Category: fx


Furthering my home studio resources, I did a whole bunch of research regarding DAW components. A Digital Audio Workstation is something I have sort of messed around the peripherals of, producing audio on my laptop for decades, but hardware was limited to a good stereo microphone and mini-disk recorder.

After much research I determined I needed 2 channels input, 2 out, and wanted something that would essentially extend my laptop “soundcard” given nearly every laptop has a poor excuse for a soundcard that pretends to be more than it is – this is annoying. For example, although it provides a single 3.5mm STEREO plug out, there is no plug for an INPUT. I (foolishly) bought a USB C “SoundBlaster” external “soundcard” only to discover that it’s INPUT only captures MONO, even though the packaging and advertising material says different.

The soundblaster thingy is however useful for Zoom meetings etc as I can plug my wired headset into it and nicely separate microphone from speakers, but as a music capture device it is useless. I was using my wife’s gaming PC soundcard to capture samples form my MiniDisk as stereo digital files to use on my laptop – a clearly ludicrous and inconvenient solution.

When I was forced to buy my own laptop (as I recently retired and no longer have a school-provided laptop), I could not find a cost-effective solution built in to a laptop so looked for other options.

I settled on an Arturia MiniFuse 2 (2-in, 2-out), a lovely little USB C thingy that gives me external mixing capacity, allowing me to plug in both Theremins, or a Theremin and another device. When plugged in to my laptop it becomes the soundcard, and with it came some wonderful software to manage the DAW – including Ableton Live and the Arturia suite which I am learning to drive.

I also decided I needed some new cables, I had 2 “guitar leads” but needed more to connect things, integrate my loop pedal and also connect to the speaker, so bought some new TRS cables, and a quality Audio adapter to manage the 3.5 to 6.35mm plug issue. I also purchased a Music stand (for my iPad, which provides sound editors for both Claravox and Theremini), along with a quality USB C connector cable for the Vox.

Along the way I also decided that the microphone stand the Claravox was using (bought previously for the Theremini) was too high to play comfortably, so I bit the bullet and bought the stand designed for the Claravox (a beautiful art object in itself) – completing my Clara, finally.

I … think … I now have all the bits I need to support what I want to do. We shall see.


For both my Claravox and Theremini I usually use headphones, reasoning the god-awful din I am generally making should not be shared.

Annoyingly, the headphone socket on the Theremini is a 3.5mm plug, whereas the Claravox has a 6.35mm (1/4 inch), so I learned quickly that a QUALITY dongle that converts pays in the long run. I had some little one-piece converters that are microscopically loose so crackle, whereas the extender cable I bought is flush and positive.

While I was working at my last school I used to borrow a powered keyboard speaker from the Music department over the holidays because hearing the instrument in the room rather than through headphones is different, and sometimes I like it. This speaker cost a fortune (well, beyond that which I was prepared to pay) because it had so many features – I actively had to dial the gain down to near ZERO else the feed from the theremins were too loud.

Eventually I figured I would have a mixer feeding the speaker, and a laptop controlling that, so did not need all those inputs or advanced speaker control on the actual speaker.

Having a gig experience further drove my desire to be able to make noise that can fill a space, so set about looking for a powered speaker that had the dynamic range for both Clara and Theremini. I settled, after much agonising, discussion and comparison of published specifications on a relatively cost-effective Behringer:

It has a 10 inch speaker and a smaller tweeter, nice solid construction, handles and so on – a terrific (in my opinion) value package from StoreDJ, which I had delivered.

Connecting it to both theremins produces a lovely warm sound and fills the room even on low volumes. In tests I triggered all the dogs in my suburb by using high frequencies at high volumes – and boy is it loud without distortion at high levels.

The unit is nice and portable and, should I ever decide to gig again this will be a terrific tool. It is nice to see my home studio expanding.

Stereo Ping Pong

Now I have done a bit of audio engineering over the years, and recording in stereo was something I did a lot of – the Sony stereo microphone and MiniDisk combination was a killer back in the day – and it still works a treat.

Gear for this recording

I had recorded Touchstones “Come Together” and this piece “Ping Pong” in stereo, and went to rip them to computer file using my SoundBlaster Play 3 USB soundcard, only to discover something unexpected.

It appears most “headset” type external USB soundcards only record in MONO, but offer full stereo playback – this was a revelation made clear from the experimental song “Ping Pong” which used hard L-R-L-R alternating channel punishment, and my rip had HOLES in it where the right channel should have been.

Laptops these days only come with a stereo headphone jack, no line in anymore – I guess hardware manufacturers figure you only need mono to support zoom calls so do not bother mounting the whole sound card experience. Seems the soundblaster was recording the left channel and copying that to the right, for a completely flat 2-ear mono. I had wondered why “come together” lacked the vibrancy of the original Minidisk recording, but… there you go. I managed to rip true stereo audio using my wife’s gaming computer – it has a REAL sound card in it (with a lovely blue line in), but i am going to have to come up with a more independent solution eventually.

This piece is an experiment in what I can achieve with the Theremini ONLY, in one take. I dialled my modification of the “Helix” preset, which uses a wide long ping-pong delay, chose the Key of C, and Major Pentatonic, dialled the pitch correction to off, plugged in my minidisk and headphones (I have a headphone splitter dongle), did a little playing before waiting for silence then hitting record.

What you hear is as I performed it, no editing (apart from top and tail trimming) – all the noise was made during the recording session, using only the built-in fx processing of the preset. I discovered that I could play inside the wide stereo field, that by pulling rapidly from highest to lowest, and getting the volume right I could get close to a kick drum sound, and love that parts sound like I used drum pads.

The delay quickly fills up, and when it gets really congested, the sound gets crunchy, and that is also sort of cool. To get the fade out I paused on the lowest note before silencing the volume antenna and waiting for the delay to decay to nothing – such an old school synth sound.

I really like this, not sure why, but I am amazed how much deliberate sound a monophonic instrument can make like this.

Amped Up

I decided, as it is school holidays, to borrow an amplifier from work to try it on my setup.

Amp for the holidays - note the "gain" is nearly off

I must admit to knowing nearly nothing about such things, but was offered a QSC K10 PA box – it has a plethora of inputs at the back and I figured I could find something that let me jack in the theremini.

I borrowed an additional guitar lead so I could also inline my Ditto+ looper pedal.

Initially I came out of the L channel of the Theremini, directly into the “Line In” of input A on the Amp. Being careful to turn on the Theremini FIRST then the amp, immediately the wall of sound was deafening – I had to dial “Gain” to one click above off to make the noise controllable and tolerable.

I then calibrated the Theremini (it seemed to lose it’s settings after the initial connection to the amp), and I noticed after calibration the knobs on the Theremini did different jobs, which was odd. After unplugging and re-calibrating, I suspected it had trashed my Firmware, but checked and it is running 1.111 as it supposed to.

I then headed online to do some research, and discovered the the signal OUT of a Theremini is really HOT – waaay higher than a guitar (note to self: remember this if you ever consider jacking into an amp at a gig or anything similarly ludicrous), and it was likely messing with the amp and the electrical feedback was messing with the Theremini. So…

I found my 3.5 to guitar adapter, plugged that into the HEADPHONE socket of the Theremini and connected the amp lead to that and … problem solved.

amplified setup - note input from headphone jack

The sound is lush, LOUD and controllable. I think my neighbours are not going to enjoy the next little while, it is like a whole different instrument. The amp brings out out sonic nuances and a richness of tone that is what had originally drawn me to the instrument, so I am a happy chappy.

I am also noticing the RCA stereo input, and might try that out also (as I have a cable from my minidisk recorder that does this particular gender bend, will report back it it is any better.


So I have begun to think about the actual playing of this instrument.

Sitting at a table, with it on that table places the antennae too high, making the angles for attenuation uncomfortable and inaccurate, so I decided to buy a microphone stand to support it. On the underneath of the chassis there is a 3/8″ mike stand screw socket (female) designed just for this purpose.

I returned to Manny’s and purchased a Konig-Meyer heavy round-based black stand – the manufacturers website said it had the correct thread size head, but the ones in-store had 5/8″ screw head. I had to buy a converter (even after being assured by the salesman that it was 3/8″, until he actually looked – a bit annoying given the multiple contacts to determine this).

Theremini on Konig-Meyer stand, with DITTO+ Looper

The height is now comfortable – a side effect is that my pitch control is MUCH more controlled when standing, and when using a slightly split stance, the approach to both pitch and volume antennae work much better.

I began researching LOOPER pedals (like those guitarists use so they can self-accompany), decided on a DITTO+Looper, returned to Manny’s and purchased it, along with a compatible power supply (it seems guitar pedals do not routinely ship with them), and cable to connect it to the Theremini, and a converter to allow me to plug my headphones into the pedal OUT so I can hear the results.

Ditto+ Looper pedal

In a brief hiatus from marking, I hooked it all up to test it out. The Pedal IN and therefore Theremini OUT needs to be MONO (interestingly, the Theremini has a stereo output – most of it’s presets are “spacial” sounding, but plugging the looper into either the L or R channel makes it output balanced MONO to the pedal. I did not realise guitars output MONO – you live and learn.

DITTO+ Looper pedal

The pedal has nearly no controls – it’s simplicity is legendary. I managed to record a loop using one instrument, then overdub with another, then play live over the top of all this – this is HUGELY exciting, particularly when I get a chance to actually get musical. The looper uses solid-state storage also, so I will keep loops I like. Conventional pedals lose everything when powered down apparently, so this should be fun.

Lots to look forward to playing with.