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Building the Google Nsynth Super

Sometimes we need “development projects” for our staff (that’s a self-employed code word for self). When Google announced the Nsynth Super, it was an instant YES for three reasons. 1) It’s an awesome concept 2) Learning SMD soldering and rework has been on the to-do list for a while. 3) Want to build a synthesizer? Always answer yes.

What is a Google Nsynth Super?

If you want to know more details, read about the Google Nsynth Super HERE. Basically it’s a physical touch interface for the Nsynth algorithm. More highlights about this instrument…

  • part of an ongoing experiment by Magenta: a research project within Google that explores how machine learning tools can help artists create art and music in new ways.
  • a machine learning algorithm that uses a deep neural network to learn the characteristics of sounds, and then create a completely new sound based on these characteristics.
  • rather than combining or blending the sounds, NSynth synthesizes an entirely new sound using the acoustic qualities of the original sounds
  • it’s an open source experimental instrument which gives musicians the ability to make music using completely new sounds generated by the NSynth algorithm from 4 different source sounds.

So… How does one build a Nsynth Super? Very carefully. (Seriously) The project requires a PCB, dozens of SMD style resistors, capacitors, diodes, and a few specific parts like an OLED screen and Raspberry Pi 3. The PCB comes in two flavors: pre-soldered SMD components or bare PCB. A BOM (stands for Bill of Materials) and build guide are on the PCB product page. There’s also a link to a DigiKey cart with all SMD components.

The last few parts were found at Amazon (Raspberry Pi, SD card, OLED, etc). And most importantly… You will need to consult the GitHub master file and all the branches of documentation. https://github.com/googlecreativelab/open-nsynth-super

I also recommend the NSynth Super Builders Group on FB.

What does Nsynth Super sound like? It sounds terrible. That’s no joke. In the world of quality audio, this synth does not make high fidelity sounds. Due to the processing intensity of the algorithm the audio quality of source samples is limited to 16bit and 16kHz. That’s less than 50% the same rate of CD Quality. All of the audio output is grainy and lo fi. But… Lo-Fi is an amazing sound source and can be exactly what you need. After the initial shock of “man… this sounds like crap”, I pushed the Nsynth audio into a tape delay and spring reverb effect from the Strymon Magneto and it produces AMAZING ambient textures. This is a live stream of the initial hardware test and sound experiences. Aside from a long ambient soundscape, there are some interesting “Berlin Style” sequences that happen around 12:00 and 17:00 of this test session.

All that remains is to put it in a case and use it.

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