ASET Technology Alberta Fall 2023 - 32

Polaris Digital MIDI Synthesizer
ACADEMIC INSTITUTION: NAIT
ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY DISCIPLINE: ELECTRONICS
ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY
TEAM MEMBERS: DANIEL SAYFULLIN
T
The Polaris project aimed to utilize the skills
and techniques learned in the electronics engineering
technology program to create a polyphonic
musical synthesizer. The Polaris synth
was designed to fill a market niche for a low-cost, highquality
polyphonic synthesizer with modern features such
as an OLED screen, USB MIDI input, and USB C power.
A fully digital synthesis topology was employed to simplify
the circuit layout and reduce costs. The project paid great
attention to the physical appearance, utilizing a red oak enclosure
and powder-coated aluminum panels to achieve an
aesthetic inspired by '80s synths.
The synthesizer is a pure desktop module, meaning that
there is not a keyboard included in the synth. Instead, the
synth features a standard MIDI input jack as well as a USB
port so that any standard MIDI keyboard can be connected.
The user plays notes and alters modulation on the MIDI
keyboard. On the synth itself, potentiometers and switches
are used to alter the sound output of the synth. The user
can control attack, decay, sustain, and release parameters
among others. The synth uses a DAC chip to output audio to
a 3.5mm jack as well as standard RCA audio jacks.
Currently, the only alternatives available for a person wishing
to recreate the vintage sound of a classic synth like the
Prophet-5 would be to use a virtual plugin on a PC or to
spend thousands of dollars for a modern recreation of the
original synth.
The problem with the first option is the same as asking an
enjoyer of physical books to get a Kindle. While the content
is technically the same, it's a completely different experience
adjusting knobs on a physical device compared
to looking at a digital image of the same thing. The problem
with the second option is that low-income students cannot
spend thousands of dollars for a modern recreation of these
synths, or worse yet, tens of thousands of dollars for original
specimens from the time period. Thus, my solution aims to
bring the Prophet-5 into a physical yet affordable form.
The successful design and build of the Polaris synthesizer
required a combination of careful planning, mechanical fabrication,
embedded systems programming, component level
soldering, CAD design, schematic layout, and much more.
Ultimately the project was a success and delivered on most
of the planned features as outlined in the project charter.
Below is a breakdown of the components:
Enclosure design - The Polaris easily met expectations for
build quality and fit and finish.
Synthesis - The final Polaris could play five polyphonic
voices on two oscillators at the same time with amplifier
ADSR. Additionally, volume adjustment for the oscillators
and global volume works as expected. The ESP32 microcontroller
that was used lacked the processing power to run
the digital low pass filter in real time.
UI interaction - The Polaris synth can successfully interpret
user inputs on the potentiometers and front panel buttons.
The settings that these elements control are successfully
updated on the synth if they are implemented.
OLED display - The Polaris OLED display shows the values
of the amplifier and filter envelope in real time as well as
LFO frequency. The other menu options are not yet implemented.
MIDI
input - The Polaris synth reads and processes MIDI
commands from both DIN jacks and USB as expected.
Audio output - The synth produces a clean audio output
as expected.
MicroSD Slot - Because of delays in the project build, the
firmware for saving and loading patches was not implemented.
However, the Polaris can communicate with SD
cards and mount a file system on them successfully.
Power system - The power system works as expected,
producing 5V and 3.3V voltages accurately and in a stable
manner.
32 | FALL 2023 | TECHNOLOGY ALBERTA

ASET Technology Alberta Fall 2023

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