Little. Knobby. Different. Better.

Little. Knobby. Different. Better.

8 knobs. No, 64 knobs! No, giant knobs, hundreds of buttons, dozens of faders…

Okay. One button, one knob. Put (one of your) opposable thumbs to good use and just do something simple. And, with something this small and inexpensive, never go anywhere without a real knob again. (Friends don’t let friends operate fake simulations of knobs using mice. Augh. Painful. (Which way is a “circle,” again?)

That was the creed of none other than Brendan Ratliff, aka Echolevel, aka chip music “superhero” Syphus, a composer/musician/hacker who works scoring games and film/TV soundtracks and general musical mayhem. He wanted something simple that just didn’t exist. So he built it himself, all using an Arduino-like dev board (by way of the ultra-small Teensy USB hardware).

It works without drivers, so any OS will function, and so will the iPad via Camera Connection Kit. In fact, that makes this a great project if you’re learning how to make this sort of hardware – and it’ll keep you from biting off more than you can chew on your first go.

Of course, there are lots of build details and instructions should you want to attempt your own. And open USB MIDI implementations are just making so many things better. (I wonder if we’ll ever get around to doing something with that?)

Knobber – USB MIDI single knob/button controller by Echolevel

What a teeny little super guy this is. Did I ever tell you about the time …

Brendan makes music. Let’s hear it. (Sorry, I’m late to giving a talk, so that’s all the intelligent analysis I have … no, Brendan deserves more — here’s a giant cornucopia of awesome. You can quote me on that.)

Disclaimer/apology: I grew up in the 80s, and … sorry about the two references above.

  • yehezkel raz

    map it to this one: :))

    • Peter Swimm

      killer app!

    • yehezkel raz


    • frank knobber

      your welcome knob head :)

    • Brendan

      Excellent, that’s just what I was looking for a couple of hours ago when using Knobber on a work in progress! Thanks for the heads-up!

    • yehezkel raz


    • Peter Kirn

      Fantastic idea. In fact, if I already wasn’t going to build something like this, now I definitely have to…

    • yehezkel raz

      thanks Peter :)

  • steeeeve

    i am looking for something like this, but a BIG knob, like a monome arc but cheaper!

    • Peter Kirn

      It’d be pretty easy to modify this with a bigger knob. 😉 Pots and end caps are available in just about any shape, size, color.

    • steeeeve

      sure, but finding enclosures and knobs etc which don’t have a DIY feel about them is the tricky part for me!

    • Brendan

      When prototyping this, I used knobs from a Korg Nanokontrol, a Virus B, a Boss Dr. Groove DR-202 and an Akai LPD8 on the various pots I was testing; eventually the knob I settled on was one that I think I got from Maplin in the UK some time ago (think Radioshack; limited product ranges, lots of cheap rubbish, occasional gems!). I’ve got bags of other pot knobs from RS and Farnell and they’re mostly pretty bad and/or DIY-looking, but the Nanokontrol’s knobs also look cheap. The Akai: better but too low profile for a good grip. The DR-202: excitingly black and orange but almost cartoonishly big. The Virus knobs…really, really nice…but I sort of need them on the Virus :) So yeah, finding good ones isn’t easy. Same for enclosures: I think the one I used looks alright, but if I decided to produce a run of these I’d consider getting a batch of better ones 3D printed/injection moulded, pre-drilled, etc. if I could keep the costs low enough. If you do find an enormous knob that’s just right, please share!

  • Scott Armstrong

    Griffin Powermate has been used in a similar manor for some years now. i personally love the ‘one button solution’ , though isn’t using an Arduino for a single knob quite an expensive prospect?

    • Peter Kirn

      Teensy USB I see is going for 19 €. Now, actually, an Arduino, built from scratch with only what you need for one knob and USB MIDI chipset, or similar Atmel solution – no, that could be quite cheap. (You could make this a bit bigger and do something through-hole.)

      You could easily wind up making the knob more expensive than the board. 😉

    • Brendan

      You’re quite right: I’d seen the Powermate but sort of forgot about it as it never seemed to be available to buy here in the UK whenever I went looking for it (though I see it now on some weird clearing house site for ~£50). I also wanted something class-compliant and natively USB MIDI, and I recalled there being drivers and mapping software with the Powermate – making it more flexible, sure, but a bit less transferrable and immediate/rough’n’ready for my tastes. So the total cost of this prototype was about £22 – with no spares from my toolbox used, so including the pot, switch and case. Oh, I tell a lie – I did find the capacitor in my toolbox, but that’s probably under £0.10p. If I lived in the US, I reckon I could’ve done it quite a bit cheaper – there’s only one UK reseller of Teensy and there’s quite a bit added for shipping, import tax and the dreaded VAT.

      I have to admit I feel a bit funny about enslaving a Teensy to this sole purpose for eternity by gluing and soldering it into a box, considering it’s capable of so much :) But that’s a matter for my conscience…

  • skyron

    glad you’re using Vine, Peter!

    This is interesting, and minimal . . .

  • Peter Venus

    it reminds me to this: which was back in 2007….

  • J.I.Pumarino

    Nice one! I’ve been trying to use my teensy for exactly the opposite: a relatively cheap 64 knobs controller. I just can’t seem to multiplex all the inputs.