I love this module. It’s become a central figure in a small set up for generative stuff and as such I run it alongside a mutable Peaks clone (running as a Turing Machine) and a Branches clone to further slow/ randomize certain activity. It’s got some considerable features for something so modestly priced and does the job of Make Noise’s Maths or Befaco’s Rampage modules - they all (including the Vortex Generator) use principles from Buchla’s ramp generator and in the case of this module there’s a sort of rungler in there too I think. Great service, decent pace with the shipping & I’ve ordered another module based on this experience. Some decent documentation or video guides would have led to a more confident / less fumbled start perhaps...
This is a great little gadget. Assembly was quick and easy. With 16 "modes" and 4 knobs to twiddle, the number and variety of sounds you can get out of this thing are almost endless. Every time I play with it I come across some weirdness I hadn't found before. There's plenty of raspy, scratchy glitchiness, but there's also plenty of brief tunes and oddball rhythms as well. Some sequences I've discovered run for a minute or so before they repeat. Amazing!
I just want to start off by saying this project was a lot of fun and the end product sounds amazing. For the price, I'd call this a HUGE bargain. Now that I have that out of the way, I also feel the need to express my frustrating experience in hopes others learn from it.
I read from the reviews that this a good beginner project. While I agree with that sentiment generally, I do not agree specifically because there was very poor documentation for me to work with. I truly am a beginner and when I received the project the only things in the packaging was a bunch of pieces. OK, no problem, surely there would be directions on the tindie website, right? Nope, I went to the Github page and I read everything. There is no, "start here" or "directions" anywhere. So I thought, ok, maybe this is as easy as everyone says, I'll just start putting the components where they should go. Surprisingly, it's possible to figure out what pieces go where even if you no nothing so that was positive. Except for the missing component. Darn I gotta wait for the seller to respond and then send it to me from Spain? Maybe I can source it locally. Come to find out after some searching that there was an asterisk somewhere on the website that said the piece is no longer needed. Great! Crisis averted, but the lack of directions in the packaging starts to become apparent right from the get go. A simple slip of paper in the package could have explained this and eliminated my confusion.
Great now I can start. I am a total noob so I had to first purchase a soldering kit and watch a "how to solder" video -- that gives you a sense of what I mean when I say I'm a beginner. I grab the first component (which is first you ask? I guess it must not matter because there were no directions) which was an LED and I am stumped because basic things like why the posts are so long and what I do with the long posts after I solder them aren't things I know yet. But whatever, I push the piece through the holes, bend the legs to hold it in place. I do a respectable job soldering. I clip the wires and I'm off to the races. I grab the next LED and thats when I notice that one metal leg (wire) is longer than the other, oh and there is a PLUS sign on the board. I figure out that this component probably only works when put in a specific way and the longer leg probably stands for positive. I put in the next three LEDs effortlessly and my soldering job is going smoothly. HOWEVER, there is now a fifty percent chance I messed up the first LED since I didn't pay attention to the positive and negative sign on the board for that component. I googled it and supposedly there is a flat side to the LED which helps you know if you put it in correctly but no matter how much I scrutinized the part I didn't see a flat edge. I had two others look at it and none of them saw any difference to the sides.
I move through the rest of the project pretty well, except when I get to the last three parts, the arduino board and the rails that hold it onto the board. Without directions I was a bit baffled on if the long or short pins of the rails go up or down into the board. I figured eventually that since the arduino board sits above it that the long rails should face up. I put the arduino board in and start soldering it all together. This was most certainly the hardest part of the project because it's lots of soldering in such a small area. But you know I had an hour of soldering practice by now. When I finished the 30 solder points for that area I was pretty impressed. I did a bang up job. I plug it in, it lights up and then nothing. Pressing buttons, nothing, knob twiddling, nothing. I examine all my solder points and nothing seems to be touching or shorting anything but I do a little clean up work to make sure. I go to plug the board back in and that's when I notice that the power cord is hard to fit into the port. I look at the photo on the website and yep you guessed it, I soldered the entire arduino board in upside down. The usb port was not up in the air, but instead was touching the board. That would explain why nothing works -- the chip is upside down.
Now ask yourself, would I have made this idiotic mistake if there were some directions (any directions) available? The answer is no. Now ask yourself can a beginner desolder a chip with 30 solder points from the board and clean up all the holes so that the posts can fit back in? NO! No they can't. Every video I watched about desoldering a chip showed people with very fancy electric desoldering guns and heating guns. No one said it would be possible with the cheap desoldering hand pump I owned. I was about to scrap the project entirely at this point since I had invested very many hours and had no way to remove the chip. In desperation I wrote to the local tech group in my town and some sweet stranger offered to remove it for me with his $250 desoldering pump. He also swapped out my LED which I was unsure if I installed correctly and the button I accidentally burnt up with the soldering iron when I was trying to remove the arduino board. I didn't notice I had destroyed that button until I got to the guy's house.
So after all that, I got home, cleaned up the holes with a bunch of desoldering wick (that the stranger gave me since I am too much of a beginner to even know I'd need it) and with a lot of force, somehow got the arduino board back on and soldered correctly. I turned it on and it sounded glorious. Really. A spectacular product in every way... except for directions on how to properly put the thing together. I'd say this is an easy build as many pointed out already in the reviews but that doesn't mean that a beginner can do it. I mean I really only succeeded because I had help from someone else who fixed my awful awful mistakes. Feel free to say I'm an idiot but I made a rookie mistake because I'm a rookie and I had LITERALLY no help.
I guess I just want to set beginner's expectations and maybe this review will help a few people desperately looking for some guidance on what to do and what some of the pitfalls might be. Things I learned while putting together this kit: • the order in which you put it together the board doesn't matter. Start anywhere. • LEDs have a positive and a negative side and the longer metal leg is the positive side so make sure it goes into the hole with the plus sign. • The metal rails that hold the arduino board (I just googled and it's called a header) the short side points down into the bottom of the board so that the plastic sits on the board with the long metals pins facing up so that the arduino board can sit on top of it. Yes the pins are really long. Yes, if you don't know how to solder then yes it's actually a big challenge to solder down into the holes. I am a beginner, so I don't feel it would appropriate to give advice on how to do that. I did choose to use the smallest tip on my iron though if that helps. • Pay particular attention to how you put in the arduino board. There is an up and a down on this piece too. It's important that you put it in with the usb port facing up. Scrutinize the photos on the website for this step. It's not hard to see which side is up based on the photo, but it's crucial that you do this specific step correctly because the repercussions of doing it wrong are enormous. • Make sure that the Tindie creator has taken a few minutes to provide documentation for total beginners before you buy a kit because when reviews say something is for a beginner, they aren't talking about you or I. They are assuming you know at least the basics of electronics and have done a few things. I think they forget how little knowledge someone with no experience with electronics actually has.
Again, the end product is amazing. I just wish I knew the things that I'm listing in my post before I started. I wish the creator had sent me ANYTHING to help give me guidance to start.
I bought the assembled version so I cannot speak to the building of the kit, but the synth itself is fantastic. I've got quite a variety of inexpensive "noise toys" and this is one of, if not the, absolute best. The variety of sounds available, and the range of "quality" (from crystal clean to glitchy, gritty dirt) is phenomenal. Comparing it to the Korg NTS-1 and the Bastl Microgranny I would put it nearly equal to the NTS-1 (only because the programmability puts the Korg in a class of its own) but well above the Microgranny because of the ease of getting such a wide range of usable sounds so easily.
If you're looking for glitch you absolutely need this, in the first 3 minutes I was able to getting slowly evolving drones, melodic leads and almost percussive bass lines--and that was just trying to find out what the buttons and knobs did. Just playing around with it is well worth the money, but running it through FX pedals, a DAW or a modular/semi-modular system will make worth 10 times the price.
My only complaint is the lack of an option for tracked shipping. It was shipped within less than 24 hours, but between being unable to add tracking and the current world-wide shipping delays, I was starting to get worried I wouldn't see it. It was well worth the wait. If you are curious enough to be reading the reviews, you owe it to yourself to buy it.
Firstly, I'd like to say that this sonic gizmo includes no documentation at all. (Even a single-page how-to would've helped.) However, if you've soldered any other projects before, it'll be fairly obvious what goes where and how (meaning, which holes are POS and which are NEG and which don't matter). The only not-obvious connection was the sleeve (GRD) for the 3.5mm out. After consulting the online photos, I rolled the proverbial dice and bent a stiff wire to fit from the hole to the appropriate prong and was up and running in little time at all. Lucky guess maybe. Oh, be mindful to bridge the indicated contacts on the underside of the PCB! Not sure what'll happen if you don't, but best to be on the look-out going into this project.
That out of the way, this little guy SCREAMS! So many sounds can be pulled from just the few knobs provided. I've barely scratched the surface I'm sure--having only just completed the build--but it is indeed VERY glitchy, but surprisingly "musical" and at times also very rhythmic. Can't wait to dive into it more!
tl;dr: Great sounding device! Would benefit from a simple guide. So long as it's not your first project, you should be fine though.
Response from Spherical Sound Society | Feb. 17, 2020
Loving your review, Robert... I agree with all, except that in the github page there´s the BOM listed, so it has all the info you need to build this evil machine :D. Anyway maybe I should just print it and include in the packaging... nice suggestion.
There´s also a thread in Muffwliggers with some hackings explained the expand even more the machine possibilities.
You can take a look. Enjoy!!