January 22, 2011

Der MeeBlippen...

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.


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Jan.22.2011 @ 9:07 AM
I'm a bit underwhelmed by mine. It does almost exactly what it says it does. I just don't find myself going wow! or feeling strangely charmed. this happens to me quite a bit with new gear

Jan.22.2011 @ 11:24 AM
I know what you mean about pots on digital gear - I have a Shruthi-1 which shares its four pots between many params, so realtime tweaking can be a bit "whoomp, there it is". I'm not sure rotaries are the answer, what with stairstepping being the curse of the modern age as is it.

T'was this blog that introduced me to the Shruthi by the way and while it's a bit more money than the Meeblip (and requires an evening or two of assembly) it's very capable MIDI-wise and everything from the instructions to the feature set are well thought out. There's a bit of aliasing with the filter wide open (or a lot, if you want it), but I'm enjoying it for what it is.
Someone I know is interested in the MeeBlip so I'll point him here.

Jan.22.2011 @ 11:53 AM
Thanks for a fair review, Chris. I hope to hear how this works out for you over time.

There are two updates we're working on relevant to comments here.

First, we will have a $10 9V DC power board option shortly. I'll also be writing about some battery power options. I can verify that noise is almost certainly the result of USB power dongles and power ports, not the MeeBlip itself. We overestimated the quality of these power sources and will provide alternative(s).

Second, an upcoming firmware update will recall pot values from EEPROM so that settings are remembered from when they're powered off to when they're powered on. Obviously, we can't fix the fundamental relative versus absolute pot question, but we can make it more satisfying. If someone wanted to code an alternative firmware with a pickup mode, that'd be fairly possible, too, I'd think.

I'm glad you came along with us as an early adopter, both you and lazenbleep; the goal, of course, is to make the synth something that gets better over time.

@7point62: The Shruthi is also an excellent synthesizer, and I know a few people who are getting both. The aliasing you're hearing is because it's an 8-bit synth, which is part of what makes its design unique; the MeeBlip is 16-bit (the sound, that is; the CPU is 8-bit and we're using *two* 8-bit DACs, but you're getting 16-bit output).

Jan.22.2011 @ 11:53 AM
Computer Controlled
Must... resist...

Jan.22.2011 @ 12:02 PM
Thanks for the info Peter - I didn't realise you were behind the MeeBlip (I guess I should get out more!)

Jan.22.2011 @ 1:17 PM
I almost ordered one, but for some I'm just don't the way meeblip sounds. This is odd, since I'm generally a big fan of lo-fi noises, but to me the meeblip just sounds bad, and not in a good way.

Jan.22.2011 @ 1:29 PM
Chris Randall
Interestingly, it's actually fairly smooth in practice. I think the sounds you've heard thus far have been pretty dry, and kind of accentuating the mod routing and such. I'll put up a more sophisticated demonstration this evening, most likely. The one above was at 5:30AM, "shit, I need some sort of sound from this fucker."

Note the second sound, the higher-pitched one with a ton of 'verb, is a TETR4, not the MeeBlip. I just banged this together using my live rig, because my main rig isn't fully hooked up right now. (What I'm working on right this minute, as it happens.)


Jan.22.2011 @ 2:19 PM
Will he flip it in 60 days?
(shake shake shake)
"All signs point to yes."

Jan.22.2011 @ 2:27 PM
Not criticizing your demo. It actually really makes the meeblip shine. It's definitely the best demo I've heard so far, but I had already made my mind up about the meeblip from sound clips I heard weeks ago. For about the same price I scored a casio cz101 instead. Now that's the kind of harsh digital sound I can get behind! I think the meeblip is a cool concept, but apparently it's just not my thing soundwise.

Jan.22.2011 @ 6:35 PM
When it comes to digital with pots, catchup mode is your friend.

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