Not too long ago, I bought the kit for the Casper Electronics Drone Lab v2. I put it together a few weeks ago and I figured it was about time that I put some thoughts up about it.
I went ahead and bought the full kit, so PCB, components, and faceplate. I thought about just buying the housing and PCB and buying my own parts separately, but in the end I’m glad that I didn’t. I would have saved a little money, but I’m not sure if I would have the thing built yet. I still have a WSG (Weird Sound Generator) PCB waiting for me to get all the parts for, and it is simpler than the Drone Lab.
After getting my kit, it actually took me awhile to muster up the courage to try and put it together. I was just scared to death that I would mess something up and have no idea how to debug it. That is certainly an area that I’m not very confident in yet when it comes to electronics. When I finally got to it, I was surprised that it wasn’t as difficult or daunting as I had expected. It was a ton of parts to be sure, and it probably took me around 7-8 hours over the course of 2 days from my first resistor to screwing in the last stand-off. But because I was careful and took my time, it came together well and worked right away! No debugging!!
Because the assembly is all directly on one huge PCB, it went pretty smoothly. Panel mounting and wiring is a mess, and still pretty tough for me, so I was glad to not have to do any of that. The construction and layout is good, but it still feels very “DIY” to me. It is not in a standard enclosure, but rather has an acrylic faceplate that is screwed over the top with standoffs. The pots and switches are soldered directly to the board, so they don’t feel as solid as pots and switches mounted traditionally. I am probably not giving it as much credit as it deserves, but I treat the whole thing very carefully for fear of breaking something. But I’m glad it is built this way. No wiring.
The basics of what the Drone Lab can do are spelled out clearly over at Casper Electronics, but summarized rundown of the machine is this: 4 individual oscillators with a coarse/fine tuning and volume control, mixed together and run through effects. And then each oscillator has a switch and rate knob for the tremolo feature as well that can be turned on and off. There is also an input so you can run other sounds through the effects and mix it with your drone.
How does it sound? In a word, awesome. The drones you can blend with this baby are so thick and wonderful. The tuning controls work great, and it is not too hard to dial in your drones by ear (as long as you’re not tone deaf.) Having volume controls on each oscillator really makes building the drone great fun. The effects are great, and really what makes the thing playable on its own in my opinion. There is enough diversity and things you can do between the filters and distortion to build a drone and morph and alter it into a whole song. Then if you want, you can add in another synth, noisemaker, guitar, or whatever straight into the Drone Lab for all kinds of cool sonic interplay. And you can do all that without even touching the tremolo, which is a very cool feature and easy to play around with and tweak to come up with some great rhythms and pulses.
I’ve recorded a couple of tracks. They are all pretty lo-fi and raw, but I think that is the nature of this little beast anyway.
drone lab v2 + moog filtatron by backward binoculars
mountainfoot; ascending by backward binoculars
simple drone and pulse by backward binoculars
As a newbie to synthesizers and electronics both, it was a super rewarding kit to put together. I don’t know if it is necessarily a good first kit, but once you have some decent soldering skills under your belt, it shouldn’t be too hard. Peter Edwards and crew really did an amazing job and I’m super happy with my Drone Lab.