RIP Beta-0 Long live Beta-1!

Well that went well :/

Well that went well :/

Beta-0 is cancelled and we couldn't be happier

I was actually really happy that this prototype failed. Well, it didn't fail, but we aren't shipping it. It highlighted some really important design and manufacturing improvements. We've been frozen on this rough design because the CAD tool we started off with choked at 98% completion. It was the right thing to do to finish the board, learn what we can, and then move onto a different tool. Six months later, here we are.

The bad

We had a problem with our solder-screen where it was hard to register the board and align the screen properly. This resulted in the smallest components not soldering well at all. It's not that we can't fix this, or work on the temperature profile, but this was going to keep being a problem. It would probably take us 40 hours of building prototype after prototype by hand and the desktop PNP only makes sense after you've built a few. So, based on how hard it was to reliably build the board, we decided to ditch these boards and get working on a new design on the new CAD tool.

The good

I'm in love with KiCad. It's an open source schematic and PCB tool that I'd been avoiding for years. Every bad thing they say about the software is true, there are some horrible usability issues, but! and this is a big but: Everything is open, which means I can build whatever workarounds I want. Every CAD tool has some serious usability problems, even the best. Knowing that I can crack the code open and modify the tool makes me much more assured that I can build the tool to match our workflow, instead of the other way around. You'll see some big surprises from us in 2017, but for now, know that the flexibility of the tool allowed us to iterate through a really big set of changes.

The biggest change was that we split up functionality into horizontal PCBs. I call it Horizontal Eurorack, because that's all it really is. But you'll see why this works so well in a bit.

Horizontal Eurorack

Horizontal Eurorack

We settled on a modified Eurorack format. Normally there is 7.5mm between the mounting hole and the edge. We lowered this to 3mm to cut down on PCB costs. There isn't much of a use for the board beyond the mounting holes, especially on a thin slice.

We created fractional slices of the board, settling on 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8. It's totally possible to create 3/4, 7/8, or whatever combination you want, but we're starting with this to see how it works and feels.

By creating a modular system, it decouples the functionality from a complex unified whole. It allows for modification, mutation, and deviation independent of the other sections. Although it makes the total PCB cost higher than a single board, the lower cost of scrap and the separating of functionality more than makes up for it. 

Here are our first few modules:

Knobs in their natural habitat

Knobs in their natural habitat

LED Strip

LED Strip

Touch Pad Keyboard

Touch Pad Keyboard

We're looking forward to rapidly iterating on these modules and creating various configurations (KNOBS! KNOBS! KNOBS!). It may seem like a small setback, but by doing the redesign sooner, we've moved the project to where it needs to go to create the most variety and flexibility.

As always, head over here if you want to learn more.

 

Believotron Launches Wanderlust Beta!

We're in beta!

Fresh off the heels of Knobcon, the largest synthesizer convention in the world, we are proud to announce that we are launching the public beta of the Believotron Wanderlust synthesizer.

The beta is free and open to participation. Beta hardware will be available for pre-order mid-october. If you're intrigued, sign up for the beta.

The alpha really outperformed on many different fronts, thanks to the robust design of the Axoloti controller. I was expecting sloshy knobs, or capacitive touch triggers that had about 20 ms of jitter. I was blown away by how crisp and regular the triggers were. Once we realized that we had a serious jambox on our hands, we whipped up various menu chains to prove that you can get things done without menu-diving. And then we stopped.

We stopped, because as we stared across tables and corkboards of sketches, workflows and ideas, we realized that menu control is deeply personal. If you have a favorite or least-favorite synth, you'll know what I mean. Some instruments sound profound, but require a strange ritual of click-clacking a gesture across the magical meta buttons. And that kills the jam. So we stopped.

We stopped, because at this point, it's foolish to design a general purpose, reconfigurable synthesizer without you. Without an instrument in your hands, no flowchart or state diagram is going to predict what makes you productive, joyful, or in a deep synth vibe.

So! Start doing your synthesizer dance! We're flipping a board and should be ready to take reservations by mid October. If you haven't signed up for the beta, head on over.

Hardware Status

  • Knobs: The knobs work wonderfully. Able to roll as many as you have fingers and dexterity. No noticeable clipping or jumping. Was able to connect to a 16-step sequencer to use knobs as pitch control. Volume knob is invaluable. Wish there was room for more knobs.
  • Padcaps: Work flawlessly. Really great reaction time. Its using a naive polling method, rather than using the irq bits, and it still triggers accurately. You could literally get three octopi and they could touch all the pads simultaneously, or with some sort of magical mollusk pattern and it would trigger. Whether routing to menu systems, triggering notes, or samples from the SD card, the padcaps work well. The piano isn't as expressive as a mechanical keyboard, but I think the functionality for rhythm, simple melodies, and arpeggiation make it an extremely versatile interface. I like it better than the squishy buttons of the small jamboxes from the last 15 years. Those *feel* good, but they squish up your rhythm. Modern fingers have become accustomed to precise control on tablets and smartphones. The multi-touch on this thing is a dream. We're extremely lucky we didn't mire ourselves in six months of capacitive touch tuning. The future is wonderful!
  • XY Joysticks: I picked up these two joysticks on a lark. They're really tiny on my fingers. I haven't found a top for them, so they're a little pokey. They work flawlessly. I'm not sure they're travel range make them the best, but they're located right next to the keyboard for pitch / expression bending. I'm excited to hear what people think about these.
  • LEDs: Funny thing happened on the way to the LED store. Against my own nature, I ordered a reel of LEDs from a brokered source. They were the wrong model, and I think they may even be a strange variation on that model. I'm going to get actual samples and put them through their paces, because these LEDs have some really remarkable colors. The original APA102Cs worked just fine for the Makerfaire demo, which means we're going to have an LED bake-off! I'm also planning on replacing the voltage translators because they had issues with some 3.3V logic systems.
  • SCH: The schematic is a confusing mess. I used a CAD tool that has a lot of positive traits, but was a real nightmare to make clear schematics. I'm going to transition to another CAD tool and redraw the schematics so it actually makes sense. It is monumentally important that both a stranger to schematics and a pro can read, understand, and figure out how to modify. The maze of boxes and wires that I got from this software is frustrating and reads like a plate of spaghetti had an aneurysm.
  • PCB: It needs small changes. Well, it needs big changes, but I'm squeezing out one last release on the old CAD tool. The Beta-0 PCB silkscreen won't be extremely readable, but Beta-1 will pierce clarity into the backs of your eyeballs. I'm very picky about PCB readability, but copying the files over to a new CAD tool would delay hardware a couple of months. The general feedback is to get something in your hands now and incorporate all the changes into a B1. I'll make up for it by making a very, very high resolution infographic that explains what everything is and a writeup on how design decisions were made. Until then, if you have a question about a specific part, take a photo and circle what you're curious about and we'll talk about it in beta. I want this to be a very open design process. If someone has a question, it's probably a really interesting question that other people would benefit from hearing asked and answered.
  • Beta-0 PCB Changes:
    • Realign mounting holes. (Upper right is misaligned)
    • Enlarge potentiometer holes. (Footprints. Am I right?)
    • New voltage translator
    • Remove extra jumpers

Software Updates

I've got a lot of admiration for the Axoloti patcher environment. Creating new objects, adding ports, adding code is starting to come together. It's a very robust framework, and it's very easy to build synth models quickly. I'm interested in pushing the boundaries and making dynamic routing and meta menu controls easy. We're going to be tracking our goals and progress on a public taskboard. We'll let you know in the newsletter

Beta Milestones

The beta is a work in progress. We will be reacting to whatever the community chooses to highlight and will add time to the schedule for new ideas that are great. We will start moving things to later phases if they are holding back the beta. Dates and schedule will be recalculated weekly. Hardware will be pre-ordered monthly. The first shipment will be phased so we can focus on a small group of new users each day.

  • Phase 0 (Now)
    • Small changes to PCB
    • Pre-order Beta-zero hardware (Oct-15th)
    • Ship first Beta-zero hardware
  • Phase 1 (Software / Usability testing)
    • Develop UX based on user feedback
    • Develop metal case styles and circulate
    • Develop new SCH / PCB
    • Pre-order Beta-one hardware
  • Phase 2 Beta Shakedown
    • Design out MFG / DFM problems
    • Pre-order Final Release

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Wanderlust cases shaping up

The CAD designs are really starting to come together. I've been noodling around with paper sketches for months to figure out how to breathe aesthetic joy into what is mostly a Design For Manufacturability (DFM) task. Screws don't screw themselves, and they're particularly costly if you put them in an awkward / uncomfortable place. Another design goal is to make any hardware extensible and useful outside of this one specific use. I've thrown out a few lowest-cost solutions in place of a design that you can open, take apart, mod, and put back together without a headache.

In additon to the standard Eurorack format, we're focusing on a low cost DIY design that you can source yourself, as well as a high end bent-metal design that should really shine.

 

Here is the flat DIY design. We chose laser cut / CNC milled acrylic because even if you don't have the equipment yourself, there are plenty of places and makerspaces to fabricate the designs yourself.

In this rendering you can see how dead simple and implementable this design is.

In this rendering you can see how dead simple and implementable this design is.

Here's a back view, showing all the Axoloti goodness.

Here's a back view, showing all the Axoloti goodness.

We're currently working with a metal-forming house on the metal case design. This is a first draft. Our mechanical engineer has never done a bent-metal design, so I'm sure we're going to get a lot of industry best practices from the manufacturer. We added a punch-out in the rear to future proof the design and allow the internal electronics to be modded. I like the way the acrylic back panel shows the insides, but we're going to also offer black for people who think the insides of electronics are unsightly. The side panels are going to be a choice of acrylic or wood. We're waiting on some suggestions for captive nuts / fasteners / threaded tabs before we do that cad work.

See you at Knobcon!

Believotron will be bringing the Wanderlust to Knobcon. If you're in Chicago September 9th-11th, 2016, you should stop by and visit!

We're going to have a lot of hands-on demonstrations of cool things you can do with the Axoloti audio core and our integrated controller.

Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about the Wanderlust.

Believotron team chugging along on Wanderlust Axoloti library

We're doing really well with the Alpha hardware. Every piece of it has worked. Now we're in the process of tying it all together to make it easy for you to use the parts.

The object on the left below is the Wanderlust Knob outputs. Simply connect the row and column to the desired object, whether it's an oscillator or any other Axoloti object.

Below you can see the internals to the knob object are also pretty simple. If you check out the repo, you can see into the actual code that reads the SPI port. Or you can let the magic system just work for you ;).

knob underbelly - Copy.png

We're in the process of doing this in all of the controls so we can get them working simultaneously, and so we can send out alpha hardware.

It's been a delight to work on the Axoloti platform. Every integration has been fairly smooth and swift. I think this is a sign of good things to come in the industry.

Let us know if you'd like to learn more > >