Is it a UFO? Is it some kind of butt-massaging meditation stool? Is it a wok with a damaged lid? No, it's the Oval digital handpan. The light, portable and durable instrument has been designed to have the ergonomics and playability of a hang drum, but with access to a world of almost limitless sonic possibilities.
The 42 cm (16.5 in) diameter, 12.5 cm (4.9 in) high, 3.1 kg (6.8 lb) Oval is described as a next generation electronic musical instrument and open source hardware controller that allows users to play, learn and perform music. When cabled up to a smartphone, tablet or computer, the MIDI compliant USB device works with an iOS music creation and learning app (via Lightning) or can be used with any MIDI compatible software (over USB). It's also Bluetooth enabled.
"The Oval is a USB MIDI controller, but can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth LE," Ovalsound's Juan Díaz explained to Gizmag. "The built-in battery will power the Oval controller and the BT capabilities so you can play the Oval (connected wirelessly via Bluetooth to the Oval App in the iPad, or any other suitable system) with no cables in-between. You can connect it to any suitable MIDI system and use any of the sound sources available in that system. We have tried the Oval with several Mac OS X-based DAWs and I have tried the Oval personally with Caustic and Heat Synth in Android with a USB OTG cable on a small 7-inch tablet."
The learning package built into the app will be supplemented by eight old school printed notebook packs penned by the company's Ravid Goldschmidt, each tuned to a different difficulty level. There will also be support from a website and community for tutorials, sounds and compositions, as well as weekly game challenges and the chance to meet other users and share creations and tips. The app will also allow users to upload their own sounds to the Oval, add effects, adjust pad sensitivity and loop or record sounds on the fly.
Though we do know that the Oval has an ARM Cortex M3 microprocessor at its heart, the final details on the lithium battery that's recharged over USB have yet to be announced. Díaz did tell us that the company expects users to enjoy several hours of continuous playback between charges, and that the development team is aiming for a recharge time of less than 2 hours.
Each of its seven "floating" pads circling the central ding features five pressure sensors, velocity sensing and an X/Y pad. The ding itself is also sensor-packed and, like an analog handpan, is the key note of the scale. The device has RGB LED pad indicators, too, for follow-me learning or metronome functionality, and there's an input jack for adding a pedal or external controller.
The Oval team has a great-looking working prototype in the bag and is now looking for crowdfunding to help bring an even more polished and slick version into production. The recently-launched Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed its €100,000 funding target with more than a month still left to run, prompting the team to look further into the future.
"As of today, The Oval with the Oval App for iOS is a whole instrument ready to play," revealed Díaz. "Our first campaign stretch has been announced, once we reach that funding we will work actively on developing the Oval App for Android."
As of writing, all of the super early bird specials have gone, but backers could still make substantial savings on the expected retail price of €599 (US$660) or more, with an early bird pledge of €399. If all goes to plan, the first units have an estimated shipping window of March/April 2016.
You can see the Oval in action in the pitch video below.