I Make Microphones For Beatboxers
Jack: Let's play restaurant. What would you like to order? Here... [hands me Hello Kitty coloring book]
Me: Hmmm...I'd like one fried kitty please.
Jack: Nooo, that's gross.
Me: Oh how about these baked kitty ears?
Jack: Nooo. Seriously, c'mon!
Me: How about this squirrel?
Jack: That's dessert.
First Prototypes Have Arrived! (sort of)

The first round of prototypes have arrived from my manufacturer today. In the pics, you’ll see the twelve PCBs they made and then two of them that are assembled with components. The PCBs are “panelized” and all attached to each other (makes assembly easier). 

Upon further inspection, I’m seeing that some of the components are NOT on the board. There were three (the audio jacks and DIP socket) that I knew I would have to solder on myself, but there are 12 other components (resistors and capacitors) missing from each of the assembled boards. Not happy right now. Phone call being placed to manufacturer…

Strap It On!

   —> freddie

UPDATE: Looks like they figured out what happened with these prototypes. A column was getting cut off on the Bill of Materials (BOM) and the engineer didn’t see the cut-off parts on the list. They are fixing it ASAP and we’ll get going with testing next week!

Building The Last TH75 :-/

Tonight I will be buidling the very last Thumper model TH75, for a collegiate vocal percussionist in Indiana. I have been hand-building the Thumper belt-packs since I first started selling them back in 1999. It would take about 30-40 minutes per unit, and then I would take them over to the recording studio for testing before they ship out. 

I have a love/hate relationship with the process. I definitely enjoy building something with my hands, but it is a bit of a messy process. I’ve inhaled my fair share of lead-filled fumes, burned myself on the soldering iron, cut myself on X-ACTO knives, and ripped my palms to shreds securing the enclosure screws using a way-too-tiny screwdriver.

The new Thumper model TH100 is being assembled for me by a contract manufacturing company. I got a message earlier that my two production prototypes have shipped out to me today (from Utah) and I will get them next week. Then I will test them and we’ll see where we go from there. Either: A) Everything is great and we go to production to make 100 units or B) Something isn’t right, I have to adjust the circuit, and do another round of prototypes. I would love for the former, but expect the latter.

I heard from Kieran today that he’s still working on the designs for the T-shirts and stickers, so those should be coming along soon too. I’ll send out a survey everyone soon asking for sizing and shipping info.

Strap It On!

       —> freddie

Production Prototypes

I have gone through several quotes/estimates from assembly & manufacturing companies. They are actually rather difficult to read and comprehend, in some cases. There are many options given, and honestly it was too much. The company I have selected to do the assembly & manufacturing came in with a very simple quote and it also happened to be very competitively priced. 

The company I’m going with is Utah Contract Manufacturing (UCMFG) in Sandy, UT. Sandy is just outside Salt Lake City. My plan is to travel there for the production run, so I can film it for posterity, and also to visit with my good friends Dave Brown and Dovy Paukstys.

The order went in today to have UCMFG start manufacturing the production prototype PCBs. It will take 7 days to get 12 boards made. I’ll order the components for these prototypes myself and have them shipped to UCMFG. They will hand-assemble 2 prototypes next week and we’ll see how we did. For production, the units with be machine-assembled but for just 2 units, someone there will do it by hand, which is not a trivial task. So the per-unit cost for these prototypes is MUCH higher than what the production cost will be. About 10x as much.

If these prototypes don’t test well, we’ll have to make fixes to the PCB layout and do another round of boards and hand-assemble those, etc. Rinse, repeat. Once I’ve deemed them satisfactory, we will schedule the production of 100 units. 

I’ll have to think of something interesting & fun to do with these extra PCBs and prototypes we’re making. Any ideas?

Strap It On!!

      —> freddie

Gerber Files Are In!

LET’S MAKE SOME PRODUCTION PROTOTYPES!

My PCB engineer got me the Gerber files earlier this week and they look great. I went through the BOM (Bill of Materials) too and things are all on track. The parts count came to 64, which is less than I originally thought (a good thing). I’ve sent those files to several manufacturers/assemblers to get final quotes for everything. Previously, they wouldn’t give me any real numbers until they saw these files, so that is a huge roadblock out of the way! I got one assembly quote back today, discussed it more with the assembler, and it looks very promising (they are in Sandy, UT). I’ve asked them if I could visit their facility and make a video of the units being assembled…so I could post it here on Kickstarter. They were totally cool with that. WOO HOO!

THE USERS MANUAL

Last weekend, I started writing the Users Manual and it’s coming along really well. I will post some drafts here soon so people can peruse it online. Current sections are: Welcome To Awesome, Hooking It Up, The Signal Flow, DIP Switch Settings, Troubleshooting, Cool Customizations, Installing Software Updates/Upgrades, Technical Info (Specs & Stuff), Wrapping Up & Special Thanks.

SPEAKING AT ANOTHER CONFERENCE

I’ll be speaking at the Social Media and A Cappella Conference (SMACC) this coming weekend at Syracuse University. I’ll be giving workshops on: “Beginning Vocal Percussion”, “The Current State of High-Tech A Cappella”, and sitting on a panel (with other record producers) called “I Make Gold Records”. It should be a pretty interesting conference, fusing social media with a cappella. Check it out if you can. I’ll be tweeting during the weekend and even DURING my sessions I’m presenting. Follow me @vocomotion on Twitter and the hashtag for the event is #SMACC2011.

Strap It On!

    --> freddie
The Process

I thought I’d write an update so you guys know what goes into producing the new Thumper throat microphone TH100 belt-pack. Just a warning, this is a lot of info and not everyone cares about all of these details.

1) Create Schematic Drawings - The schematic is a blueprint for the circuit. It’s a “logical” drawing, not a “physical” drawing. It’s used to show what is connected to what, but not how they are connected. The schematic uses symbols to represent each component in the circuit: chips, resistors, capacitors, connectors, etc. 

The schematic for the TH100 is complete.

2) Lay Out Printed Circuit Board - The printed circuit board (PCB) is one of those green boards you see inside electronics and computers. The part that makes it green is called the Solder Mask and actually, it doesn’t have to be green! The Thumper board will be a different color, but I won’t say what color…it’ll be a surprise. All of the components of the circuit will be soldered (attached) to the board. There are tiny wires (called traces) and connections (called pads) etched into the PCB, that will connect the various components to each other. The PCB has been laid out (or drawn) for me by an engineer I’ve hired who specializes in this task. The PCB layout for the TH100 is 90% complete, and should be done in the next day or so. Once complete, my engineer will generate a set of “Gerber Files” that tells machines how to make and assemble my circuit.

3) Select PCB Manufacturer/Assembler - The PCBs (and all the traces/pads) will be made by a manufacturing company and then the parts will be soldered onto the PCBs. The Thumper TH60-TH75 models used to have 17 large components that were all “Through-Hole” components. I used to assemble every circuit myself (all you really need is a soldering iron and some solder). The new TH100 has about 100 components, about 90 surface-mount technology (SMT) components, and about 6 through-hole components. The SMT parts are far too tiny for me to solder by hand, so I will hire an assembly company to built the boards using a variety of automated machines. 

Until I have the Gerber Files, I cannot really select an assembler, because they quote the order based on the contents of those files. Assembly will actually be where the most money is spent, sadly. Assembly of each unit could easily cost more than all the parts on the PCB and the PCB itself combined. I have spoken with several assembly companies now, and they’re all awaiting my files.

4) Manufacture/Assemble Prototype - This is essentially the same as how Assembly will go for all 100 units, but we’ll only make a couple prototype units. There is almost always a problem with the first “draft”, so we don’t make the whole 100 yet.

5) Test Prototype - Test the prototype and revise the PCB, if necessary. Then go back to step 4 and repeat until tests OK.

6) Order Parts for Assembler - I’ll order parts to make about 105 TH100’s and kit them all up and ship to manufacturer/assembler. The photo below is of loose SMT components. The parts I provide to the assembler will not be loose like this but on reels of tape or in tubes.

7) Manufacture and Assemble - Manufacturer will make the PCBs and assemble all the parts.

8) Test boards - Assembly company will test the boards to make sure they power up and pass audio using a test EEPROM I will provide (more on EEPROMs below).

9) Customize & Order Enclosures - The plastic belt-pack enclosure that houses the PCB must be customized for the TH100. The top panel of the belt-pack needs to have holes drilled in it so that the connectors and mute switch can poke through. A rectangular portion of the side needs to be cut out, too, to give the user access to the DIP switches for configuration. I have already started to work with the enclosure company to get these holes cut exactly right.

10) Program EEPROMs - The chip inside the belt-pack that processes the audio is a tiny digital signal processing (DSP) computer. I have been programming the DSP chip and once we’re ready to ship these mics, I will write the program onto an EEPROM chip, which is like a very tiny flash drive that stores the program. I’ll program (or burn) the chips using a special EEPROM Programmer. The EEPROM chip is “socketed”, which means it sits in a socket on the PCB and can be swapped out. I will be shipping out software updates periodically to the users. My original plan was to use microSD cards to store the program, but it got complicated real fast and not worth the extra effort. I have purchased the USB EEPROM programmer and am ready to burn some chips!

11) Final Assembly - When the PCBs arrive here, I’ll insert an EEPROM into each one, insert the PCBs into the enclosures, screw them shut, and test them out.  

12) Ship! - This one is fairly self-explanatory.

So there you have it! I’ll be posting more details as I go through each step of the process, including photos and videos. I’ve already talked to one assembler nearby about allowing me to video-record the assembly process as the Thumpers are made! Yeah, I’m a dork.

Strap It On!

          —> freddie

Here’s the first mockup of the faceplate for the top of the belt-pack. It has an input jack (3.5mm), output jack (1/4” unbalanced), mute pushbutton, and power LED.

Here’s the first mockup of the faceplate for the top of the belt-pack. It has an input jack (3.5mm), output jack (1/4” unbalanced), mute pushbutton, and power LED.

This morning at like 7am, our nextdoor neighbor called my wife to say “Freddie’s famous! He’s on the front page of a section in the Chicago Tribune today!” So I ran outside to grab our copy and there it was, on the front page of the “live!” section. They selected three Chicago projects that surpassed their goals. Pretty nifty.

This morning at like 7am, our nextdoor neighbor called my wife to say “Freddie’s famous! He’s on the front page of a section in the Chicago Tribune today!” So I ran outside to grab our copy and there it was, on the front page of the “live!” section. They selected three Chicago projects that surpassed their goals. Pretty nifty.

We Did It!!!!

ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!
ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!
ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou!ThankYou! 

I’m so appreciative of all the support (both financial and moral) that everyone one of you have given me. 

Now The Fun Begins! Let’s Make a Microphone!

For the next two weeks, I’ll be doing as much as I can without actually spending money, since Kickstarter/Amazon puts a 14-day hold on the funds. BUT…We’ve got a designer, Kieran Daly and his company Winking Fish, will be coming up with the T-shirt/stickers designs. I am working with a PCB designer to work out the board layout and I’m working on the DSP programming. My plan is still to ship the mics some time in April!

As I go through the steps to make this microphone, I’ll be posting updates here so you guys can see how it’s progressing. There will be video & photos so you can feel like you’re going through the process with me!

I’ll be sending a survey soon through Kickstarter to get t-shirt sizes from people. The list of donors will also be posted on the website this week.

Again, I can’t express how much I love you all. Making these microphones is truly a labor of love for me and I’m honored that you are willing to support me in my dream. I get a great sense of satisfaction when beatboxers/VPs tell me they’re using my microphone and how much it helps their sound. If you ever have photos or video of you using your Thumper, PLEASE email them to me and I’ll proudly post them on the BeatBoxMics.com website.

Strap It On!! Much love,

      —> freddie

Donating Thumper to Charity

Next weekend, I’ll be at the SingStrong A Cappella Festival in Reston, VA. The event brings a cappella performers and fans from all over the globe and helps raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. They have a silent auction that alone raised over $2,500 last year and went directly to the charity. This year there is an anonymous donor that will match all donations made to the auction!!

As I did last year, I will be donating a Thumper throat microphone (this time, a signed TH100) to be auctioned off at this year’s auction at SingStrong. If you know someone attending SingStrong this year, tell them to bid on the Thumper TH100, or they could even contribute to the Kickstarter project to help offset the costs of my donation of the microphone (see? every little bit helps). Either way, it helps the charity!

I’ll be on-site at SingStrong with my Thumper TH75, the Pounder, some prototype parts of the new Thumper TH100, as well as a prototype of my upcoming handheld microphone for beatboxers, The Puncher. If you want to talk about Thumpers, Pounders, or Punchers…find me at SingStrong and let’s talk!!

Strap It On!

—> freddie