Kicker (Front View)

Image courtesy Abstract Data. Rockstar sparkle not included.

Operating small runs out of his basement, Justin Owen is on a mission to bring his idiosyncratic, all-analog sounds to musicians in affordable, portable form.

“Affordable” and “portable” often aren’t associated with analog, though even players as big as KORG have gotten in on the game recently, with KORG’s monotron. Now that musicians are spoiled for choice in “things making noise with numbers or electricity,” though, I think there’s added pressure. For lack of a better way to put it, you have to be interesting.

And Justin’s circuits are indeed interesting. The latest addition is entitled “Kicker,” a 100%-analog “low frequency percussion synth” that’s as specialized as it sounds. At GBP95, I don’t doubt that some of the few dozen of these that will ever be made will find their way into digital workflows. For my part, I’ve hidden my wallet in the other room and placed a block filter on eBay. (Don’t ask about the other evening when James Grahame of Retro Thing and I narrowly avoided investing in multi-port MIDI merge racks.) But I have got some details on this gear for you, and some thoughts from Justin about his approach.

First, the specs on Kicker, Justin’s latest creation.

100% Analog, hand-made and tested in-house
Dual sine-wave oscillators with independent Pitch control
Punch switch for aggressive, high-impact sounds
Attack switch & Envelope Decay control
Can be Triggered using line-level Audio or a CV Pulse
Kick drums, sub drops, bass hits and more
Capable of very low frequencies
Manual available for download as a PDF file
Chrome-plated case & pro hardware
Runs off a standard 12 Volt DC adapter (not included) at approx. 300-500mA with a Negative Tip.
Limited-edition run, on sale while stocks last

You can have a look at the full manual:
Kicker manual [PDF]

Here’s a sense of the sound range of the device – overdubbed, but completely dry:
Kicker Preview 02: Deep Drops, Hard Hits & Bass Percussion by abstractjuz

And here’s the sound of just one of the two kick oscillators:
Kicker Preview 01: Single Oscillator Kick Drum by abstractjuz

“Abstract Data is currently just me and it’s still early days. I run this entirely off my own back out of my basement,” says Justin. “My priority right now is the design and build of affordable, portable, analog instruments and effects that sound good and are good to play.”

I asked about whether he’d consider going open source with his designs, and Justin says he’s interested, though lacks the experience to make that a priority. (Open sourcing hardware is not trivial by any means; I’ll be covering some of those issues later today and through the fall.)

Here’s Justin on his approach to sound:

I have fairly specific views on how analog should sound and part of that is that it’s not always linear and easy to control. Sometimes it’s downright unpredictable. Sometimes that contradicts ‘good’ design rules – so getting it working alongside the digital domain is something that needs to be done right – rather than just poking a micro at it.

FYI – the core circuit is based on my own implementation of the Twin-T oscillator which has been around since at least the 70’s. It’s a *great* circuit with loads of funny little oddities to explore and for people who are into tinkering/modding/hacking I’d definitely recommend they look up some variations of it and get it on a breadboard.

Naturally, unpredictable and non-linear don’t exactly scream “MIDI control,” but that’s something that may be on the horizon, as well:

MIDI control of my instruments is a huge priority and that is coming. OSC is another thing I’ve had my eye on for a while now. Small steps and for now my priority is building ‘instruments’ – not computers.

For now, what you get instead is a unique box full of personality. I can imagine for people with computer-based rigs, having something like this to inject some unpredictable analog goodness can have a lot of appeal.

The Hex range of analog synths and effects are also quite nice to look at; here’s a glimpse of them all in action:

More info on Justin’s official site:

…and his eBay page:

  • Thanks, now I have to go hide MY wallet!

  • i want one…i can put it in my pocket and make the ladies say BOOM

  • Remy

    Damn, what a crap music, do people like this?

  • Ooh. It's shiny. Pity my wife hid my wallet.

  • @Remy: It's just a sound sample. People don't listen to that as music any more than they live in houses made of paint chips.

  • @Hmmm: one of the posts above is from an engineer like yourself and most definitely not just some gullible end user consumer. Some "boutique" electronics do indeed involve huge mark-ups, but especially when you take design, testing, and assembly into account, I don't see this as an outrageous price. Also, I can't see anyone making a whole lot of money off this size run at this price. If you've got a business formula that I'm missing here, then I'd say don't feel *guilty* about making this run you're imagining. 😉

  • TweakingKnobs

    Viva la Analog !


  • Hex range are all sold out… shame.

  • Hmmm

    Can you actually make any money building this stuff by hand? Is it just sold for ridiculous markup to people who wouldn’t know how to build their own? As an EE, I could do this fairly easily, and I would enjoy it, but I’d feel guilty somehow. Even after seeing all these posts about salivating wallets. Maybe I’m just an idiot.

  • peelie

    shame no battery power! i think he is missing a trick there!

  • Hmmm's post is not legitimate, either that or he's truly an idiot.

    There's not much markup here at all, the profit margin in miniscule… and even if so who cares, a designer can charge whatever he wants for his time and effort. These boxes are crazy affordable. I've spent more on POS guitar pedals to play with.

  • BenitoIsAwesomr

    These are awesome.

  • Hmmm

    I didn't say that this particular product had ridiculous markup. I'm asking if people do this for money or just for fun.

  • @Hmmm: love has definitely been a major motivation, no question, from people I've talked to. I don't know, many business affairs tend to involve some combination of insanity, love, and revenue. But I will say, the engineers who have said, okay, I'm starting this as a business have tended in the DIY stuff to turn more to general audiences than music-specific stuff, of the ones I've talked to.

  • Hmmm : my bad then, yeah some out there do.

  • Joel

    I have the Morphex box and it's one of the coolest looking and sounding pieces of gear I own, and I'm kind of a gear whore.