Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Green modular, part 3: More metal

The RoHS "big three" metals I talked about last time occupy a lot of attention of synthesizer manufacturers because we have specific legal obligations we must meet regarding those metals; but many other metals are also used in building synths, and are also relevant to the environmental footprint of making and owning a synth. Let's look at some more of those. READ MORE

Green modular, part 2: the big three metals of RoHS

In this second part of the series on modular and the environment, I'm going to look at metals. Modular synthesizers are made of many different materials including wood, plastic, and glass, but a significant part of the mass of a synth (or any electronic device) is in metals. Even though metals are often used in small amounts, they often make up a disproportionate fraction of the environmental impact of electronics manufacturing because of all the energy that goes into mining and processing them. There are also unique issues for specific metals: some are toxic, some are rare, some have important social consequences, and so on. I had planned to have just one posting on metals in this series, but it became too long, so I'm going to cover just the "big three" forbidden by RoHS here, and talk about the others in one or more future postings. There's a lot to say about metals. READ MORE

Green modular, part 1: Energy, carbon, and power supply regulators

I'm sometimes asked about the environmental consequences of modular synthesizers. It's an interesting question with a lot of ramifications, and there's a lot of misinformation circulated. That may be inevitable given the nature of this business: synthesizers combine engineering, where hard facts rule, with music, where subjective aesthetics are the order of the day, and it's very easy for someone to start from one bad guess or wrong idea and then follow it into constructing an entire unfounded theory. There's also an unfortunate overlap between the synthesizer hobby and the whole morass of audiophile woo. READ MORE

Coiler VCF (pre-) release, vacation

I've been talking for a while about my development process for the MSK 009 Coiler VCF, and now at last it's available for purchase in the North Coast Synthesis online storefront.  It's a limited, preliminary manufacturing run, using up a few circuit boards originally bought for prototyping:  at this point (December 2018) I have both kits and assembled modules in stock, but only a few of each.  Depending on sales of these, I'll order some more PCBs and restock in the new year. READ MORE

Updates and new module development

This posting gathers together a bunch of small news items:  new features on the Web site, notably including homegrown videos, the current state of the business, and some ideas I'm working on for future modules. READ MORE

Exponential converters and how they work

Exponential converters are basic building blocks used in many synth circuits, but for many of us, they are incomprehensible black boxes.  The basic concept of how an exponential converter works is very simple; but the simplest possible circuit for the purpose has many serious limitations, so it's usual to add several layers of additional circuitry to compensate for different effects and make the overall behaviour more predictable.  As a result, the exponential circuits we actually see in common use may look dauntingly complicated to beginning designers, and it may not always be easy to recognize the simple underlying principle.  In this article I'm going to build up to a real-life level of complexity starting from the simplest possible exponential converter circuit. READ MORE

Level up on circuit simplification

In my last entry I talked about the rules for simplifying series and parallel circuits. Two resistors in series can be replaced by one with a value equivalent to the pair of them; two in parallel can similarly be replaced; there are other rules in the same general form for capacitors and inductors (assuming theoretically perfect components); and by applying these rules repeatedly you can simplify complicated circuits down to much simpler equivalents. I also set up an interactive reverse calculator for finding combinations of standard-value components to make up a desired, maybe non-standard, value. READ MORE

Combining components for new values

When I started breadboarding the Coiler VCF (see my new videos about it...), I ran into a problem: the design called for a couple of 6800pF (also known as 6.8nF) capacitors, and I didn't have any of those on hand. I didn't want to rush out and buy some, both because of the time and effort involved and because it was quite possible that design changes would mean I might not end up using that value in the finished product anyway. I could either end up paying a high price for a small quantity, or buying in bulk to get a lower per-unit price and having the extras go to waste. As I've written before, it's not a bargain if you end up paying for components you don't use. READ MORE

Common parts to keep in stock

One of the most common beginner SDIY questions is which parts are frequently used and worth buying in large quantities to use on multiple projects.  The people who ask this question think they're going to save serious amounts of money by buying common parts in bulk, and although I have serious misgivings about the money-saving aspect, the question isn't going to stop being asked, and there are in fact other reasons why keeping a stock of parts may be a good idea.  Here are some thoughts on that. READ MORE

RSS works again

The article from 2018 that originally appeared at this address has been removed because it's no longer correct; it was describing an earlier RSS URL that as of now (November 2021) still works, but has been changed again. The new new RSS URL, which you should use for new installations, is: READ MORE

The vanity of "Having A Lot Of Parts"

It is often said that the secret of Taco Bell's success is that they only use six ingredients:  refried beans, seasoned ground beef mixture, cheddar cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and corn tortillas.  Everything on their menu is just some combination of these six ingredients, and the ingredients are all cheap to begin with and more so when bought in huge bulk quantities, so Taco Bell's cost is very low and their profit margins incredibly high. READ MORE

B-stock Leapfrog available

UPDATE:  This item has been sold and is no longer available.  I'm leaving the Web log posting online for historical interest. READ MORE

Transistor ADSR release


Transistors for the Perplexed

Most transistor circuits are quite straightforward.  If you look at the schematic of something like the North Coast Transistor Mixer, you can easily recognize common patterns - an emitter follower here, a common-emitter amplifier there - which are in every textbook and really are just transistorized versions of vacuum-tube circuits going back generations.  The new Transistor ADSR gets a little more complicated, largely because of its use of two-transistor circuit blocks such as multivibrators, but there's still nothing really weird in it.  But every now and again you'll see something in a schematic diagram that isn't in the textbook, seems like it makes no sense... and yet, it works.  This article covers a couple of those non-traditional ways to use transistors - as well as some simple, obvious questions that smart beginners are likely to wonder about but which aren't usually answered in introductory presentations. READ MORE

Tools for getting started with SDIY

Visit the North Coast Synthesis SDIY page! READ MORE


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