The Paradiso Modular Synthesizer

This video, via the MIT News Office, takes a look at the Paradiso Synthesizer, a monster DIY modular created by Joe Paradiso.

In 1973, Media Lab associate professor Joe Paradiso was an undergraduate at Tufts University, and didn’t know anyone who had built an analog music synthesizer from scratch.

It was a time, he says, when information and parts for do-it-yourself projects were scarce, and digital synthesizer production was on the rise. But, he decided to tackle the project — without any formal training — and sought out advice from local college professors, including his now-colleague in the Media Lab, Barry Vercoe.

Paradiso gathered information from manufacturers’ data sheets and hobbyist magazines he found in public libraries. He taught himself basic electronics, scrounged for parts from surplus stores and spent a decade and a half building modules and hacking consumer keyboards to create the synth, which he completed in the 1980s.

Paradiso thinks his modular may be the largest DIY modular in the world, with 125 modules (details below). Let us know in the comments if you’ve built a larger DIY modular!

Paradiso’s modular is on display at MIT. Every few weeks, Paradiso changes the patch to create a new sonic environment. The synthesizer streams live online 24 hours a day at; starting this week, visitors to the synthesizer’s website can even change the patch parameters online.

The Paradiso Synthesizer:

  • (4) Wide-range VCO’s with sine, triangle, square, ramp, pulse waves and PWM, synch, & wave mixer
  • (7) Wide-range VCO’s with sine, pulse, triangle, ramp waves and PWM, synch inputs
  • (2) Phase-locked Loops with VCO’s
  • (1) Top octave tracker with mixer, phase-locked loop, and VCO
  • (1) Digital phoneme (speech) synthesizer with phase-locked loop, VCO, and 8-bit input
  • (1) Frequency-to-voltage converter with subharmonic output
  • (2) AC-coupled VCA’s
  • (1) Dual DC-coupled VCA
  • (2) Quad DC-coupled VCA’s
  • (1) Dual 6-channel VCA
  • (1) Dual balanced modulator (2-quadrant multipliers)
  • (1) Ring Modulator (4-quadrant multiplier)
  • (1) Voltage-controlled stereo bass/treble/volume/balance unit
  • (2) Voltage-controlled stereo panners
  • (1) Dual Voltage-controlled compander
  • (1) Mono Automatic Gain Control (AGC) w. external loop and squelch adj.
  • (3) Multimode (HP,LP,BP,notch) VCF’s w. adj. Q
  • (3) Lowpass/bandpass VCF’s w. adj. Q
  • (1) Cheezy bandpass VCF with LFO
  • (1) Cheezy Lowpass VCF
  • (1) Cheezy Bandpass VCF
  • (1) Voltage-controlled phase shifter
  • (1) Voltage-controlled fuzzbox
  • (1) Voltage-controlled spring reverberator
  • (2) Voltage-controlled pitch shifters (with analog delay)
  • (1) Dual Voltage-controlled analog delays (w. flanger/echo mix)
  • (1) Long voltage-controlled analog delay (w. flanger/echo mix)
  • (1) Quad Voltage-controlled clock/LFO with square and triangle outputs
  • (1) Dual voltage-controlled linear slews w. independently adjustable attack/decay
  • (1) Dual exponential lag w. separate attack/decay adjustments
  • (6) ADSR envelope generators
  • (2) Attack/Decay envelope generators
  • (1) Quad programmable, voltage-controlled monostable multivibrator (single-shot pulser) w. ramp outputs
  • (1) 6-channel voltage-controlled monostable multivibrators (pulse generators)
  • (1) Dual adjustable deadtimer
  • (1) Dual envelope follower with adjustable trigger
  • (1) Envelope Follower with trigger comparitor
  • (1) Shepard Function Generator
  • (1) Log amplifier
  • (1) Dual exponential amplifier
  • (1) Diode Waveshaper
  • (1) Crest-trough detector (gives maximum and minimum of two input voltages)
  • (1) 10-level window comparitor with differential mixer
  • (1) 8-bit ADC with self-clocking and adjustable waveshaping DAC
  • (2) Dual sample/holds
  • (1) Voltage-controlled clocked chaos generator (calculates logistic map)
  • (1) 9-stage Pseudo-random sequencer with differential analog mixer
  • (1) 10-stage pseudo-random sequencer with differential analog mixer
  • (1) 12-stage analog sequencer
  • (1) Dual 5-stage ring counters
  • (1) 8-stage binary divider with differential analog mixer
  • (1) Quad 7-stage binary counter
  • (1) Quad 4-bit programmable binary divider
  • (1) Quad Flip Flop
  • (1) Dual 4-bit binary rate multiplier
  • (1) Dual 3-to-8 binary decoder
  • (1) 12-channel logic buffer/driver
  • (1) 12-channel inverting logic buffer/driver
  • (1) 12-channel 2-input exclusive-OR gates
  • (1) 12-channel OR gates
  • (1) 12-channel AND gates
  • (1) 6-channel leading/trailing edge detector
  • (1) Quad comparitor with adjustable hysteresis margin
  • (1) 8-channel analog multiplexer
  • (1) Dual 4-channel analog multiplexer
  • (1) 4-channel analog switch
  • (1) 3-channel random trigger generator with ring oscillators (hacked electronic windchimes)
  • (1) 5-voice, 6-program, programmable cheezy drumbox
  • (1) Triggerable sound generator (noise source, VCO, LFO, Envelope, mix; based on video game sound chip)
  • (1) Programmable 8-effect voltage-controlled “Beep/sireen” unit
  • (1) Dual white/pink/random noise source
  • (1) 4-bit Touch Tone (DTMF) generator
  • (1) Dual microphone preamp
  • (2) Quad 10-channel mixers with adjustable gains, 4 adj. input levels/ch., and invertable inputs
  • (1) Quad 4-channel mixer with separate output gains and each input inverting or noninverting
  • (2) Quad mixer/amplifiers w. adj. master gain, 3 noninv. inputs, 3 inv. inputs, and 2 (x10 gain) inputs
  • (1) 4-channel mixer/amplifier
  • (1) Stereo output driver with bass/treble adj. for each channel and headphone driver
  • (1) Stereo Ouput unit with mixer, stereo simulator, headphone amplifier
  • (1) Bias/trigger unit with 4 debounced pushbuttons, 4 debounced switches, 8 adjustable voltages
  • (1) Utility panel (3 attenuators, 3 adjustable voltages, capacitors, diodes, mults)
  • (2) 5-channel adjustable attenuators
  • (1) 6-channel capacitor (AC) coupler
  • (3) 9-Ch. RCA/Phone_Jack/Pin_Jack adaptors
  • (4) 8-channel quad pin jack multiples
  • (1) Interface to heavily hacked Gibson Organ (same vintage as used on Zappa’s Uncle Meat)
  • (1) Casio CS-101 interface with voltage-controlled pitch, attack/release triggers, waveshaping DAC
  • (1) MiniMoog interface (control/access to 28 internal patch points)
  • (1) Moog Satellite Interface (control/access to 19 internal patch points)
  • (1) Radio Shack (Moog) Concertmate MG-1 Interface (control/access to 21 internal patch points)
  • (1) Heavily hacked Casio VL-tone with full-size keyboard, external note control, many intermediate voices, triggers, plus additional clocks, pulsers, binary dividers
  • (1) Heavily hacked Casio SK1 with separate voice/envelope outputs for each of the 4 voices, many additional triggers in and out
  • (1) Optigan organ with rebuilt scanning photodiodes, separate voice outputs, percussion synch output
  • (1) PAIA Hyperflange
  • (1) PAIA vocoder with low octave added
  • (1) PAIA parametric equalizer



7 thoughts on “The Paradiso Modular Synthesizer

  1. That’s a beautiful instrument with a great sound. OTOH, if visitors will be able to change the parameters, I predict that it will sound like mud in no time. After all, who WOULDN’T want to tweak that big boss cousin to TONTO? It’ll be like a classic 70s hair band “helping” an engineer mix down their album by pushing up the volumes on their individual tracks at every turn until chaos reigns. I think I will give it a fair chance and see what ultimately happens, though.

  2. Wow – ohboyohboyohboy, what an epic build. The specification made me laugh – who else could claim a Gibson organ, a MiniMoog and an Optigan as ‘modules’? Sigh – so many projects, so few lifetimes…

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