Electronic Steel Drum Kit review

(Image from the Gakken site, used for review purposes only.)

The new Electronic Steel Drum kit (3,300 yen plus 8% tax) is out, and it’s pretty sweet. It’s basically a tuned metal plate suspended from a holder frame by a pair of fish lines. A pick-up coil is held in place by a second holder at the back of the pan, and vibrations in the pan cause the magnet in the pick-up to move inside the coil. The resulting current created in the coil is amplified by the included, fully-assembled circuit board. Output from the board can either be sent to a separate guitar amp (using the mini jack), or transmitted to an FM radio at the 88 MHz band. A jumper plug lets you choose one of four specific frequencies (88.2, 88.4, 88.6 or 88.8 MHz). I don’t have a guitar amp, and my little 9V transistor radio didn’t receive the signal from the kit. Instead, I plugged in my external 8W PC speakers. The output is hissy, and monophonic. Unless a guitar amp works better, you may want to run the signal through a low pass filter first. But, it’s still a fun toy to play with for a while.

(Fully assembled kit. The big hammer to the right has a paper towel wrapped around the head to soften the sound a little. The circuit pack can have 2 pick-ups connected at one time.)

In effect, the electronic steel drum is similar in concept to a speaker cone, but working in the opposite direction. You probably could use it as a speaker, but the sound out would be really weak unless you have a much bigger coil.

(The kit stand. The pieces just force-fit together, no adhesives or screws. Twist the stand a little as necessary to get it to sit flat on the table.)

The mook spends a lot of time discussing steel drums, from their history in the Caribbean islands in the 1930, to modern design and manufacturing methods, and the science both behind the tuning of acoustic pans and how the Gakken version works. There’s an interview with Japanese pan master Yann Tomita, and a section on the Open Reel Ensemble’s use of the Gakken kit in with the rest of their 8-track gear. Avant-garde percussionist Tomo Yamaguchi demonstrates what happens when you put the second pick-up from the Gakken kit on various noise makers, Buffalo Daughter bass player Yumiko Ohno uses the kit as a normal steel drum, and someone from Highleads uses their CubeMic contact microphone on various objects around the city.

Additional articles cover the history of electronic drums, a pictorial on percussive instruments, a tour of a plastics manufacturer, and “the 5,000-year history of steel”. One story shows someone that makes Coca Cola dispensing, fire breathing cardboard robots, and another has a hobbyist that has apparently built a train simulator at home. The last article looks at reptiles, and the Manga Science chapter by Yoshitou Asari is about why it’s so hard to clean grime from walls and windows. There are no real suggestions for how to mod the kit this time.

(Back side of the pan, showing the pick-up holder.)

Gakken suggests 30 minutes for assembling the drum, and it took me closer to 50 minutes because I was trying to make sure I understood the instructions right. There are two pick-ups, and it doesn’t matter which one you use. You put one pick-up in the cylindrical holder as shown in the pictures, and rotate it clock-wise an 1/8″ to lock it in place. There’s a length of rubber tubing that you cut into 5 pieces of equal length (about 1 cm each). Two of the pieces are used as end caps on the brown plastic rods used as hammers, and the other three go over the ends of the holder legs to hold the pan in place more securely. Put the legs on the pick-up holder. Put the circuit board in the case and screw the case shut. Put a CR2032 button battery in the battery holder of the case, and plug the pick-up connector into either jack A or B of the circuit board. Assemble the pan frame by attaching the two end pieces to the 2 white aluminum stay rods.

(Close-up of one of the pick-up holder legs, showing how the rubber tubing holds the pan more firmly against the leg. Basically, this is to prevent any unwanted vibrations showing up in the sound signal.)

Take the fish line that comes with the kit and cut it in half. Thread one piece through the two holes at one side of the pan and tie a knot to create a loop that holds the pan 2-3 cm from the frame arm. Thread the second piece through the holes at the other side of the pan and tie that fish line to make a loop the same size as the first one. Attach the three pick-up holder arms to the bottom of the pan so that there’s a gap between the pan and the pick-up, and the arms don’t touch the pan surface (the magnet will snap to the pan, but that’s supposed to happen). Hang the pan from the frame using the two fishing line loops. Turn on the circuit board, and either plug the “Out” jack to an amp, or place the unit next to an FM radio and tune the radio to whatever frequency the jumper block is set for.

(Close-up of the pick-up holder. Note that neither the pick-up coil body, nor the holder arms, press against the pan. If the coil slides out of the holder, it means that you didn’t rotate the coil within the holder to lock it in place.)

There’s a bigger hammer that comes with the kit, that uses a heavy nut and bolt for mass. You can wrap this with cloth to dampen the sound. There are also two light-weight springs that you can use to keep the pick-up magnets from touching the steel pan (or other surface) in order to change the sound quality. The pan itself is tuned to play 5 specific notes, and you can try playing the five songs given in the mook. (Size-wise, the plate is about 6″ in diameter, and with the stand is about 3″ tall.)

I don’t see myself turning into a steel drum player anytime in the near future, but I’m thinking of running the signal through the filter of one of my other synths to mess around with that. If you want a novelty drum for your kit, the Gakken pan is worth buying.

The Otona no Kagaku website is kind of screwed up at the moment: The link on the left side of the page doesn’t take you to the right Steel Drum page (click here, instead). And, there’s no “Next Kit” link. The back cover of the mook says that the next kit will be the “Tornado Humidifier”, winner of the first supplement kit design contest. No target release date or price given.

The new mini-Theremin is now on the shelves, too. It comes pre-assembled, with only a small booklet, for 2,500 yen. I’m not sure if I want to buy it right away, or wait a while. I can’t justify buying the steel drum and not playing it, then turning around and getting the theremin if I’m not going to play that very much, either.

Kit #41, The Auto Writer

(Image from the Gakken site. Used for review purposes only.)

At some point, Gakken stopped printing volume numbers on the Otona no Kagaku kits, but they kept them in the online URLs.

(Starting out. Note the thing at the top of the photo that looks like a stir stick. It’s used for prying the cams off the cam spindle when you want to change patterns.)

Auto Writer, kit #41. 3,500 yen (w/o tax).
The original image for this kit, released almost 9 months ago, was of an old-fashioned automaton dressed up as an 19th century woman. The actual implementation is something a bit different. Novumichi Tosa, president of the art company Meiwa Denki, was instrumental in the design and testing of the kit, which kind of looks like a clown hand on a cassette tape player. The name is a gag – “automa-te”, which is derived from “AUTOMAton” and “te” (for hand), or “automate”.

(Top half, top view, with cam sliders and power button in place.)

The mook starts out with a look at Meiwa Denki, and the two brothers running the company, then discusses the development and principles behind the kit. Several pages cover the operation of a full-scale machine writer used for transcribing kanji for art prints, which is followed by a pictorial on how the cams were made for the kit. We then get a photo history of several automatons,including one of the machines by Friedrich von Knauss, and three by Pierre Jaquet-Droz. The suggested mods are to turn the kit into a UFO to make mini-crop circles, clamping two kits to a guitar to play music, and interfacing a tablet computer through an Arduino to make a kind of plotter/printer.

(Top half, bottom view. Cam slider mounting.)

There’s a section on robotic prosthetics for the handicapped, examples of figurines made using 3D printers, and a hand-held 3D doodler (think hot-glue gun that makes 3D structures) ($160). 6 pages on what the 4th dimension would look like, 2 on what children think space looks and sounds like, and 2 pages on a guy that makes model Japanese castles out of cardboard. 2 more pages on a guy that hand-makes actual transformer robot models (they change from a car to a robot), and 2 pages of entries from last year’s “15-Second Special Effects Movies” contest.

(Bottom half, top view. DC motor and gear chain. The kit uses one AA battery.)

Have you heard of “rare sugar”? I haven’t. There’s a 6-page section on “kishoutou”, which literally translates to “rare sugar”. The Japanese wiki has a page on it, but there’s no English version. The primary link is to the Rare Sugar Research Center, located in Japan. The website is Japanese, only. Example sugars are D-Allose and L-Glucose. Rare sugars seem to be promoted as having special health properties, but there’s some dispute over this.

(Top half, top view. X-axis and y-axis sliders in place.)

The rest of the mook contains construction instructions for the kit, and ends with Yoshitou Asari’s Manga Science (this one on water surface tension).

(Top half, top view. Mounting the hand. Note that the springs for the hand and the x-axis slider are in the wrong places. The black piece in the hand casing is just used to hold the pen.)

The kit is based on the same principles as the von Knauss and Jaquet-Droz machines. 3 separate motor-driven cams control the x-, y- and z- axes of the pen hand, and the movement along the slider bars is pretty much the same as for a plotter. Only the x-axis slider is directly connected to a cam lever. The y-axis slider is advanced with fishing line tied to one cam lever, pulling against a spring. The z-axis works the same way for lifting the pen off the paper. Two ribbed pieces of tubing are used to maintain tension on the fish line between cam lever wall and the connecting wall on the pen arm. This is where the first error comes in. The parts list photo shows the 2 pieces of tubing to be the same lengths, while the instructions refer to a “long” piece and a “short” piece. If you use the tubing as-is, the fish line for the z-axis will be too short. I ended up cutting 2″ off of one piece to use it for the z-axis, and even then there was more tubing than is needed to compensate for the action of the sliders.

(Top half, top view. Putting on the upper hand cover, and mounting the top and bottom halves of the main unit together. Tubing to the right is for the fish line controlling the y-axis movement.)

A second problem comes in with the springs. There are three springs, one for each axis, labeled as “big”, “medium” and “small”. The big spring is used for the y-axis, and it’s pretty obvious which is the big one. However, “medium” is the same diameter as “big”, just a bit shorter; while “small” is the same length as “medium” but with a smaller diameter. If you mix up medium and small, you’ll mash up the x-axis spring when you tighten down the screws, and the z-axis spring won’t fasten right under the smaller screws. So, use the smaller diameter, shorter spring for “small”, and larger diameter, shorter spring for “medium”. Regardless, the x-axis spring should be another 10% shorter in order to fully retract the slider arm to the “resting” position; as it is, it’s too long.

(Bottom view with both halves mounted together. The ribbed tubing shown here is for the fish line controlling the hand z-axis. Note that one end of the line isn’t connected to the hand, yet. I think the key-hole in the case is so you can hang it on the wall when not using it.)

The fishing line is held in place at one end with a knot, and the other by wrapping it around a screw. When you get the kit fully built, it’s a good idea to loosen the screws to take all of the slack out of the lines. And again, after you’ve played with the slider arms to see how they work, it might be wise to shorten both ribbed tubings to get rid of excess that could get snagged on something.

(Bottom view. Rubber feet attached to the case. Fish line attached to the hand for the z-axis movement. Spring wire inserted in the disk at the top left. That disk is a retainer used to hold the cams in place on the main gear spindle.)

You get three sets of cams, one for the kanji that appears on the front of the mook, one for the name “Tosa”, and one for a peace sign. While the full range of the sliders is about 2.5cm x 2.5cm, the height of the kanji is just over 2cm (3/4″). So, while the auto writer is a fun idea, what it can write “out of the box” is kind of limited and kind of small. If you want to make your own personalized cams, you can design them using an online app, trace the patterns out on a thin sheet of plexiglass and cut them out yourself. Personally, I don’t have plans for making new cams or for modding this kit. I thought of using it to move the stylus for the Pocket Miku, but the note play time would be too slow.

(Top view. Cams and cam retainer in place.)

A couple final notes. There are actually 2 switches on this kit, wired in parallel. The first one is the push button mounted in the corner, with the light blue button cap. You need to hold this down for about a second for the kit to go into auto mode. The second is a leaf switch driven by the main drive gear at the bottom of the kit. As the gear starts rotating, it closes the leaf switch, which lets the motor continue running after you let go of the push button. When the gear makes a full rotation, the leaf switch reaches a notch in the gear and opens up, causing the motor to stop. It’s a fairly elegant way to avoid using an electronic timer circuit.

(Using the “kanji” cams. The arm kind of sticks during movement, so it may be a good idea to spray the slider rods with lubricant.)

The second note regards what to write with. The hand doesn’t push down against the paper all that hard, although it does push enough that the pen will drag the paper around unless you hold the sheet in place with something heavy. If you use a pencil, the writing will be too faint. You can use a good ballpoint pen, a thin-line marker, or a paint brush. I suggest turning on the kit, and when the hand goes into full “down” position, pull the battery out. Put the pen in the hand and adjust the positioning so the pen writes the way you want on a sheet of test paper. Wrap masking tape on the pen to show where to slide it next time when you remove it or cap it during storage. Put the battery back in and wait until the kit turns itself off. Put a fresh piece of paper under the pen, anchor it in place, and then start the kit again.
The next kit is scheduled to be the electronic steel drums, 3,500 yen, in September.

Pocket Miku Official Guide Review

(Image from the Otona no Kagaku page, for review purposes only.)

I’m torn over exactly how to approach this review. The Singing Keyboard Pocket Miku Official Book really should have been packaged with the actual keyboard under the Otona no Kagaku Sound Gadget label at the $50 charged for just the kit. Instead, we have yet one more musical instrument floating around loose on the Gakken website that you have to pay an extra 1,500 yen ($15 USD) for just to get what normally comes free with other kits. Plus, the only instrument actually released as a “sound gadget” is the SX-150 Mark II, which has been out for years now. If Gakken’s going to launch all these new lines – Sound Gadget, Petite Handmade, Simple Kid’s Handicrafts – it’d be nice if they’d stop orphaning them.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of good information in this book, if you are into electronic music and you own the Pocket Miku. If so, then I recommend getting this one.

The Official Guide is 116 pages, A4 size. It includes two new seals that you can put on the keyboard. In fact, the first few pages talk about the Piapro collaboration held back in April. The piapro website is run by Crypton Future Media as a fan distribution site for people that make music using Vocaloid. Crypton, in turn, sells music/media software based on the Vocaloid engine. The “collaboration” was a request for fan artwork starring Miku Hatsune, and the top 11 submissions are included in this book, the grand prize winner being turned into one of the two vinyl seals.

This is followed by a 4-page interview with Vocaloid musician/producer Mitchie M, and a 4-page interview with synthesizer pioneer Isao Tomita. As a side note, Tomita has already released at least 1 album of Vocaloid music. Other musicians mentioned as having “collaborated” with Vocaloid/Hatsune include Glay, Lady Gaga, Bump of Chicken, Clementine and Rocketman.

The “Pocket Miku Perfect Guide” starts on page 28, with Captain Mirai’s (Captain Future) 8-page hands-on class showing the basics of the keyboard (how to use the stylus, pitch bend, vibrato, etc.) This is sponsored by the ESP Sound Academy, which offers courses on how to use the Vocaloid software.

Next, there’s 12 pages on the online app, which requires Google Chrome, IE or Safari to run. The first version of the app simply let you reprogram the Pocket Miku with new phoneme sets. Version 2.0 is more interactive and you can use it to make the Miku sing in real time. There’s now also a config feature that lets you change some of the button settings.

If you have a sequencer, Katsunori Ujiie (keyboardist/composer that works with Yamaha) spends 8 pages showing how to run the Miku off of Acid Music Studio and Garage Band, and presents one of his compositions as part of the article.

The section on MIDI covers 17 pages, and includes tables of instrument voices plus the phonemes produced for specific MIDI note numbers. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what app is shown in the article as the MIDI controller. It could be Acid or Garage Band, but I’m not sure. I’ve tried using Sonar X1 LE to interface with the Miku, and still haven’t managed to make it work right. I’m thinking that the issue is that the LE version is semi-crippled and that I really should buy the full commercial package. But, if you have Acid or GB, making it work with the Miku should be straight-forward. The MIDI section includes examples for sending customized “exclusive strings” to take advantage of the Miku’s Yamaha chip. It uses the Yamaha NSX-1 processor, if you’re familiar with that.

If you are new to music and keyboards in general, there are 5 pages of sheet music, including “Happy Birthday” and “Meruto”, where the notes are identified with the “do-re-mi” phonemes produced by each of the keys using the default keyboard voice. Actually, this was one of the deciding factors for me in getting this book. I need all the help I can get to figure out how to play by ear, and having the sheet music telling me specifically which key to touch at each “do, mi, so, re” point helps because that’s the phoneme that sounds for that given note.

Gakken interviews 3 of the members of Crypton for 5 pages. Then there’s the “void the warranty” section that people buy the Otona no Kagaku kits for. The first mod is to just knit a Hatsune-patterned yarn cover for the box and stylus. Then we get a replacement wood case, and a suggestion to wire the kit to a bullhorn. The really cool mod, though, is a 3D-printed plotter attachment that holds the stylus and is connected to a microprocessor to get voice-activated control over the music.

The remainder of the book is a comparison between Vocaloid and eVocaloid, the history and evolution of both, and finally, a short pictorial history of Hatsune Miku music.

Comments: The pictures are good, and if you can read Japanese then you’ll be interested in the interviews with Mitchie M and Tomita. For me, the two most important reasons for getting this book are the sheet music and the MIDI charts. I fully intend, when I get the time, to sit back down with my Java arpeggiator app and add support for the Miku. After that, I hope to write a Java sequencer that takes input from textfiles and records from the Roland A300-Pro keyboard. Along with the sequencer, I could incorporate the codes from the book’s MIDI charts for more “dirty to the elbows” control of the kit. But, knowing me, that may not happen for a while…


NSX-39, a first look

If you’re not familiar with Vocaloid, I suggest that you read the wiki article. It’s a very popular franchise in Japan, and in part that popularity revolves around the characters created to represent the various singing voices that the Vocaloid software can produce. As an example, Miku, one of the first, and one of the main “lead singers”, is consistently used in product tie-ins with FamiMart convenience stores.

As I’ve mentioned here recently, Gakken had announced the upcoming release for their NSX-39 Pocket Miku “singing synthesizer”, through their Otona no Kagaku line of kits. To an extent, the NSX-39 is kind of an extension of the SX-150 ribbon controller synthesizer. The concept is that rather than just having musical instrument voices like a piano or flute, you have the human voice singing specific sounds. The original Vocaloid software was written around the idea of music being created based on transcribing written lyrics. What the NSX-39 does is provide a USB port for downloading new lyrics to the kit, and then offering up to 10 operating modes for playing those sounds back as music. The user interface is a ribbon controller and stylus, with the ribbon split into 2 parts. One is a regular continuous ribbon as with the SX-150, while the other has distinct piano-style keys printed in it, resembling the keyboard printed on Miku’s stockings in the character art.

As can be seen in the below photo, the face panel has Vibrato, shift, A, E, I, O, U, and Volume Up and Down buttons. There are stereo headphone and USB jacks at the back, and an Off/Battery/USB switch. So, you can run the NSX off USB power if you don’t want to use up batteries (3 AAA’s). All of the face panel buttons do double duty if you use the shift key with them. The normal mode is to assign each of the keyboard keys to the Japanese versions of “do re mi fa so la ti do”. The A-O buttons switch the sounds to just that letter across the entire keyboard. Shift A-O activates a pre-programmed sentence that sequences every time you touch a note with the stylus. Shift-A gives you “Ko-ni-chi-wa-A-ri-ga-to” (Hello, thank you) playing one syllable per note press. Vibrato warbles the sound currently being played, and Shift-Vibrato returns the unit to Do-Re-Mi mode. Volume Up and Down changes speaker volume in 5 steps, while Shift-Volume Up/Down changes the keyboard up/down 1 octave. Vibrato-Volume Up/Down is pitch bend. Vibrato and A-O lets you switch to user presets.

(NSX-39 with Miku sticker applied.)

Pressing Volume Up and Down and A at the same time is “Panic” mode (defaults reset).  Up and Down and U switches between NSX-1 mode. Up and Down and O turns tuning on and off. Up+Down+Shift reinitializes the unit. At the moment, I can’t tell the difference between NSX-1 and NSX-39 modes, or Panic and Initialize.

(FamiMart version of Miku.)

The box contains the fully-assembled NSX-39, a 16-page user’s manual, 2 stickers you can put on the face plate (a picture of Miku, or the definitions of the different buttons in English) and an insert sheet advertising the real Vocaloid software system. The first 3 pages of the manual look at the history of electronic speech, from the Speak-and-Spell up to Vocaloid. The rest of the manual is split up into Operations; Using the online app or a sequencer; and Troubleshooting.

In general, the NSX-39 is a toy. It’s nice to play around with and make  sounds for a while, but it has the same appeal as the Korg Monotron, and about the same play lifespan. As-is. To expand its repertoire and keep it more interesting for a longer time, Gakken has added some nice features. First, if you go to the app page, you can access a second webpage that lets you type in new “sounds-as-words” into the interface and automatically store them in the NSX-39 (it has to be connected and turned on at the time) for later
playback. When you plug the unit into your computer (PC or Mac), the OS autodetects the NSX-39 and downloads the proper USB drivers for it. The app only runs under Google Chrome (which I hate) and only accepts Japanese character entry (what’s called Hiragana). This means that you can’t use the app for English entry, since the Vocaloid software isn’t tuned to English. If you can read and write Hiragana, it’s great.

(Miku loves FamiMart)

The second nice thing added by Gakken is MIDI support. You can run the NSX-39 from a PC-based sequencer through the USB port (if you have sequencer software), and you can even use it as a MIDI controller. I haven’t tried this out yet (the Pocket Miku just hit the stores in my region of Japan two days ago). But, I’m thinking that I’ll be able to interface it with my K-Gater Java app sometime by the end of April or beginning of May when my schedule frees up. If K-Gater works, I’ll try writing a Java-based sequencer to include the Kaossilator Pro. (To interface with my other gear, I’ll need to buy a PC-to-MIDI connector converter, which I don’t have yet.) The manual lists the supported MIDI operations, but it’s just in one small paragraph; it’s not in table format. So it may take some experimenting to get the codes to work right.

One thing about the USB connection is that you need Micro-B. Fortunately, when I bought my new Nikon CoolPix digital camera, it came with a Micro-B USB cable, so I already had that available when it came time to plugging the NSX-39 into my laptop.

Comments: The Pocket Miku is an interesting novelty item to add to your rig. If you use your laptop as a converter, you can drive the unit from a regular MIDI keyboard rather than having to use the ribbon cable. Or, you can use regular sequencer software and have it playing while you compose songs regularly through the computer. The three things I wish were different are: Firefox browser support for the app; support for English phonemes; and the ability to choose a voice other than Miku’s. Miku is supposed to sound like a 16-year-old girl, and she gets rather piercing when singing higher notes. I’d like to have a lower, male voice in order to get bass sounds. But, maybe that will be a sequel kit.

Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard
Released Apr. 3rd, 2014, 4,980 yen (w/o tax).
Ships fully assembled; not a kit.
Accompanied by a 16-page B5-sized user’s manual.
Requires 3 AAA batteries when not connected to a computer.
Requires a Micro-B USB cable to connect to a computer (PC or Mac).


Electromagnetic Speaker Review

(Image taken from the Otona no Kagaku site for review purposes only.)

Otona no Kagaku Plus, Electromagnetic Speaker, 2950 yen, Nov. 28
This kit has “Plus” in the name to set it apart from the regular Adult Science series, in that it’s also aimed at kids. The motto is “Let’s have fun with experimenting!” The kit itself is an external pair of speakers for your MP3 player. There’s a coil that creates a varying electromagnetic field, so that the little LED units will pulse in time with the music as a demonstration of the wireless transmission of energy. Actually, there are little coils in the capsules with the LED units, and the entire thing works as a transformer with an air core. One of the units is in the shape of a fish, and a magnet in the rear end causes the tail assembly to move, to propel the fish if you put it in water. The kit comes with a plastic tray that you can fill with water if you want, and all of the LED units are water tight.

(Front view.)

The kit has a suggested assembly time of 60 minutes, and it took me a little more than that to finish, because I had to spend 20 minutes unraveling the wire coil. The mook suggests wrapping the wire around a piece of cardboard, first, to make it easier to handle. I opted to not do that, which resulted in my having to unknot the wire after it unlooped and twisted itself up. There aren’t any really tricky parts to the assembly this time. Just leave 12 cm of one end of the wire floating, and hold it in place on the case body with cellophane tape. Wrap the wire around the circular shape of the case like you would for an antenna coil. When you finish, use more tape to keep everything neat, and wrap the excess wire around the three pegs near the circuit board. Put in the speakers, using the big flat-washer screws to hold them in place. Add the battery holder parts, making sure that the springs and leads match the pictures in the instructions. Plug the speaker and battery connectors to the circuit board and route the wires so they don’t get pinched. Put in the two normal screws at the center of the board and wrap the coil ends around them as shown in the instructions. There’s a clear plastic sheet that gets placed over the circuit board and held down by the remaining 2 screws at the corners of the board. Finally, put in 4 AA batteries and mount the control knobs on the potentiometer shafts at the front of the unit. (Note that there was a big solder splash on one of the coil mounting pads on the circuit board that I had to pry off with a screwdriver. It didn’t affect the operations of the circuit board, anyway.) The kit measures 24cm x 15cm x 3cm.

(Rear view.)

The power switch has 3 settings: Off, Internal lighting, External input. With Internal lighting, the 3 controls adjust the intensity of the light from the LEDs. With External input, plug the mini phono jack into your MP3 player and turn it on. Volume control will be from your player; the knobs just adjust LED light intensity and disco action sensitivity. The regular usage of the kit is to place it flat face up on a table, and put the clear plastic tray into the opening inside the coil area. Fill the tray with water and put the four LED units in the tray. Technically, the fish unit (you have to attach the white tail fin to the fin holder) should move around in the water by itself, but the water surface tension kind of overpowered the magnet in the tail and it wouldn’t flip for me.

(Close-up of the excess wire take-up pegs.)

The mook starts out with mod suggestions, including making cloth octopi to place inside a gold fish bowl on top of the coil; and a kind of merry-go-round structure, also set on top of the coil. There are instructions for making more small coils and soldering them to regular LEDs for additional lighting. A third mod is to drill small holes into the LED ball units and turn them into battle tops. Other articles discuss wireless power, including wireless smartphone chargers; the principle behind the speaker kit; and experiments you can try with the LED units (turning them at different angles to the coil, or putting different materials between the units and the coil). There’s a discussion of electromagnets and circuits using your own hand-made coils. The 8-page “Wireless Communications Chronicle” is a brief history of electromagnetism, running from 1887 with Heinrich Hertz, through the telegraph, radio and television, up to satellites, smart phones and rail pass cards. 9 pages on the assembly and operation of the kit, and then 10 pages on Tesla and his dream of beamed power. The rest of the mook is advertising for other Gakken kits and publications.

(Night view.)

I don’t really like having the kit main unit lying down on the table, because you can’t see the LEDs from a distance that way. But, when you stand the main unit upright, it’s resting on the power switch, which makes it unstable. I taped 2 toothpicks to the bottom as feet and to raise the power switch off the table. Then I used thread and part of a wooden chopstick as a hanger for the LED units. Unfortunately, the thread is twisted enough so that the LEDs face the rear of the kit, so I’m thinking of putting a mirror at the back as a reflector, maybe to get a kind of kaleidoscope effect. I don’t have any other mods in mind, yet, but the obvious ones are to add a 6 volt adapter jack and to move the power switch to another part of the case. And maybe to put rubber feet on the “bottom” so it will stand up better.

Overall, it is a nice kit, and fun to play with at night when the house is dark. Recommended if you want to teach kids about wireless power.

A second look at Kasoku Kids

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Back around September, I saw the announcement on the Gakken Facebook page for the release of the first volume of the Kasoku Kids (Accelerator Kids) manga. I wrote a little about it in a short review. It’s an official comic sponsored by the Japanese KEK accelerator project, and is intended to inform Japanese school children of work currently ongoing at KEK, as well as to teach them the fundamentals of particle physics. I bought my copy right after it hit the shelves, with the intent of getting back up to speed on college-level physics as simple self-study. I figured that getting an illustrated Japanese comic would also help me with my Japanese studies. My plan was to just type up the dialog and narration into NJStar, and go from there.

(Screen cap of NJStar.)

Windows supports Japanese character sets, and uses IME for entry of both Japanese and Chinese kanji. However, this is only useful if you know the pronunciations of each kanji. If you don’t, you need to look them up in a separate dictionary based on the stroke counts and then just wade through all of the kanji with the same stroke counts and sub-components (usually referred to as “radicals” in English) for the one you want. It’s very time-consuming and occasionally frustrating. Then, when you know the pronunciation, you can type that into IME and wade through another bunch of kanji that have the same sounds to try to find the one you want again. There’s a reason why I don’t do that.

(NJStar, with the pop-up dictionary turned on.)

NJStar is the work of a professor living in Australia, designed to make Chinese, Korean and Japanese wordprocessing easier. It has several features I really like, including kanji look-up based on radicals or pronunciation, and a pop-up dictionary that gives short definitions of each word match it can make, starting with the longest-matchable word down to the individual starting kanji. This makes translation a lot easier if the document is in electronic text-readable form, such as when copied from a Word or PDF file.

(Trying to find a kanji given its radicals.)

The problem is when the document isn’t electronic text-readable, such as with a paper book, or a flat jpeg image. Then, I have to type it up first, and I hate having to do that. And, guess what – I bought Kasoku Kids as a paperback book, and the online version at the KEK site is flat jpeg images inside an HTML file running some kind of javascript. So, there’s LOTS of typing involved. Some of the more text-heavy chapters can take 3 days to type up 16 pages. But, and this is important, it is forcing me to memorize more kanji pronunciations to avoid having to look them up by radical all the time.

(Entering kanji by typing the romaji spelling.)

The science in Kasoku Kids, volume 1, is mostly overview – no real hard math, with the only exception being a proof of Einstein’s E=mc^2. But there is a lot of terminology, with discussions of the different types of quarks (up, down, top, bottom, strange, etc.), the existence of gluons, an introduction to quantum physics, particles that act like waves, and Schrodinger’s Cat. Some of this stuff I didn’t hear about until I was in university, and now we have a Japanese comic aimed at younger school kids. I don’t think this bodes well for America’s reputation as a leader in math and the sciences.

(The only real math-heavy page in the book.)

I’m not planning on doing a full translation or scanilation, and you can already see the original manga online. But, it’s still taking me weeks to get this far. I finally completed Part 2 (up to page 129) last week, and now I’ll take a break. I’ll tackle part 3 some time later, which will take me to the end at page 208. I was thinking that I’d like to sporadically do the chapters already online before they get the book treatment, but that may not be feasible. Volume 1 contains the first 17 chapters, plus a special on the Higgs-Boson. “Season One” has 5 parts (part 4 is chapters 18-23; 5 is chapters 24-30). Then there’s “Season 2”, which adds another 2 parts of 13 chapters total. My book has 17 chapters, and there’s already 26 chapters waiting to go into volumes 2 and 3. Sigh.

(An example of one of the discussion-heavy pages. This took me a couple hours to just type up the Japanese text part. Note that I’m taking a number of liberties with the translation to make it sound more natural. But, most of the explanation is true to the original text, which may make it “less scientific” than it should be in English.)

I think I’m going to use this as my excuse for why I haven’t done anything further with the Rockit synthesizer.

(This is as much math as we usually get in this book. Prof. Kobayashi is professor emeritus for KEK, and shared the 2008 Nobel prize in Physics with Toshihide Masakawa for their work on CP Violation in the 60’s.)

Actually, I’ve been in the middle of several large projects (all personal projects which don’t pay for any of my other hobbies) and I can only do one at a time. When I finish some paying-work projects, I’ll go back to the synths. I still need to troubleshoot the PAiA Fatman kit, learn how to hack the Rockit, and figure out how to make the Arduino MIDI shield work as a sequencer.

Review: USB FX Camera

(Images from the Gakken website used for review purposes only.)

USB Special Effects Camera, 3,6750 yen ($37 USD).
Ok, this is a standard webcam that connects to your computer through the USB port. The only two things that are different about it are the close-up lens, and a short hand-held stick. One end of the stick has a tiltable camera mount, and the handle is threaded to screw onto standard-size camera tripod bolts. So, if you want to, you can attach the stick to your existing tripod for stability. Otherwise, all the real work of recording video, editing and adding effects will be done by whatever computer software you have. If you’re running Windows on a PC, you can download Movie Maker from Microsoft as a service pack, if you don’t already have a copy.

The kit consists of the camera premounted to the circuit board and pre-wired to the USB cable, the case shell halves, the handle, a couple washers and the mounting hardware. Suggested assembly time is 15 minutes and it took me about that long. I spent 5 minutes trying to bend and route the wires within the shell around the circuit board, and then constantly picking up the lens cap from the floor. The cap falls off too easily. The only tricky parts are in figuring out which screws to use. There’s one black narrow-head screw that attaches the handle to the shell case back. There are 3 silver screws for mounting the circuit board within the case, and 4 more black screws for attaching the shell case front to the shell back. The narrow head screw is the same length and thread as the other 4 black screws, so it’s easy to mix them up and use them interchangeably, it’s just that when you look at the finished camera from the front, one screw will be a different shape from the others. All the black screws are cheap metal and the heads strip if you’re not careful.

(With the camera mounted on a tripod, aimed at a set made up of images cut from the covers of the kit box.)

When you have the camera built, you can either download the AR software from Gakken (in which case you’ll also need something like lhaplus to uncompress it), or use Movie Maker or something. The Mook gives instructions for selecting the camera under 8 different applications, including Movie Maker, Photobooth, Quicktime Player, FaceTime and iMovie. The computer will automatically detect the camera and download and install the proper drivers. After that, just be sure you select the correct camera (it may either be “PC camera” or “webcam”)  from your devices list within your application. I tried using the Gakken AR software, but it keeps auto-selecting my laptop’s built-in camera and I can’t find any way to override that. Gakken doesn’t provide documentation for this app.

(The set seen from roughly the correct angle.)

The camera over-responds to changes in lighting conditions, and indoor fluorescent lighting turns everything blue-green. So, you’ll either want to use lens filters, incandescent lighting, or software editing tools. The lens is threaded. Screwing it inward changes it to pan focus; screwing the lens outward sets it to macro mode. Focusing is left up to you, based on the video you see displayed on your computer. The only caveat is to not fully remove the lens, which will expose the CCD to dust that will show up very easily in your movie.

(The figures, buildings and vehicles are glued to a long sheet of matte board. The backdrop is just a sheet of yellow construction paper cut in half and taped together. I didn’t have time to print up anything more interesting.)

The Otona no Kagaku site seems incomplete at the moment. The mook mentions several downloads, including texture maps of the buildings in the Roppongi Hills district in Tokyo, and some short movies made by the guest artists, none of which are available online yet, except for the main youtube ad). For the texture maps, you print them out on regular paper, cut the maps out and then paste them to styrofoam blocks cut to the right sizes. If you don’t want to go through that much work to make up a movie set, the front and back sides of the kit box are printed with flat 2D people and building facades you can cut out and prop up on a table. It took me about 4 hours to cut out all the images (buses, trucks, people, buildings) using a cutter knife, and I ended up using maybe only half of them on one sheet of matte board.

(One of the toys I picked up a couple years ago is a steam train engine that snaps onto a can coffee can. I needed a spacer to get the camera to stand level on the side of the coffee can, so I just used several folds of the cardboard packing that came with the kit, held together with electrical tape.)

The mook this time is pretty much 100% special effects photography. The lead article is an interview with Shinji Higuchi, who has worked on Gamera, Lorelei and a number of other movies. This is followed by a brief overview of FX history, including looks at Georges Melies, King Kong and the works of Godzilla and Ultraman master Eiji Tsuburaya. Cameraman Keiichi Sakurai demonstrates a few effects tricks with the kit camera, and several pages are dedicated to explaining the tricks further. There’s 6 pages on the making of an amateur flying turtle movie, 2 pages on making sound and exploding dirt effects, 2 pages on storyboarding, and 2 pages on different kinds of lenses that can be strapped in front of the camera with a special holder attachment. The next 10 pages are on videos made by the guest artists, a trip to an immense miniature electric train exhibit, and a guy that mounted a webcam into a plastic eyeball at the top of a tall hat (kind of a walking google maps camera thing.) The rest of the mook has instructions for making the kit, setting it up for different software apps, and finally the 12-page Science Manga strip by Yoshitoo Asari. The manga describes the camera tricks used in the Godzilla and Ultraman movies.

(It’s not literally a camera “truck”, but the principal is the same.)

The pictures in this mook are great if you’re looking for suggestions on how to make your own rubber suit movie, but because just about everything depends on the computer and software you have, the camera and holder stick are kind of redundant. You can get the same effect by buying a cheap webcam with a 6′ cable, cracking the case and mounting the camera on a wooden dowel. (In fact, the Gakken editors suggest using the kit camera as a webcam.) I do like a couple suggestions in the mook – 1) Put the camera in a clear waterproof ball (or toy submarine) and submerge it in your aquarium; 2) tape the camera onto the back of a miniature train flatbed car and run it up and down the train tracks for the kinds of camera shots you get at the Olympics. If you’re in Japan, this kit is worth getting if you really plan on making your own movies. Outside Japan, I’d say the import markups would make it overpriced for what you get. I’m really hoping the Otona no Kagaku site gets updated soon with the other video and texture map downloads.

(I still have almost half of the smaller images left over that didn’t seem needed within the above set.)

Youtube video

(For some reason, Windows Movie Maker only recorded in 320×200 pixel resolution, while the camera claims to be 2 megapixel.)

Next up, an auto-writing doll mechanism. No suggested price. Expected out sometime in January, 2014

Review: Manga Guide to Elementary Particle Physics

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Let’s get the boring personal details out of the way quickly. I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1983, with a BS in electrical engineering. I like physics, but it was one of the worst subjects for me in the entire 4-year program (astrophysics was completely over my head). I started out professionally as a quality engineer at an electronics manufacturer, but the company was dissolved as part of an M&A and I found better work as a software programmer. Most of my recent experience in electronics has been through the Gakken Otona no Kagaku line, and now the Fatman and Rockit kits. So, I’ve been feeling kind of nostalgic, as well as out of the loop, regarding anything involving integrals or differentials. I tried reading up on superstring theory on the net, but as long as it remains an unsupported theory, I don’t see the point in going into any detail on it. This kind of leaves me stuck, since I’m in a technological backwater in Kyushu and all the books I can find on most subjects are in Japanese. I’d love to get into American-style community college courses of some kind, but they don’t have those here.

Enter the recent announcement from Gakken, in email magazine #156 stating that they were publishing a new book, entitled The Manga Guide to Elementary Particle Physics, by Takuya Uruno. Yes, it’s in Japanese, but I figured that if there were lots of pictures, I’d have less kanji to wade through and whatever Japanese there was would be easier to understand. I picked up a copy for 1,155 yen ($12 USD) at the local bookstore, but the character designs of the adults and kids created to hang a story on to the science didn’t look all that good to me. The artist bio on the back page talked about Uruno being an established artist but didn’t list specific past titles. Doing a net search brought up a page on the Symmetry Magazine website, in English, with sample pages from Kasoku Kids, in English. Turns out that the communications director of the KEK accelerator approached Uruno to develop a manga series (Kasoku Kids) to teach particle physics to children, and those pages are what have been collected in the new book from Gakken. The article on the Symmetry Magazine website came out back in August, 2009, and the book covers the KEK website manga from 2008 to 2010, plus a special chapter on the Higgs Boson.

(The first few pages in the book are color photos of KEK. Here, we have an aerial view of the labs in Ibaraki Prefecture. This is followed by an overlay with the KEK accelerator, and several pictures of sections of the accelerator itself.)

I can’t find any additional hits on Kasoku Kids in English, beyond the Symmetry Magazine article, so I’m thinking that maybe only a few of the pages were translated specifically for that article. If you can prove me wrong, please send me a link so I can include it here.

The manga is essentially set up as an adventure series, with 4 school kids – Jin, Mega, Poni and Tama – visiting the KEK labs with two teachers – Takahashi and Fujimoto. Jin in particular is played for laughs, as the over-the-top gung-ho boy that understands nothing that the teachers tell him. Mega (short for Megane, or “eyeglasses”) likes SF, and can at least follow some of the explanations. Tama and Poni are along to flesh the group out. Maybe half of the book is just set-up for each new chapter, with the characters sitting around in a classroom arguing, setting out for the swimming pool, or joking with each other. Even so, that leaves about 100 pages for actual physics.

Here we have a sample page with the group at the pool, being told about gluons. There’s a lot of explanation, and none of the kanji has furigana (Japanese letters used to show how to pronounce the kanji). It’s pretty dense stuff for elementary school students, and may be targeted more toward a junior or senior high level audience. So, yeah, it’s harder for me to get through than I wanted. I’ve got to pretty much go through each sentence word by word to decipher the kanji before tackling the content of the sentences themselves. Meaning that I can’t give a full review of the science-side of the manga right now. Let’s just say that if you can find an English version of Kasoku Kids on the internet, I’d love to know about it.

But, the general pattern of each chapter is: The kids start out in some funny situation and start arguing with each other over a specific point that leads into that chapter’s topic. One of them (usually Jin) says something that triggers Prof. Fujimoto into giving a really dense explanation of the topic using technical terms which is all over the kids’ heads. Then, Prof. Takahashi steps in and rescues them by explaining each point in easier terms, with examples. So far, the only math is for the proof that E=mc^2. Everything else is just theory.

Otona no Kagaku Kit #39 Review

(Image taken from the Otona no Kagaku site for review purposes only.)

Otona no Kagaku Kit #39, the Updated Pinhole Planetarium. 3,500 Yen ($35 USD), Released 07/25/13.

Kit #39 is pretty much like the original kit, #9. So, if you have the first one, is there really a need to get the second? Probably not. But, if you don’t have a planetarium right now, #39 is worth getting. Improvements include a more detailed star map, the options for picking the northern or southern hemispheres, a smaller lamp bulb that puts the projected starfield into higher focus, a motor mechanism that rotates the planetarium once every 15 minutes, and an auto-off circuit so you can fall asleep with the lamp on and still not run through batteries really fast. This kit is also a little easier to build because the dome sheets aren’t so stiff and brittle.

(Full kit, right out of the box.)

In essence, a planetarium is just a set of photographic plates with a light source, for projecting images of the night sky onto the walls of the room, or a screen of some kind. The more elaborate systems contain multiple lenses, motor control, and the option of selecting parts of the sky to project. The only real science here involves pin holes, the ratio of the illumination filament length to the pin hole size, and distance from source to pin hole to projection screen. To get the right kind of lamp, Gakken went to a small shop and commissioned the production of custom-built bulbs specifically for this kit (which arguably is a problem when you need to buy a replacement).

(Assembled motorized base. A thumb screw at the hinge point lets you adjust the dome angle to simulate the view of the sky from your latitude more realistically.)

The kit is assembled in two parts – the motorized base, and the dome. The base is pretty straightforward, except when it comes time to screw the circuit board in place. The battery wires are short, and there’s a push button switch at one corner of the painted-side of the board. Also, one corner of the base has a triangular part that acts as the on-off switch piece. You need to orient the board so that the switch is under the triangular on-off piece. It’s pretty obvious if you try to match up the base and the circuit board before plugging the wire connectors in place. The wiring jacks have “Battery”, “Motor” and “Lamp” stenciled in English, which helps a lot. (The lamp wires are yellow and blue. The motor wires and battery are both red and black, but the connectors are different shapes. When you plug in the motor, make sure the red wire aligns with the “+” of the connector. Be careful, because when you put the circuit board in place in the base, you can’t see the stenciling.)

(Fully assembled dome, with the base plate facing to the left.)

The dome is made up of 5 of the 6 supplied sheets. You get the northern hemisphere if you use sheet 1, and the southern hemisphere with sheet 4. One side of each sheet will look duller than the other – it has a thin protective layer that you peel off at the end of construction, and represents the outer surface of the dome. For the sheets with 3 panels, pre-crease the panel fold lines away from the dull side. Then, pre-crease the tab fold lines toward the dull side. It also helps to pre-plan how you’re going to attach the sheets to each other, so that the “A” tab on one sheet aligns with “A” on the other; “B” with “B”; and so on. Put the double-sided tape near the fold line on the tab (you’re going to trim the tab excess with a scissors, and you’ll want as much tape holding the tabs together as you can get). Put tape on all the tabs at one time, this will make assembling the dome easier later. Make sure you leave the paper on the tape, with one end partly removed and folded over, then pull the paper off carefully one tab at a time as you address each panel individually. When the dome is fully assembled, look at the plastic base support. There’s a really small notch on the edge of the collar cylinder piece. Make sure that notch aligns with the tab labeled “4” on the dome. Finish the dome by putting the black “V” tape pieces at the edges of all the tabs to seal the corners to prevent light from leaking out, and trim the tabs to a length of 4-5 mm with a scissors. The notch on the dome base collar aligns with a small triangle arrow on the motor assembly column.

Suggested assembly time is 90 minutes, and it took me closer to 2 and a half hours because of all the taping. You’ll need a small Phillips screwdriver and scissors for assembly. The kit uses 2 C-cell batteries. The power switch has three settings: Lamp Only; Lamp and Motor; Off.

(With the dome mounted on the motorized base. Reminds me of a dog with a funnel collar around its neck. The actual planetarium looks much better than the picture.)

The mook cover features singer/actress/fashion designer Tomoe Shinohara in the Planetarium Bar in Ginza. The first article is a photo gallery of astronomy pictures from various photographers. This is followed by an interview between Tomoe and planetarium designer Takayuki Ohira (of Megastar Corp.) There’s 10 pages on the design and manufacture of the bulb used in the kit, with photos of the different manufacturing steps. We then get more star photos, and instructions on how to prepare for an evening of star gazing, apparently sponsored by Vixen Optics, a manufacturer of telescopes and binoculars. There’s 10 pages on an amateur rocketry club and the successful launch of their low-cost, 250-pound rocket. One other article is entitled “4 Puzzles About the Constellations” (one of which is how the main stars in Perseus have been moving apart from each other over the last 2,000+ years, so what we see is different from what the Greeks saw).

(Underside of the base. The plug connected to the right side of the circuit board is for the motor. Note that if you reverse the wires to the circuit board, the globe will rotate backwards. The mook doesn’t say anything about what the S2 pads are for.)

Suggested kit mods include making a light-sensitive “theremin” harp to accompany the star projections; adding a small slide projector to show the moon along with the star map; and creating a tent from an umbrella and hanging the planetarium kit inside as a personal IMAX theater. The one article on hobby projects is on a guy hand-making his own tank. A new section consists of 5 astronomy puzzles (like locating the big dipper from the kit’s star map and finding certain constellations at certain times of the year). Finally, we get another of Yoshitoo Asari’s Science Manga chapters, this one on how astronomers can tell what the Milky Way looks like, given that we’re sitting inside it.

The kit’s lamp isn’t all that bright, so you have to be in a pretty dark space, or wait until the sun goes down, to be able to see the projections on the walls of a room. But it is really pretty, and the motor lets you see the constellations rising and falling, if you want. It is a fun kit to build and it’s great for anyone wanting to start out as a star gazer. The pictures in the mook aren’t as interesting this time, but I do like Asari’s manga, so that’s a plus.

Next up:

Kit #40, the miniature special effects camera. This is going to be a webcam with a special lens designed for filming your own miniature movie sets. Expected out in September, 2013. No suggested price.


Gakken Korg DS-10+ Book, Revisited

I reviewed the Korg DS-10+ Perfect Guide back in March. Since then, I’ve mostly been playing other video games, reading manga and messing with the Japanino mod for the Gakken flip clock. But, occasionally, I’d sit down with the Korg DS-10+ and plug in a few of the suggested patches from the Perfect Guide. There’s 100 voices and combinations in the book, and I often find myself spending an hour making tweaks to see what the results will be, so I might only go through 10 voices in one night.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

The DS-10+ has an amazing amount of power and complexity for something that runs on the Gameboy DS. Not only are there 2 synthesizers that run simultaneously, but there’s also the drum synth, special effects for all three, a mixer, sequencers for all three, a keyboard entry method, a Kaoss pad entry method, and settings screens to automate various Kaoss pad parameters in conjunction with the sequencers. The sequences are only 4 bars long, so loops are too short to stand on their own. Instead, what works fairly well is to run the sequencer and then change the Edit or Patch settings interactively. The only real drawback to doing this on the DS is that you can only change one knob at a time (as opposed to a real hardware synth where you can modify as many knobs simultaneously as you have hands). Also, as I mentioned in the previous review, the touch screen doesn’t always recognize the stylus, so I sometimes have to tap the screen several times to get a note to play from the keyboard, or to get a knob to change.

Regarding the voices from the Perfect Guide – the DS-10+ game controls present a lot of variation in effects with just small changes in knob position. What this means is that if the Perfect Guide says that the voice is for a trumpet, what you get may not even sound close. And that’s because the settings you use on the DS aren’t exactly the same as in the pictures in the book. There’s a lot of tweaking involved to make the voices sound right. It’s a great way to really understand what each of the controls do, but it is frustrating if you just want to focus on song writing.

The Perfect Guide patches break up into several broad categories – basics, lead, backing instruments, drum and special effects. There are a couple short sections between chapters that demonstrate how to change Kaoss pad sequencer settings, or how to pick different kinds of musical keys. Many of the patches seem to have been lifted from other Korg synths, such as the Tom Tom and the helicopter voices. There are also some patches to mimic Perfume’s Polyrhythm album. I’m not really sure how many patches could be said to be unique to the DS-10+ for this book.

And that’s one thing about synthesizers. A basic ADSR synth is going to have pretty much the same features no matter who designs it. There will be 1 or 2 audio frequency oscillators, each with 3-4 waveforms (squarewave, triangle, sawtooth, reverse sawtooth), cutoff, peak resonance, the ADSR generator, a low frequency oscillator (LFO) with another 3-4 waveforms, and a patch panel to connect the LFO to pitch in, OSC2 pitch in, cutoff in, and VCA in (volume control). Other synths may have a few more oscillator waveforms, one or two more oscillators, and additions to the ADSR (attack 2, sustain 2, release 2, invert) but they don’t let you create all-new unique sounds. Meaning that once you get a particular voice for one synth, you can pretty much duplicate it on every other synth on the market that has the same features. That is, you’re not going to find patches in the DS-10+ Perfect Guide that are one-of-a-kind. There’s a feeling that most of the sounds are lifted from other products. This is good in that you can now make these sounds yourself on the DS-10+, but since the only way to get music out of the DS and onto a CD is via the headphone jack, if you’re a professional musician you may find yourself asking whether you shouldn’t be investing $400-$800 on a commercial hardware synth specifically designed to be part of a studio system.

Voice Creator Category
Strings Ensemble Denji Sano
Guitar-like Solo Michio Okayama
M-Lead Yasunori Mitsuda
Electrobass Tomoaki Kanamori Perfume
Kira Kira Arpeggio Tomoaki Kanamori Perfume
Polyrhythm Vocal Tomoaki Kanamori Perfume
Gorgeous Synth Pad Tomoaki Kanamori Perfume
CTO Erepi (Electric Piano) Polymoog
Sitar 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Basics
Agogo 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Basics
Mouth Flute 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Lead
Trumpet 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Lead
Tenor Sax mryat Lead
Distortion Cutting mryat Lead
Noisy Ethnic Lead L-eye Lead
Trans Lead Suttoko-Dokkoy Lead
Bottle Attack Lead Koishistyle Lead
Ethnic PM Voice ヨナオケイシ (Yonao Keishi) Lead
Tibet Khoomii Cardiac Trance Lead
Funk Brass Lead Koishistyle Lead
Legend Technopop Lead Gospely Lead
Ethnic Glass Lead natto21 Lead
Wao Lead 夜間 (Yakan) Lead
Modulation Bass mryat Lead
Percussive Electro Bass Denkitribe Lead
Wood Bass ガリバトコビッツ (Gulliver Toko Beats) Lead
Glide Bass TuKuRu Lead
Double Attack Base Gospely Lead
Acid Bass Cardiac Trance Lead
Distorted Bass Drum ヨナオケイシ (Yonao Keishi) Lead
Infinite Organ 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Lead
FM Clavinet 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Harpsicord 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Strings 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Analog AOR Horn 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Resonate LFO Sequence Suttoko-Dokkoy Back
Distortion Guitar Cord ヨナオケイシ (Yonao Keishi) Back
Unbent Horn 夜間 (Yakan) Back
MS Sequence 夜間 (Yakan) Back
Synth Glass Cardiac Trance Back
Percussive Sequence Cardiac Trance Back
Loud Noise Sequence 怖音 (Scary Sounds) Back
Chip Tune Sequence Koishistyle Back
Distortion Sweep Pad Denkitribe Back
Carimba-style Sequence Denkitribe Back
Modulation Sequence Denkitribe Back
Brass Strings Pad TuKuRu Back
Synth Strings TuKuRu Back
Chime Sequence TuKuRu Back
Marimba 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Sawtooth Pad TuKuRu Back
Banjo ガリバトコビッツ (Gulliver Toko Beats) Back
Sweep Sequence Gospely Back
Chord Tone 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Back
Tight Kick Suttoko-Dokkoy Drums
Gaba Kick Suttoko-Dokkoy Drums
Pop Keyboard Kick Denkitribe Drums
Fat Kick 無限軌道 (Flat track Caterpillar) Drums
Hard Snare 夜間 (Yakan) Drums
Fat Snare ガリバトコビッツ (Gulliver Toko Beats) Drums
Piccolo Snare Koishistyle Drums
Gun Shot Snare Koishistyle Drums
Technopop Tight Snare natto21 Drums
Pop Keyboard Snare Denkitribe Drums
MS Synth Snare Denkitribe Drums
32HH (High Hat?) 夜間 (Yakan) Drums
808HH Koishistyle Drums
KRPHH Denkitribe Drums
Pop Keyboard HH Denkitribe Drums
Real High Hat 無限軌道 (Flat track Caterpillar) Drums
Steel Pan 夜間 (Yakan) Drums
FC Clap Suttoko-Dokkoy Drums
Noisy Percussion ヨナオケイシ (Yonao Keishi) Drums
Djenbe (African drum) Cardiac Trance Drums
Wooden Clappers natto21 Drums
80’s Electric Drum natto21 Drums
Noisy Clap TuKuRu Drums
808 Tom Denkitribe Drums
3-way Percussion L-eye Drums
Snare / High Hat 孫娘 (Granddaughter) Drums
Kick / Rimshot 孫娘 (Granddaughter) Drums
Papipupe Voice 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Drums
Horse Hooves 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Effects
Boiling Soup 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Effects
Like a Cold Wintry Wind 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Effects
Helicopter 高橋信之 (Nobuyuki Takahashi) Sound Effects
Thunder mryat Sound Effects
Explosion Suttoko-Dokkoy Sound Effects
Heartbeat Cardiac Trance Sound Effects
Ground Rumbling 怖音 (Scary Sounds) Sound Effects
Cosmic SE Koishistyle Sound Effects
Electronic Computer Room natto21 Sound Effects
Chime natto21 Sound Effects
Kitty Voice TuKuRu Sound Effects
Ambient Noise 無限軌道 (Flat track Caterpillar) Sound Effects
Drone L-eye Sound Effects
Live Oak Hit ヨナオケイシ (Yonao Keishi) Sound Effects
Jingle Gospely Sound Effects
Robot Scramble OIE Sound Effects
8-bit Race Game Tac03 Sound Effects

A few of the voice creators are well-known, successful musicians. I’ll include the links to their pages in the next post. Not all of the creators come up in a google search.