25 year old box of sounds



Russ built this vintage DIY beauty 25 years ago to demonstrate the abilities of a now classic/rare chip –

Handmade SN94281-based synth I made back in 1983. The device won the Grand Champion prize at the York County Science and Engineering fair — I was 12 years old at the time. Last year at this time, I decided to restore it to working order for its 25th birthday. It is basically a “breakout box” for the Texas Instruments SN94281 Complex Sound Generator chip. All features of the chip are available as front panel knobs or multi-position switches.

The chip is showing signs of its age — the power audio amplifier no longer works correctly, but the output signal can still be amplified if driving a high impedance load.

Those are definitely the greatest rotary(?) switches I’ve laid eyes on – and you seldom see that classic label-gun anymore. You can hear samples of the box at work on Russ’ site.

The SN94281 is a simpler version of the SN76477 chip used for sound synthesis in many older arcade machines. Nowadays the chips are often sought out for use in homebrew synth designs such as Thomas Henry’s SN-Voice board.

[via MatrixSynth]

10 thoughts on “25 year old box of sounds

  1. borgie says:

    Modern label makers are ten degrees of LAME when stacked against the work of a vintage Dymo labeler. No batteries, cheap tapes (including wood grain!), and shadow-casting embossing can’t be beat. I’d recommend a Dymo 1570; a real labeling workhorse. You can find them on eBay from $10-$20, depending on accessories.

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      thanks – I was trying to remember what brand they were.

    2. Russ says:

      Yup, Dymo it is. And, don’t forget the Dymo label’s ability to stick to a piece of stained and lacquered birch plywood for 25+ years without peeling off. Nothing says vintage like a Dymo label, because nothing holds up for decades like a Dymo label.


      (Yes, the “Russ” in the article. A friend of mine alerted me that the article had gotten picked up here. I read Make Magazine; who knew I’d show up in Make’s blog!)

      If anyone’s interested, I could put together some photos of the insides and maybe video of it operating.

      1. Collin Cunningham says:

        Hi Russ – Video/interior shots would be very cool. You could always add them to the Make photo pool on Flickr

  2. Simon says:

    I am restoring an old MGB car and I just used classic DYMO labels to label the fuse box exactly to get that retro look. I also labeled by shaving soap collection, my salt collection…. Yes, I collect things.

    The switches are cool. I have been thinking of a way to make something similar to those for a project. Like the switches on old time crystal sets. I was going to use those little brass screw things you can use to bind folder pages together. They come in two halves and screw together through punched holes in loose pages to hold them together. I have no idea what they are called?

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