Bastl Instruments' Kastle · Source: http://www.bastl-instruments.com/instruments/kastle/kastle-synth/
What better thing to find in your stocking on Christmas morning than a fabulous little mini synth? Guaranteed to distract you from all the business of preparing food or talking to relatives. Why watch the Queens speech when you could be plugged into some serious beepage? Here’s my favourite little boxes of noise that give maximum pleasure for minimum outlay.
Kastle Synth from Bastl Instruments
Featuring two Arduino programmable chips, one for sound, one for modulation, three forms of synthesis and a dozen patch points. The Kastle is a mash of unexpected sounds ready to be discovered. There’s FM style phase modulation, Casio style Phase distortion and it’s own style of messing with itself to generate new sounds. The little patch cables mean that everything is up for grabs and will give you hours of satisfaction in simply playing. Check out the video to see how quickly things can get interesting.
It’s available fully assembled for €65.50 but a cheaper kit version should be available by Christmas. More information from the Noise Kitchen shop.
miniAtmegatron by Soulsby
We all need some 8-bit noise in our lives and that’s what Soulsby are all about. The miniAtmegatron is an 8-bit monophonic MIDI controlled synth built onto a Arduino Uno microprocessor board. It uses 16 waveforms in a PWM synthesis engine combined with stacks of modulation and a handful of effects. It’s perfect for recreating those vintage gaming sounds or furthering your adventures in chiptune land. It comes in kit form and so will keep the synth lover in your life occupied well into Boxing Day.a
It’s available now from the Soulsby website for £68.
These are little programmable sound boxes that you can join together to create an entire synthesizer. You create a patch, a collection of synthesizer modules, in the PatchBlocks software which is then transmitted to the individual PatchBlock. You can then take the PatchBlock and manipulate the sound using the two knobs on the top. Combining PatchBlocks gives you the opportunity to create some quite complex synthesis. So you could use one as a drum sound source, another as a sequencer, another as a synth sound and run them all together. With the programming side it can get a bit codey and nerdy so perhaps not for someone who’s purely into hardware synths.
At £50 they are pretty good value although you’d probably need at least two in order to get the best out of them. More information on the PatchBlocks website.
MeeBlip Triode Syntheizer
This one pushes the budget a bit at $139.95 so maybe ask your aunt to go in on it with you. It’s bright red with a fat bass sound, the MeeBlip is a serious bass-heavy synth in a small box. The Triode is driven by 3 oscillators and a unique twin-t analogue low-pass filter. There’s 24 wavetables and a sub-bass oscillator to give it plenty of sonic scope. MIDI control is available over every parameter and the internet code is open source for those who like to fiddle. Unlike many mini synths it aims to be more than a fun box of sounds and will want to integrate with your setup.
They are in stock and in the USA so allow time for shipping. More information on the MeeBlip website.
Pocket Operators by Teenage Engineering.
Of course no mini synth list would be complete without a Pocket Operator or two. These calculator sized music making machines have received a lot of attention and this year they released three new ones: PO-20 Arcade, PO-24 Office, and PO-28 Robot. They all seem to manage to make a lot of noise, have some form of sequencing built in and a pointlessly comedic animated LCD display. I can see that they’re fun to play but I imagine they are pretty limited by themselves and probably benefit from collaboration. In which case you should immediately buy all three.
They are £59 individually so maybe use your Christmas money to buy your second one in the New Year sales. More information on the Teenage Engineering website.
Bonus! Modal CRAFTsynth Monophonic Synthesizer Kit
Just when we were about to post this article another little peach turned up that I have to mention. The Modal CRAFTsynth is a super cute looking synthesizer kit that you can essentially snap together in less than 10 minutes. It features 2 oscillators, noise, FM, filter, shaping, delay, distortion and an LFO. Apparently via the unison/spread mode you can split the oscillators into four sub-oscillators giving you eight detunable oscillators. It’s got USB for MIDI, headphone and line output and can be powered by batteries. A recording has just emerged from synth composer Ty Unwin which is pretty darn groovy (below). It’s going to be out just in time for Christmas for the price of £79.
I can’t find a website but I do know that it’ll only be available from Gear4Music – here’s the link.
I’ve noticed that a couple of DIY synthesizer kits have been appearing under the name of Haynes Manual and Technology Will Save Us. They turn up in book shops and gift shops as cool things to buy dads for Christmas. I think they’re fairly rubbish and I’m not convinced that they would spark a desire in dads, mums, sisters or brothers to look into synthesis any deeper. They are only £25 they could be an interesting little project to do with your kids. However, I would encourage you to push that little bit further and go for one of the awesome mini synths listed here.
Do you have any other suggestions? Please let us know in the comments and have a great synthesized Christmas!