I use the name “Widgetdyne” on my “Products”.

As I mentioned elsewhere on this site… I’ve been a “builder” for many years. My dad used to being home these rack panels of surplus military communication gear, with knobs and switches and stuff on them… and as a young kid, I had hours of fun with them. In my early teens, I disassembled one of them, and took the switches and connected them to extension cords, and made a remote control panel so I could lay in bed and turn the lights and stereo and fan on and off.

Then I tried dimmers – With no training, how was I to know that 120VAC won’t like going through a 500K POT? (The POT liked it less!) “Spitzen-sparken” was no stranger to my bedroom. At ERSH, as a Junior, I enrolled in an electronics class, and finally had access to a well-equipped lab, and people who knew what they were doing. I had a great deal of fun there.

And I’ve been building stuff pretty-much ever since. But it wasn’t until we moved to Lisle IL, and I had a space in the basement for a real workshop, that I began taking on more complex projects. The more-recent ones, I do for myself… seeking some audio “target” in my mind.

I do not build them to sell, and I will not take on any “custom build” or “Build one for me” projects, so please don’t ask. I simply do not have the spare time, and these are not inexpensive to construct.

With that… here are a few of the devices. Since I never intended to market or sell them, I never took promo shots… so you’ll see them in-situ in the racks in my studio. I will keep my explanations as brief as I can, as close to “layman’s’ terms” as I can… and will spare the gory details.

The TEK-5 Meter Bridge - (2014)
This thing has been a Pain in the Butt. The original concept was to build a high-gain, low-noise Mic Preamp with headroom out the wazoo, such that it would not distort until the microphone itself were consumed in a nuclear conflagration… at which time, maybe just the teeniest of distortion might sneak into the recording.

So, I laid out a circuit with 9 tubes: three gain stage 12AX7 paths of 2 tubes each, two tubes compressing, and a summing amp. Well, I learned some stuff from this:
• Thermionics are difficult, fussy things to work with.
• Thermionics are expensive.
• Thermionics require skills I have not-yet attained. Evidently, pure “theory” was grossly-deficient in helping me get this right, and I have spent the better part of a year swapping parts and whole sub-circuits, trying to get a useful end result out of it. And in 2015, I bought a “Retro Powerstrip”, which is giving me about the same sound I was after when I designed this (as well as adding a Pultec EQ).

You might notice all the nicks and gouges on the panel, in the photos… this thing has been in and out of the rack so many times, I’ve lost count.I will probably tear it down and recover the parts for other projects.

Lesson-learned: Leave the pre-amps to the Professionals!

Operation Ivy Audio Irradiator - 2015
There is a particular sound-effect I have heard in my mind for years, that I have never heard in real life: Imagine any instrument – say a long held-out guitar strum. The guitar strums and is hugely-clean and pure… but then begins to decompose. As if the guitar were “beamed-up” while you were hearing it, and more and more atoms were disappearing as you listened.

Operation Ivy was designed as the first step in my working toward getting that sound. It’s a fractal distortion unit (e.g. without the “time” component) that creates the “distortion” part of the sound I described above. In the future, I’ll build another (more advanced) model that will also do the fade… right now, though, this one immediately-deconstructs whatever signal enters it. So obviously, it works great as a simple distortion box, on mono signals. That’s all it was really meant to do, after all… just a learning exercise.

The name and nomenclature stems from the Military’s “Operation Ivy” Atomic / Nuclear test program in the late ‘40’s. Operation Ivy included “Shot Mike”, the first H-Bomb test. I figured that since an H-bomb is uniquely-qualified to deconstruct things into little fizzy bits, the theme was apropos… the controls are pretty standard, despite their names. Just for fun, I built the three “Safety” switches as sequential power buttons… as if releasing the safeties for a “shot”. "Radiation Mode" is relative distortion, "Fuel" is silicon or germanium transistor, "set Yield" is clipping level, etc. At 10MT, it's almost a pure DC output!

That last button, at far right: “Hi, Mike!” is the effect-on button… and named “Hi, Mike” both in-keeping with the theme, and as a way of paying honor and tribute to my departed best friend, Mike Masquith, who has moved on to a different place.

The Perestroiker - 2015
The "Pererestroiker" is inspired by Kush Audio's "Clariphonic" - a bespoke, single-channel specialized audio equalizer for vocals - in this case, mine. Built purely on theory, and ideas tossed-about with a couple guys I met by chance at Blackie's Bar (next to Union station in Chicago) back in February 2014, where we theorized whether or not it would work. Over the next year, we tossed these ideas back and forth, and another gent they know volunteered to wind the coils.

The idea is to add purely third-order harmonics to the signal passing through it. In this case, it is adding 0.6, 3’d, 6th; and 9th-order harmonics (switchable to different fixed levels). This one needs 6 Q-series Tetrodes at some decently-stout rail voltages - circa 480 volts. Transformers like that aren't common nowadays. I scoured eBay like a man possessed, and finally found one.

The name, and panel markings mean NOTHING in most cases (aside from the Power switches at left and calibration knobs at far right, out of frame). I have this cool Font named "Perestroika", and that set the Soviet theme. I reasoned that - since audio recording engineers focus on "how it sounds" versus "how it works", who cares?! Mitch Miller was famous for taping over the meters on his consoles - if it sounded right, he didn't give a damn (and had to pay for fixing the bent needles). But, given all that, I chose the name “Perestroika” t connote “adding a friendly, clear, transparent sound” to the signals passing through it

Calculating the subtleties of those inductors was no mean feat… and finding them for sale was tougher! From high-midrange, to waaay north of hearing, the idea is to add the "air" and "fizz" of a Pultec, on steroids. It works rather nicely, in the end. It’s a very subtle sound at the soft settings, but I know it’s there, and when “pushed”, it can cause some real dubstep-worthy sonic mayhem!

Ancient Artifacts
Home-brew Synthesizer - 1979

This is a mono synth I designed and built back in 1979.

I forget the chip that my homebrew synth was based on... those memories are now long ago and far away - but it was monophonic, and had no keyboard. I eventually rigged a wooden board full of pushbuttons as a keyboard, which then made it marginally-playable.

I sold it at a yard sale in the mid-80's; I have no idea what became of it.

This is a home-brew device built from plans in one of the Electronics managizes on sale back in the day - propbably "Popular Electronics", but I don't recall for sure.

The parts, I recall, cost me a fortune (something on the order of $140 in "angsty-teenage Radio Shack dollars") - but it solved a lot of my early recording woes, and over time it paid for itself.

My music from that time period makes me shudder to listen-to today (which is why I've posted none of it here on TeejNet), but without this litttle thing, my "sound" would have been so bad that I probably would have given up.

Homebrew Mixer - 1980
Really not much to see here... but this is one of several mixers I built during my "sound on sound" days. This one was 4-stereo inputs summed to one stereo output, with active buffering and an amp inside that would give about 30dB gain coming out. The four little swiches were hi-cut filters to try to tame the tape hiss.

...And That's All for Now, folks! Thanks for looking!!

(c) 2016 Teejay Riedl
APAR-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From eBay, just before we moved to Lisle, I bought an ancient Motorola TEK-5 faceplate. The TEK-5 was a radio testing unit that Motorola used to align repeaters and receivers. It was in pretty bad shape, but it was full of meters and switches… just like being a kid again! I bought it for $32, not knowing what I would do with it, and asked the seller to ship it to my new Lisle address.

After moving in, I was staring at it, and suddenly had an idea: in the studio, I use a MOTU 828 8-channnel audio interface. It has LED meters on it, but those meters only have 4 segments per meter: e.g. they are extremely imprecise. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I reasoned,”if I could use those eight meters on the panel as VU meters”? So that’s what I did, and then used the center meter as a quasi-balance correlation meter. Oh, and lighting-up those old meters was a trick in itself!


But wait! There’s more! While I was at it, I built a little amplifier into it, and replaced the little round speaker in the middle, and added a tiny summing mixer. So, when I want to, I can flip a switch, and what comes out is the equivalent of how my mix would sound on a little AM radio.

Also – as seen in the photo – when the “Rec Armed” switch is engaged, the unit sends 12V control voltages to relays elsewhere in the basement. At present, those relays control a fan, an ionizer, a dehumififier, and the freezer: all of whom obediently turn- off while I do my vocal takes. I’m toying with the idea of getting the furnace and the hot water heater into that control system as well, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

The work I did building the Meter Bridge taught me some hard lessons about Kirchoff’s Law, and the need to find a way to take “used” meters and figure out their respective movements, how they were calibrated when built, and how to re-calibrate them according to the circuit I happened to be building.

Enter the TATA (“Teejay’s Analog Test Apparatus”. This is a relatively-simple device. It allows me to feed an input reference voltage to a meter, and then has various potentiometers that are cascaded and switched, to allow me to fine-tune the precise resistance that’s been dialed-in, and monitor the precise voltage / amperage going to the meter. The 4-pin jack allows the insertion of a dual precision resistance bridge if needed, to calculate shunt values.

Simple passive analog circuitry, doing a simple job very well, and saving me hours of fuss! ! What’s not to like?

TATA ("Teejay's Analog Test Appliance") - 2015

TMP-9 Microphone Preamp / Compressor - 2015

Compression / Clarifier - 1979

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APAR-6: Analog Phase-Alignment Rectifier. 6 channels, stereo.

This was a "proof of concept" for an idea I had after reading an article in 2009 about how each discrete piece of componentry in a device (IC's, mostly) could distort the phase of signals passing through them. And not necessarily a 180* inversion.

Over the past years, read more articles on manipulating the phase of signals, and some manufacturers (LittleLabs and Rupert Neve in particular) actually released products that do this... But only one channel at a time. The Little Labs LMNOPre is a great example of this – using a knob on the panel; you can rotate the phase of the Mic input to match the pre-recorded audio.

So, I got to thinking (always a bad idea). It started as a purely Gedanken project.

This beast takes the concept to the extreme of "wretched excess". It accepts six stereo stems, applies a Function to them which is basically a pre-EQ and compression "tuned" to whatever the label is - guitar, keys, etc. - and then allows rotation of phase across about 200* or so via those ten-turn pots that I got from eBay. A buddy helped me with the test code for a bunch of FPGA's, which handle the "functions", and the rest is all "guess and test". Ergo: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a hobbyist, not an electronics engineer!"

Does it work? Yes! It works like a charm! Each channel rotates the phase – very cool to watch on a multi-trace oscilloscope. In reality, however… by the time you have so many channels mixed together, it is VERY hard to hear the subtleties of the phase rotation. In a sparse mix, however (say, just vocals and guitar), it really cleans things up nicely.

It cost me (not counting the tools or chassis & panel materials) about $300 to build, using mostly-scavenged parts, and of course, the time spent over a hot soldering iron drinking cocktails and listening to classic 1950's big band music. No torment there.

During construction, I reasoned, it was winter in Chicago. I couldn't be on the deck if I wanted to! So in the meantime, it got me experience with the drill press and metalwork and fabricating and panel graphics and THINKING and building and.... well, doing something besides falling asleep in front of the TV. Life is Good!