- Finalized the v0.1 PCB of new module 1. Sent to the proto house for manufacturing. Ordered proto aluminium panels too!
- Continued investigations on Grids’ “sudden death” problem. Built on breadboard all kinds of shoddy PSUs to try to fry it – no success. Looks like I’ll have to buy a µZeus…
- Received the batch of Ripples modules that were due 3 weeks ago. Hectic order packing and shipping.
- Had a “brilliant” idea about wavetable interpolation that I tried to integrate into Braids’ code. It was not a brilliant idea after all.
- Did a final run of tests on Tides firmware. This was the last opportunity to change things – the first boards have been programmed/calibrated today (friday)!
- Had a visit from the Würth Elektronik salesman.
- Created PCB footprints for a couple of new parts.
- Received a small batch of Braids modules. More orders packing and shipping…
- Started schematics/layout for new module 3. The board is so dense there are parts sneaked in under pots, and there’s a little mezzanine board above the processor!
- Designed the PCB of new module 1 (started on sunday at 5PM, finished on monday at 6AM).
- Technical drawings of the front panel for new module 1.
- Prepared the BOM and a very rough set of manufacturing docs for new module 1 so that the CM can start working on a quote.
- Wrote more DSP code for new module 1.
- Wrote peripherals and UI code for new module 2.
- Shopped for parts for a new batch of Anushri kits. Flashed chips.
- Benchmarked dozens of methods for evaluating some transcendental functions used in new module 1. Floating point, fixed point, lookup tables (in flash, in RAM)…
- Evaluated several models of dual-gang pots which are going to be used in two new modules. RIP Bourns PTV142 Built on breadboard the analog sub-circuit of new module 1 that uses that part to make sure I got the pinout right. Ordered mini PCB with variants of PCB footprints.
- Had the “Eureka!” idea that will turn a basic utility module into something Mutable Instruments-ish. Will probably work on that next week because I’m super excited about it.
- Received the rest of Tides’ pre-production run. Fixed fixed fixed (missing protection resistor), sold sold sold, shipped shipped shipped. All of them.
- Investigated on one defective Yarns returned to me. Will tighten one of the factory testing procedures.
- Simulated, breadboarded, validated the analog section of new module 3 (which is mostly analog).
- Built the last 8 MIDIpals, all sold. The new batch is in production and will arrive in 7-8 weeks.
- Finished my hunt for more handcrafted goodies/toys that will come with the new modules.
- Designed (simulation and breadboard) the analog section of an upcoming module. Schematics ready!
- Made a lot of progress on the UI design of a new module. What’s going to have attenuverters, what’s going to have big knobs? Now we know! Hannes is hard at work polishing the layout, I’m hoping to start PCB layout tomorrow…
- Ordered knobs in new size/color combinations.
- Got the DSP code of an upcoming module to run on the actual target ARM microcontroller. Only 30% of the CPU used O_o. It’s time to think of more features!
- Wasted quite some time with the accountant on 2013’s balance sheet.
- Wrote and optimized more audio DSP code for a new module. Arc-tangents? Where we’re going we don’t need arc-tangents!
- Solved some glitches found in Tides’ PLL mode.
- Prepared the production of the next batch of Links, Peaks and Volts.
- Worked on a small tweak to the Anushri audio out/drum synthesis code.
- Wrote a FFT library suitable for embedded applications with scarce memory and no malloc (in-place processing, options for various speed/space trade-offs in LUTs). Most of the good stuff was already in FFTReal…
- Benchmarked and tweaked some audio DSP code to decide on the feature set of a new module.
- Finished writing the specifications for an upcoming design. UI design in progress!
- Released Braids firmware v1.5.
- Wasted a lot of time with the MI forum software to isolate in a new subforum all the noisy conversations (gear for trade/sell, etc).
- Wasted a lot of time with the online shop templates & CSS. No more web development please!
- Wrote some DSP code for an upcoming module.
This version makes the META mode much more useful, and brings the ability to select several destinations for the internal AD envelope. In particular, the internal AD envelope can now be routed to output level, allowing Braids to be used as a standalone voice (for percussions, for example) without an external VCA.
Get the update file here!
- Fixed a bug in the Ambika & Shruthi codebase related to a conflict between the sustain pedal and the spurious All Notes Off message of death sent by old Roland synths.
- Wrote the initialization code for peripherals used in upcoming modules. Checked datasheets, tweaked lines of code, flashed chips, studied logic analyzer traces. Many, many times…
- Tuned and mapped all parameter ranges for an upcoming module. Started thinking about useful meta-parameters/coordinate changes that would make it more manageable with less CV inputs.
- Wrote the production C/C++ code for some of the DSP blocks used in upcoming modules.
- Benchmarked on the scope and in the disassembler a lot of audio code. Besides a few exceptions which require loop unrolling, everything works as it should straight from the C/C++ code – with clean and compact assembly.
- Reworked the specifications of two upcoming products based on the benchmark results – there’ll be more of everything!
- Added support for TubeOhm’s new filter board to the Shruthi firmware.
- Reformatted all the BOMs of the modules in production on a common template that makes the production engineers at my french CM happy.
- All Braids and almost all Edges in stock are shipped.
- Prepared the terrain for the accountant for 2013’s balance sheet.
- Installed my new development workstation and fought with everybody along the way: Apple, Microsoft, the clang people. Everything is sorted and my 6 year old iMac is finally taking some rest.
- Reworked Mutable Instruments’ invoicing/reporting system for automating the generation of customs documents and (once the label printer is there) automatically printing the DHL labels. Still based on python, LaTeX, flat files and make.
- Updated the QA docs for Tides/Frames/Yarns to fix minor annoyances found in the initial batch that I had to manually fix. Tides, Frames, Yarns’ production starts next week.
- Wrote the Peaks manual.
- Received 25 first pieces of Peaks/Shades/Tides US. Test test test. Fix fix fix. Sell sell sell. Ship ship ship. I’d really need to launch production ASAP but there are still a few issues to solve…
- Worked on a little tweak to the Shruthi firmware to have the foot pedal and breath controllers in the mod matrix.
- Had fun in python with some algorithms that will probably end up in a new module.
- Implemented a few improvements to Yarns’ firmware suggested by the pioneers. Fun fact: one of these suggestions required some code which was already there as part of the Easter egg.
- Studied many datasheets to find the ideal part needed for a new project.
- Did PCB layout and BOM for some new stuff.
- Ordered Branches and a new batch of MIDIpals.
- Inventory. It’s like kit-preparation, but backwards (T_T)
- Finished most payments/accounting-related tasks for 2013.
- Flashed a whole bunch of Ambika&Shruthi chips.
- Ambika kit release! 41 kits packed and shipped.
- Ordered all parts for a new batch of CVpals. Flashed chips.
- Ordered all parts for new batches of Shruthi kits (classic and XT). Ready for end of march 2014. Flashed chips.
- Prepared a planning for the aluminium panels orders in Q1 & Q2 – so that the material can be bought in advance and the lead time reduced.
- Some parts traditionally used in the Shruthi kits have indeterminate delivery dates and/or end of life notices. Ordered substitutions and built a kit with them. Validated!
- Shipped some pending modules orders.
- Received and shipped parts for the next Braids & Frames batches.
- Received missing parts and cases for the XT kits. Shipped!
- Received metal cases and started shipping.
- Troubleshooted 1 Yarns that did not pass any of the factory tests. Found the problem and documented the troubleshooting procedure + fix in cases some modules have the same defect in production.
2013 in products – Modules
The biggest thing at Mutable Instruments in 2013 was the introduction of a new line of Eurorack modules – something I started working on in september 2012. Getting the first prototypes was easy, but all kinds of problems had to be solved for the first time to turn them into products. Finding partners for panel manufacturing, PCB assembly, module assembly & packaging, and getting all the details right took a lot of time, sweat and tears… But in fine the whole process – from a concept to a carton of modules ready to be delivered to Schneiders – is now something we feel very familiar with!
5 modules have been released: Braids (a multi-synthesis digital oscillator), Grids (an algorithmic drum pattern generator), Ripples (a sweet filter+VCA), Edges (a quadruple console/home-computer style oscillator), and Links (a buffered multiple/mixer).
6 other modules were scheduled to be released at the end of the year, but were hit by production delays – mainly because the demand for Braids was so high that we had to reorder new batches and give these jobs the highest priority! The new modules are Tides (an AR/AD/LFO/VCDO), Frames (a CV/audio interpolator), Yarns (a quadruple MIDI to CV interface), Peaks (a multi-function tool for rhythmic works), Shades (a triple attenuverter/mixer) and Branches (a random trigger dispatcher). Everything looks good for a mid-february release.
2013 in products – DIY kits
The original plan was not to release any DIY product in 2013. DIY kits are monstrously time consuming in terms of customer care – inexperienced builders want assistance for their mistakes, and experienced builders guidance for mods/customizations!
However, in april, I couldn’t resist working on a project that has been on my TODO list for a long time: a super-easy DIY kit for beginners. I was playing with USB at the time and poof, let’s make a simple USB to CV/Gate interface to bring all these cool iPad sequencing apps closer to the modular! Let’s call it the CVpal… Maximizing the (usefulness x simplicity) / price ratio took many iterations until the kit just felt right, so the final release only happened in november. Sometimes simple things are harder to get right than complicated ones…
Back in november 2012, Frank sent me a drawing of a ghost that looked like the kind of things that would be fun to draw with PCB traces. We decided to make a special edition Shruthi with it – and blinky eyes were a mandatory feature!
It finally happened more than one year later, with the Midnight edition Shruthi, which features a revised version of the dual SVF design – a filter circuit that I thought never got the love it deserved. And that’s right, from now on, the special editions of the Shruthi will be available as full kits… One at a time, to start with…
Since the release of the Shruthi, there has been a huge demand for an extended, knob-ladden user interface. A first solution came from the community (Frank’s original Shruthi XT), but there were a few reasons why this design couldn’t be turned into a Mutable Instruments product – in particular its production was hard to “scale” and the design was a bit pesky to troubleshoot. But the knob-ladden Shruthi stayed on the agenda… A couple of epiphanies suddenly made it possible: aluminium/plexi hybrid cases, deterministic timing for I/O through an event queue, hardware SPI for scanning more buttons, an ISR coding trick… the work started in may and spanned several months, with a release just a few days ago (originally planned for december 15th).
2013 in design
Hannes Pasqualini progressively took care of Mutable Instruments’ “brand identity” – starting with the logo and website redesign at the end of 2012. His first task for 2013 was the definition of a design language for the modules – that has been since then extended to DIY kits (Anushri aluminium panel, Shruthi metal case, Shruthi XT). I am so delighted by the result, especially given how crappy my initial sketches were, and how obscure the requirements I sent him looked. Oh, and the heated debates about fonts!
2013, factory side
At the beginning of the year, the question of how to actually get these modules manufactured had only vague answers. This year, I’ve found a reliable local partner for PCB assembly (from raw parts to boxed modules), gone through the process of having several modules made with them, trained their staff for all the testing/calibration steps. This partner has designed and built tools to help with the production of the modules, gained knowledge about some of the peculiarities of modular gear, and we learnt many things as how to optimize the designs to make them easier to build. I’ve also found with great relief a reliable local partner for aluminium panels, got all the panel colors right, the process of getting a panel made by them is now well-oiled with predictable delivery dates. Shopping for fancy parts like connectors, custom knobs or pots is also a smooth experience. I have a few contacts for the random indian artifacts that are put in the modules boxes (more variety to come in 2014!) – but am still hunting for better packaging options… What this means is that overall, very few bad surprises are to be expected when the next Mutable Instruments modules will enter production!
2013 is also the year during which the task of sorting the parts for the DIY kits was handed over to a wonderful german team – giving me much more time to spend on design. This is truly what made the Midnight and the XT editions of the Shruthi possible!
2013 in business
2013 has been a year of transition. In january I started paying myself a modest salary – Mutable Instruments’ profits had been so far mainly used to “bootstrap” the company. In april I finally signed a lease for a 2-room workshop a few blocks away from home and finally got rid of the stacks of Mouser boxes in the bedroom and the tubes of V2164s in the kitchen. Some equipment has been bought – computers, test equipment, audio gear… Things are tougher now that there is this bigger overhead, but the figures are still looking good!
Other changes took places in the way Mutable Instruments operate: we finally got the bank approval for credit card processing (in retrospect, a battle not worth fighting), and a courier company finally dared offering us decent prices! Since june, packages are picked daily by DHL express and delivered at D+1 in Europe and D+2 in North America. The old lady downstairs will no longer compare me to a donkey carrying two ikea bags on my way to the post office… 2224 orders have been shipped this year.
2013 in failures, fuck-ups and facepalms
- Designing a SMT project with all the idiosyncrasies of a through-hole kit is a silly idea. Shruthi, Ambika, Anushri were born as DIY kits and will die as DIY kits. Bonus points for not having pushed to production that product that would not have withstood competition from Korg or Arturia!
- Free-form VCF/VCA (“Deluxe filter construction kit”) gives all possible shades of weak, nasal, mildly band-passed sounds. Transfer function coefficients do not deserve direct CV control.
- Eurorack +5V supplies blow. From now on, onboard regulators for the win!
- Announcing a project a few weeks before the delivery date given by the CM means that everybody will wait for 3 months to get it. “Beta-test in secret, announce when final production is done” is how we’ll do it.
- 250 pieces is quite small for a good module indeed. Make more.
- Those 11mm tall WQP jacks. 11mm. Not 10mm. 11mm. Thonkiconns to the rescue?!
- Next time you look for a supplier/partner/contractor, make sure they are not more than 30 times as big as you (okay, this doesn’t apply to parts distributors like Mouser…). It sucks when a supplier messes things up with your orders while still having nothing to lose about it, and no incentive to get it right… The MIDIpal case production is going somewhere else.
2013 in hacks
Built-from-schematics Braids with tube display, ladder filters for Ambika, amazing alternative cases, spin-offs of the MIDIpal code morphing into whole new products, a new line of DIY modules… or just people getting together to learn how to solder… Mutable Instruments has been a source of inspiration for hacking, modding, designing, building, learning electronic music instruments… I am very grateful to the community – which extends well beyond the gates of the official forum – for having made this happen!
Happy new year 2014 to all of you, and see you soon for exciting new surprises
The Shruthi XT has been released!
This new kit is an upgraded version of the Shruthi with a much larger control surface allowing direct access to oscillators, mixer, filter, LFO and envelopes parameters. The Shruthi XT runs a brand new version of the Shruthi firmware, with new features such as MIDI clock output, new modulation destinations (including envelope parameters and triggers), and a vastly more responsive user interface.