January 22, 2011
by Chris Randall
Those of you that have been following my snark on Twitter and here know that I've been less than kind to James and Peter about the whole MeeBlip Situation. For what it's worth, some early adopters like myself got left out in the cold for a little while due to them greatly underestimating the desire for a $129 synth that was fairly capable and didn't require any soldering. (If I was feeling snarky still, I'd throw a "well, duh" in there. But I'm only feeling passive-agressive at this juncture.)
As a result of demand outstripping supply, and supply having its own problems (the folks that were supposed to make the cases turned out to be raging idiots) it just took a lot longer than one would hope for the original group of easy-build kit folks to get theirs. As luck would have it, I was in that group. I've noticed here and there on the Intertards, where such things are discussed, people are referencing my comments as a reason for not getting a MeeBlip, and I'd just like to state for the record that it will eventually arrive, and is exactly what they state. Patience is apparently a virtue, albeit one I'm not particularly in touch with. All new MeeBlip orders, no matter what flavor you get, ship no later than next business day.
In any event, the MeeBlip finally arrived (no thanks to Canada Post, who haven't apparently discovered motorized transportation), and went together with almost no difficulty. The pictures about how to hook the backplane to the main board in the instructions are not entirely clear, I don't think, and I got that wrong twice, but I didn't let any magic smoke out, and once I got it right, the device worked fine. The only hard part, otherwise, was getting the overlay to sit exactly above the holes, but I've never been good at such things. YMMV.
Micronaut v MeeBlip by Chris Randall
Here's a little taste of the MeeBlip in action. It's the first thing you hear, running through an RE-201 (not a plug-in). The first thing you'll notice, if you're listening on headphones, is the clock noise. This is fairly obvious when the cutoff freq of the filter is low, and there's not much to be done about it that I can see, other than the usual production techniques for getting rid of such things, none of which I applied here. It's a fairly broad-spectrum noise, too, so it might be tricky to get rid of.
One other point that caused a brief bit of confusion is that this is a digital synth, and the knobs are pots, not encoders. As such, the pick-up of values is absolute, not relative. This wouldn't be a big deal except that all the knobs have two functions. I mean, it's only got a few controls, so it's not the end of the world or anything, but I don't believe anyone has mentioned it anywhere else, and it might be a bit of a surprise in live performance, so you should be aware of it.
All in all, the MeeBlip works and sounds as advertised. It is much more sophisticated than a monotron or Gakken box, but much less sophisticated than, say, a Mopho or something of that ilk. It is also fully digital, although you might forget that in use. One minor beef I have is the otherwise useless USB power port. A single cheap chip gives one the ability to program the Atmega directly, and allows MIDI over the USB. I understand using the USB port in this context, but I personally wouldn't have stopped at just power, since the jack is the hard part.
But, hey, whaddya want for $129? It is an unique addition to the sound palette that does what it says, for a low price. Anything on top of that is gravy. Get one here.