By Francis Preve
PETER KIRN OF CREATEDIGITALMUSIC.COM (AND A REGULAR
Keyboard contributor) and James Grahame of Reflex Audio have unleashed
a full-fledged monophonic synth called the MeeBlip. Based on the same
processor as the Arduino (a complete microcontroller on a circuit board
that’s won the hearts and minds of the DIY music community), it’s totally
hackable and able to run custom programming. This open-source approach
has made the MeeBlip project an ongoing exercise in refinement since
2010. The newest version, MeeBlip SE, is ready for prime time—even if you don’t want
any aspect of your musical life to involve holding a soldering iron or writing code.
The MeeBlip Voice
The MeeBlip offers a tasty blend of analogstyle
subtractive synthesis and digital grunge.
(Full disclosure: I helped out a bit with suggesting
features for the MeeBlip SE, but have
zero stake in the company or sales.) What
makes the MeeBlip cool—and a part of my
synth arsenal—is that it doesn’t sound like
anything else I own.
Kirn and Grahame have made some design
decisions that give MeeBlip a lot of sonic personality
by limiting what’s possible. Each of its two
oscillators has its own set of features. Oscillator A
can generate sawtooth waves, pulse waves (with
switchable LFO modulation), or noise. Oscillator
B can generate a square, a triangle, or be switched
off . In an interesting caveat, you can detune the
oscillators by up to a fifth or so in either direction,
but you can’t mix their relative levels. Oscillator
B can be transposed up or down with its octave
switch, but oscillator A cannot. Some users might
complain about such things, but considering all
the built-in soft synths that come with DAWs
these days, I’m unconcerned. These decisions are
part and parcel of the MeeBlip’s sound.
Besides, it’s the features you won’t find elsewhere
that give this synth some serious digital
cred: stuff like switchable anti-aliasing, digital
distortion mode, and oscillator FM. Because
of those features, the MeeBlip is capable of
binary grime that dubstep and IDM producers
will absolutely love.
The filter can be switched between resonant
lowpass or non-resonant highpass modes. At
extreme resonance settings, the MeeBlip is
surprisingly good at doing juicy Roland TB-303-
The envelopes are a trifle quirky, as both are
attack-decay affairs that tie the release time to
the decay time—if it’s good enough for the original
Minimoog, it’s good enough for the MeeBlip!
Th ere’s no sustain level for either, but there’s a
full sustain switch for the amp envelope and if
you think about it, the overall cutoff frequency
serves much the same purpose as sustain level
would for the filter. Again, it’s all about personality
for this synth.
LFO modulation can be routed to either oscillator
pitch or filter cutoff . Triangle and square
waves are available, and a “random” switch adds
sample-and-hold effects. While the LFO rates
aren’t MIDI clocked, they can easily reach into
the audio spectrum for FM effects that take the
grunge factor up another notch.
While the MeeBlip can store up to 16 presets,
the process is a little quirky. First you hit the
save or load button, then you toggle one of the
MeeBlip’s 16 programming switches. A similar
system is used to select the MIDI receiving channel.
Speaking of MIDI, the MeeBlip responds to
CC information with considerable aplomb. Every
knob and switch has its own dedicated control
number, so you can whip up crazy morphing
automation eff ects with minimal effort.
If you’re looking purely for a convincing analog
emulation, there are some lovely soft synths
that will do the trick. On the other hand, if
you want a truly unique digital synth that can
deliver grit, grunge, and grime—while sporting
a set of features familiar to keyboard players—
the MeeBlip SE truly deserves a closer look.
Whether you roll up your sleeves and assemble
the $129 kit or spend the extra 20 bucks for
a ready-to-play unit, the MeeBlip is a terrific
value and a total Key Buy.
PROS Unique blend of
synthesis and digital grunge.
All parameters respond to
MIDI CC control. Very customizable.
CONS No USB—five-pin
MIDI input only.
The first hackable do-it-yourself
synth for the rest of us.
$149.95 assembled | $129.95 kit