Review: Littlebits Korg Synth Kit

Synth building blocks for big kids      23/12/13

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12:12 mins    

There's been a lot of noise surrounding the Littlebits Synth Kit. made in conjunction with Korg, it's essentially a set of Monotron modules in snap together electronic kit form - something for which Littlebits have become very well known for. Tatsuya Takahashi, the engineer behind Volcas and Monotrons has been involved in re-engineering the Monotron circuitry to work in Littlebits format.

Equally, many have poo-pooed the idea saying it's not a serious instrument. and no, no it isn't, but it's not supposed to be that, it's created to encourage people to fiddle and experiment.

So with that in mind, here's what you get:

Oscillator (x2): Saw/Square wave switchable with coarse and fine tune control

Random: switchable noise output or random voltage for modulation

Filter: from the monotron design cutoff and peak with control input

Envelope: Attack/Decay with control input.

4 Step Sequencer: four values, with internal clock or trigger to advance step

Keyboard: an octave of micro switches, two sets of outputs and a three octave range

Power module: PP3 lead input or 9-12v power

Splitter lead: one to two

Mixer: two inputs to one

Delay Module: crunchy analog delay, like the Monotron Delay

Speaker: small speaker with minijack output

Magnets snap the kit together, it clicks, pops and clunks but who cares, itsa great fun to configure on the fly.

I did notice that using an external power supply (I tried a couple) gave me a pretty awful hum on the audio output which I couldn't shake. Korg tell me that if I had a switch mode power supply this would go away, but I don't have one about the place to confirm that.


It's bags of fun as are the monotrons, but this is more so, I want to get my soldering iron out and do unspeakable things to the kit, and get my CV gear playing along - all we need is the instructions, so I see a bright future for this, more modules and the ability to buy separate ones will create some wonderful setups I have no doubt.  Indeed it's worth noting that Korg have in fact released the circuit diagrams in open source Eagle format - a first with major current instrument production, being pleased with the interest in modding their Monotrons and Volcas.

The good news is that synth kit operates at 5V, which should mean compatibility with Eurorack stuff given the right interfacing.

A professional modular synth it is not. But it is a lot of fun.




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12 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
ES#1    Said...

Joe90 approves this message... ;)

23-Dec-13 11:28 AM

Gtrman    Said...


23-Dec-13 12:09 PM

blox Electrix    Said...

In fairness, it's a very good concept. If novices & kids can learn anything from it then it is a good introductory tool/toy into synthesis basics. Newcomers have to walk before they can run & understanding the building blocks of basic synthesizers is fundamental. If nobody made these things available there would be a generation missing out on exposure to electronic sound hardware. The lessons from the last 40+ years would be for nothing if it all became forgotten. It's up to us to pass it on & so to say it is "Useless" just demonstrates either ignorance or an unwillingness to think outside of your own desires. Gtrman, i'm just guessing but you are probably an experienced synth person & own some nice analogue modular gear.

23-Dec-13 03:47 PM

The Dark Tourist    Said...


23-Dec-13 09:32 PM

Studio 139    Said...

I wonder if you had the box with the "mounting" holes, if that would prevent some of the the pops and clicks. It looks like a fun little kit and it is kind of like a modular primer, but i am not sure how much one would learn about electronics as your not really building anything, it's more like an infinite puzzle. If it were about half the price it would be novel. At the current price, I'd rather pluck the money down as 1/3 payment for a Minitaur.

24-Dec-13 05:42 AM

TYU    Said...

How can you possibly say this is useless???

At the moment this is sat in the studio next to a Voyager XL, Oasys, MKS80, Virus 2, Polyevolver, Prophet12, Neuron, K5000, Minibrute, MS20, AN1x, Pulse, Origin, OP-1, VSynth XT, Microwave XT, Tempest, Integra7,MicroQ, Venom and NordRack… And not only is it holding it's own…. but I've had more fun with this in the last couple of days than I've EVER had with any of the other stuff!!! :-)))) It's BRILLIANT!!!

24-Dec-13 05:58 AM

GTRman    Said...

Exactly TYU, its a toy you have fun with. SonicState is supposed to be a site for musicians that are looking for quality gear. Tools they can work with, not toys to put together and play with in your spare time. This belongs on "Toys Are Us" website. Musicians don't have time to build and play with toys, we need professional equipment. Why don't you get a Lego set, that will keep you occupied much longer.

24-Dec-13 07:48 AM

TYU    Said...

But GTRman.. I SWEAR you are missing something here… I have all of that pro gear, I'm a professional composer, I work 18-20 hours a day, 7 days a week, and no I don't have time to play with toys…. BUT sounds from this… sounds that just FELL out of it.. (I'll never be able to get them again!!)… have made it onto my next score… and it's been fun getting them. Being a PRO musician sometimes the PRO bit takes over from the FUN bit… and I for one am glad to have found some!! :-)

24-Dec-13 07:54 AM

Codenamehum    Said...

I received one a few days ago, and have really had an endless amount of fun with it. Toy or not I see it becoming a useful tool for sounds and an inspiring starting point for building reaktor or max/msp patches (as i've not shelled out for modular gear ... yet). I think the small footprint and simplified (cheap) nature of these make them even less precious (then hypothetical modular gear or a painstaking max patch) and I find myself much more compelled to pull it all apart and do something new over and over. I'm with Nick, I want at least one more.

26-Dec-13 07:50 PM

factual act    Said...

'Gtrman' ,are you a deliberate spike here working for sonicstate ? Employed to provoke a response in order to get a debate going ? If not you seem to want things to be just your own way with no tolerance for other options outside of your own ideals. What do you mean when you say "SonicState is supposed to be a site for musicians that are looking for quality gear" ? That must be your own ideal if you don't work for them. Ignorance like that does bug me because when it comes to ANY kind of products we all get what we pay for & the better quality stuff IS out there if you want it, ergo, it is is available so your appetite should be satisfied. Why then impress a negative upon something you are not interested in ? Better to say nothing. That would be like me saying how crap a Moog is even though i don't want to buy one. If it doesn't interest you, you shouldn't feel compelled to comment on it. Maybe you just can't control everything.

27-Dec-13 02:13 PM

KingVidiot    Said...

Toys have been valid tools in music for a long time. Amplified toy pianos are fairly common these days. Kraftwerk and countless others used a Speak-N-Spell to great effect. Circuit benders have been modding toys for a long time and are getting cool stuff out of them. Reed Ghazala excited a whole movement, and professionals and amateurs are all benefiting from it. What's useless here is the automatic slamming of valid tools without proper experience or exposure. That's just plain ignorance. It's also called trolling. Have a beer and relax...

30-Dec-13 11:48 PM

Zax    Said...

This is what happens when musicians whose experience is relatively narrow encounter a concept they don't understand. As well as gigging I also provide synthesis workshops for newcomers to electronic music, for which this is the perfect instrument because that's the kind of thing it's for. I'll be buying one or several at the earliest opportunity. No intelligent musician would attempt to evaluate this as if it were a conventional synth.

20-Jan-14 08:12 AM

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