My Ambika !

Well, what can I say. I took the plunge and decided to start building the Mutable Instruments Ambika. This amazingly sounding hybrid 6 voice polyphonic synthesizer is designed by Olivier Gillet and is totally open source.


The oscillators, modulation etc .. are all digital, so they can be really complex and give you a huge amount of possibilities. And the part that really gives the sound it’s character is analog; the voltage controller filter and voltage controller amplifier. Giving you in my opinion the best of both worlds.




Ambika specs

Ambika is a multi-voice hybrid synthesizer. You can play it as a 6-voice polysynth, an ensemble of 6 monosynths, or anything inbetween due to its easily configurable voicing architecture. 

The sound generation is hybrid, combining the warmth and sonic character of a true 4-pole analog filter, with the large array of waveforms offered by digital wavetables, fm and phase modulation. The digital control of the analogue filter and VCA also means a very large palette of modulation possibilities.

Three flavors of voicecards are available: two styles of 4-pole filters (SMR4, warm with a soft edge ; and 4P, edgier), and a classic 2-pole multimode filter. This allows you to mix and match several filter types inside the same unit – for example to play a pad on 5 4-pole voices, and a squelchy bandpass filtered lead on the multimode board.

Some of the key features of Ambika include:

  • 6 voices with individual outputs.
  • 2 digital oscillators per voice, with 36 oscillator algorithms/wavetables.
  • 1 sub-oscillator, also configurable as a transient generator.
  • Pre-filter overdrive and bit-crushing effect.
  • Analog 4-pole filter (or 2-pole multimode filter depending on the type of voicecard used) and VCA.
  • 3 ADSR envelopes, 3 patch-level LFOs, 1 voice-level LFO.
  • Modulation matrix with 14 slots and 4 modulation modifiers.
  • 1 arpeggiator, 1 note sequencer and 2 step sequencers per part.
    Flexible mapping of the 6 voices. A single patch with 6 voice-polyphony, 6 independent mono parts, 2 layered patches with 3-voices polyphony,
    a 3-voice unison bass line on the lower half of the keyboard with a 3-voice unison lead on the upper half… all are possible!
  • SD-card storage allows the storing of a life-long of patches, programs and multis, along with the history of editing operations for undo/redo.


(information from Mutable Instruments website)


Pcb’s have arrived



Sourcing parts

Okey, now that I have my pcb’s I better get on ordering my parts, because I can’t wait to start soldering.



New toys

I need the perfect tools for this project. So I convinced myself I needed some new ones 😉 I got myself a new soldering iron and some other ‘handy’ tools



Parts have arrived !!!

Finally the Mouser parts have arrived … let’s rip that box apart 😉



I’ll start with the SMR4 voice card

I first started to fix my Nord Modular, it had a broken encoder which put in my Ambika order from Mouser. I’ll make a separate post about that later. The encoder failing seems to be a common problem I’ve noticed so maybe someone out there might find it interesting 😉

After that I thought I’d start with the voice card first, it’s the SMR4, just one at the time. To freshen up my soldering skills 😉




Had plenty of practice on the voice card. Let’s start with the motherboard.



Screen and SD card connector arrive.

Some new parts arrived this morning ! Ordered on Tuesday from Digi-Key US, thats three days ! Faster than it takes my local electronics shop to answer a simple email ! (yes that’s frustration talking) The SD card connector and the beautiful Optrex white on black LCD screen. I really wanted this screen since it looks so much better than the one from Newhaven that was on the BOM.



Mobo, easy does it.

Right, finally all resistors and caps done. Now the fun can start ! 😉 Got some more pics …



Making progress on the mobo

Making good progress on the motherboard .. it’s a lot of fun anyway ! And now that I have the LCD and SD connector I’ll prolly finish it today. I still can’t make up my mind though, about how to mount the LCD. Just solder it with the header, or use a ribbon cable if that’s possible, or maybe just use separate wires that I can cut later. It’s just that I plan to design a case for it and feel that once the LCD is soldered I can’t really play with the height and or angle of the screen anymore. De-soldering will prolly be hell if I use the header.



Ready for testing !

Okey, I’m almost there. All essential stuff is mounted and soldered on the board. There’s just one scary part I need to do before I can put in the IC’s and fire it up. And that is testing. But even before that I need to a big inspection of the board. Check if there are no faults or shorts in the circuit. See if all components are soldered in right, check polarities, see if all component wires are cut properly, no contact points are touching because of bad soldering, no metal parts like the heat shields are touching the diodes or the legs of the voltage regulators. Again check the polarities of the capacitors. Check check check. And then I can start the testing.



It’s Alive !!!


… insert power … waiting …. somethin’s happening … screen flickers ..


More parts arrive for some extra voice cards.

Always fun when some boxes arrive 😀
I ordered parts to build the rest of the voicecards. Because it’s a poly synth after all 😉



From mono to poly

Soldering a couple more voice cards. I wanna play some chords on this thing. By the time I finished all six of ‘m I’m sure I can build them blindfolded. Well, with some Chewy Choosedays (by Alex Paterson on Fnoob) playing in the background, it’s pretty relaxing work actually.




Alright, just three more voicecards to do and my Ambika will be finished ! Well, the electronics anyway … playing with full polyphony !

I haven’t yet decided what sort of enclosure I will be making, but since I’m going to use this baby – apart for making music – as a platform for some extensions, programming my own software for it, maybe doing a controller, etc … that doesn’t really matter. I’ve got a couple of ideas



Update: Ambika case.

Personally I think it looks stunning, minimal and elegant. 1mm steel, white powder coated with wooden end cheeks. Silkscreened on it is the beautiful artwork by Papernoise that has become Mutable Instruments’ instantly recognizable visual style.



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