We've all seen the baby pianos, or little guitars or ukes, but electronic music production has been unfortunately left out, for a good reason, it's complicated. You don't think about putting your mini-me in front of your Moog or Korg synth, that's a "no can do" for most dads with studios and any attachment to their gear. Little fingers have grime, boogers, peanut butter, and other nasty bits on them, and that does not go well with somewhat delicate synths.
So what's a dad to do if he wants to get his kiddo excited about music synthesis and electronic music? There are lots of kiddy DJ setups that are kind of cool, and that's a start, but synthesis is another ball of wax entirely, pun intended.
What is this thing?
Enter the Blipblox a synth made for kids and even adults if you are looking for some quirky sounds for your toy techno track. This little synth is genius on many levels and even captivated my two-year-old with it's blinking lights, levers, colorful buttons, and quirky sounds. The sweet spot is probably around age 4 or 5, but there is no reason you can't get your little buddy fired up about it earlier, just make sure you can deal with the squelchy audio assault that results, it's like listening to Skrillex. The recommended age is three and up, so if you have a younger one that shows promise, make sure you are supervising.
The Blipblox runs either on a USB-DC power adaptor or three AA batteries, so you have a couple of options. The onboard speaker is not super loud and is made for kids, but you can easily upgrade your sound by plugging it into a speaker like a JBL EON Compact via the 1/4 Audio Output Jack. There is also a MIDI in so you can connect it to your DAW. We tried running it right into our Apollo X6 to see how it would sound in the studio, and it was kind of fun. What's cool about this functionality is that you can take your child into the studio and show them how it works in context as they start to understand synthesis a little better; it's an instrument that can grow with them as they progress.
We noticed that there is no labeling on the controls; the unit features 12 unique oscillator modulation themes with 1 Low Pass Filter, 2 Envelope Generators, and 2 LFOs. Of course, this layout means nothing to a kid; they want to go right at the knobs, buttons, and levers to make sounds. However, if you know synths, you can start to figure your way around it pretty quickly, and there is a manual to explain how to go deeper and lays out the controls.
So there are a couple of different ways to integrate the Blipblox into your child's daily learning that will have good results.
- Sound Exploration Session - This method is more or less play-based learning where they explore the Blipblox and just have at the knobs, levers, and buttons. By letting your child explore the synth on their own, you will be able to gauge where their interest level is at, and what to do next. If they just kind of noodle with it for a few minutes and then move on, they are probably not ready for anything structured just yet.
- Contextual Applications - This type of approach is best for kids that are just starting to grasp what the Blipblox does and that for every action, there is a reaction and an actual method to this squelchy madness. Sit with them and show them a sequence of control modulations, turning the dials and let them.
- Learning Synthesis - This is the last step with your older child, think five to seven years old. Here they are learning what the controls are doing, possibly setting them up in front of your computer with a DAW connected and getting into how a synth works and is applied in making music. The Blipblox After Dark will be the next generation of product that is better suited to the older child before they get their own real synth.
What's in the box
1 x Blipblox
3 x AA Batteries
1 x USB Power Adapter Cable
1 x Quick Start Guide
- Safety certified for ages 3 and up.
- A multi-color LED light show is synchronized to the music.
- MIDI input for external keyboard or sequencer.
- Built-in speaker plus 1/4″ Audio Output jack.
- 12 unique oscillator modulation schemes.
- 1 Low Pass Filter, 2 Envelope Generators, 2 LFOs.
- Safety certifications: FCC, CE, ASTM, CPSC 16, EN62115, REACH, RoHS, and CA Prop 65 for toys.
Interview with Playtime Engineering CoFounder Troy Sheets
How did the idea for the Blipblox come about?
TS: I have been enjoying synthesizers, producing music and performing live shows with them for over 30 years. But while I have used synths as production tools, I always considered them to be just as much toys. With their spaceship control panels, flashing lights and fun sounds, they are simply a lot of fun to play with. The Roland TB-303 is obviously a big inspiration: A small plastic electronic music-making device with a built-in sequencer and really fun sounds. I knew there was a market for toy synthesizers because I myself have purchased many small, inexpensive synthesizers and never used them for actual music production. I just like having them around to play with. So, I decided to go all-in with the synthesizer-as-a-toy concept. It is one of the only music toys where the focus is on changing the sound at the waveform level, not just playing notes. We also put a lot of design work into having big, tactile controls that are impossible to remove.
Why leave off the control labels? Do you find it’s easier for kids to interface with?
TS: Not labeling the controls was the single biggest design decision we made on the Blipblox. I know some people question this decision, but those people are generally experienced synth users who don't fully understand the concept of the Blipblox just being a fun exploration device. The color-coded lines do actually map out in a logical way how the sound is being synthesized, showing the path of musical notes, control, and audio signals. We have seen that given a little bit of time, kids do learn and understand the signal flow, how different knobs and buttons flow together to make the sounds. We had someone describe the signal flow as sort of a "chutes and ladders" concept, which we really like. Personally, I love that the Blipblox has a completely abstract front panel with no labels. It transcends language, and for all we know it was designed by space aliens and dropped it to Earth as an advanced communication device. This is the sort of imaginative narrative I think kids get going in their heads when they play with it. With all that being said, we are just a few weeks from offering a labeled overlay parents can use as a temporary or permanent addition to the faceplate.
What has been one of your favorite moments while working on this product? Have you seen inspiring IG posts, feedback from parents?
TS: Yes! Every day we are lucky enough to see new cute kids playing with the Blipblox. As it turns out, the Blipblox has done really well with autistic and special-needs kids. With no rules, steps, or instructions, these kids can connect to this device in a way they have not been able to with other toys. That has been an unexpected and heart-warming aspect for us.
You are now working on a new Blipblox called After Dark, how will this one be different?
TS: As the name implies, the After Dark is the more mature version of the original. Although the shape of the plastic is the same, it is really an entirely new product. We worked closely with our design team to come up with a new look that is more akin to a real synthesizer than a toy. There is all new software and electronics inside allowing us to add a bunch of exciting new features. The After Dark has a resonant, multi-mode filter that I couldn't be more happy with, it really makes every sound more rich and professional. There are also pitch-shifting drum samples for the kick and snare, wavetable oscillators, and a multi-tap stereo delay on the output. We think it is the most full-featured and beautiful sounding synthesizer in the sub-$200 category. But, it still retains the fun, easy-to-use vibe of the original.
It’s cool to see synthesis available in something for children, but this synth will work with pro set ups and integrate into DAWS + has a MIDI in. Have you seen any producers use the Blipblox sounds in any tunes?
TS: I can't point to any specific tracks using the Blipblox, but on social media, we see lots of people hooking it into their studio setups and doing really fun things with it. Like you said, the MIDI IN port provides the opportunity for the Blipblox to act as a real synthesizer in the studio or on stage.
Have you come across any super synth kid geniuses that rip on this thing?
TS: We see so many kids just having a lot of fun with it. So although we have not yet heard the epic track from a six-year-old, we really hope that the Blipblox will start them early in their journey into electronic music production. In a few years, I really hope to hear a young successful producer point to the Blipblox as an inspiration.
How are you seeing parents interacting with the Blipblox and their kids? I know my daughter just takes off with it and goes into her own world, although we have not hit pay dirt quite yet.
TS: That's funny, one of the classic things we see on social media is a parent trying to get a kid to move a knob, and the kid just brushes them away. What I would suggest is that if you have a drum machine or an MPC-like device, you can sync the Blipblox to it. That way, the kid has full control of their synthesizer sounds, while the parents can manipulate the tempo, drums, and samples. We are really happy to see the Blipblox providing parents and kids with a way to connect through music.
MSRP : $189 | More Info: Blipblox.com