The wonder of running a boutique manufacturer is that sometimes things get completely crazy. This is a view of my dining room table, which (until a few hours ago) was one of the last unoccupied horizontal surfaces in the house. Now it’s a staging area for batches of anodes — 50 at a time — as the cases are checked and matched with circuit boards before they’re set aside for final assembly in the workshop. Over the next week or so, we’ll be finishing and shipping a batch of synths a day — a few hundred in all.
I’m happy to report that the process is a lot smoother than when we launched the original Meeblip synth in late 2010. Our old design required the application of several adhesive labels, screwing in a couple of fiddly circuit boards with 20 screws, and the manufacture and assembly of several ribbon cables. It took two people a full day to get a couple of dozen units built and tested.
This time around, we applied the lessons we learned to ensure a smoother assembly line. The graphics are pad printed directly onto the cases and the circuit boards snap together without the need for screws. Once assembled, they drop into the cases and the entire unit is held together with only four screws. We also shifted to D-shaft potentiometers, which makes installing the knobs a simple push-on procedure.
The changes seem like little things, but we’re saving 10 or 15 valuable minutes per instrument, which allows us to focus on the important stuff like play testing the instrument before it ships. It also helps us to keep the cost down, which is critical as we continue to create affordable boutique instruments for the masses.
We didn’t think we’d have anything to show at the massive NAMM show in Anaheim, California this year. Luckily, a bit of last-minute hard work by our case manufacturer allowed us to show the first anode production units at the show. In fact, the cases were delivered to us in Anaheim the day before the show started.
Richard from Pittsburgh Modular and Greg from Studio Electronics did a huge favor by offering us a few inches of table space in their booth to show off our little creation. There’s something very cool about being able to hand a tiny 4.25″ x 4.25″ synthesizer to someone who doesn’t know it exists; their reaction is priceless as they flip it around in their hands, trying to get their heads around the fact that this tiny box is a full-fledged MIDI-equipped monosynth.
James showing anode to Synthtopia
Being able to show off anode to retailers from around the globe was fantastic, but our most important task is to assemble and test the first batch of anodes for everyone who pre-ordered over the last couple of months. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing final assembly and testing hundreds of instruments. Once they’ve been programmed and tested, most will be shipped in batches from our Canadian mountain lair to the USA and Europe for final delivery to their new owners.
This is the culmination of over a year of work for Peter and I. Instead of relying on slow CNC machining, we (nervously) took the step of ordering a customized plastic case that required expensive insert tooling. The end result is a product that doesn’t require fiddly adhesive overlays or the careful insertion of several dozen screws and a handful of ribbon cables. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share behind-the-scenes looks at the assembly process, our hardware design and whatever else catches our fancy. More soon!
Community-contributed MeeBlip editors continue to arrive. The latest is the work of Jerome Saint Clair, a media artist based in Brunoy, France. His MeeBlipSEControl works with all past editions of MeeBlip with MIDI-compatible firmware, and provides the usual range of features:
If you’ve got MeeBlip micro (or simply want control from your computer), it provides controls for all of MeeBlip’s parameters
You can save and recall presets
There’s a randomize feature, handy for exploration
And of course it’s all free and open source and hosted on GitHub.
Nicely enough, this one is built in the free creative coding environment Processing, so it’s easy for anyone to modify. Grab it here:
It’s free. It’s C. It’s VST – for the SE. If you’re a PC.
Axel Werner, a superstar MeeBlip user, has created an open source plug-in for Windows that painstakingly reproduces the front panel of the MeeBlip SE.
Got an SE (or original MeeBlip with SE firmware)? This lets you control – and automate – all the parameters from your host. That makes it easy to restore settings with projects, see them in the plug-in UI, and even use controls without the dreaded switch button.
Got a micro? Now you can use it without the front panel, since MIDI mappings are the same.
Want to try VST programming? The code is up on GitHub.
Now, this raises a good question – whether you’ve got an original or are waiting on the new anode, what sort of editor/controller software would you most want? An iPad app? A Max for Live patch? Let us know in comments, or join in on the forum.
But thanks, Axel, this was like an early St. Nicholas present.
We set some big challenges for ourselves in making a sequel to the MeeBlip. We wanted a synth that made more and better sounds, with fewer controls. We wanted an instrument that was more hands-on, but took up less space. And we wanted it to have a real personality in a world awash with synth choices.
If we’ve been quiet for a while, it’s because that took a lot of time. Sometimes subtracting is harder than adding; it took lots of mistakes and iterations before we were really happy.
anode is roughly half the size of the original MeeBlip, and has fewer controls. But to create something smaller and simpler, we’ve focused on building an instrument that delivers grungy, dirty, bass-heavy sounds right away, and puts those sounds directly under your fingers. And we fit it all in a rugged, small and simple 4″ x 4″ (100×100 mm) box, focusing on just the controls you really need for sound.
Fyrd Instruments’ MTRX-8, the product of French designer Julien Fayard, is a gorgeous multi-functional sequencer/controller. The first two runs have sold out, but there’s still time to grab it for the intro price of 199 €. (plus shipping, etc.)
We were flattered to see it combined with the (original, silver) MeeBlip SE. Something about using those knobs on the MeeBlip make us like any chance to sequence with hardware, and I’m looking forward to one of these MTRX-8 units making its way to Berlin.
But, as we finish engineering the next generation of MeeBlip, we’re curious to hear from current MeeBlip owners. How are you sequencing? Got a favorite piece of hardware or software, iPad app or groovebox? Let us know.
You can chat in comments, shout to us over on Twitter, visit us on Facebook, or… and this is a relief to say… take advantage of our updated forums. We’ve rid them of spam (partly by changing registration), moved them to a new hosted solution, and are working now on the next steps as far as usability and features. (Though, you’ll find some fun features there already)
In this pile of boards is some of what’s coming from MeeBlip. Note the tighter, surface-mount design: this makes development cycles longer, but lets us pack more functionality on each board.
We’d like to share with you our progress on MeeBlip micro Black, the DIY board you can use as the basis of your own synth projects. It’s evolved in final testing and development since you last saw it. And we’d like to let you know when to expect it and why it’s late.
But first, we can’t be coy any more about why we’ve been so quiet. We’ve been very, very busy with a lot of stuff we weren’t quite ready to talk about. We’re gradually moving to the next generation of MeeBlip instruments, and that has meant stretching ourselves and what we can do. James is quick to tell us that he’s got too many irons in the fire. (Soldering irons afire?) The same has been true in Berlin as Peter works on CDM and MeeBlip’s presence in Europe.
We’ve taken on too much, but we’ve done it because we care passionately about making all these things happen. That means everything from improvig international distribution and the website and community support to unveiling some new designs. Continue reading »
Damien di Fede sports a silver (early 2012) MeeBlip SE. Add it to Reaper, and you can get some serious control. Including, yes, making some acid. Photo courtesy Damien.
Whether you’ve got a MeeBlip micro and are looking for a way of controlling it, or any MeeBlip and want some automation of sounds, some devoted members of our user community have been building solutions. With free tools for Reaper and Ableton Live, you can get some serious control – and make some serious acid techno, too.
Both downloads are free.
Add this for Max for Live and you get a handy MeeBlip Device inside Ableton. micro users will love it, but SE owners may find it useful, too.
Sometimes, focusing on one synth can be a creative booster.
And so we love this work by sonicuprising, among other creations on YouTube. The artist works entirely with MeeBlip. The track is dubbed “dubstep,” but it sounds a little cheery and un-dubsteppy there. Let’s call it Chipstep. Or just enjoy. From the description:
A track made entirely with a DIY meeblip synth. Sounds have not been processed by effects and the track was sequenced in ableton.
Good fun to make and versatile to program. You can get all sorts of sounds out this bad boy!!!
A look at the MeeBlip micro Black board. Click for a bigger version. USB connectivity, easier, knobbier, pre-assembled and ready for your projects. We’ll have the final schematics up on GitHub soon.
We believe in making two kinds of MeeBlips. One is ready to plug in and play, complete with a travel-worthy housing. The other is a DIY model you can customize, so you can make your own case or build your own custom synth projects. That second model is MeeBlip micro, and it’s time to talk about it again, as we get ready to ship the new MeeBlip micro Black.
MeeBlip micro has been more widely used than we imagined, with applications from talking to plants to winding up in a rack with control voltage inputs for analog connectivity. It allows you to make MeeBlip into what you want. That can mean custom housings and knobs, or something as adventurous as wiring up installations and custom sensors. (Arduino goes great with micro, too, for an open source hardware combination.) And so we’ve redesigned micro around the feedback we got from you. The micro Black does what the old micro did – and retains the MeeBlip sound – but does those things better. New:
A compact, surface-mount design. Keeping micro little is a big goal. We’ve added features without expanding the footprint. As you can see in the image, that has meant squeezing a lot onto the board.
A USB port. MeeBlip micro still has standard DIN MIDI connections, but it adds USB. That means:
MIDI over USB. You can now connect to a computer without the need for a separate interface. (Class-compliant support means the iPad works, too, via a Camera Connection Kit.)
Easier programmability, over USB. The USB port also works for modifying MeeBlip micro’s firmware, so you can hack your micro or use firmware updates from us and other users – no more need for an additional hardware adapter.
Knobbier than ever. 16:1 multiplexing now lets you add more knobs – you can have one for each parameter and still have knobs left over. We have direct switch inputs, too.
No more lost patches. A snapshot save button writes the current patch to memory so that it’s saved when you turn off MeeBlip. You can change the default MIDI receive channel with that button, too.