First Fenixes out there

Published by Priscilla Haring-Kuipers on

It seems like ages ago that we cheerfully announced that our first batch of 18 Fenixes were almost done and would ship mid April. We are now almost mid June and we are indeed SHIPPING!

A bunch of things happened in the meantime. One big milestone was declaring the manual finished and having some people outside our bubble read it (special thanks to @SynthDawg). About every week now we can pick up a new stack of manuals from our lovely printer. You can also have a look online here

At the finish line the software and especially the wavetable improved even further. SoundFonts can now be loaded easily. We created a few nice sounds to start with but these are meant to change as the user sees fit. A friend built us a hypercube screensaver.

Just when we thought we were about ready to ship Fenixes out we got a phone call from our assembly house saying they had discovered a mistake. They found nine potentiometers wrongly placed on a sequencer board. We reopened everything to have a look, which is a time-consuming process but none of our finished instruments were affected. Then it seemed there might be a problem with four potentiometers on the middle board (chord oscillator/noise box/mixers). Commence re-testing of everything. Another call. Again we opened and tested everything and again thankfully none of our finished instruments were affected. One box of boards in our basement, not QC passed yet but already in-house, did have these issues and had to be sent back. This last box of boards finally made sense out of what had been happening with the potentiometers. We use four different types in the Fenix IV providing us with four different signal interactions. The potentiometers look identical apart from a number/letter marking indicating what kind of potentiometer you are dealing with. In the design and on the pcb we have indicated these different markings. Placement and soldering of these parts is done by home-workers and one home-worker was apparently not aware that there was a distinction to be made so he/she simply started at the top of the potentiometer stack they were given and worked their way down.  This resulted in all the weird unstructured flaws. Of course, our assembly house offered to resolder them. We asked them not to resolder the same potentiometers but instead desolder the misplaced ones and solder NEW correct ones on. This meant we had to scramble to find enough potentiometers in our basement to make up the difference. We found enough stock to redo it all with a margin of 1 potentiometer.

Meanwhile another mystical flaw was unfolding; some jacks were not normalling. We found this out at a digital calibration check and were stumped. All these jacks passed our own QC, had been working for days, had been retested without issues and now were not normalling. Did we buy faulty jacks? We have been ordering the same jacks from the same people for all our modules and have not had any problems before. This also would not explain why these issues weren’t picked up earlier. We went back over our test protocols. We considered human incompetence or chemical processes slowly eating away our poor Fenix but could not come up with a conclusive answer. Stijn opened up one of the jacks that wasn’t normalling and noticed mechanical misalignment on the inside. When bent back into shape everything worked as normal. Stijn made a little lock-picking tool to re-align any obstinate jacks. Great to have a solution but we still did not understand the cause. The Eureka moment happened while ringing a board to the front with our adapted electric screwdriver- which is almost the final step in our process. This apparently has enough torque to pull on the jack and placement/soldering sometimes allows for this to ever so slightly extend the jack; causing the little metal parts on the inside to misalign. Back to hand-tightening all the rings on the jacks and no more issues.

Some of the delay is personal. Corona suddenly got very close. Family affairs and goodbyes.
We lost faith for a moment with these flaws that all turned out alright. It took a bit and complete retesting of everything for us to feel confident enough again to send our Fenixes out. If anything breaks, it needs to break here.
We are also just tired. It has been quite a year.

We are very proud and happy that our Fenixes are out there now. We are no longer vapourware HURRAY!
With great joy we delivered the very first Fenix IV in person to Tim of Midi Amsterdam.
We are in contact with several new owners and their enthusiasm connects us to why we are doing this. Our beta-tester friends at Making Sound Machines have made a wonderful Getting started with Fenix IV video
More beep.

Shipping is a bit stressful. Not because anything bad has happened but because every time this beautiful box of beep that holds years of work and hopes of years to come is man-handled across the planet; I worry. I believe we pack it appropriately. I believe we use the correct shipper and provide all the relevant codes and papers. I believe it should be fine. And yet… I am relieved when I hear it has arrived and works. We’ve had some delays – hey UK! – and one Fenix was left on a porch even though we ship with Signature Required but all of them have arrived safely so far. 13 have been shipped and received. 1 is currently being held at the US border, probably waiting for the import tax to be paid, and 4 are still with us to be shipped out soon.

Today we start on the QC for all the boards that will go into the remaining 82 Fenix IV units. Hopefully we can do all of this in a months’ time. We’ve decided to let go of the idea of batches so we can test and fix all the boards of the same type in a row. When ALL the electronics are QC passed we will start assembly, calibration, burn-in and testing per Fenix IV unit. Shipping them out as they are ready. We are hoping that with the lessons learned from the first batch we can do the rest faster. We have improved our testing setups.

The second week of July would be an excellent time for the next Fenixes to start flying out the door.
Which is also when we should receive our second vaccination!


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder