Boot Fair Find: Yamaha DD-10 Digital MIDI Drum Machine

Released in 1988, the Yamaha DD-10 was aimed at those who wished to annoy the hell out of their neighbours at 2am.  The machine featured 8-bit sounds, with some sounds reused at a different pitch, two-level velocity sensing pads and 26 drum, percussion and sound effect samples.  MIDI In also features, so you can trigger drum sounds with an external device.

Found this recently at a local boot fair.  Fiver.  Contained my excitement so the seller didn’t put the price up.  Boxed with polys and foamy wrapper.  No manual, strap or foot pedals sadly, but hey – what do you want for a fiver?

Another dream item for circuit-bending, as digital delay, resonant filters and other such larky modifications can be added if you know what you’re doing.  Inputs and outputs include External Power Source, Aux Out (L&R/L), Aux Out R, Headphones, Foot Pedal Jack and MIDI In.

98 Auto Rhythms, Power Switch, Volume, Tempo, MIDI Mode, Metronome, Roll, Restart, Stop, Intro/Fill, Manual Tempo.  A small keypad is used to enter numerical data for drum patterns, which is displayed on a 2-digit large LED display.


Roland Founder Ikutaro Kakehashi Has Died. RIP.

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of the Japanese electronic instruments company Roland, has reportedly died at the age of 87.

The legendary instrument engineer founded the Roland Corporation in 1972, and went on to develop some of the most game-changing instruments in history. He was the mind behind the System 700 modular synthesizer, the TB-303 bassline synthesizer, the TR-909, and, of course, the TR-808 drum machine. Though the latter was rolled out in 1980, it has had a profound and lasting influence on contemporary music—specifically in hip-hop.


Boot Fair Find: Yamaha SHS-10R MIDI Keytar

In November 2010 I wrote about my love for my old Yamaha SHS-10 MIDI Keytar.  A couple of days ago, I dragged the missus kicking and screaming from our warm bed into the cold West London air to a bus which took us to the first boot fair of the year.  Within a couple of minutes I was pretty glad I did.  I saw the familiar box standing end-on next to a wallpaper table covered in the usual boot fair tat (Wade Whimsies, VHS videos of ‘Friends’, fake Russell Athletic grey joggers … you know the sort of stuff).  The first thing I noticed about the SHS-10 box was that it was the red model, generally sold by Dixons back in 1987.  This was confirmed upon closer inspection by the ‘centenary sticker’ that adorned the box (Yamaha was founded in 1887, if you hadn’t already guessed).  Box was a little tatty and at first I wasn’t sure there was anything inside.  The stall holder was hovering over the box, devouring a bacon roll which I silently prayed wasn’t dripping everywhere.  It wasn’t.  I picked the box up and peered inside the slightly tatty box flap.  There it was, red and shiny.  No polys sadly, and no batteries or power adaptor rolling around.  No manual either.  I found the strap already outside the box which was a nice addition.  First thing I did, as I do with all battery-powered items is a) to check whether the battery door was in place and b) whether there was any battery corrosion inside.  Happy to report the door was present and correct, and there wasn’t even a speck of dust inside the battery compartment.  On closer inspection, the SHS-10R looked like it had hardly been used.  There were no scratches to the red part of the upper plastic body, the LED display wasn’t scratched, all slider caps were intact, as were all the rubber buttons, mod wheel and the two guitar strap lugs.

“Worked last time I tried it”, the owner told me.  “When was that?” I asked, “1988?”  (Curse my stupid mouth sometimes.  I do say inappropriate things).  He said it had been working reasonably recently, and went on to explain how his kid had outgrown it, and had lived in a box most of its life.  The manual and charger had been lost in the mists of time, and batteries had never been stored in it.  He had no batteries to hand to test it, but promised me it was working.  I wanted it.  Price, I wondered.  What the hell was this gonna cost me?  Another stall had a boxed Casio keyboard which the woman wanted £20 for.  I guessed the Yamaha would be a similar price.  “Five pounds” the man and his wife chorused when asked.  I deftly paid the woman in twenty pence pieces (we always take loads of change to boot fairs – stall holders love it).  The man thoughtfully offered a free black bin bag for transport and for rain protection.

Click the images for a bigger version

If you’ve not read my original review of the SHS-10, or have no intention of doing so, you can stop reading here because I’m going to bore you with some of the main details of it.  Most of the UK models were grey.  If you lived in Japan you’d probably get a black one.  The red one, as I explained earlier, were retailed by Dixons and a few other select outlets.

The SHS-10 has 32 mini keys and a pitch bend wheel at the end of the grip.  It was six-note poly with 25 built-in sounds.  A built-in speaker allowed you to annoy the family with the arse-clenching demo of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’.  The biggest boon of the Yamaha was the inclusion of a MIDI Out port.  It meant you could connect another MIDI device to the SHS-10 and control it with the keytar.  There was a 1/4″ output too.

Drums could be transmitted on separate MIDI channels, which was quite a powerful feature.  An external drum machine, for example, could then play a backing.  MIDI Start and Stop, plus Tempo Sync could also be transmitted and picked up by an external sequencer.  Other features included: intro, fill-in and ending buttons for the rhythms and auto-chords, vibrato, portamento and sustain buttons, tempo, tuning and transpose buttons, chord sequencer with battery-back-up, but no editing.

Sounds ranged from ‘synthesizer’ through to ‘music box’ with offerings such as ‘piano’, ‘steel drum’ and ‘saxophone’ thrown in for good measure.  There were 25 preset rhythms too, from ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to ‘Fusion’, ‘Samba’ and ‘Fanfare’.  A large red 2-digit LED showed preset and program numbers, as well as tempo for rhythms.  The sounds were quite impressive for this FM device.

The SHS-10 (and its bigger and rarer brother, the SHS-200) was a circuit-benders’ dream.  More complex sounds could be produced by hard-wiring an 8-pole DIP switch to the YM2420 chip.

I’ve loved playing with the SHS-10 again.  Manuals for it can be found aplenty online in PDF format, or can be bought for about a tenner on eBay.


I managed to sell the SHS-10 for thirty times what I paid for it!

Retro: Sinclair Cambridge Type 3 Calculator


It’s taken me quite a long time to get my hands on my first Cambridge.  The ever-genial Dave from Retonthenet has known for a little while that I collect vintage tech, and approached me via Twitter saying that there was one for sale.  The price was absolutely right and was in my possession in a very short space of time (the packaging was superb and would have easily protected a much-less-fragile item than this).

The Cambridge was introduced by Sinclair Radionics in August 1973.  In those days you could probably buy it from Boots, Lasky’s and Timothy Whites, as well as directly from Sinclair in Cambridge.  It came as a kit or pre-assembled.  There were seven models in the range: there was the original four-function Cambridge, Cambridge Scientific, Cambridge Memory, two Cambridge Memory %’s, Cambridge Scientific Programmable and Cambridge Universal.


The Cambridge followed on from the Executive, Sinclair’s very first calculator in 1972.  a major factor in the success of the Cambridge was its low price – £32.95 assembled or £27.45 as a kit (which was basically a case and a plastic bag full of resistors).  It was still doing the rounds by the Summer of 1977, where the price had literally crashed to £8.95, a fifth of its original price.  The manual that came with it was quite extensive.  It weighs less than 3.5 ounces and measured 50 x 111 x 8mm.  It ran on 4 AAA batteries.  It was built using the cheapest components available to man, which a) kept the cost down and b) led to some real common failures.  The switch contacts often failed, meaning you couldn’t turn the device off. The switch contacts were made of nickel coated in tin rather than gold, so an oxide layer would build up across the insulating barrier when the switch was repeatedly used.


The display was an eight-digit LED made by National Semiconductor with a five-digit mantissa and two-digit exponent.  Later models required such a huge power draw that the four AAA’s were replaced by a 9v PP3, meaning the battery compartment was a lot bigger and required a different battery cover.




Battery compartment label says you should use Ever Ready or BEREC batteries.  I always thought BEREC stood for ‘British Ever Ready Electrical Company’, so isn’t that the same thing?  Note the Sinclair branded motherboard.  Date code is probably obscured by the label.  ‘Popular Science’ magazine, on page 69 of its January 1974 issue, branded the Cambridge the ‘Skinny Mini’.

My sincere thanks again to Dave and the chaps at Retonthenet – rest-assured I’ll be badgering them often to see what other beauties they have for sale.  Meantime, I implore you to take a look at their great website, and hopefully you’ll be able to get your hands on some bargains, too.  And tell them Steve sent you …


Ray Dolby, 1933-2013


Ray Dolby, the US engineer who founded Dolby Laboratories and pioneered noise reduction in audio recordings, has died in San Francisco aged 80.

Mr Dolby had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years and was diagnosed with leukaemia this summer.

His name became synonymous with home sound systems and cinema, and his work won many awards.

Kevin Yeaman, president of Dolby Laboratories, described Ray Dolby as a “true visionary”.

Mr Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in the San Francisco area.

He began his career in the Ampex Corporation, helping to develop early videotape recording systems while he was still a student.

He then went on to complete his PhD at Cambridge University in England and in 1965 founded Dolby Laboratories in London.

The company grew to be an industry leader in audio technology, cutting background hiss in tape recordings and later bringing out “surround sound”.

Mr Dolby moved his company to San Francisco in 1976 and in 1989 was awarded an Oscar for his contributions to cinema. He shared the award with Dolby executive Ioan Allen.

He also received a Grammy award in 1995 and Emmy awards in 1989 and 2005.

Mr Dolby’s son, filmmaker and novelist Tom Dolby, said: “Though he was an engineer at heart, my father’s achievements in technology grew out of a love of music and the arts.

“He brought his appreciation of the artistic process to all of his work in film and audio recording.”

Retro Review: Texet 880 Executive Calculator (1977-1978)

They’re like buses.  You don’t see one for ages, then two come along at once.  Hot on the heels of the very lovely Sinclair Enterprise LED calculator comes this much more staid Texet 880 Executive.

Like the Sinclair, it was in production between 1977 and 1978.  It’s a sod to open as the two halves of the case are held together with plastic lugs which easily break (not going to bother ripping mine apart).  I can tell you what’s inside without resorting to violence: single Texas Instruments TMS0972NL CPU.  The red LED display is an eight-digit bubble affair.



The calculator measures 74.2mm (w) x 135mm (l) x 22.2mm (d).  It weighs 86g without the battery in, which is a 9v PP3 type.  The battery housing has two metal slide clips to access battery power, rather than the more usual press-stud affair as seen on the Sinclair.



There’s an adaptor hole at the top of the casing, although there’s nothing on the casing to say what input it takes.  4.5v (centre positive) is the general consensus.  Black and silvery-grey casing with thin brushed metallic fascia panel (the protective plastic film is still intact on my model).  The red lens glass is very slightly chamfered toward the top of the panel.  The display angle is completely rubbish, and as with most LED products of the 70s, you pretty-much have to press the thing to your face or hide under a coat in order to read the display!

The calculator is actually switched on – that’s how rubbish the display angle is!


The keyboard is a little odd in that it has three (count ’em) cancel buttons, marked [CE], [C] and [CA].  Don’t panic – the [CS] key is the Clear Sign function, not another cancel!

Texet calculators were manufactured in Hong Kong.  The keypad is fairly stiff and you really have to give the buttons a bit of welly in order to get the numbers to appear.  The display flashes as you enter numbers into the unit.  A lot of 880’s suffered with something called the “pseudo fixed decimal bug” – if you type in ‘1 + 1.00 = ‘ you will get ‘2.00’ on the display.  Very pleased to say mine doesn’t suffer this bug, and displays ‘2.’ as you’d expect.









No box or case or manuals with this one, but the guy on the boot fair stall did chuck in a new PP3 for me, and the whole lot cost me £3.00.  Fairly pleased with that.

Retro Review: Sinclair Enterprise Programmable Calculator (1977)

I had great fortune recently finding this little gem on the excellent Oxfam Online Shop, which I heartily recommend you check out.  You never know what hidden gem you may discover  from the 165 nationwide stores that are listing, and over 100,000 items in total to choose from.


I’ve been lucky enough to own a few Sinclair calculators in the past, but this is my first Enterprise.  Released in 1977, the 8-digit LED scientific programmable calculator was based around a single transistor and three National Semiconductor chips, namely the MM57146AEG/N, MM57126N and DS8874N.  Measuring 65mm x 135mm x 23mm and running on a 9v PP3 battery, the Enterprise cost around £25 in 1978.  We know this model was purchased in a Branch of Boots the Chemist on 4 November 1978 (maybe an early Christmas present) … I won’t say where, but let’s just say ‘oop North!’

There was another (non-programmable) Enterprise with a bigger LED array, but other than the lack of programming functions it was fundamentally the same.


As we know from history, stuff built in the seventies in the UK was generally rubbish (think of ‘Buckaroo’ and British Leyland).  The screws inside the Enterprise look like they’re made of zinc, and somehow (but the mercy of God, probably), they haven’t corroded into a pile of mushy metal.  There was a charming story about the Sinclair Black Watch.  The watch itself was so badly made, that more often than not the casing itself wouldn’t hold together.  The plastic used was unglueable, and it was redesigned in order for the shell halves to be clipped together.  This didn’t work, so Sinclair gave up and subbed the whole thing out to a contractor.  Much later on, Sinclair received a Black Watch in the post with a note from the Contractor saying “We’ve sorted the problem!”  Inside the packaging was a Black Watch with a half-inch bolt through it!

To change the battery, you have to take off the entire front of the calculator!









I’ve seen another Enterprise elsewhere online with a serial number very close to the one I have, produced a year earlier.  I’m guessing this meant they didn’t manufacture them very quickly, despite the poor quality of the construction.



Sinclair design was always a favourite of mine, from the Microvision TV to the hifi equipment they briefly made and, of course, the Black Watch and other calculators in the range (we’ll forget the C5, alright?)  The stark black and white casing and keypad, with the sinister red plastic and LED array were just something else.



There’s a socket on the side for the 9v DC adaptor, which was thankfully included with my purchase.  Boxed too, which was a nice touch.

P1000236 P1000237


The calculator was shipped with the ubiquitous 70s and 80s leatherette pouch!



This is probably the most complete calculator I’ve ever owned.  The paperwork that accompanied it was astonishing, starting with the original Guarantee slip.  I’ve Photoshopped out most of the address.



Here’s the READ THIS FIRST! leaflet that also accompanied it.  This little sheet quickly shows you how to program the calculator, with key input commands showing you how to convert centigrade to fahrenheit, and how to calculate mortgage repayments.  To prove just how old this thing is, it calculates an £8,500 mortgage at an interest rate of 11% over 25 years.  (It’s £84 a month if you haven’t already worked it out on your iPhone!)

The Operating Instructions Manual is printed on thin paper but runs to 44 pages.  That’s included too.



The most interesting part of the collection despite the calculator is the three-volume Program Library.  These edge-screw bound cards help you program everything, from random number generator to intercepts of a line, mortgage repayments to resistors in parallel calculations.  All three volumes are completely intact and a very nice addition.

P1000242 P1000243 P1000244


Finally, and not something that would have been shipped with the calculator, is a curious little black book entitled Pocket Reference Tables.  The leatherette covered book has ‘For Private Circulation’ printed in gold script on the cover, a gift (reasonably obviously) from the ‘Short Loan & Mortgage Co Ltd’.  It includes pages of calculation charts for Loan Charges, Changes in the Bank Rate since 1929 and Interest Rates.  Some hand-written notes inside the book make me believe the book dates from 1965.  It’s definitely pre-decimal.  It belonged to Mr Charlton, as did the calculator, as his name is thoughtfully printed inside on a red Dymo tape!



I love this calculator.  It works perfectly.  All the buttons are present and working.  All segments of that cherry red LED are working.  All paperwork, manuals and hardware is in superb condition.  Yeah, tatty boxes and slightly dog-eared manuals but so what?  I’m not a fan of history.  I see a lot of it as irrelevant.  Unless we’re talking tech.