DIY Synthesizer Kits #2 – Disintegrated Cracklebox

crackle1Following my successful Atari Punk Console build I had so much confidence that I wanted to tackle a second Rakit DIY synth kit immediately.  After all, I was clearly on a roll and my soldering game was on point.  So I decided to go with what looked like the next easiest kit, the Disintegrated Cracklebox.

My confidence lasted for as long as it took me to lay out all of the individual parts (see below).  Man there’s a lot of stuff in this bag!  Sixteen resistors… shoot, the APC didn’t even have 16 total parts!  And all those different resistor values to differentiate using the tiny color striping had be a bit worried.  Throw in 19 capacitors and a handful of other parts and it was clear that I had a lot of soldering in front of me.  Fortunately the online instructions were very detailed and I’d learned a few lessons in the APC build about the importance of staying organized in how the pieces were installed.  Even with all that prep, though, I still managed to fill a hole I wasn’t working on with solder which required some MacGuyver-ing to resolve, but I managed to get it sorted.

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I’m not entirely sure how long this build took – probably somewhere around 60-90 minutes.  But it fired up right away and I was crackling like a fool.  The Cracklebox is an interesting item – you need to use both hands on it to complete the circuit and create sound, and how you interact with the touch pads creates the sonic variance.  You can rest a finger in one spot, or tap to create a sort of beat, or rub across the surface to make a sort of electro-scratching sound.  There were some combinations that made noise and others that didn’t – I’ll have to play with this a bit more to understand precisely how to use it.

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This kit was more intricate than the APC, but honestly wasn’t any more difficult – it just took more time and patience and maybe a bit more care since those holes are all so close together.  Remember kids, keep the tip of that soldering iron clean as you progress so you don’t drip a molten metal plug where you don’t want one!

So far I’ve been happy with the kits from Rakit (if you’re interested in checking them out for yourself, you can do so HERE).  It’s a few bucks more expensive than the APC, somewhere around $20-25 US, but there’s also quite a bit more to it.  I’m intrigued to see if/how I can use this with some of their other pieces.

DIY Synthesizer Kits #1 – Atari Punk Console

While I’m definitely a big music fan, I’ve never made much of an effort to learn how to play it (and given how bad my singing voice is, that was never an option).  I played violin in fourth grade, and clarinet in fifth, but that was it for any formal attempts.  I suppose I could read music at a basic level at one point, but that skill has long since disappeared from my brain.  Later I owned a little Casio keyboard and an electronic drum pad, but never got anywhere with them.  I wouldn’t say I’m incapable of learning – after all, at one time I could play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the violin.  But the older I get, the less likely it seems.

Then a few weeks back I was doing something online and ended up coming across an article about DIY synthesizers.  We’re not talking keyboards here, but various electronic components that you can build and use to make sound.  That was an incredibly fascinating revelation, and after a few hours going down an internet K-hole I emerged at the website for Rakit, a UK-based company that makes a variety of these DIY kits designed for a range of skill levels, even first-timers like me who had never built anything electronic and in fact have never even used a soldering iron.  So what did I do?  I ordered six different kits from Rakit, that’s what I did, along with a soldering iron and some angled wire cutters from Amazon.  And yesterday I sat down in the garage and made my first attempt at building a synth.

A quick disclaimer here.  The folks at Rakit don’t know I’m writing these.  I bought my kits from them at full price through their website – I didn’t get any freebies or discounts by offering to write about their stuff.  I’m writing about them because I bought them and have been having fun with them.

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I started with the Mini APC, the “Atari Punk Console”.  The reason I began here was simple – it was the smallest kit and had the least number of pieces.  I figured there was less to screw up, and since the APC only has minimal functionality I wouldn’t be too bummed if I screwed it up.  The Rakit kits are great – everything you need is right here in this one bag, and the instructions are available online.  You can even order the solder they recommend you use (which I did), plus add-ons such as a small speaker for the APC and connectors for hooking it up with some of their other kits, like the Baby 8 (which I also bought, but haven’t yet built).  The kit comes to about $20 US (plus shipping) and the APC runs on a regular 9-volt battery.

After unpacking all the parts and spreading them out, this didn’t seem too intimidating even for a newbie like me.  Only 15 things to attach to the APC board.

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As a complete and total novice, this took me about 45 minutes to assemble.  It would have been much faster had I displayed any common sense as to the order in which I mounted the pieces – a few times I found myself with some hard-to-reach soldering because I’d mounted other pieces around the spot I was working on next.  Mounting from inside to outside would have made it a bit quicker.

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I didn’t attach the little external speaker and instead tried to connect it to an old Mac laptop, but couldn’t get any sound.  Oh man… did I mess something up?  But then I plugged some headphones into the jack and it worked like a charm!  There isn’t a whole lot to the APC – just pitch and depth knobs.  That being said, it was a lot of fun to play around with, and while I don’t expect to make any hit songs using just the APC I know I can take some of these sounds and run them through some of the other Rakit kits to create something interesting.

All-in-all it was a fun experience building the Rakit APC kit.  I learned some new skills and even as a middle aged guy I felt a sense of accomplishment in having put something like this together for the first time.  I’ll be posting about other Rakit DIY kits as I put them together.  If you’re interested in checking these out for yourself, visit the Rakit website HERE.  Maybe you’ll find your next project.  There are also some YouTube videos by various folk about putting together and using little DIY synths like the APC.  But watch out – you might get sucked in.  I sure did.