Need for knobs (edited)

There’s a Japanese magazine called “Otona no Kagaku” (meaning, so I understand, “Science for Adults”) which apparently comes, often or always, with some cool stuff.  Volume 17 came with a kit for a mini theremin, for instance; and a special issue came with an analog synthesizer kit. I noted the latter with interest when I learned of it a few months ago, and today I learned it’s available at

Seeing that brought back semi-fond memories of another little synth: the PAiA Gnome. I bought one of those back in 1977, and so did my friend Major Zed. (“Semi-fond” because, well, to paraphrase what I recall Zed said to me in a letter at the time, “Did you think it was a bitch to put together? I didn’t. I thought it was a bitch and a half. Maybe two bitches.”) Like the Gnome, the SX-150 has a single audio oscillator, an envelope generator, a low frequency oscillator, and a continuous pitch controller. It lacks a noise source, though, and a trigger, and has fewer knobs — on the other hand, it does have an input for external signals and a built in speaker.

And my recollection is that the Gnome cost something in the $75 to $100 neighborhood at the time — something in the ballpark of $300 in 2008 dollars. The SX-150 costs $45.99 at MakerShed.

I dithered a bit. It’s not like one of these would fill a real need. There are plenty of software synths on the market (and even some free ones) that’ll do a great job at a fraction of the cost of a hardware synth. The SX-150 is little more than a toy by comparison.

But after some thought I sent in my order. My Gnome’s long gone, and at that price how can I turn down a synth with real knobs?

Added 7 Nov 2008: Yikes, that was fast! I could throw it together tonight… but I think I’ll leave it until tomorrow and see if Kenny wants to help.

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