A syncing feeling, part 2: Dr Click, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DIN Sync

I started to write a post about syncing my TR-808 to MIDI clock and I wound up philosophizing too much, so I decided to split this into two posts. This is the non-philosophizing post.

After hunting around for a way to keep my TR-808 in sync with MIDI clock, I decided to just be a total cheapskate and build a MIDI-to-DIN Sync converter that I found on the internet:

http://www.colinfraser.com/m2d/m2d.htm

About half a year ago, I rounded up the components and assembled them on a breadboard. I hadn’t had much success with building electronic circuits in the past, so I was rather skeptical. Plus, this one had an extra complexity: it contained a PIC microprocessor chip that needed to be programmed. I’ve always thought PIC chips sounded interesting, but I had never actually learned how to use/program them. So this project would be a first.

I put everything together, checked the wiring a couple times, programmed the PIC, and…

…it worked! I was shocked. I think I wept.

But then things went downhill with my homemade MIDI to DIN sync converter. It started acting flaky. Sometimes my 808 would suddenly just freeze up. Or even more nefariously, sometimes it would continue to keep playing but would slide slowly out of sync with the rest of the song. Eventually I got frustrated and decided that I’d had enough.

I bought a Garfield Time Commander off eBay, supposedly in perfect working condition. I figured that this would forever put to rest any sync issues that I might have. I’m sure that if you get a working unit, you are immediately ushered into sync heaven, filled with rainbows and ice cream and ponies prancing around at exactly 112 bpm. I however, got a non-working unit. It took me several weeks to ascertain this fact.

So in my disgust, I turned my attention back to the home-made sync converter. I was talking with my buddy Jon earlier this week and complained about how the circuit used to work but now it didn’t anymore. He asked me if it was still on the breadboard, and I suddenly felt very sheepish when I admitted that the answer was “yes”. Since it involves clock signals and precise timing, he recommended that I give the circuit another shot, but this time by soldering it up properly.

So this afternoon I fired up the old soldering iron and hesitantly decided to take this crappy piece of non-working circuitry and give it a permanent home. I’m not very good with laying out circuits, but a couple hours later (yes, I’m also sheepish to admit that), I had this:

And it works again! I had a little trouble with the timing at first. In fact, it wasn’t keeping precise time at all. When I first tried it out it was immediately falling out of sync. I sat there dejected, thinking about the hours I had just sunk into this project. Weeping. I was also weeping. But then I suspected my MIDI interface, which has been acting up of late. I swapped it out for an older USB interface that I had laying around, and the little sync circuit worked perfectly!

And now I can finally keep the 808 in sync.

What a thing of beauty!

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