The Atari Punk Console is one of DIY sonic electronics’ all-time greatest hits. Designed by Forrest M. Mims III — the brilliant electronics artist and engineer whose hand-drawn books were once promoted in Radio Shack — the “Stepped Tone Generator” as it was originally called is an excellent circuit for first-timers or those wanting something simple and adaptable. You can read up on the APC over on Wikipedia, with some good links to what the circuit does.

The Cracklebox is, similarly, a “greatest hit” of electrical noisemaking, a simple, self-contained synthesizer with speakers.

Put them together and add some comic art, and you’ve got the creation you see above, created by Massimiliano Farnea, aka maxfarnea. It’s been watching over the site from the CDM Flickr pool (which has various other stuff like this, as does the pool for our friends at MAKE and some other Flickr pools). So I had to know more. Here’s a quick preview from its creator — and the story behind that fantastic illustration:

Massimiliano writes:

I’m very happy that you like my last noisy gear. I hope to post a video soon, so you can see it in action and hear it.

I suppose that you could imagine its sound, it’s simply an Atari Punk Console (with no modification on schematics) and a Crackle Box, the same LM709 based circuit by Michel Waisvisz. The circuits are coupled with a very simple FET based mixing stage and all the stuff is cased into an metal box and powered by a 9v battery.

I only ask to you to attribute the work to me and the artwork to Alberto Corradi. He is a talented illustrator and comic writer that kindly gave me the permission to reproduce his character on a circuit board by a real etching process.

You can read about him here:

Every section of the creature picture is connected to the cracklebox  and the APC circuits, so you can generate weird noise and sounds simply touching it. The eyes light up when the sound is louder.

I love using it with my Korg MiniKP, I can get nice talking effects or really deep and reverberant drone sounds and so I’m planning to record some nice ambient and experimental sessions with it and other toys of mine.

I like that DIY tools and commercial products come together in this way — it’s a convergence of something you’ve made with something made by another.

When those sounds and videos appear, we’ll have them up. But this reminds me to have a look at some of Mims’ old designs. He made a brief appearance on this site in comments. It would be great if someone did a re-release of all his work. Radio Shack I expect won’t, but perhaps MAKE and O’Reilly would — or he’ll self-publish.

He’s not just some eccentric tinkerer, either — not that there’s anything wrong with eccentric tinkerers, but he’s a widely-published scientist. The fact that someone can have the depth and breadth of knowledge he does, but translate sophisticated concepts into readable, friendly illustrations anyone can approach is really inspirational.

Check out:

Forrest M. Mims III (his official site)

And if you don’t own his most popular book (which contains this design), it’s a must-have:

Getting Started in Electronics

And MAKE links (via the same image) to posts on the APC circuit:

Atari Punk Console schematics (via)

and (for the other half of this), another nice sample project:

Homebuilt CrackleBox

  • Hi Peter,

    Back when I was designing various tone generators for books and lab kits, I always wished their sounds could be shared with others. Apparently that has happened, and the web has certainly helped.

    When I teach basic electronics using a lab kit I developed for Radio Shack, the most popular circuits are always the tone generators. I'll never forget the time a class of university students I was teaching in Hawaii was so excited by the cacophany of tones they were creating that the classes in each room adjacent to ours broke up to come by to watch and hear the spontaneous concert my students were conducting.

    Forrest M. Mims III

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  • arnold collins

    (genuinely) thank you!

    back to the cutting edge interesting stuff.

  • Forrest M. Mims III … WOW!

    I'm not worthy …

    I'm not worthy …

    I'm not worthy …

    Dude, in 5th grade, I got one of your books from Radio Shack (the one with the green cover, can't remember the name, though). I spent all summer building the projects in there. My favorite was an optical audio transmitter …

    thanks for all the great memories.

    I wish Radio Shack still sold components … wish Heath Kit still sold kits too.

  • Actually, most of Forrest's books are currently available. I've made up a list at Amazon with some notes about the individual titles.

    If you want the "best of the best", get the Forrest Mims Engineer's Notebook, Getting Started in Electronics (the green book), Forrest Mims Circuit Scrapbook, Vol 1 (articles from Popular Electronics), and Forrest Mims Circuit Scrapbook, Vol 2 (articles from Modern Electronics).

  • Thanks for the kind comments.

    Currently I'm trying to complete work on a major book for NOAA on the history of Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory. After this and another new book, I hope to find time to post some circuits on my web site. Also, I'll try to add some sound generator video clips to my You Tubes (go to YouTube and enter "fmims" in the search box).

    It's good to see how DIYers are doing much to continue the tradition of hobby electronics. So are the robotics people, especially through the high school robotics competitions. (I've published some articles on this in The Citizen Scientist (

    Forrest M. Mims III

  • thanks to all for you interest!

    you can listen here a first sample of its sound (with a miniKP):

    stay tuned!


  • The paragon of unedsrtndaing these issues is right here!