Creative Technologies are a collective of students and staff from Kiel University of Applied Sciences in Germany. They’ve just released a video of a forthcoming product called the TROLL8. It’s a teeny weeny Arduino based synth that has a stack of functionality built into its naked frame.
The video quite neatly demonstrates what it’s all about through the use of handwritten notes appearing alongside. This is not a high-production-value promo, it’s a simple walkthrough of the features. And it works well enough.
As is the style with these sorts of tiny synths, the hardware is little more than a PCB with a few naked knobs, buttons and touch keys. The keyboard gives you just over an octave of 16 keys. They are apparently velocity sensitive although it seemed quite difficult to pull off due to the size of the keys compared to your fingers. There are 8 buttons with LEDs and 8 pots for turning.
They say it’s a synthesizer although they didn’t really show any of the sounds or controls. They did demo a polyphonic piano which nicely highlighted the flaw in all this teeny weeny synth business. Your fingers are too fat to play the keys with any degree of certainty.
The sequencing and drum programming side was a bit more impressive. There appears to be 4 channels – bass, snare and two hi-hats with individual pitch control. There are 16 steps to play with and you can add a synth arpeggiator over the top. There seem to be some different modes of control going on. The knobs at first seem to control the pitch of the drum sounds and then they seemed to be muting them out and back in again.
When it comes to sequencing synthesized sounds you have only 8 steps, following the 8 buttons with corresponding pitch knobs above. You can also play along on the keyboard at the same time, although this did appear to crash it. They note that they still have some debugging to do.
The Troll8 is based upon the ubiquitous Arduino, but this time it’s the “nano” version which, they say, is a $3 clone from China. Not sure they should use that as a feature.
It looks like a fun little box, with a lot of good functionality that could keep you interested for a while. I’m starting to tire slightly of the whole mini-synth thing. At some point the ergonomics police are going to have to get involved and demand that we have interfaces designed for human fingers. The person in the video even apologises at one point for the bad playing because their “fingers too big”. I mean, come on, you designed the thing, do you think you have uncommonly large hands or something? We are all going to enjoy the same frustrating experience. I would have thought it would be no bad thing for a University to put some research into the user interface.
However, it looks like fun, I bet it will be cheap, and probably hackable. And although I like the honesty and real approach of the video it does need to get a bit more exciting.
It’s not available yet but more information should appear via the Creative Technologies website.