Friday, August 11, 2023

MicroKits goes retro-future with the Synth-A-Sette

MicroKits makes a fun little theremin electronics kit for kids that I recently featured on the Theremin 30 podcast. After that interview, MicroKits founder and designer David Levi let me try out the company's second product, the Synth-A-Sette. As of this writing, the first batch of Synth-A-Settes are already sold out, but more will available soon.

This cool little keyboard shares some characteristics with the Stylophone, so I thought I should feature it here.

The Synth-A-Sette is a monophonic keyboard instrument built with a form factor nearly identical to an audio cassette tape. (Remember those?) In fact, it is packaged inside a plastic cassette box. The non-moving keyboard is part of the circuit board. There is one full octave of touch-pad keys, but an octave jump button raises all the pitches to give you a second octave. 

The range of the instrument can be transposed with a tuning wheel in one corner. It has about two octaves of adjustability, so you can set up the instrument to play in just about any major or minor key (or most of those weird modes you learn about in music theory class.)  This is particularly handy when you want to jam with other musicians and keep your Synth-A-Sette in tune with their instruments.

Another rotary control adjusts the volume. One switch turns the power on and off. Another toggles a vibrato effect. There's also a headphone jack for private listening or to connect to external audio gear.

It's cool to see all the tiny electronic components on the bottom. Some of them are labeled so you can know what they do. A pair of AAA power the instrument for portable play. There's also a USB C jack for AC power. To save on batteries, there is also an automatic shut-off feature.

The little obround holes along the edges of the keys are meant for use with alligator clip cables. A set of cables is included in the package. With them, you can connect the eight "white" keys (think of a piano here) to everyday household objects. For example -- eight bananas, or whatever fruit you have handy.  Then with another cable connected between the grounding hole and your own body (don't pinch yourself with an alligator clip!) you can touch each banana in sequence to complete the circuit and play a melody. Metal objects will work best, of course, but experiment with other objects or eight of your best friends to see what else will make beautiful music.

And how does this instrument sound? Well, its analog tone generating circuit sounds similar to an electronic organ or a classic Stylophone. There is only one patch available, but running the headphone output signal through some guitar effects pedals could create some wild new timbres!

You can learn more about the MicroKits Synth-A-Sette, hear some sound samples, and get on the waiting list for the next batch of instruments at