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Korg NTS-1 Preventative Maintenance

The Korg NTS-1 is a $99 digital synthesizer and effects box that is just straight-up awesome. It’s cheap, but packed with features, including the ability to load custom oscillators and effects, and there are a bunch of them out there for free and for a price. I’ve had a blast making noise with this thing, and there are a few groups online for discussion of the NTS-1.

The NTS-1 is a kit you build yourself. Don’t worry, it just requires a screwdriver (which is included) and it’s really just assembling the enclosure around two circuit boards. Takes about 15 minutes if you go slow. Where the NTS-1 does not shine is in its durability. This is not a device you just toss into your bag, or that can easily travel to a gig. It is… fragile. The main fragility (as many will attest to) is in the connectors. So I’ve tried to strengthen them a bit.

I started by taking the unit apart. Well, just removing the top panel and top PCB. The rest of the pieces of the enclosure can stay put together.

The 1/8″ jacks are soldered on as surface mount components. This is pretty terrible, as they really should be through hole components to help provide a solid mechanical connection to the PCB. I’m sure it was done this way to keep things cheap. The problem is that if the jack pulls off the board it will probably pull off the solder pad as well, so you can’t really replace it. Sigh. I added a bunch of hot glue around the headphone jack. Some have questioned if this will do anything. I figure it’s better than nothing.

Here’s the same treatment to the other jacks. (MIDI in, sync in & out, and audio in.) Just lots of hot glue. Basically the more you plug and unplug things with these jacks the more stress they’ll be under. I’ve seen at least one person build a larger case around their NTS-1 and then use panel mount plugs so they aren’t repeatedly plugging and unplugging from the jacks on the unit. It’s a good solution but does increase the size of the unit.

I also added a laser cut overlay panel to mine. (Mostly cosmetic, though it does keep the top surface a bit cleaner.) I did have to grab some longer screws to hold it in place. If I remember correctly they were 2.5mm machine screws about 8mm long. (The stock ones were a bit too short to catch enough of the threads due to the increased height caused by the overlay.)

The file I used was just a slightly modified version of one that Korg provided. Since black and green are two of my favorite colors this looks great in my opinion.

Oh, one thing I forgot to do was put hot glue all over the Micro USB jack! I will need to open it up and add more glue to that.

Here’s a little sound demo of the Korg NTS-1 which has a built-in arpeggiator.

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EGDR606 Drum Machine

While I’ve been doing this DAWless thing and avoiding using computers for music making I haven’t completely moved away from what might be called “computer music”. I was exploring iOS music applications and found the EGDR606 Drum Machine which was $3.99 USD.

It’s a recreation of the Roland TR-606 which means it’s similar to the Behringer RD-6 Analog Drum Machine I use. For that reason I gave it a try. While I would rather use the RD-6 every time, while on the move the EGDR606 can be a fun little thing to play with. Occasionally I’ll make some drum pattern than I can then try out on my RD-6, which is nice.

You can find a nice review on synthanatomy.com or check out the PDF manual.

I did find the application a little rough as far as saving out patterns, but it it can export WAV files and you can grab them to move elsewhere. Honestly that’s probably due in part to the clunkiness of the iOS file system, so it’s not a huge deal. It could just be a bit cleaner.

(If you’re more of an 808 fan you can check out the EGDR808 from Elliot Garage instead.)

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Pocket Operator Programming Chart

I’ve been doing these Pocket Operator Jams for a while now and I noticed that the more complex ones (with multiple Pocket Operators) require some notes when programming the sequences. I was hastily jotting down notes but then I came up with this Pocket Operator Programming Chart. (You can download a PDF of it!)

Pocket Operator Programming Chart

The way it works is simple. You can keep track of each PO by number (or name) and then create the sequence, writing the pattern numbers. You can just leave it blank when you want a PO to drop out (or write in a blank pattern number). I’m still experimenting with this stuff but it’s definitely come in handy. I’ve said it before, programming music sequencers is a little like programming computers, but more fun.

The paper is super-handy to look at and follow along with while you set the sequence for each PO. I tend to read the chart, count out loud, and press the appropriate buttons. Works for me.

This 16 step chart works for most of my jams since it keeps things under a minute at 80 bpm. Since the PO-12 and PO-16 can only chain up to 16 patterns, this works out well.

Here’s some examples of using the chart.

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Sound Experiment for 2021-09-20

Here’s a fun sonic experiment. The RD-6 has outputs for each sound (well, some are shared) so I ran a splitter from the bass drum output and the clean signal goes to one input on the Dude Mixer and the other goes to the Monotron Delay and then out from there into the Dude Mixer. The third input into the Dude is the standard output from the RD-6 which is all the rest of the drums. (Minus the bass drum because when you output a specific sound it subtracts it from the main output.)

So that’s one channel for plain bass drum, one channel for bass drum through the delay (and the Monotron itself) and one channel for all the other drums/sounds.

Then it’s just a matter of twisting those knobs and coming up with crazy sounds! And that we did… at least we think so. Check it out!

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Synth Jams – Early September 2021

I’ve been dropping all these videos of synth jams over on YouTube but haven’t put any of them here, so I figured I would fix that.

This one is just Pocket Operators. They are tiny, limited devices that can still do a heck of a lot. They’re awesome and fun. I’m using a sync splitter so I can run them all into a mixer separately and adjust the levels. You can chain them all together, but it can be difficult to get the sound levels of each one set properly.

This one is a “Sonic Exploration” (or “Sound Exploration”, I mean, I don’t even know.) I can see doing more of these “knob twiddling” videos where it’s sort of organic and goes… well, wherever it goes. The Crave is a semi-modular analog synth, so it’s perfect for that sort of thing. The Arturia BeatStep is a fun sequencer and pad device that does MIDI and CV. (And I might have some more hardware perfect for Sonic (or Sound) Explorations coming up soon.

This one pairs the Pocket Operators with the Behringer RD-6 Drum Machine. I’m using the PO-12 Rhythm which is a “drum machine” it it’s own right as well, but it’s playing bass tones. There’s also a PO-14 Sub which is a bass sequencer, so… double bass I guess? The PO-24 Office rounds it out as… lead? Yeah, sounds good.

If you want more of this crazy sound subscribe over on the YouTube because I plan to keep going.