make great sounding sequences! And when you have a great sequence you can save it to memory to recall later, even after the power is turned off.
Synthino XM is better...
Powerful microcontroller - The ATxmega128a4u has 2x speed, 4x flash memory, 4x SRAM of any comparable Aduino based synthesizer out there. Waveforms are synthesized with a true 12-bit DAC for smooth sound. This is not scratchy PWM audio!
MIDI Over USB - Note sequencing from Android with OTG (On-The-Go) cable, USB Camera Adapter on iPad or iPhone. Standard USB port on Desktop PC or Laptop. Drivers are pre-loaded on all those systems. It will just show up as "Synthino XM" under MIDI Output Interfaces.
Built for easy upgrades and customization - We will release mechanical drill files for anyone who wants to integrate the Synthino XM into a custom project. We take the community of our users seriously and any improvements and upgrades will be considered. Custom colors of laser cut panels and accessories will be eventually available.
Made in USA - By keeping our fabrication and assembly in-house we can afford to expand and economically create the Synthino XM. With fewer middle men you as a backer and future customer will received the best deal. We also take pride in being a local business.
We are both experienced "makers" that have both run our own electronics business for years. In fact, we were both recently profiled in the new book Maker Pro published by Maker Media:
We started collaborating on Synthino project in early 2014, the finished design you see evolved almost naturally because the hardware was telling us what to do. Initially the synthesizer experiments were coded for the nootropic design's Audio Hacker Shield, surely it made sounds but limited by only 5 buttons and 3 pots with no way playing notes, but even with the added MIDI shield, we obviously had monstrous setup was not clean, friendly, or practical.
Yet those steps helped us to define the limits of what we wanted in a portable microcontroller synthesizer. Our team had a deadline later that spring, a pivotal point and we concentrated on developing a standalone synthesizer not a collection of Arduino shields. Thanks to Michael's tireless efforts writing the software and laying out the hardware to incorporate Alex's functionality suggestions the Synthino ONE was born and debuted at the Maker Faire Bay Area 2014.
We had overwhelmingly positive feedback and of course plenty of suggestions from people who stopped by our booth. Before boarding the plane for cold Minnesota Alex contacted RobotSpeak synthesizer specialty retailer in San Francisco, although an actual meeting never happened that contact led to surprise project producing 100 units over the summer for the band Information Society!
In August of 2014 we fulfilled out obligations of delivering the units to be included in the band's deluxe box set of their new record _Hello World. The Deluxe release sold out within hours.
We learned so many things from painstakingly creating over 100 units by hand and soldering thousands of through-hole components. The functionality and features were all squeezed out of the Synthino ONE's same as Arduino ATmega328 hardware. We needed faster fabrication and a faster processor with double the speed and 4 times as much memory. From the Atmel ATxmega128a4u the new Synthino XM was prototyped and born.
Over the fall and winter of 2014 we continued the work on Synthino XM perfecting the code and improving our manufacturing processes to be able to produce the new XM units in-house. We chose white circuit boards, orange LEDs and frosted acrylic for an aesthetically pleasing design that will get attention for its beauty, not just its great sound.
We know that this Kickstarter campaign will be the best way to get the word out about our awesome product. We ask for your support to validate our vision of a fun user-friendly synthesizer by providing us with materials we need to make it a success.
"Synthino" is a trademark of nootropic design, LLC
Risks and challenges
We are experienced makers that both run our own electronics businesses and have proven track records in manufacturing and shipping to customers all over the world. But, like any complex project, there are some risks that could get in the way:
Production Equipment Failure: We are planning on using a shared laser cutter for this short run of Synthino XM units, its possible that the machine can break or be broken by another user. Our surface mount reflow oven may malfunction and cause delays until new one is acquired.
Software Bugs: It is possible that there could be grave software errors that may not manifest until after the units are shipped. Although the units can be easily updated over USB it is an extra step we would not be thrilled with making users do.
Component Failures: It is also possible that any one of the parts we receive and use in our batch of units could be faulty and fail from repeated use of Synthino XM. With many years of customer care, these issues will be resolved quickly to the customer's satisfaction.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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