emulating mWave I patches on Blofeld

I wanted to see how close I could get my Blofeld to sound like some patches on my MicroWave, so first I made some notes for the settings of the original patch for reference. To understand what values I’m translating from and to follow along at home, you’ll need to reference the table of parameters at the end of the entry.

In general, things seemed to work out one-to-one, for example a 10 filter cutoff on MW roughly equals a 10 on Blofeld as they both go from 0-127. First set both octaves to -16, the equivalent of -1 on mW. Set osc 2 wavetable to #46 PWM Pulse and osc 1 to pulse. As for osc volume, the mWave has 0-7 for wave volume, so a 2 would equal about 36 (around 18 per step) on BF’s 0-127 scale and that translates to about 38-45 on osc 1 and 127 on osc 2, both routed to the same 24dB LPF. To translate the “startwave” and “startsample” wavetable parameters to the Blo, according to the manual

When a wavetable is selected, the parameters Pulsewidth and PWM serve to select the start point of the waves.

so that’s where I’ll be headed in osc 2 to start getting them close. I have the two synths set up and are playing them side by side to get a feel for how close I’m getting, and I have a feeling these are the key settings to get correct.

As it turns out you have to fiddle with the PW and PW Amount a lot to get it close to the sorta overtone but a 30 startwave was about a 30 PW and wasn’t quite sure where 87 startsample was, but a couple of locations in PW Amount near to the extremes seem to get closest, although it’s still not quite right, missing some brash overtones in the mid to upper register even with brightness turned all the way up. The MW also uses stepped (non-interpolated) settings for its wavetable and since the Blofeld is not stepped it would probably take a fair amount of modulations to get that part closer. I think the MW is being overdriven in the wave stage so that’s perfect for dialing in drive on the filter, tube or clipping at 19 or so. Here are my attempts, the first one is MW, and the second is Blofeld. Good headphones or speakers will be necessary to pick up the nuances when the filter is opened a little wider with velocity.

the original MW1 patch

the Blofeld recreation

Even though the tone is sorta there, to me the Blofeld sounds “rounder” on the attack, and the velocity doesn’t seem to open the filter as much. To address those, I changed the filter type to PPG LP,  added a little more filter env, modded the amp decay by ampEnv to give a more linear shape to the stage, and added a little pitch mod from filtEnv and got this. Sorry I played it a half step up haha 🙂

same Blofeld sound with linear envelopes/PPG filter

It’s still missing some mid/upper harmonics and the tone isn’t quite right but I think it’s closer than in the previous one in the lows and low-mids. I don’t really think the Blofeld is capable of fully emulating the natural tone of the microWave, there’s just something in the fullness of the basic tone that seems rounder on the Blo, that doesn’t “cut” as well as the MW, but in the context of a track, the patches will perform the same purpose. Below is a chart of the main values of the patch I was trying to emulate. Tell me what you think in the comments!

mWave patch: JCJ LOW BASS

 Wave1Wave2 Osc1Osc2 AmpEnvFiltEnv LFO1 Vol Filt
ShapesquarePWM Pulse R66Octave-1-1Delayn/a0ShapesinEnv Amt63Cutoff10
Startwave6230Semitone00Attack10Rate1Env Velo63Env Amt11
Startsample5287Detune-13Decay1428Symmetry0Keytrack0Env Vel52
Env Amount210Bend Range00Sustain182HumanizeoffMod 10Keytrack0
Velocity00Pitch ModenormalnormalRelease2813Level Mod SrcKeytrack Mod 20Mod 10
Keytrack00Delay1Mod 20
Mod 1linkMod 1Src: LFO1
Ctrl: Modwheel
Amt: 63
linkAttack50Resonance0
Mod 2Src: Filt Envelope
Amt: -2
linkMod 2Src: LFO1
Amt: 17
Quantize: 0
linkDecay0Res Mod0
Volume27

more Blofeld arpeggiator tips

Let’s see if I can re-create this drum pattern, TNGHT’s “Higher Ground,”  using the Blofeld’s onboard arpeggiators. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m sure it’s possible, and probably in more than one way. First thing I did was listen to the original track in super slo-mo and mapped out the basic pattern of kick, snare, & clap and put them into a 16th note grid. There is also a hi-hat, a few different snare patterns and rolls, a vocal sample and a lead that I’ll need to add, but I’ll start with the basic stuff.

The kick pattern above sounds like a big 808 kick drum with a long decay and  is on a 16th note pattern, but in the last measure, there is a high version of the kick that lands between the beats. It sounds like a triplet to me, so somehow I’ll need to make a kick pattern that has both a regular beat and then a triplet beat at the end. I had already made some of the other parts, the snares, the claps, and one of the snare rolls, along with the sample, but I still couldn’t get that last kick measure right, pitched up an octave and syncopated against the beat, presumably with a triplet pattern.

My first effort was to just make a triplet beat to see if it sounded right. So to make sure I set up a 4/4 kick and then laid a 1/8T beat, no user pattern, with a hihat sound over it. Yes, that worked. Then to try and make the beats land properly according to the grid, I made the 1/8T beat a 12 step user pattern like in the photo and it seemed to work well, coming around when it should against the 4/4 beat, so, I thought, just change the sound for this arp pattern to a kick, and try to lay a straight beat over it for the other sounds. Well, that didn’t work because the kick would come around too soon, essentially it’s in 3/4 and everything else is in 4/4 so I couldn’t get everything in the proper time.

Then I hit on it…I could just trigger the last two notes as a separate arp at the end of the measure. So I set up a copy of the original kick pattern with arp set to 1/8T…and it didn’t quite sound right. Then I changed to 1/8., or a dotted eight note and it sounded I thought exactly correct. Turns out it probably wasn’t a eight note triplet, it was a dotted eighth note. I left the last measure of the original kick pattern blank and trigger this 1/8. pattern for one measure at the end. It may be possible to latch the high triplet kick pattern so that it syncs with the other main kick pattern, but the closest I got was setting clock to 1/4T, note length 1/16, pattern length 12, with notes triggered on step 11 & 12, but that’s not quiiite right, although it’s close. Gotta keep working on it!

Using Blofeld as a Drum Sampler: Part 2

Last time I tried to use the Blofeld as essentially a drum trigger/sampler by chopping up the Amen break and placing different parts of it on different keys, which could then be triggered as one-shots by choosing it as the source of an  oscillator. This time, I wanted to go further, by taking multiple kick and snare samples and placing them along the keyboard, mapping the root note and highest note to the same value, and then triggering them by playing the appropriate notes. Now that I’ve switched to windows to run Spectre, this should be a breeze, so here’s what I did:

  1. I loaded two octaves’ worth of kick and snare samples in two different programs. At first I loaded the samples starting on the lowest note, but that didn’t work, so I started on C3 or C4, mapping a different sample to each note for two octaves. I repeated this process on a new program for snares as well.
  2. My next step was to create an init patch where oscillator 1 was set to the kick sample program and oscillator 2 was set to the snare program, with both levels turned down. This can be the starting point for both kicks and snares simply by turning up the level on oscillator 1 or 2.
  3. Then I took this init patch and created an arpeggiator with no user pattern, an arp note value of 1/16 and note length of at least 1/8 to 1/4 (1/2 overlaps other notes and shorter than 1/8 cuts off the release), which creates a 4/4 kick pattern.
  4. Then in the multi, I selected this patch and used the transpose setting to choose which sample played. I noticed that the transpose setting goes high enough in both directions to map a different sample to every note, if desired. I did the same thing for the snare sample and arpeggiator like for the kick in step 3, only I set up a user pattern so it would trigger on just the 2s and 4s. I don’t think fixed pitch does anything when you’re mapping the samples to single notes, and so the snare program was not set up with fixed pitch, but I should double-check that the sample is triggering at the same pitch as the original sample.
  5. I set up the one-shot trigger for a reverse snare using a sample from the snare program. With no arp enabled, this can be triggered whenever you want, again by using the transpose setting in multi mode to choose which note is played. That way before the end of a measure I can trigger a simple build.
  6. If you want to change the sample’s amplitude settings, you can shorten the sample using the VCA decay or attack, but you don’t have that much control over note length unless you map a single value across the keyboard range. That of course will change the pitch of the sample considerably as well. I also found that if you change the semitone setting the sample changes completely to whatever is mapped to that note, it doesn’t tune the sample.  But, you can tune the sample up maybe a semitone by using the detune knob; past 0 in the positive direction tunes the sample up. Interestingly, past 0 in the negative direction changes to the next lower note’s sample, which prevents you from tuning it down at all. It’s nice to know that there is at least some possibility of editing the note’s properties, and of course, the filters are fully available to shape the sample’s tone.

Conclusion

I now have 8 sound programs assigned: 3 one-shot samples for fills (snare, clap, and reverse snare), 3 drum arps (kick, snare, and hihat), 1 bass arp, and a polyphonic keyboard mapped to the top of the keyboard. Usually I am only playing 5-6 simultaneously, all triggered live from a keyboard, and it didn’t seem to choke or crash very much if it all so in performance-only mode it was pretty stable. I don’t recall it ever dropping voices, although I’m essentially using only mono patches and single voices other than the keys patch. Maybe there was the occasional arp glitch, but I’m not sure that wasn’t due to human error. I did have some issues when triggering many patches at once while simultaneously changing the transpose setting; the synth hung a few times, emitting a loud squeal. It also occasionally wanted to latch the arp when transposing and I had to push shift-play to break out of it. I really don’t think I’m using this synthesizer in the way they might have intended and I assume that is why it’s a little glitchy, but overall, despite the glitches, I’m pretty pleased with how versatile the Blofeld is showing itself to be in the sampling department.

Blofeld Sampling with License SL

Adding in sampled drums

The last thing I wanted to try was adding drum samples in place of the synthesized versions I’m currently using. So, I started with the Amen break, chopping it up on my MPC. Then I tried to load the samples in.

  1. At first, I could not get spectre and blofeld to communicate on Mac and could not upload samples. Factory settings were already loaded but every time I transmitted to the Blofeld it didn’t indicate it was receiving data via the screen and no samples were added.
  2. Next I tried saving the samples as a MIDI file and sending them to the Blofeld that way. This worked, but it took over 2 hours to complete. The amen breaks were loaded, and the factory sounds are overwritten and gone. Would not suggest unless you really have to and you are really sure with how Spectre has mapped the samples to the keyboard.
  3. I abandoned using Mac to upload samples, and as soon as I switched to Windows, everything went smoothly. Spectre updated the synth in seconds instead of hours. I’m not sure why the USB midi on my mac seems to work so poorly; I probably have something set up incorrectly there as I have trouble with other VST’s that use USB MIDI.
  4. I mapped samples to specific notes on the keyboard, the white keys starting at C2, and then the white keys starting at C4 for another set. This will enable me to play different drum parts by just moving up an octave.  I set root and high notes to the same value with ctrl-click & alt-click. Spectre automatically maps any notes in between assigned pads to pitched and sped up versions of the samples, and I don’t think the “fixed pitch” setting affects this. In fact, in the manual, it says that fixed pitch isn’t implemented.
  5. Another nice thing about the sampling feature is that all the parts play through a single oscillator, and of course, you can route any filter or env to control it. I can easily route a filter cutoff or volume using the performance features on the controller. The pads/keys can also be played like drum pads, and you can set up different velocity sensitivities per preset, of which there are four.

Simple Beats with the Blofeld Arpeggiator

House Beat

I want to use the Blofeld’s arpeggiators to create rhythm tracks that I can trigger manually, in essence replacing what a sequencer might be able to do. I thought my first try would be easy: a four bar beat with kicks on the quarter notes, claps and snares on the 2s & 4s, and a hihat on 8th or 16th notes. I thought, to do that, just set up the Clock value for each arpeggiator to the note value you want. But it quickly became apparent that it’s not that easy–the kicks and hihats work fine since they play once every division, but to make the claps and snares land on the 2s & 4s, coding them to half notes doesn’t work, because they will play on the 1st & 3rd beat when the arp repeats its loop, even if you trigger it on the proper beat. So I need to either delay the start of the arpeggiator by one bar, or explore the user patterns, and as it turns out, the arpeggiator doesn’t have a delay, so it looks like I’ll be delving more into the user patterns.

Dubstep Beat

kick step pattern #1

Before I do that, I thought I could at least program the kick without using a user pattern, so I set about creating a simple dubstep rhythm, 140bpm with the kicks on the 1s & 3s and the snares & claps on the 2s & 4s; a 4/4 beat in cut time. My first idea was to set the kick up as a pattern with a note only on step 1, pattern length of 8, and arp clock and length set to 1 bar. When the user pattern is set to off, this works great; once every bar, on step 1, the kick is triggered, no user pattern needed.

snare step pattern

But to program a snare on the other beats it would be time to go into the user patterns, so I set up a 16 step user pattern with a single note firing on beat 9, or the “2” of the beat. The clock value is set to 1/16 and the length value is set to 1/2. I set up the clap to fire identically to the snares, and when I started them from the keyboard, at the beginning of a loop, they indeed trigger on the 2s & 4s. The nice thing about user patterns is that they keep triggering on whatever note you fire them, so a clap triggered at a different point in the bar other than the first note will keep triggering in that position, unlike the first experiment with a house beat, where the arp was realigned once it looped around.

kick step pattern #2

When I realized I had set up the kick pattern with an 8 step pattern and the others with a 16 step pattern, I went back and made the kick like the snares, except firing only on step 1, with clock value set to 1/16 and note length set to 1/2 notes. Works exactly the same, it’s just a different way to go about it, but maybe it won’t be quite as confusing later.

The arpeggiator has far more features than there is room to document in this short blog, but here are the parameters and some layman’s descriptions that turned out to be most important to me and that should help get you up and running in a jiffy.

  • Clock Mode: Choose how to trigger the arp.
    • off, on, one shot, latch
  • Clock: The number of notes to play per bar.
    • “1/4” is “4 on the floor” or one every quarter note, 1/8 will play 8 notes during the same time period, and so on.
  • Accent: Controls how loudly the note is played.
    • To play a “rest,” this value has to be set to “silent.”
    • Otherwise, *1 plays the note at its original velocity, while other values multiply or divide the provided value.
  • Length: The length of the generated arpeggio notes.
    • Negative values shorten notes and positive values lengthen them.
    • Audible staccato effects will occur if the length value is shorter than the clock value, while if set to “legato” the length parameter is essentially ignored and notes of a step are held until the next step is played.
  • Octave: After the initial pattern is played, repeat the pattern this many times, increasing or decreasing the octave each time before restarting the pattern.
    • A value of “3” gives the pattern a “3 over 2” feel as the notes don’t line up every time.
    • The “Direction” parameter determines the initial order of notes.
  • Tempo: The speed of the arpeggiator.
    • This value is overridden in the multi area.

Other values:

  • Step: Normally an arpeggiator starts at the first step and plays until the last. All of these modes except normal allow you to alter this behavior.
    • normal, pause, previous, first, last, first+last, chord, random
  • Timing Factor: Add shuffle feel to any pattern or step.
  • Glide: Add 303-type glide to any pattern or step.
    • To use different glide amounts on individual notes in a pattern, Glide amount must be set to off in the oscillator edit menu.
    • Otherwise Glide applies the same amount of glide for the whole pattern.

Waldorf Blofeld Multimode

The most basic setup

I have many plans for live performances, but my current studio rig is too bulky to move around easily and requires a power outlet, neither of which is good for on-the-go performing. So I found a battery with both 12V & 5V DC outputs for the Blofeld and my other USB-powered gear, and then connected a speaker directly to the final synthesizer’s output. The Blofeld does not draw much current, so a small battery like this will power the whole rig for two hours or more. Short of an iPad or laptop, I think this is about as small as you can get and still have something approaching the abilities of a full studio while not limiting in any way where you can create or perform, and all on a rechargeable battery!

everything is powered from that battery on the top left. 16 part Blofeld + 4 voice JX-03 to a single 1/8″ speaker

You might notice one omission here: there is no external sequencer present, just a keyboard controller. Instead, I plan to use Blofeld’s  License SL and its extensive arpeggiator features to bypass the need for a sequencer and sampler.  Shuffle and other parameters of the arpeggiator should enable me to create nearly any pattern, and with clever modulation, the variations for those patterns can be virtually endless. In this blog I’ll share what I’ve learned about multimode, and in a future one, I’ll get into the arp and sampling sections.  A table with the relevant multimode parameters for my configuration is below, and below that are some tips that I hope will help you if you’re just getting started.

Dope Robot 2nd Test Multi

Part # / Ch.Key RangeInstrumentArp TimingNotes
01F#2 - D#3arp bass1/8main Effect 2 settings
02C2-C2kick1/4alt kick arp @ C#2
03D2-D2snare1/2alt snare arp @ D#2
04E2-E2closed hihat1/8map LPF to CC
05F2-F2clap1/2
06D3-F6high keysinternal or external (JX-03)

Multimode Notes

  1. The arp tempo knobs have no effect in multimode, which was sort of weird, because they are available to edit, so the number would be changing, but the sound didn’t. But as the manual says, globaI tempo in multimode “affects all arpeggiators, all LFO and all Effects and overrides the corresponding sound tempo settings.”
  2. Effect 2 is a global effect for the entire multi, and it is always on Part 1, so if you want to use reverb or delay on any sequence, you need to set up Part 1 accordingly. You can even change the Effect 2 parameters of other programs in multimode, but if you don’t save it to the Part 1 slot, it will not be saved when you return.
  3. Effect 1 is available for Parts 1-4, but its parameters are still stored in the
    the second multi

    sound program, including mix level. Parts 5-16 have no Effect 1, so if your sound program depends significantly on Effect 1, place it into Part 1-4. A reminder:

    1. Effect 1: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Overdrive, Triple FX (S&H/Overdrive/Chorus)
    2. Effect 2: everything in Effect 1 + Delay, Clocked Delay, Reverb
  4. Multimode is the only area where you can filter incoming or outgoing midi data like program change, control change, etc. There is no global location for these settings.
  5. Be careful that the key ranges you have set up on the Blofeld match the key ranges set up on your controller keyboard.
ultra portable yet complete

Now that I have a proof of concept I can transition to using the extensive modulation options of the Blofeld and QuNexus to design patches that will make a live performance inspiring, engaging and fun. If there are any errors or you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks and good luck!

Future Retro 512 review

I received this piece of kit last week. Up to this point, other than my MPC’s, I’d never really spent any money on a good controller, but after I saw this, I knew it  would jumpstart my creative process. I had to make sure that the other similar keyboards on the market weren’t better suited for me than this, and so I also checked out the Sputnik and the Verbos, but neither had the feature set that I wanted, but more importantly, neither offered MIDI control. So after I gathered up the funds, I ordered it from Germany, to avoid the hassle of VAT, import fees, and shipping for it to be sent from USA.

However, it’s also led me to almost losing my mind. Here’s the problem…some of my hardware doesn’t see the MIDI messages it sends. The first thing I did when I got it was plug it into my MPC2500, but nothing showed up in the MIDI monitor page. So I plugged it directly into a module to test it, and it worked fine. So then I tested other controller keyboards into the MPC, and they showed up fine. But the output of the 512? Still nothing. Then I tried all the rest of my synths, and they all responded to the MIDI messages it was sending. If I then route the output of a synth’s MIDI THRU back to the MPC, the messages are received. So I tried some more experiments. First, I plugged it into my MOTU MIDI patchbay. Nothing. Then I routed the output to my old MPC2000XL, which picked up the messages. Then I routed it to my RME UFX, which appears to receive the messages fine. I suppose this means that I will have to route everything through some synthesizer’s input instead of through my sequencer’s input, but it’s not the end of the world. I just wish I could figure out the issue. I contacted the maker of the keyboard and he couldn’t figure it out either. And just today, I plugged the output of the 512 into my midi patchbay, and channel 1 didn’t work, but when I plugged it into channel 2, it worked great! I then routed that back into my sequencer. But sometime later, after I’d taken a break, the patchbay stopped responding to messages again, and no other channel responded properly after that. Bummer.

But as to the functionality of the 512, it’s great. The touch keys have very nice response and with the octave keys can send notes across a 9 octave range. It has built in scales and chords which can be mapped to just the white keys or all keys, so that you can play in any chosen scale and never hit a wrong note. Or play chords all over the keyboard with a single finger. The other killer feature for me is the real time swing which adjusts the swing percentage from 50-75%, something I could previously only accomplish in hardware by setting the MPC up to the exact percentage beforehand, and only for the selected track, having to remember to turn it off and on every time it was used. The arpeggiator is very nice as well, offering a wealth of different options which really breaks up the monotony of playing through different patches with arps, while still allowing real time altering of scale and transposition. It has a sequencer that I’ve used a little as well, but to me how this really shines is creating patterns, and the easiest way to do that is on the fly. It offers CV outputs as well, and since I only have one synth that even receives CV, it won’t be that useful to me now, but should I ever branch out into the modular realm, I’ll be ready.

This is a quality product from a good company, and I recommend it highly, although I wish my hardware wasn’t showing the issues that it does, but I have to assume that it’s my patchbay and MPC that have the problems, and not the 512, since most of my other MIDI gear responds to its messages. Already used it on some track ideas!

HDPLEX H1.S build

This was a highly anticipated and fun build. I record music, so I’ve always wanted quiet/silent PCs that can live in the same room as recording equipment. My first build was in 2002 or so, and it mostly employed a sound-dampening case and a quieter-than-stock heatsink/fan combo to reduce noise. Around 2008, it was time to upgrade and I built my second quiet/silent PC using a newer version of the same sound-dampening Antec case, a fanless video card, and the quietest cpu/case fans I could find. It was quiet, although not silent, but did the job to allow for audio recordings for many years.

As 2017 approached, my beat-up case was showing severe wear and tear from years of use and then being shipped halfway around the world, and by this point was supporting 6 hard drives, 4 fans, a blu-ray drive and a video card, which pulled over 1.5A every time it was turned on. Because the case was in such bad shape, the formerly quiet PC was becoming quite loud, and the many mechanical HDDs accrued over the intervening time added even more to the sound. Even though the PC was old, performance-wise it still met my needs, so my first thought was to buy a new case and re-use any old parts I could. But it became quickly apparent that other than maybe case fans and power supply, none of the parts could reasonably be used for a new build, so I set off on the internet to see what the state of fanless PC computing was in late 2016.

Back around 2008, there were very few if any completely fanless possibilities when it came to PC builds, and the best you could do was reduce the sound to below ambient noise levels. In 2016 though, there are a relative abundance of options out there, which utilize new technological developments like silent SSDs, built-in graphics, and CPUs that generate much less heat to enable modest builds to be cooled completely by heatpipes, without the need of fans. After comparing the viable alternatives (Streacom FC8 Evo, Akasa Euler), I felt like the H1.S was the best case for me.  So I started ordering all the parts a piece or two at a time while waiting on HDPLEX to release their new and improved nano PSU which plugs directly into the ATX connector.

Parts started trickling in, and sometime in January HDPLEX released their new direct-plug 160W PSU, so I quickly ordered and it arrived from Germany a few days later. Once I’d gotten everything but the RAM, I decided to start building. As others have noted in their reviews, the HDPLEX was well packed and well-provisioned, with nearly everything you need to get up and running immediately (two things seem to be missing, which I’ll talk about later). So now on to the installation.

The first step was installing the rubber feet. They seem to be very high quality. In previous cases I’ve owned, the rubber feet always take a lot of punishment and usually don’t survive that long, after they are slid across the floor, and otherwise put under stress. But these were actually solid aluminum pieces that are screwed in (not glued) and there are rubber grommets in a groove on the feet that can be removed if desired, or kept on to make the feet a little grabbier.

Next it was time to install the hard drive into the “bathtub” underneath where the motherboard will go. HDPLEX supplies a one-piece SATA/power cable that, at first glance, appears to have part of one of its edges scraped off, which made me think there was an issue, but then I came to realize that part of it was probably shaved off so that it would slide in underneath the SSD more easily, and in fact, it did. The connector is 4-pin molex though, not SATA power, and I only saw one of those connectors on the PSU.

Next, the guide says to install the side I/O PCB using the nylon screws and risers. The one screw underneath the data cable is a little difficult to access and screw in without affecting the data cable, but after a couple of tries I was able to gently hold the cable out of the way while inserting the screw (so you don’t pinch the data cable). I would later find out I made a mistake here, as the USB ports, power button and 4-pin power seemed to be jutting out more than they should, and I realized that there are two sets of risers in the package, and I’d used the shorter set. Later, I switched out the risers and after that, the ports fit flush against the side panel. But in so doing, one of the nylon screw heads (the one underneath the data cable) twisted off, so now there is a nylon screw holding it on, but it can’t be removed. Hopefully, there will be no need in the future to remove this side PCB again. I suppose in a way it was beneficial, as the data cable won’t get bent laying over a screw.

Next, it was time to prepare the motherboard. First, I installed the M.2 drive and CPU backplate to the rear of the motherboard. No problems. Then I turned over the board and inserted the CPU into the socket. Again, smooth sailing. After that, I started on the heatsink assembly. It was a bit tricky to figure out the orientation of the four plastic screw holders that connect to the backplate, but eventually I looked at enough pictures and figured it out. Then you screw on the heatsink mounts. As you can see, I first put them on the wrong side, but realized my error and corrected it. You are then instructed to apply a thin layer of thermal paste to the shiny side of the heatsink, and secure it with the backplate and screws, being careful not to tighten too much. The instructions don’t mention that the CPU doesn’t make contact with he entire base so there is no need to apply thermal paste all the way to the edges. A thin square in the middle with some wiggle room should be sufficient.

Next, you affix the side panels. Easy you say? Well I screwed this up too, mounting them upside down. I didn’t realize this until it was time to add the SSDs above the CPU, and the holder plate didn’t fit right. That’s when I realized that there is a groove into which the SSD plate slides which keeps it from poking out above the side panels. When you add the side panels, if the top of the side panel is flat, you have it upside down. This change also moved the side I/O to the other side of the case.

Before you add the side panels, the instructions say to apply a thin layer of thermal paste to the grooves that run along the side, but I think this step should come later. In my opinion, before any thermal paste is applied anywhere except the CPU surface, you should figure out how you are going to orient your heatpipes. There are at least 3-4 heatpipe configurations that work to varying degrees, but most of them had some drawbacks. The instructions say to orient the heatpipes towards the front, but this left a few centimeters of heatpipe hanging over the end of the groove in the side panel. Then I tried a mixed way, with one heatpipe to the rear which should theoretically increase efficiency, but ended up going with the third option, all heat pipes headed to the rear, towards the I/O. This solution allowed all the heatpipes as much surface contact as possible without having any pipes hanging over the edge. The reason I say wait to apply thermal paste is because a) there’s no point in putting thermal paste on grooves where there are no heatpipes and b) you don’t have to clean up a big thermal paste mess where cables have rubbed some off or when you change your heatpipe orientation.

Once you’ve made a final decision on heatpipe orientation, apply thermal paste only to the side panel grooves where heatpipes will reside and only where they make physical contact. Then loosely install the plates that hold the heat pipes in place, apply a thin layer of thermal paste to the aluminum heatsink top cover, and screw it on to the copper bottom plate. I ran into another issue here: there are two sets of nearly identical aluminum screws, but only one of them works (the smaller ones). I figured this out when some of the screws wouldn’t mount flush. Tighten up both the side plates and the top cover.

And now for the final steps. First, plug the USB3.0 board onto your motherboard. Then plug in the PSU, which is designed to perfectly fit the case. This tiny PSU is amazing to me and along with the M.2 drive shows the progress made in technology since 2008. Next, add your RAM. At this point I added the 7.4/5mm power backplate to the rear panel. There doesn’t seem to be a specific screw for this task. I eventually used a nut and screw to affix the power connector to the back plate, but I’m not sure if it’s correct, as the screws used don’t mount flush like all the other screws. Next, use the provided plate to mount any SSDs you have. The plate, SSDs, RAM, and PSU fit together perfectly. Then connect all the peripheral cables, cross your fingers, and fire it up.

In my case, when I powered up the machine, I had some troubles which I eventually tracked down to one of the memory channels which was not working. To test all the hardware and make sure everything worked, I used the one good RAM channel to install my operating system and check everything out. Everything ran fine and showed CPU temps of 27C at idle, which is fantastic. Since there is no sound on the board, I plugged a fan into one of the fan headers to determine if the board was getting power.

However, there seems to be two issues connected with the side panel. One, external power is also 4-pin molex, and there is only one 4-pin adapter on the power supply, which means you can only plug in either the bathtub SSD or the external power connector, but not both. I’m sure they make 4-pin to SATA power adapters, but none are included in the box. I looked in my cable and connectors odds and ends and didn’t find one. Also, the side I/O 4-pin to 5.5/2.5 actually includes a 5.5/2.1 plug, but all my 12V external enclosures use 5.5/2.5. The site says it’s “dual-purpose” and that it is specified as “5.5/2.5/2.1” but I haven’t yet figured out how to have it work for 5.5/2.5. And the point is moot anyway because I need a SATA to 4-pin molex adapter to power it.

So as of today, I’m still waiting on the RMA of my motherboard to come through. Once that is completed, I should have a PC that I hope will last a long time. The case was the single biggest required expense, but even so, without optional components, this build cost under $500.

Required Components:

HDPLEX H1.S
HDPLEX 160W DC-ATX
Gigabyte B150N Phoenix-WIFI
Intel Pentium G4400 3.3GHz
Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB DDR4 2400
external PSU (laptop-style)

Optional Components:

Samsung 960 EVO NVMe m.2 SSD 1TB
Crucial MX300 1050GB SSD
Startech.com USB3.1 Gen 2 Dual Bay dock