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Small synths at the limits between the DIY (Do It Yourself) and the finished product are...

Small synths at the limits between the DIY (Do It Yourself) and the finished product are invading the market…

We at soundmachines thought about a simple and cheap platform that will transport the main characteristic of a modular analog synthesizer in a small and friendly format, to be well recognised by musicians, makers and tinkerers worldwide. A small, but loyal to its roots, instruments of sound creation. With a digital platform added as a bonus.

The soundmachines NS1nanosynth is born.

Let’s talk now about dimensions. Because size does matter. Absolutely. We created something that you can extract from your bag, or a big pocket, and start patching, manipulating and definitely and positively playing. On the train? On a plane back home? At your sister’s wedding? Maybe, after all, also on a stage.

The entire platform, that is a complete, albeit simple, analog modular synthesizer, is the same height and a little wider than ONE standard 5U synthesizer module. One single module.

But on board the soundmachines nanomodular you have a saw core thermally stabilized v/oct VCO, a 12db lowpass and bandpass VCF, two LFOs, one loopable ADSR envelope, a standard VCA, two twistable attenuators, two pot controllers and a plethora (more than a dozen!) of “micro” modules like mixers, multiples, sample and hold, sum/sub blocks, inverters, logic or, and, nand, analog dividers, clock dividers, fixed voltage generators and several ‘sensor blocks’.

But, remember? There is more on board…

We talked about a ‘digital platform’. The soundmachines nanomodular hosts the most famous of them all: an Arduino Leonardo compatible circuitry.

Now, the Arduino Leonardo is a particular flavour of the original Arduino with the very welcome addition of a native USB connectivity. Native means that we can do SPP, we can do HID, and most importantly, through a third party library called arcore, we can do MIDI over USB!

But not only this.

We can also do sound generation and effect implementation using the MOZZI library!

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 etc…

The soundmachines NS1nanosynth is a complex and open environment to test each and every potential of contamination between the good old modular analog blocks and the modern digital approach to development and interfacing.

Technical Specifications:

The NS1nanosynth synthesizer is an handeld 220x85mm analog modular synthesizer coupled with an Arduino Leonardo platform.

Power Supply is 5v/160mA either from the USB micro connector or the classic 5.5mm barrel jack, central positive. If you use use both concurrently, power will be drawn from the barrel jack.

!!! Feeding the NS1 with more than a regulated 5V will result in immediately destruction of most part of the product (i.e. holy smokes + swears). !!!

On board the synth, +12 and -12 voltages, necessary for the oscillator and the filter, are generated through a DC/DC module.

All CV control signals are 0-5V unipolar. Oscillator waveforms outputs are equally 0-5V to be able to use the on board modules to mix cv and audio signals without problems (see the ‘waveshaping’ video for an example of this).

The connection points are generally protected with low value resistors to avoid potential short circuits and burnouts but consider that there are several points on the surface and on the bottom of the product that are not protected.

Avoid putting conductive elements on its surface.

Keep the NS1nanosynth far from conductive stuff on its bottom! Or buy the metal protection case!


As with any modular synthesizer, the user is responsible for the connections between the modules to have an audible results (i.e. without patch wires the NS1 won’t play anything).

Refer to the quickstart guide for a couple of instant gratification patches that will kickstart you in the realm of the electronic music! The synth is supplied with a bag of patch wires (circa 64) that will enable you to go into rather intricate sound design situations!

The box is also containing an USBmicro cable to connect the NS1 with your notebook, an USB power supply, a USB Power bank or your mobile device (iPad, iPhone, given that you supply the barrel jack with 5V, as the iPad does not have the current capability to run the NS1).

The audio output of the NS1nanosynth could easily drive standard headphones.

Please be advised that, as every synthesizer that can bear this name, the NS1nanosynth could (should?) generate loud and violent sounds, so play it safe and lower the volume whenever you are trying to do something stupid especially near the RESONANCE and INITIAL potentiometers! 🙂 No limiter is in the signal path.

Soft (and Hard) spots of the controls:

Just a quick note about the ‘ranges’ of the controls, that are, along with the circuit topology and chosen components , the first responsible for the ‘sound’ or the ‘character’ of a synthesizer.

We choose to have the widest possible options for the user, giving him the possibility to go from ‘what a lovely flute sound!!’ to ‘what the fuck are you doing up there, John?’…

The resonance of the filter, a good old OTA based 12dB low and band pass, could go, in the last 10 degrees of rotation of the pot, into ‘wilderness’ mode. That is not “pretty”.

That is really good for industrial, noise and ‘eject the tweeter’ situations. I really liked those saturated self-oscillation sound, similar to an FM out of control stuff.

The VCA, on the other hand, has a very warm and nice distortion when driven with high levels of CV inputs or you are in the last 10 degrees of rotation of the pot.

If you need or you want ‘nice’ tones, please attenuate the CV control of the VCA! On the NS1 we have three attenuators, two variables and one fixed voltage divider…

Experiment, always.

More informations :

NS1 Nanosynth

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