Sunday, November 27, 2011

Callate Gate update

The Noise Gate soldering of the PCB is complete. In looking for the 500k pot for 'sensitivity' control, I was lead to believe the Radioshack 'Volume Pot' rated 500k would work even with a missing solder connector. Turns out not to be the case, there is no third solder lug nor conductor trace to be found - so be warned - it does not behave like a normal potentiometer (voltage divider fashion). To remedy this I went to the only kind of place in this one horse town that stocks a 500k pot: a guitar store. There I dropped $10 on a fancy Fender brand-name pot, my buyers remorse being offset by having solved the problem and moving forward once again. After my initial tests of the Noise Gate, it does not appear the 'Q3' MPF102 N Chanel RF Amp is working out. Audio is simply passing through without being gated, no matter what the settings. I have tried the Q3 transistor in both orientations, since a couple of builders on the builder's report log describe the transistor being shown in the incorrect orientation. Looks like this project is going on the shelf until my next order from Mouser.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Building a Callate Gate 2

It's well known the Hohner String Melody II has a pretty high noise floor. One of the most popular solutions is to run the synth through a decent noise gate. Noise gates are very simple: when there is no sound the gate closes and the noise goes away, when you play the synth the gate opens allowing the sound through. I've found plans to build a clone of an MXR Noise Gate at for a design called Callate Gate 2, this second version having mods for attack/release times plus an input attenuator. Today I rounded-up all the parts, etched a PCB, and drilled holes. I'll be soldering it together tonight and, with any luck, will have it boxed tomorrow. For anyone building this I would like to note Radioshack does not carry the "Q3" N Channel RF Amp 2N5485, but they DO carry an MPF102 with similar specs and same pinout. Let's see how it does.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Boss RE-20 Space Echo with a Venom Synthesizer

Firstly, this video is unveiling my new 10-second opening title. Pretty shnazzy, eh?

Anyway, it's a demo of my favorite effect pedal, the Boss/Roland RE-20 Space Echo. The RE-20 is a savagely beautiful emulation of the tape-delays from the 70's, and the typical sound has been used countless music acts from Pink Floyd, Portishead, and Radiohead. This video isn't a full review, just showing some quick sound flavors if you're thinking about routing a synthesizer through it.

Synthesizer: M-Audio Venom
Synth Patch: Europa_JP can be downloaded here
Mixer: Mackie 402-VLZ3
Audio recorder: Tascam DR-05

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some thoughts about the Akai Miniak Synthesizer

So yeah I traded my Microkorg for the Miniak synthesizer. Now that I've had a chance to mess with programming it a bit I just wanted to share some initial thoughts. Please don't think as this as a full review of the Miniak. There are many good reviews out there and I just wanted to supplement them with my own findings at this moment. I'll also compare the Miniak to the Microkorg and the Venom as well.


Miniak Filters
Having two filters per program, in addition to the pre- and post- mixer sections is the best thing about having Alesis/Micron DNA in your Miniak synthesizer: the Andromeda filters were setup in that exact kind of architecture! So the range of sounds that become possible don't only multiply, but increase exponentially. The filters are interestingly phat and flexible. The filters that are represented like oberheim 2-pole, moog, arp mostly sound very convincing and useable. The TB-303 filter not-so-much. To me the JP filter sounds more like JP-8000 than say a Jupiter-8, which is fine on a synth of this price range - not looking for miracles here.

Miniak sound quality.
Miniak does vintage synths sounds very well to a degree, like say the VCO digital/analog hybrid synths from the mid-80s. To me this makes it ideal for bass sounds. There is some great mojo about the Miniak that makes basses sound really full, thick and in-your-face. And to me that's a beautiful thing, and ideally suited to a synth that has only 37 keys just like the wonderful bass synths of yesteryear. It bears to mention the Venom can serve bass synth duties very well, but I have been maxing-out polyphony generating the other song parts so that a second synth became necessary. So, on the Miniak after auditioning presets and programming original sounds, it can either sound completely amazing OR can turn bad and cheesy on a dime. The trick seems to be a finesse game. The effects are not that great as the reverb gets these snap-crackle-pop artifacts going if you load the input to the effects section too much. But I've noticed some of the presets behaving this way. The compressor doesn't sound anywhere near as good as the Venom, either. So the way to go, it seems, is to do things in moderation: keep the wet/dry signal around 50/50 or below, keep the oscillator levels away from the 100% mark, and not to go overboard with the modulation amounts.

Programming the Miniak.
So the biggest drawback with the Miniak: the process of editing is a bit slow and tedious. Turns out its editor method is taken almost directly from the Roland Alpha Juno-1/2 whereby all the actions have to pass through a single data wheel. I've always felt it was widely understood this programming method was a shortcoming of the wonderful sounding Alpha-Juno synths, only to see history repeating itself once more unfortunately. It turns out there are some nice software MIDI editors available for price such as from But when you lump the costs of editors together with the initial price of the synth itself I think this defeats the cost effectiveness of the Miniak. If you're going to edit a hardware synth with a computer I would rather recommend something much greater sound-quality-wise such as the Venom for the money. Before getting Miniak I thought very seriously about getting a second Venom. All that said, I'll not be getting an editor and just endure the editor data-knob.

Some comparison to Microkorg
My main reason for trading the Microkorg for the Miniak is to get away from those miniature keys. The Miniak has rewarded me greatly for that decision having a sturdy full-size keybed. Sound-wise I think Korg has a better overall sound quality especially with their effects on the Microkorg. Both synths have the vocoder, but the mic for the Miniak seems to be a little more sturdy. MicroKorg has only two oscillators per voice whereas the Miniak has three. For bass synth duties I would have to defer to the Miniak, it really knows how to perfectly rumble the monitors in a sweetly desirable manner. As far as hardware editors go, I would rather have the mod matrix of Korg - and a big plus - Korg offers their excellent software patch editor for free on their website. It's been my hope that manufacturers would stop going to the data-dial mode of editing operations altogether.

So, the result.
I am thinking about the Miniak as a bass synth in my setup, a very capable and versatile bass synth is where it excels. I'll definitely be using Miniak that way in future live video performances. So, As long as you don't mind the editing method being slightly more laborious I can recommend the Miniak as a good alternative to Micorkorg.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The small mini-keys on the Microkorg are a thorn in my side no more. Enter this little beastie.