ST4 sample casing 2, New Sawbench

This week the new ST4 sample casing arrived. No silk screen yet, but at least everything fits. Yes, this baby is rackmountable too! So, that takes care of the mechanical bits. Everything is as sturdy and tight as it gets.

Rackmounted ST4

Now the only thing left to do are the silk screens. The designs have been finished a long time ago. We’re ordering 10 pieces to inspect the quality. If it suffices, the first ST4’s will be shipped out early November! If not, then it will be late November/early December. In the mean time we got very little to do on the firmware. From time to time we test it and make some songs.

New Sawbench: the new hardware revision is in. This means they are stocked once again: prebuilt, kit. This has built-in protection against reverse polarity (yes, those nasty guitar pedal supplies!). This is done with a miniature fuse. More details to follow.

Sawbench firmware v1.2 has been released. This makes the Sawbench, well, everything it should have been in the first place. ūüėČ

– Tolerant to MIDI clock packets. This is quite a big deal since many MIDI devices send these.. also inadvertently.

New Features:
– Really short attacks and releases are now possible. Just a lot better for everything staccato (can you say acid?).
– Exponential envelope mode. Can be switched with CC 94. Allows for really long attacks and releases.

ST4 September update, DIY kits

Just to keep you informed, another ST4 progress update. In the last weeks we’ve tested the sample casing and we’ve requested another one. Two PCB’s didn’t fit correctly, the other 7 did just fine. This will take until early October.

In the meantime all the presets have been added, the DIY manual has been updated with better tables, and we’re ironing out all the firmware bugs. ..And.. we’re finally compiling all the DIY kits. Still, that’s not too much work. The casing is the only real work that’s left. We strive for November, but the planning is now in the hands of the casing factory.. At least you’ll be getting your gear when you spend most of your time indoors. It makes sense ūüėČ

The current collection of kit bags (half of it, actually).

The current collection of kit bags (half of it, actually).

In the meantime we did a minor Sawbench hardware revision (to protect against wrong AC/DC converters) and we’re looking forward to test the 1.2 firmware with its improved VCA/VCF envelopes and improved MIDI support.

Kit bag, with spiffy new label. ;)

Kit bag, with spiffy new label. ūüėČ

When the final casings arrive we’ll start shipping out the kits ASAP! This is done in first-come-first-served order:

1. Kickstarter DIY backers first to last
2. Kickstarter assembled version backers first to last
3. Pre-order list DIY first to last
4. Pre-order list assembled version backers first to last

Today we’ll send out a questionnaire to ask you guys which version you want: rackmount or desktop.. and to ask you for your postal address.

Casing, boxes, and plugged holes

Dear ST4 backers,

This is not the post you’ve been waiting for.. not yet. But we’re close. Very very close.

Today the sample casing was completed.. and it’s on its way here. The casing is without silkscreen paint, but all the metal and powder coating is there. It comes furnished with metal impact standoffs to easily and reliably fit all the electronics. And as you can see the rear electronics can be fitted in two ways, for either:
– rack mount
– desktop

Powdercoated ST4 sample casing.

Powdercoated ST4 sample casing.

Just like we promised. In desktop form the holes on the bottom plate can be plugged. Cover caps are supplied for this. Note that we will ask whether you want the rack or desktop version when the time arrives. And yes, you can still easily switch from rack to desktop or vice versa.

Furthermore, the cardboard boxes were also delivered to our office!

Behold, the box. Behold the official ST4 logo!

Behold, the box. Behold, the official ST4 logo!

Firmware 1.0 is as good as finished. As planned, we succeeded in making LFO and modulation settings per instrument. We’ve included the option to sort 100+ long sample file names. We’ve hit a point where new features just eat a bit too much CPU and/or memory and that means we _have_ to finish up. We’re just doing testing right now, and adding presets!

No telling when the big moment will be there. November seems pessimistic, while mid september seems optimistic. It all depends on if the electronics fit in right away, or we need to move some bits around. The silkscreen paint jobs _seem_ trivial right now, but with the Sawbench, for instance, the color was a big issue for the previous factory. Digital printing turned into silkscreen and in the end that delayed things by 4 weeks.. But we choose quality!

We’re sorry for the delay. We especially underestimated the casings. This is not a small or simple device like the Sawbench, so logically there are more questions, more things to discuss, and more price and feature negotiations. We just didn’t know how much more, exactly. Thank you for your understanding.

ST4 casing continued

Yet again another ST4 development update.

The casing negotiations are still ongoing. To reassure you: we’re still talking to the same factory. There are just details to be discussed. We expect to have the first proof casing ready late August. When the final casings will arrive we don’t know yet. We expect late September. As mentioned before, the casings take way more time than anticipated. We will try to stick with the current factory when we start producing the next batch.

There’s other news: half of the PCB’s have now been tested. And firmware is reaching a level of maturity where controls work the same in all of the GUI screens. The GUI has become more readable, intuitive, faster and there’s an intro animation. And it looks like we’ll add spanish and french keyboard support soon.

The last firmware development work involves the instrument editor. In the next weeks the firmware will grow to be able to choose from at least 100 samples on SD card. We’re also trying to get LFO settings per instrument, which is very useful to control the timbre. If that succeeds we might still go for a digital chorus per voice.. if there’s still enough CPU time left..

ST4 – Electronics production done

All electronics for the ST4 kickstarter have been completed!

All electronics for the ST4 Kickstarter have been completed!

Take a good look. Yes, all those PCB’s have been assembled. And over half of them in-house. That means we just have to hook it all up and test it.

On other fronts: the firmware¬†has progressed nicely. Apple USB keyboards are now supported, German keyboard layout is supported, and it looks like UK is up next. If you have a kayboard layout¬†you want to see supported, you can send it to us and we’ll code it!

USB hubs are (somewhat) supported, which opens doors to new¬†avenues like USB MIDI controllers. The tracker now features half and double speed options. The display has the feature to show multiple controls (up to 4) at the same time, and controls have set points. Huge amounts of features to control the¬†signal path¬†have been added: LFO sync, LFO cross modulation, frequency controllable LFO random noise, channels may be bundled¬†in one big group (for instance, set cutoff for all channels with a single pot). Poly and mono (non-)legato modes are available. There’s now a PWM mode and LFO¬†modulation can control¬†it. That’s not all, LFO can also control¬†bit crusher parameters!

We’re currently negotiating the casing with a number of factories. This is a lot time consuming as previously thought. The ST4 casing is multi-functional (desktop and 19″ rackmount), has a display and this involves a lot of details and choices to be made. When we’ve invested months and months in electronics and software, we’d like to do the same for the casing.¬†We’ll see which ones comes out best. The cardboard box design now also has been done. The DIY manual is 95% finished and the user’s manual is about 70% complete.

In the meantime we’ll continue making the firmware better and better. Most features will be¬†made available through the two onboard rotary encoders, not only through the USB keyboard. The goal is to have everything except sequencing and typing in names possible with on-board controls.

In short, it’s primarily casing stuff and firmware polishing from here on. Late august does seem somewhat feasible.

ST4 Production

In recent weeks the ST4 electronics production has kicked off. Many of the simpler boards have now been produced and are ready to be built into the ST4 units. These were handmade right here at Tasty Chips labs in The Netherlands, just like the Sawbench synth was.

A stash of assembled ST4 VV boards.

A stash of assembled ST4 VV boards.

The more complex boards (exp, vcf, vca) are being assembled by machine in a fab nearby and should be done by the end of the month. Concerning the manual labor, we still have to do the voice and the mod boards. The DIY manual has also seen some major progress and many of the board pages are supplied with photos of all the soldering steps: ST4 DIY resource. More and more detailed information will appear on this DIY resource in the coming weeks.

In parallel, the firmware is still being worked on. Some news:
– Poly mode now works fine and is intelligent enough to allow 3 finger chords + solo.
– The ST4 tracker can now send MIDI out clock signals.
– The ST4 tracker accepts MIDI clock input (preliminary).
– Samples can now be tuned.
– Sample looping can be turned on or off individually per instrument.

The casing (graphic) design is ongoing. We’ve got an excellent graphics artist on board to help us with the silkscreens. The details of the fabrication are being negotiated at the moment.

Last but not least. We’ve had multiple requests whether the ST4 will become available to the public after Kickstarter. The answer is YES! Also, we are taking pre-orders. These are completely free of charge and the interested party is not obliged to buy in any way. Just send your name, postal address, and the version you want (kit, or built unit) to Price for built unit will be 850 eur, 550 for the kit. Units are shipped out on a first-come-first-served basis.

ST4: Power up!

Last update reported on the ST4 power problems. The European government basically killed off the AC/AC power bricks on which the ST4 depended. So we were forced to take a step back to redesign. You’ll be pleased to hear this was successful and with that the electronics are complete! Finally!

The new PSU design is not only more “eco”, but it’s especially better for the user as now only a standard 12VDC PSU is necessary. Easy to find and replace, and equally cheap. And, as promised, such a power brick will be shipped along with the ST4! ūüôā

Not only this, but we’ve already moved ahead and started assembling the first ST4 systems. In the coming days (weeks) the DIY manual will be put online. A start can already be found here!

The casing development has made good progress. The technical drawings of the front, back, and bottom plates are almost completely finished and we already made a test run on our C&C with this to good effect. What’s more the graphic design has made similar progress. But we’re not going to spoil it this post.

New front plate test.

Fresh from the CNC: the new test front plate.

So, what’s left to do:
– The casing
– DIY manual
– Hardware production
– Firmware 1.0

The good news is that most of these activities can be done in parallel.

Mid july sounds like a realistic release date.

ST4 Electronics complete!

Another post in a long line of ST4 updates.. This is a good one. The current hardware turns out to perform very well. The previously tested¬†CV generator circuit is now embedded on the so-called “expansion” PCB, which functions as the central hub between all other PCBs and the Arduino Due.

We gave the system several listening tests and it sounds very clean indeed! No 50Hz, no whining, and very little white noise (only at very high volumes). The CV’s are now also at 5V, so this should make it a bit more hackable for modular fanatics as well!¬†ūüėČ

The new envelope section with the sliders was implemented in the firmware is very intuitively usable, like was intended. A big step forward!

ST4 Qualification Model hardware.  Highest performance yet! Top left: VCF board. Right of that is the VCA board (through-hole version). Right of that is the IO board for MIDI/USB. Center: expansion board. Center-right: VCA board SMD version. Bottom: all the control boards. The one in the center has the new envelope sliders and led buttons..

ST4 Qualification Model hardware. Highest performance yet! Top left: VCF board. Right of that is the VCA board (through-hole version). Right of that is the IO board for MIDI/USB. Center: expansion board. Center-right: VCA board SMD version. Bottom: all the control boards. The one in the center has the new envelope sliders and led buttons..

We’ve been in discussion with some¬†factories and have worked out a decent price for the casing.

There’s also some bad news, however. The original AC/AC supply was killed off by European¬†rules and regulations. Don’t ask! It has something to do with bogus safety or environment bs. So, that’s us over there, redesigning that power supply! What we have chosen now is an external regulated AC/DC (mains -> 12V DC) supply, with an internal switching DC converter¬†(12V -> -12V). Don’t worry. It will be filtered, and the external supply will be region independent!

ST4 Qualification Model control boards. Note the left one with the envelope slilders and led buttons (to select channels and vco/vca/vcf/aux)

ST4 Qualification Model control boards. Note the left one with the envelope slilders and led buttons (to select channels and vco/vca/vcf/aux)

Another thing¬†is the analog audio PCB’s. SMD is cheaper, and also saves space. We’ve already made the VCA board into SMD, but it still needs an extra development cycle. Same for the VCF.

What still needs to be done:

  • Final PCB development
    • Final silkscreen adjustments for the DIYers!
    • SMD version of VCF and VCA
  • PSU redesign
  • Casing design and production
    • Silkscreen designs
    • Styrofoam and box design
    • Fabrication
  • Completion¬†of firmware v1.0

Estimate we’re still on track, except for the PSU business. But early summer still sounds feasible..


ST4 / Post-kickstarter update

First of all, 20 Sawbench rewards have now shipped out. That means all except the ones in the combined (ST4+Sawbench) rewards. The combined rewards will be sent out as soon as the ST4 is ready. This saves work and postage costs (which are very high). The webshop will start selling Sawbenches again at some point. But we’re running out of stock we’ll probably make a follow-up.

The ST4 development has reached another milestone as earlier on this week the new PCB’s arrived. See the picture below:

– top: IO board (MIDI/USB)
– center left: expansion board (power distribution, DAC’s, SRAM, display, connection with all other boards)
– center right: SD board
– bottom left: mod+env board
– bottom right: vcf/vca controls board

The new ST4 PCB's

The new ST4 PCB’s

Note that the mod board has got sliders for ADSR and ledbuttons to quickly select channel and function (VCO/VCA/VCF/AUX).

Assembly and test will start today. As mentioned¬†before the SMD will be 0805 and SOIC, so relatively big and hence suited for DIY. We like the SMD because it’s cheaper, smaller, and we feel easier to solder than through-hole. However, all control and interface components (pots, sliders, sockets) will remain through-hole, since this is much sturdier!

Furthermore, we’ve contacted the factory for PCBA (PCB Assembly by machine).. Especially for the VCA (~100 components) and VCF boards (200+ components).

Some work on the software has been done. The most glaring bugs were fixed and it seems there are no more crashes now.. But a lot of features need to be implemented, still. After some deliberation it was decided to go ahead with MIDI OUT stuff like unlimited polyphony and cc’s. However, they won’t be there¬†in the first release. More like v1.1 or 1.2. The GUI needs to be completely redesigned (piano roll for the poly stuff and some crazy stacks for the cc’s).

In recent days we also contacted a new designer to do the front plate ¬†and back panel graphics. We’re thinking of a multi-color scheme, if the budget will allow. We’ve also contacted the casing factory about this..

In closing, a lot of activities. But it looks like it’s all coming together.


Rewards and ST4 development

For all the Kickstarter backers and people interested in the ST4.

Last week we sent the first rewards to the backers (first-come first-served): 5 Sawbench kits and 5 assembled ones. This week we made a similar amount and they will hopefully be tested and shipped over the weekend.

Also, for the DIYers, the manual has been enhanced with pictures and tables, which can be used (also by us) to verify if all components are in the bags! Just overlay your stuff to check!


Some good news about the ST4: the noise issues seem solved! The numbers: SNR is now better than 80 dB, in some cases better than 90 (but it should not be more than that, bleh! :)). Even better, the periodic noise issues are completely gone! The entire guts needed to be replaced (going from PWM CV to a multi-channel DAC), but it was worth it.

The envelope section has been redesigned and the new components are already in-house. The new design for the control PCB’s (with envelope controls and such)¬†is almost ready to be taped out. We hope to send those off to the factory in the next week. The new multi-channel CV DAC design will also be taped out at the same time.

When the new control board design is finalized we can also start redesign of the new front plate and contact the factory. We’re currently in discussion with a potential US distributor.

Overall, things seem to be ahead of schedule. We expect to send out all the rewards early summer.

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