Music

Polyphonic synthesizer squeezed inside a MIDI plug

Polyphonic synthesizer squeeze...
Inside the metal casing is where the Flash MIDI synthesizer lives
Inside the metal casing is where the Flash MIDI synthesizer lives
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Inside the metal casing is where the Flash MIDI synthesizer lives
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Inside the metal casing is where the Flash MIDI synthesizer lives
There's a 5-pin MIDI port at one end of Flash and a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the other
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There's a 5-pin MIDI port at one end of Flash and a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the other
Three voice modes are available: in poly mono, each of the 16 voices has one oscillator, poly stereo gets eight voices with one oscillator per voice and the single voice mono mode has 16 layered oscillators for that voice
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Three voice modes are available: in poly mono, each of the 16 voices has one oscillator, poly stereo gets eight voices with one oscillator per voice and the single voice mono mode has 16 layered oscillators for that voice
The original synth-in-a-MIDI-plug from 2015 was smaller than a standard 5-pin MIDI plug end
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The original synth-in-a-MIDI-plug from 2015 was smaller than a standard 5-pin MIDI plug end

Back in 2016, Tim Jacobs of mixtela managed to cram a MIDI synthesizer into a teeny MIDI plug that drew power from the device it was plugged into and output sounds via an included piezo buzzer. Jacobs has now revisited that project, teamed up with H-Pi Instruments and created the much more capable Flash "mini-poly-MIDI-micro-synth."

This latest collaboration began in late 2017 when Aaron Andrew Hunt of H-Pi contacted Jacobs with an idea for a microtonal MIDI-powered poly synth. Jacobs built the first prototype by the end of November, followed by a more powerful flavor in August 2018. A custom flexible PCB was then designed, the hardware selected, software worked on and the metal housing ordered. And early this month, the mixtela project page was launched.

Flash is a 16 voice FM synth that rocks a 5-pin MIDI port at one end and a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the other, so you can plug in some cans or connect to a powered speaker. As before, this mini synth is powered from the MIDI port it's plugged into, but there's a lot more going on under the hood this time around.

There's a 5-pin MIDI port at one end of Flash and a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the other
There's a 5-pin MIDI port at one end of Flash and a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the other

There are three voice modes available. In poly mono, each of the 16 voices has one oscillator, poly stereo gets eight voices with one oscillator per voice and the single voice mono mode has 16 layered oscillators for that voice. There's support for pitch bending cooked in, 16 full range programmable tunings of 128 notes each, and unlimited MPE microtuning.

The device comes with a mini UART programmer that "allows you to assign unique microtonal tuning tables to each of 16 MIDI input channels for full microtonal output compatibility with literally thousands of standard MIDI controllers as well as multichannel controllers like MIDI guitars and MIDI organs without a tuning device." That programmer connects to hardware running an editor over USB.

The polyphonic FM synth is up for pre-order for €129.99 (about US$145) now, which is €30 off the ticket price. Shipping is expected to start in December. The first part of the video below shows Flash in action, while the rest explains the tech.

The Smallest MIDI Synth Again...

Product page: Flash

3 comments
Grunchy
That is pretty darn amazing! Thanks gizmag :)
Hendrik Ehlers
Hi. I am one of the three guys who watched the entire video. The muzack is lala & the concept completely off the beam. Probably I missed something along the talking hands, but: The "Love letter to the DIN connector" really did it for me. Brilliant stuff - I will get one. And even if it is only used as one example why not to believe in the guy with the big beard above or USB. Thx.
DallasDave
OK, I'm an idiot. Looked like all the synth setting was done by the synth keyboard and that the device is just a 5pin to 3.5mm converter... ? How do you control it without a synthesizer? And will you make one that can be used on a guitar?