By Francis Preve
PETER KIRN OF CREATEDIGITALMUSIC.COM (AND A REGULARKeyboard 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- style squelches.
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 analog-style subtractive 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 meeblip.com