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You can build the tiny XFM2 synth for under $100

The XFM2 generates the sounds of the ‘80s with an FPGA chip and an Adafruit board.
Marc DeAngelis
February 24, 2020
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Futur3soundz

Miniature electronics kits like the Raspberry Pi have ushered in a new generation of DIY tinkerers. And while most of these builds emulate classic gaming systems, there are plenty of other possibilities. Futur3soundz, for example, designed a synthesizer around an FPGA chip and an Adafruit digital-to-analog converter. The company says that the components can all be purchased for under $100. And while the synth has few on-board controls, it has an extensive MIDI integration, so musicians can control parameters from their keyboards, making it a viable piece of bedroom studio gear.

The XFM2 is an FM -- or frequency modulation -- synth. This digital architecture, which was popular in the '80s, sounds dramatically different from the typical analog setup of two oscillators and two filters. It fell out of fashion quickly, so there aren't that many hardware-based FM options on the market, making the XFM2 an attractive option.

For such a tiny synth, the XFM2 has a lot to offer. It has six operators (which function somewhat similarly to analog oscillators) and is capable of 64 voices. Two patches can either be played simultaneously or as a keyboard split. It also has plenty of built-in distortion, modulation and time-based effects.

Software emulations of the most iconic FM synth -- the Yamaha DX7 -- sound pretty darn close to the original hardware. But for musicians who want to avoid using soft synths -- and have some soldering skills -- the XFM2 might be worth checking out.

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