Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Voice of Saturn Sequencer kit: first impressions


This is the first non-guitar pedal kit that I've put together, and the step-up in parts and wiring was noticeable from the start. That said, it was still a relatively paint-by-numbers operation, and was at no point "difficult" to complete. Anyone can build one of these things— you just need time. And some soldering practice.

More to the point, this is the cheapest, easiest to build analog sequencer option I know of, and while the control voltages may be neither completely stable (they're supplied from a 9v battery. As the battery dies, so does the CV range) nor accurate (they aren't calibrated or anything), they get the job done well enough. Plus, it's got an S-Trig out, which can drive a Moog, a deal sweetener for me (see video below).

In short, if you don't have a sequencer but want one on a budget, and maybe kinda sorta want to know how it works while you're at it, head over to the Curious Inventor site and pick up a kit. It'll run you $125, with around $10 shipping.

There have been a few video reviews of the Voice of Saturn line popping up, and I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and offer my initial impressions as well.

The cons:

1. Wiring. There is a lot of wiring to be done with the sequencer kit, and none of the cabling is included in its bag of parts. This thing is cheap for a reason, and corners had to be cut, but it would have been nice to know that I had to re-stock on wiring before it arrived. It's a small gripe (one, admittedly, I could have avoided by looking at the kit's contents photo a little more closely)

Also, the online manual (one is not included with the kit) recommends that you cut and prepare 15" lengths of cable, with which to connect the parts and the PCB. As you can imagine, this quickly leads to a mess of wires, so I recommend organizing a color-coded system for yourself beforehand and sticking with it.

In other words, when the kit arrives and you realize that you have to go out and buy a bunch of cabling, get as many different colors as you can and more of each color than you think you'll need. Or, better yet, order cabling direct from Curious Inventor alongside your kit. I found that 24 gauge works nicely,20 gauge doesn't.

2. LEDs. There are 11 LEDs on the sequencer, and they're held in place with small plastic LED holders. The instructions advise you to insert the LED holders first, then the LEDs, "pushing them until they snap in place." In the case of our kit, that meant using a metal letter opener to force the LEDs, with effort, to get situated. Again, minor gripe, as it may have just been a matter of the holes on our unit being a hair too small. But, if you're having trouble installing the LEDs on your kit, I can tell you from experience, pushing them in by hand (as shown in the manual) does not work. You'll just bend the LEDs' legs and get frustrated in the process. Instead, use something skinny and non-flexible to lock them into the sockets.

3. The Manual. Maybe I've been spoiled with the BYOC manuals, which hold your hand as close to literally as possible, but the instructions for the Voice of Saturn Sequencer kit were of this type: here's a photo of the finished result; make yours look like this. Again, I'm new at this, and directions of this sort could be the norm for all I know, but from a nOOb's perspective, a little more of a walkthrough would have been appreciated, especially in a kit aimed at the intermediate/beginner crowd.

The pros:

1. Low difficulty construction. Despite the list above, the kit is remarkably easy to put together. There are only two resistor values to worry about mixing up, and all 11 potentiometers are 100k. It isn't quite a Lego operation, but it's close. And while the manual isn't the most forthcoming thing in the world, it doesn't really need to be— so long as you pay attention to what you're doing, everything will end up in its proper place.

2. The price. $132 (w/ shipping) is a steal. I've read a few comments on the boards from people saying they're holding out for the Chimera Synthesis SM16, which I'm excited about too, but, when it finally drops (early-August is the newest ETA, but who knows), it'll retail for $400. To the Eurorack addicted, that may not seem like a lot, but for the rest of us, that's a chunk of the rent.

3. The VoS Forum. Much like the BYOC forum, the VoS Forum is the place to go with any/all Voice of Saturn construction questions. There were two points on the wiring diagram that I didn't understand and, after posting about them there, got a response within an hour. Not bad!

4. DIY pride. Sure, you can't make music with satisfaction alone, but there's something I find more inspiring in firing up a machine that I've built than there is in turning on something I bought. Granted, your VoSS/Paia 9700 pair won't rival your SQ-10/MS-20 combo, but knowing your instruments exist because of your interest in them certainly adds to their worth, sentimentally or otherwise.

In total, the Voice of Saturn Sequencer took me three nights to complete (about 12 hours altogether). If you have more experience in kit building than I do (which is to say "some"), I'm sure you'd be able to shave a few hours off that time.

This is the first sequencer I've owned (or used, for that matter), and as soon as I switched it on I immediately wanted to cobble together a second unit. Trust me, if I can build one of these, you can too. Recommended!

Video:



1.
S-Trig out to the Rogue
CV Out to CV In on the Blue Ringer

2.
S-Trig out to the Rogue
CV Out to Low Pass Cutoff Frequency In on The Resonator

3.
S-Trig out to the Rogue
CV Out to High Pass Cutoff Frequency In on The Resonator

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete,
a few weeks ago i was listening to Scott McDowells
show on WFMU (as is my habit) and I heard the Shamblers live set. (SUPER!)
Scott had linked to your blog and i commenced to
explore it. coming across your Voice of Saturn sequencer entry, my heart raced and i made it over to curiousinventor, post-haste. i ordered the synth (3x 555 chip etc) and just finished putting it together. I'd been looking for a project to get me going and the VOS really did the trick!
im going to build the VOS sequencer next for certain then onward!
anyhow, though you'd like to hear how your Shamblers gig at WFMU had some nonlinear side-effects!

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete,
a few weeks ago i was listening to Scott McDowells
show on WFMU (as is my habit) and I heard the Shamblers live set. (SUPER!)
Scott had linked to your blog and i commenced to
explore it. coming across your Voice of Saturn sequencer entry, my heart raced and i made it over to curiousinventor, post-haste. i ordered the synth (3x 555 chip etc) and just finished putting it together. I'd been looking for a project to get me going and the VOS really did the trick!
im going to build the VOS sequencer next for certain then onward!
anyhow, though you'd like to hear how your Shamblers gig at WFMU had some nonlinear side-effects!

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete,
a few weeks ago i was listening to Scott McDowells
show on WFMU (as is my habit) and I heard the Shamblers live set. (SUPER!)
Scott had linked to your blog and i commenced to
explore it. coming across your Voice of Saturn sequencer entry, my heart raced and i made it over to curiousinventor, post-haste. i ordered the synth (3x 555 chip etc) and just finished putting it together. I'd been looking for a project to get me going and the VOS really did the trick!
im going to build the VOS sequencer next for certain then onward!
anyhow, though you'd like to hear how your Shamblers gig at WFMU had some nonlinear side-effects!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Pete Shambler said...

Thanks! Happy to hear you liked the set!!

Hope the VoS kits have been treating you well!

1:59 PM  
Blogger wotadvert7 said...

I am trying to make it as instructed but the problem i am going through is adjusting those Led Holders What to do now =S ?

12:16 AM  
Blogger alansaki said...

Totally helpful resource for me as a pcb designer and manufacture.. to get ideas from it.
Printed Circuit Board

1:08 PM  

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