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Patchblocks’ creator says he wanted this hardware sound construction set to be like a combination of Max, Arduino, Moog, and LEGO.

And in a novel, crowd-funded project, you get a set of units that seem very much like that. “Modular” is the angle, like a variety of hardware we’ve seen lately. And the Patchblocks satisfyingly snap together via puzzle piece-shaped interlocks in acrylic. But perhaps the real story here is that each of these “blocks” can be programmed to do what you want, not in code, but using a Max/Pd-style visual patching interface.

With just one block, in fact, Patchblocks are modular. Maybe you want a simple synth. Maybe you want to add effects (delays, filters, distortion). Maybe you want a sequencer. Even before you combine those blocks, you can reimagine the Patchblocks’ purpose. They’re lo-fi, but good fun, covering a range of chippy, classic timbres.

Put them together, and the blocks seamlessly stream audio and control, combining sequencers with synths with drums. The video is very, very impressive – little wonder that, even with over-saturated crowd funding projects these days, it’s getting wide support.

You might have heard about another project having something to do with modular. All I can say is, you know, CDM is typically in touch directly with manufacturers, so I imagine if there were such a project, we would probably cover it in detail as soon as we were allowed to do publicly. Just speculating. I might also speculate that Patchblocks is unlike anything else I’ve seen going into production, rumored or otherwise, so worth looking at individually. -Ed.

The Belfast, Northern Ireland-based Heinz is only in the second day of the announcement, but aiming for a 1000-unit run – and well on his way.

Have a look at what these can do:

I’ve just received a set of Patchblocks for review, so stay tuned for some hands-on. We have some additional images and specs in the meantime.

Here are some examples of what the blocks can sound like, though there are already various patches online (ring mod!) and users can create more sounds if these aren’t to your liking:

Each block shares common features:

Stereo audio input
Stereo audio output
2 channel digital input
2 channel digital output
2 assignable knobs
2 assignable illuminated buttons
Tough 5mm machined acrylic enclosure panels
USB chargeable LiPo battery
10bit / 20K sampling rate audio

I’d love to see a complete enclosed housing; perhaps that can happen in a future run. But the cases in the meantime look functional enough.

In fact, the only real catch is lead time. February is when most of the run will ship, though early adopters still have a chance to get them as soon as December (for a bit of extra scratch). They are, however, very affordable – GBP30 gets you a unit, so even this four run set runs only 120 pounds, which I think is not so bad from a small manufacturer.

Patch on your computer screen, then upload compiled code to the Patchblocks. It's like instant hardware from a Max/Pd-style patch (with some very approachable, simple building blocks).

Patch on your computer screen, then upload compiled code to the Patchblocks. It’s like instant hardware from a Max/Pd-style patch (with some very approachable, simple building blocks).

There’s loads of information on the project site, which is already set up for shopping, getting support, and connecting with other users to share patches and ideas:

http://patchblocks.com/

And if you want in, you’ve got a month left.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012099678/patchblocks-programmable-mini-synth-modules

Belfast has a lovely music scene going, including one of my favorite artists, Boxcutter. Look forward to hearing what Boxcutter is doing with these (yep, he’s got them).

And we’ll find out what I’m doing with them shortly. More soon.

All images courtesy Patchblocks.

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  • Nick Shepherd

    sick, really really cool devices :)

  • chipaudette

    Nice audio demos!

  • Lee Chaos

    Any idea on the MIDI I/O spec for these? They’re in an odd place for me, as they’re not standalone due to needing a computer to program them, but once set up they seem to be in a world away from everything else…

    • elia
    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I disagree a bit with the discussion in the forum, though. To me, a specialized block makes a lot of sense, just given the flexibility you might then have (control over channel, clock, etc.) And it wouldn’t be too hard to add CV.

      The l– um, never mind. Let’s talk in a couple of days.

  • chap

    Wow that’s fun !
    I guess not, but is there some sort of RAM inside ?

    • Sebastian

      yes, there’s ram, but limited. You get about 300ms delay. You could stretch that to maybe 0.5s but that’s it. New age fun with a LoFi feel!

  • Freeks

    No midi, no sync = no go. As fx block those could work. Depending how easy it is to program multifx. Korg LittleBits analog modular blocks combined with those would make something cool.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You could just record audio like in olden times, you know. ;) I mean, seriously, there are times when you can live without sync or MIDI, for tinkering and creating new stuff in the studio.

    • Lee Chaos

      True, but for me these scream “take me out and gig me hard, baby!” (or, uh, something less Austin Powers maybe…) – a little run of 4 of these as an effects chain would sit nicely in my rig for little more than a cost of a dedicated USB MIDI controller. But being able to sync that to a master clock is all kinds of additional win.

      I’m more than happy to just have extra noiseboxes at this price, but this seems a little at odds with the ethos of having to plug them into a computer to reprogram them somehow…?

    • WetBoy

      So how would you propose one programs them without plugging them into a computer, slaughtering a chicken and praying to the God of Bits :p

    • Lee Chaos

      Well, at any depth it is indeed tricky, but surely a patchbay is how you do it without a computer..?

    • Sebastian

      You can sync them. just read a 0 to non zero transition on the audio input, plug it into the metro object, and voila you get triggers and frequency info in the patchblocks. Midi notes in … well, thats a different story.

    • Sebastian

      Just added this to the FAQ on Kickstarter.

    • Freeks

      Nice to hear that it will sync. I would want for live show and not for studio use. When the software is up again? I would like to see can it crate similar multifx that o use with Ableton. i.e. Rise knob will add delay+distortion+highpass filter and gain goes down at same time.

    • Sebastian

      I just posted an update to Kickstarter. Software will be up soon, probably tmro. GPL license. Yes, you can patch and route control input in any way you like.

  • mnpzn

    oh man. Half year ago I had an idea of making small midi controllers with 2knobs and 2-4 buttons and fit them into tic tac boxes just didn’t had enough skills to make it happen. But these modular bits are way cooler!

  • larme

    It’s just like a lofi version of nord micro modular!

  • Max

    I wonder how difficult is it to patch on the computer? With little knowledge, would it for example not allow you to patch two incompatible elements together?

  • Matt Hale

    People seem to be too hung up on the current absence of midi and sync. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a patchblock for exactly that, at some point in the future.

    Also, this visual programming method looks very similar to Pure Data (PD). If you want to understand the system then I recommend you download PD and have a play.

  • edisonSF

    serisouly….
    wow….
    super dope!

  • jules winfields wallet

    I wanna hear how good it can do kicks and snares

    • Sebastian

      There’s some drum sounds in the Kickstarter video.

  • WetBoy

    For the features and price this is a No Brainer purchase.
    Ive pledged for the 4 module pack and its cheaper than alot of plugins!!

    Patching envionement looks very PD / Max

    Who needs midi, this is a pocket modular with which you can create custome modules :D

  • jonowise

    if they have midi / midi cc, i think it could be a good way to get more control than just the 2 knobs and 2 switches, considering most people have a midi controller of some sort, i like the concept though and cant wait for further details

  • gli

    these sound great…

    nice to see a visual progamming/emulation app too

  • Jim Aikin

    10-bit audio, if I read it correctly. That seems a a bit coarse. The question about RAM is a good one. Here’s another thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if a programmable device like this were available in euro-rack format?

  • jules winfields wallet

    Can we get a demo of individual sounds ? I am ready to invest in 4 units now for the early shipment, however I’d like to hear how well it can do a snare drum.

  • Donncha
  • Conorb

    Congrats Sebastian… super psyched to see these in the wild. Despite only getting one unit the beauty will be in being able to upload a different patch for different types of gigs and setups. I’d love to know what chip / hardware these units are hiding….

  • Omar Sawaya

    awesome man!!!.. I’m a songwriter/composer/producer from Miami Beach ,Fl…I love you patchblocks man!!!!.. I love to see played throughout a guitar!!!… that would be the bomb!!!..

    thankx S.. your are the koolest!!

    . http://sonicmandala.bandzoogle.com/

    ..

  • hey dude

    I wonder if they are sturdy enough to be used as effect pedals? so that I can just press with my foot and process my guitar sound.