Tag Archives: Synth Kit

Create (minty) fresh beats with this open source synth kit

MintySynth is a hackable, Arduino-compatible synthesizer kit that fits neatly inside an Altoids tin.

A few months ago, Andrew Mowry embarked on a side project to devise a pocketable synthesizer/sequencer capable of fitting neatly inside an Altoids tin. The Arduino-compatible kit, aptly named MintySynth, originated with hopes of becoming not only an educational tool but a fun toy for Makers and music enthusiasts alike.


The open source and hackable device comes unassembled, and generally takes anywhere from one to hours to build. It should be noted that some soldering is required. Once complete, MintySynth can be used with its preloaded software or programmed just like an Arduino.

After receiving some feedback on his first design, Mowry upgraded the kit with several revisions including fewer parts, a simplified power supply, a battery life of 150 hours (10X longer than the original), an additional photocell, and the ability to be powered by an FTDI cable when the switch is in the “off” position.

The acoustic instrument-maker by trade, tinkerer by night chose to improve the MintySynth’s software as well with enhanced LED functionality, additional waveforms, the ability to improvise using the light sensor, and a “laser tripwire” mode, which triggers music/sound effects when a beam of light is blocked.

MintySynth’s preloaded software consists of a four voice, 16 step wavetable sequencer that allows you to play around with different instruments while controlling the tempo, swing, keys and scale. Once you’ve created a song, you can enter “live mode,” which enables you to change the pitch and voice of one of the instruments in real-time so you can jam along with the other three instruments. You can even save up to four 16-note songs, relooping them over and over or reloading each one individually for a total of up to 64 notes. If you want to program the synth yourself, however, you’ll need an FTDI cable since there’s no on-board USB.

In terms of hardware, MintySynth is based on the ATmega328P and has auto-reset so you can easily upload sketches just as you would to an Arduino Uno. The kit also features a few resistors and capacitors, five thumbwheels, a 1/8″ audio jack, a 28-pin DIP socket, a six-pin FTDI header, a 16MHz ceramic resonator, two LEDs, a six-pin jumper header, a three-pin MIDI header, five buttons and runs on a pair of AAA batteries.

“MintySynth was designed to be compatible with a variety of Arduino sketches and libraries, and a jumper is used to select audio output on digital pin 3, 6, or 9, so you can use either of the 3 available timers,” Mowry explains.

Intrigued? You can head over to MintySynth’s page or the Adafruit store to get your hands on one. Keep in mind, though, that it does not ship with an Altoids tin, so you’ll have to eat some mints first and then get to work. Fresh breath first, fresh beats after.

This pocket-sized, modular synthesizer is based on Arduino

The NS1nanosynth is a modern, analog/digital synthesizer that fits in the palm of your hand.

Back in the 1970s, modular synthesizers were often bulky and expensive. Reproducing an exact patch was not only difficult, but virtually impossible. Throughout the years, these devices began to be largely supplanted in pop music by highly integrated keyboard synths, racks of MIDI-connected gear and samplers. Fast forward a few decades and products like littleBits’ synth kit have made piecing together a modular machine just as simple as interlocking LEGO bricks, not to mention tiny enough that it could fit in the palm of your hand.


Taking that one step further is Italian startup Soundmachines, who has pulled out all the stops with their latest DIY kit dubbed the NS1nanosynthThe all-in-one unit allows you to have fun by mixing together new and exciting combinations from over 20 different building blocks. These include a voltage-controlled oscillator, two low-frequency oscillators, an ASDR (attack, sustain, decay and release) envelope, lowpass and bandpass filters, a voltage-controlled amplifier, as well as an assortment of “micro” modules like mixers and multiples, sample and hold, sum/sub blocks, inverters, analog dividers, clock dividers, fixed voltage generators and sensors.


And that’s not all. Designed with the Maker crowd in mind, the NS1nanosynth is built around the Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32U4) and features both MIDI and USB support. The handheld synthesizer measures just 220mm x 85mm in size, enabling it to fit just about anywhere from your bag to your back pocket. What’s more, 5V/400mA of power is supplied either through the classic 5.5mm jack or via microUSB.


“You can, of course, get rid of everything and write whatever you want on a perfectly formed standard Arduino platform. It’s up to you to use your standard or custom libraries and do modulations, connect to wireless stuff, use the on-board dual DAC and quad digital potentiometer,” the Soundmachines crew writes.

Intrigued? Read all about the NS1nanosynth on its official page here, or watch its demo reels below!