Any first timers built one successfully?

by maclean on Mon Jul 16, 2012 7:17 pm

Hello everyone,

I'm a electronic music maker / tinker very tempted at buying a kit from here http://www.willzyx.com/products/x0xb0x-complete-black and basically diving in and figuring it out!

I'm slightly nervous as it looks like it can be a bit tricky and I've never picked up a soldering iron in my life!

Simple question: bad idea or not?

I'm completely attracted to the idea by the idea of basically building a synth! Id love to build a Xox and actually use it in some music, I think the pride would be amazing! I feel like getting into this is right up my street! I'm the kind that will build my computer and do my own work on car/bike, and generally have a crack at things some people shy from - so feel like its natural for me to want to give this a shot!

I'm wary because I have zero experience other than a bit of messing with stuff in high school, alot of the lingo being thrown around in here is right over my head and I will spend about £200 + on the kit and im guessing around 50+ on the tools - if I mess up I don't want to throw money down the drain obviously.

What do you guys think?

Another question is what do you use your soldering/electronics skills for generally, do you tend to build random electric things (any examples??) Trying to see if I can have some projects maybe before a Xox to get started and get an idea of scope for the future aswell! I guess it comes in handy for fixing things, however my three other synths are all va and I guess its not as usefull on them eh?

Thanks for any guidance you can provide!
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by Luap on Mon Jul 16, 2012 7:40 pm

It's not impossible for a beginner, but I really wouldn't recommend it at all. I'd honestly recommend you try 1 or 2 small kits first to get some reasonable electronics knowledge and soldering skills. Indeed, Adafruit themselves have plenty of small kits that would be suitable (Doesn't much matter if it is audio related or not).

You wouldn't be too upset if you happened to mess up some $20 kit while learning the basics.. You'd likely be quite irate if you ruined a $300+ x0xb0x kit though :wink:
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by MMM on Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:17 am

Yes, it can be done but I wouldn't recommend it for a beginner.

The sheer size of the project (compared with typical starter projects) and certain specifics (like having parts on both sides of the PCB) mean that lots of things could go wrong. This could make for a very frustrating experience.

maclean wrote:Another question is what do you use your soldering/electronics skills for generally,


Amongst other things I use them to finish half-built xoxbox kits...


Let me echo Luap's suggestion: Start with some smaller kits first. If you want to try something audio related there are suppliers for effects boxes kits (like phasers, distortion and so on). While those usually more useful for guitarists it doesn't hurt to have one at hand.
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by xlarge on Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:21 am

Start with this since you will need an adjustable power supply for testing your x0xb0x:
http://adafruit.com/products/184
It's a dead easy kit, if you mess that up you should not attempt an x0xb0x.

When you have succeeded with the power supply then buy the kit from willzyx or another well renomated x0xdealer - with the usbchip already soldered (smd, tricky!).
Follow the build manual slowly and thoroughly, measure and double check each and every component _before_ soldering - test after every solder where applicable.
Socket every chip and transistor.

It will take you time but you will not fail or wreck components.
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by maclean on Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:31 am

Thanks for the responses guys, I think your replies sum up exactly what my gut was telling me before posting this!

Xlarge i like your plan of builing the power suppy first, makes complete sense, and infact think that is exactly what im going to do.

I guess my next issue is tools, I guess i dont want to blow a huge amount when im not certain of how much I will use them, but want decent enough ones that can theoretically get me through the xoxbox build when/if I get there.

The 100$ bundle on the adafruit pages seems really attractive but im in the uk and has rediclious shipping fee not to mention it wont be a compatible mains plug. Any recommended beginner tool kits available for use in the UK? I looked at all 3 of adafruit distributors in UK and they don't have as full featured kits for sale, their tools broken down item by item.

I am going to see if I can get my hands on that power supply kit in meantime through an adafruit UK distributor.

Thanks guys
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by Luap on Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:29 am

As you are in the UK, then Maplins will have all the tools you need. Come to think of it, they usually sell small kits too, so you might find something there to practice on www.maplin.co.uk You should find pretty much everything there thats in the Adafruit bundle.
Also, Willzyx is a good supplier, but you'll likely have import duty/taxes to pay. You might want to consider a european supplier instead, where you won't have any extra import costs to deal with. I can vouch for www.x0xsh0p.de (Thats Substyler on these forums)

And yes, I forgot about the surface mount USB chip. That definitely is not beginner friendly! But most suppliers will do that bit for you, if you ask (usually for a modest extra charge). Even though i've had surface mount training, I still consider it awkward/tedious enough that I usually opt to have that part presoldered! :lol:
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by maclean on Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:05 am

Brilliant thanks mate, will have a good rumage through those sites.

Out of curiosity what makes the usb chip so difficult to do? Is it essentially just each solder is very tiny therefore margin for error is much smaller? Can you try over and over or does f'ing it up mean the whole boards gone or what exactly?

Either way I think as you have suggested I will pay to get that done when I get round to getting a kit.

Cheers
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by Luap on Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:38 am

Yes, the parts are much smaller, and not through hole either. The legs/pads you have to work with are miniscule. The parts are really designed for robotised assembly, rather than clumsy human hands. In an ideal world, they really need specialised soldering equipment too. The parts are not as hardy either, so if you make an error (particularly with an IC) it's unlikely you'll be able to save it. The part will likely be scrap, and need replacement. And all that work risks damage to the PCB also.
And even if you do manage to solder it successfully, you'll be crosseyed for hours!
Plus surface mount IC's are not even the worst offenders. At least you can just about see the legs. Parts like surface mount resistors can literally be about the size of a grain of sand! (none of those in a x0xb0x though) Personally, I can do it if I have to, but it feels like torture :lol:

On top of all that... The USB feature on x0xb0xes is kinda finicky at the best of times. Knowing the IC is properly soldered will give you 1 less thing to worry about down the line..
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by maclean on Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:22 am

Hey luap, i got my tools and a power supply kit off maplin there but one thing i couldn't find is one of those stands to hold up what your working on.

Do you need one? I tried looking for pcb holder, board holder, circit holder, stand etc etc couldn't find one for some reason!
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by antto on Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:36 am

yes you need this, unless you wanna get angry while working on something which just slips off when it shouldn't :evil:
i think it's also called a "third hand"
We are here too: irc.freenode.net >>> #x0xb0x
..:: c0nb0x v1.00 ::.. http://forums.adafruit.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=29282 (new control app - win/osx)
VCO Tuning: http://forums.adafruit.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=24759 (do it the EASY way)
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by xlarge on Wed Jul 18, 2012 7:31 am

I just use tape that doesn't leave residue.
Don't know what that means in terms of static discharge though although i do not use that with ics or transistors, ymmv.
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by maclean on Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:10 am

haha thanks antto, I finaly found one online called 'helping hands', and it has a magnifing glass so hopefully will do! :-)
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by LoopStar on Thu Jul 19, 2012 1:54 pm

Count me in as a first timer. When I built my first x0x I had only a tiny bit of soldering experience from repairing guitar cables. Back then ready-built units were going on eBay for ridicolous prices (waiting list era) so I decided to self-source the parts, buy the pcb and panels at adafruit and start building. And i almost got it right. Only one IC was in the wrong way round but with help by guest this was resolved quickly. When you're a first timer I'd recommend to follow the manual strictly. Also keep your workspace tidy and take only the parts out of the bags that you _really_ need, and check them against the manual. And don't rush things! Desoldering parts is not much fun (especially with the ICs), so take your time when building!

As for the usb chip... I got a friend of mine (who had the proper equipment and experience) to solder it for me. Most places that sell kits offer the possibility to buy the pcbs with usb already built.
website: http://www.myownmusic.de/artistpage_info.php?artist_id=141458
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by rarara on Thu Jul 19, 2012 6:04 pm

i had zero soldering experience and built a box without a problem. if you consider yourself clumsy or sausage-fingered then it might not be so straightforward
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Re: Any first timers built one successfully?

by eisenhower on Tue Aug 07, 2012 12:25 pm

Well, I consider myself an experienced solderer, and I havent been able to get my x0x to work yet. I've built a few solid-state and tube amplifers, effect pedals, and some other small projects previously.

The main issue with making a x0xb0x is that you're dealing with rare parts. This can be very unforgiving if you make mistakes, since they aren't things you can pick up at radioshack or even digikey. Also, these parts are not always totally reliable, which makes debugging really difficult. Luckily Willzyx has crazy good customer support, and will send you replacement parts if you damage them, but you will still have to wait for them to ship.

So I would definitely attempt making something simpler first, such as an effects pedal. It has a much greater potential to be a rewarding experience.
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