Frequently Asked QuestionsNOTE: The answers here pertain to the time period in which the questions were actualy asked/answered.
Q: Where should I start?
A: Well, we would love for you to purchase the whole Electronotes package. This really
is a great saving of over half the cost of the individual items. Still it's a fair amount of money
($300) but many of you have paid more than that for just three text books. If you had to get just
one thing, it would probably be the Builder's Guide and Preferred Circuits Collection. This
you could peruse to see what we say about an actual construction effort and you could look at the
circuits to see if they look like something you could handle. The Musical Engineer's Handbook
offers a lot more in the way of theory. If you are looking more toward digital music synthesis,
perhaps a volume or two of the most recent Electronotes would be most useful. Note that we
are quite liberal about allowing you to "upgrade" to the whole package - using your original
purchases as a credit.
Q: Isn't that $300 pretty expensive?
A: It's $300 which is a lot to some folks and pocket change to others. Here is what it is from
our business point of view. We have roughly 6000 pages in the everything package, and printing is
currently 3.3 cents/page (inventory replacement costs). We also have about $35 built into the
price to cover shipping. That puts us at $234! It leaves $66 for our time, for our inventory holding
espenses, for misc. expenses, and for any profits. So the question is rather - how do we do it so cheaply?
The answer is: because some of the items in the everything package were printed at a much lower cost -
years ago. That's the only thing that is keeping the price so low. Eventually we will run out of more and
more items, and the price will have to go up. This is one reason we have put all the new material on line for
free, and have also posted some items of less interest instead of reprinting them. Also, the buyer can
always start out smaller, and build up a credit toward the full package if that works best.
Q: Do you accept PAYPAL?
A: Yes. The account is at firstname.lastname@example.org - our usual email contact. We are not currently
adding any surcharge for using paypal. Feel free to use it. One request however. In addition to any order
through paypal, please send a separate email telling us what you are ordering. (There is however no need to
send the filled out order form.) This permits us to make sure your order makes sense to both buyer and seller.
And - please include your complete mailing address - this sometimes comes through from paypal in a garbled form,
and we want to cut/paste address labels directly from the email so we minimize errors. Sending the address twice
is kind of like program downloads that make you enter a password twice.
Q : Why don't you have the whole thing on line?
A : Well, that would be quite an order even if we wanted to do it. There really is a stack of papers
a foot high, double sided. Unless you have free internet time and free laser printing (which means someone
else is paying!) and a lot of time to waste, you are far better off ordering from us. And, we need to get
something back for the years of work that went into it.
Q: Is analog synthesis dead? Is digital better?
A: Of course one must not generalize. Analog synthesis, as we knew it from the commercial efforts of Moog,
Arp, and from many other companies, and more specifically as we at Electronotes promoted it as a practical
home-hobbyist activity, is gone. What is it that's gone? Well, when we began, we were just finding things
out, and very soon, an individual could build a better synthesizer, and at less expense, than one could buy one.
But many people were also doing this for the fun of making sounds and making music, not just for the fun of
building circuits. At one point I saw, in a department store, a synthesizer for $149 that I knew was a much easier
and cheaper route to having fun with sounds and music. So you can do analog synthesis if it is the building you
enjoy as much as the sounds and the music, or if you feel an analog sound is inherently superior, and if you can
get along without the very large support base of fellow builders.
While there seems to be some activity in hobby-level analog synthesizers (on the Internet), it is but a remote
relative to the intense support (contributors for new circuits, sources for parts, help debugging, new applications,
etc.) that was available. Today, often times, people do not even read the text of the old Electronotes issues
before jumping on the Internet to ask for help, and then they get wrong answers from people who have not read the
issues either, but who feel obliged to appear helpful. I myself am always glad to try to answer questions when an
individual sends me a carefully prepared question with enough details that I can make a useful guess about what is
Is digital better? Of course the answer is: sometimes, sometimes not. But you are reading this on a computer.
Likely you know how to program - in C or in BASIC or something. You understand how you sequence instructions to
make the machine do something for you. In Cornell DSP labs, we prepare about a 40-page handout on DSP assembly
language, and ask the students to read it before coming to lab. Do they read it? Of course not! Do they get
their lab exercises completed? Yes they do. About 20 minutes of instruction and a couple of examples, and they
are off and running. The handout becomes a reference. Is this good result a consequence of Cornell students
being exceptionally bright! Well, some of them are, and some of them aren't, but they all, and you too, know the
basic ideas of programming. That's all you need to start. It's easier than getting started in analog.
I myself am not one to automatically embrace something simply because it is new and shiny. Indeed I drive a
1984 Ranger pickup. I do look at new trucks - I just don't need a new truck. [UPDATE: I got a new Ranger in 2001.]
Some people however do long for and insist on the superiority of the good old days. Most of you have encountered
(some of you may be) almost militant analog purist. The point I hope I am making is that these people, in also
already knowing how to program, are well advised to look to digital methods, especially when it comes to
experimentation, where complicated structures can be created and altered easily with no specific hardware investment.
Q: Can I put up Electronotes material on my site?
A: We have, at times, gotten a bad rap for supposedly not allowing people to post our material.
In actual fact, we never denied material to anyone who asked and would agree to a few simple
conditions which were, in essence:
Almost universally, people did not ask. What was most annoying were postings that seemed to deliberately
(or by omission) suggest that the poster was the original source, which brought us no business. And at times
they said that we were no longer in business! - people who had our ordering information in fact!. One posting,
which I still see from time to time says that Electronotes was a "source of errors" and that few of the circuits
we published were tested, and that we never acknowledged that! Where this came from, I can't imagine. All our
circuits, save one, I believe, were tested, and there are no known errors which have not been reported. There
were very few errors anyway, because the editor (me) knew circuitry. I say this as a matter of fact - not to brag.
As a sometimes academic, I know the joys of dealing with draftsmen and editors who do not understand the technical
content they are handling. Some redrawings (unauthorized) of our circuits have perpetual errors. They look better
than our hand drawings - but they are wrong. Happily, many of these offenders have gone on to "other pursuits" or
perhaps the Internet has just become a place where more courtesy and integrity is expected.
Q: Do you still have your analog synthesizer set up?
A: No. It had been out of use for a number of years even before our move of a couple of years ago. A major
portion of it was housed in a large enclosed "relay rack" that my wife calls "the telephone booth," and the
panels were all taken out and stored somewhere. Long time readers will recall that I had a rather "informal"
construction practice where components were all soldered to the top of the board, and the boards were more or
less secured by soldering to convenient panel controls, jacks, etc. I still do favor and would recommend today
that same mode of construction. It is described in the Builder's Guide and Preferred Circuits Collection. I
could produce a circuit board in just two hours or so, and have it behind panel in a couple more hours. It
didn't look too bad either, although it did look "unprofessional." Yet we have pointed out that here is no
reason a circuit board produced at home need look like one made in a factory. Likely it does not even make
sense to try for a factory appearance - and certainly there was no electrical reason to do so. But what I had
were definitely prototypes. When I do find them some day, perhaps I will be able to figure out what they were.
We made so much! It was great fun, but I never did get much of a chance, ever, to just play.
Q: What sort of digital things make sense? How do we do digital synthesis?
A: Most often there is no direct translation between analog and digital. But some basic things are identical
- most notably the parametric nature of music synthesis. In analog synthesis, the parameters are knob settings
and control voltages which represent pitch, loudness, durations, etc., pretty much analogous to a musical score.
We set what are relatively slowly varying parameters that control audio frequency results. In a digital approach,
what we think about is producing a sequence of samples. Typically, the sampling rate is twice the bandwidth. A
CD for example has a rate of 44,100 samples/second. With digital synthesis, in contrast to analog synthesis, we
really do have the ability to produce truly arbitrary sounds. This is the freedom we get by (simply?!?) assigning
each and every sample. But we don't use this freedom. In fact, if we did, we would all be listening to white noise
tunes! Instead we establish a relationship between samples in a sequence. We write programs that organize samples.
In a simple case, we might require them to be samples of a sinewave. What have we done? We parameterized the
synthesis. Relatively few numbers control thousands of samples (seconds of synthesized sound).
When we try to translate from analog synthesis to digital synthesis, there are no real rules. In fact,
it is difficult to do normal subtractive synthesis with a digital approach. Additive synthesis is probably
easier digitally. This is just a matter of generating samples (in a higher level language) and playing back
a sound file. FM synthesis works pretty much equally well with a digital or an analog approach, although
neither is easy if we are trying for an exact sound. Other methods like the marvelous Karplus-Strong plucked
string synthesis are powerful, fairly simple, and uniquely digital.
Obviously, when it comes to experimentation where a particular structure is to be repeated a large number
of times (such as the design of animators) a digital approach has immense advantages. Duplications are a matter
of cutting and pasting portions of code (seconds of work), not of producing and soldering more and more boards.
Many DSP cards with associated software are available, if not for production of music, at least for experimentation
with synthesis methods. A couple of hundred dollars will get you going quite nicely on your own computer.
Q: Why do you have both Newsletters and Application Notes?
A: This is addressed a bit in our general information. Perhaps it is most interesting to say how the
Application Notes came about. We had been producing Newsletters for about four years when, for a number of reasons,
we decided to set up shop in a storefront just off the Cornell University campus (the Collegetown area if you know
it). We had a Xerox machine installed for our printing, and since we were selling parts by mail order as well,
we offered a more general line of parts over the counter (just trying to pay the rent actually!). So many people
came in asking the same type of questions, one day I just got out the typewriter and typed up a few answers (power
supplies at first). We sort of gave these away in the store or charged a dime. Soon it became a habit, and we
added them to our mail-order offerings. It has always been the case that we thought of the Application Notes
as electronics, and the Newsletter as electronic music.
Q: How many people work for Electronotes?
A: Gosh! I guess the answer is 0.834 persons. This is the figure used by the great sage Don Lancaster
in his The Incredible Secret Money Machine (Sams 1978). He meant you should employ yourself - 83.4% of the
time. We are a family business in terms of our extra income activities. We also do sewing (alterations). I once
put on a button back when I was in the Army. So my wife does all the sewing and lets me do all the newsletter
Q: What are the "Supplements" all about?
A: Hmmmm. Well, they are not supplements to anything in particular - not to the MEH or EBG&PCC as some might
missunderstand by the placement on the order form. Much of the function of the original supplements was taken over by
the application notes. The ones we still include are either still thought to be valuable or in good supply (or both).
I plan to keep only S-014, S-015, S-017, S-018, and S-019 in paper. At the same time, the rest of the supplements will
be posted. this has already been done for S-016, for example. There is at least one that was never published, I believe,
which I will post.
Q: Do you have any parts left?
A: Yes - lots of parts! Not much really good stuff, although I do find occasional "pockets" of gold. Since we
were for a while in the parts business, let me tell you something about that experience (in case you are thinking of it.
You can buy a part in 100 quantity for say $X and expect to sell it for $Y. You expect a profit of $Y - $X - expenses.
In the mean time, you may have $100X invested. To get your profit, you need to sell all 100 parts. But, before you sold
them all, you had to reorder, investing another$100X! It gets worse - you decide to add to your line, and invest in 100
of a different part. You don't catch up until you go out of the business.
Some of you who ordered the everything packages in the last year or so received a "bonus" item. These were rescued
from a garbage can at Cornell (almost literally). I prefer this "business model". Throw "junk" into a box that is already
going too be shipped. Any suggestions?
Q: Can I get on your "Friends" link page?
A: Absolutely. Just ask and supply the best URL. This is badly in need of updating, and never was
done properly. If not your own link, feel free to make suggestions.