Finished Pieces

Nova Drone

The NovaDrone was designed (and continues to evolve) in collaboration with experimental musician and epic visionary G. Lucas Crane aka Nonhorse and with support from Perte De Signal in Montreal.
I’d like to send a big thanks to Darsha and Robin at PDS for all their help. And I’ll be hi-fiving Lucas for the rest of my life for all the amazing work he’s done so far.

Please send all questions to

What is it?

The Nova Drone is an open source, analog experimental sound and light synth.
It it can be used to create effects ranging from slowly fading drones to chaotic harmonic sequences. It also functions as a complex visual pattern generator when combined with a digital/phone video camera. See the video below for an example of the color patterns generated by holding a camera up to the LED.

The Nova Drones offers 12 potentiometers, 10 switches, 6 oscillators, 9 oscillator sync inputs, 6 frequency modulation inputs and an epic 15 voltage outputs as well as 3 high current outputs for controlling external LEDs. All of the ins and outs have been routed to a prototyping breadboard at the bottom of the unit which allows for liberal experimentation and development of custom circuits. The prototyping area is especially useful for syncing the oscillators of 2 or more Nova Drones together.

The NovaDrone Stacks!

Plug 2 or more NovaDrones together to share power and audio and get super drones.


The NovaDrone offers 3 channels of sound and light. Each channel has the following features:
-TONE pitch coarse tune 24Hz to 750Hz
-TONE pitch fine tune
-LFO rate .008 Hz (around 1 cycle every 2 minutes) to 750Hz
-sync 1
-sync 2
– ext sync 3
-PITCH modulation
-LFO rate modulation
-TONE square wave
-TONE triangle wave
-LFO square wave
-LFO triangle wave
-PWM square wave
-High current LED out for off board LEDs.

V1.2 fixed virtual ground error
V1.3 fixed signal path errors
V1.3.2 added feedback cap to audio mixer. Added tremolo dip
V1 3 2



User’s Manual

Assembly Manual

Circuit Theory

Parts List

Version 1.2



Sorry, no sound files for this piece.

61 Responses to “Nova Drone”

  • 1

    Tom said:
    June 12th, 2012 at 8:47am #

    I need to build one of these. Please let me build one of these…

  • 2

    John Blake Arnold said:
    June 18th, 2012 at 2:42pm #

    Do you have just the boards for sale? Or only the 30 finished units? Thanks.

  • 3

    casper said:
    June 18th, 2012 at 3:33pm #

    This round is assembled units only. I wanted to make sure this batch was fully tested and 100% functional before sending out.
    Kits and PCBs in a month or two.

  • 4

    oli said:
    June 19th, 2012 at 3:59pm #

    hi !!!

    nice work love it

    i have somes question

    do you think it’s possible to make an edition with VC

    do you somes tips for do this ?

    thank you

  • 5

    ASP said:
    June 20th, 2012 at 10:27am #

    I think this thing will suit me better than the dronelab actually. awesome.

  • 6

    casper said:
    June 20th, 2012 at 10:43am #

    Right on. It’s similar to the Dronelab but definitely a lot crazier sounding (if that’s what you’re into….)
    Im missing the Dlabs filter section though and may try adding that to future models of the NovaDrone…..some day

  • 7

    casper said:
    June 20th, 2012 at 10:56am #

    Hi oli. Yes you can add voltage control and its a very easy process if you just want basic voltage control.
    getting it to be 1volt/octave will take a LOT of work.
    The easy way is to use a home made vactrol. This is just a light sensitive resistor attached to an led. I’ve been scheptical of this technique for a long time but it actually works quite well.
    I’m doing a residency in Montreal soon specifically to develop and document these kinds of upgrades to the NovaDrone.

  • 8

    Jean Bender said:
    June 21st, 2012 at 1:18am #

    Hi Peter !
    Are the path signal errors are fixed on the boards you actually sell ? Could you explain us what these errors do ? And if we can fix it on the unit you actually sell ?
    Nice project… Cheers !

  • 9

    Jean Bender said:
    June 21st, 2012 at 1:20am #

    And where is the sync in jack ? Is there one on board, or is it something we should add after ?

  • 10

    casper said:
    June 23rd, 2012 at 11:51pm #

    The sync inputs are connected to the bread board at the bottom of the unit.

  • 11

    casper said:
    June 23rd, 2012 at 11:56pm #

    Hey Jean,
    The ones for sale are fully functional and don’t require ANY fixes. The errors caused the oscillators to freeze once in a while. That has been fixed and the operation is now VERY reliable.

  • 12

    analogmoster said:
    July 5th, 2012 at 5:00pm #

    Hi Casper, I’m loving the look of these. I’ve built 2 drone labs and found your circuit bending tips really inspiring over the past few years. Now I’ve a CNC milling machine and I’m designing my own stuff from scratch. A few things – what range will the voltage outputs cover? Do you think I could use it as a CV source for my Doepfer modular?

  • 13

    casper said:
    July 6th, 2012 at 11:49pm #

    Hi analogmonster.
    Sounds cool! I hope to get a CNC soon.
    the voltage outputs are 0-8 volts or so for the square wave. The triangle waves are a little less. In any case they are excellent CV sources for your doepfer.

  • 14

    Dave Seidel said:
    July 21st, 2012 at 6:24pm #

    Hi Pete, just got mine and was wondering what the optimal amperage is for the 12v DC power supply.

  • 15

    casper said:
    July 21st, 2012 at 8:34pm #

    It should be at least 300mA

  • 16

    Dave Seidel said:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:51am #

    Thanks, Pete. This is probably why I’m getting such a low-amplitude output, I don’t have a 12V source that goes over 100mA. I have a 12V 1.5A supply on order, that ought to do it.

  • 17

    Jud Yalkut said:
    August 6th, 2012 at 2:40pm #

    Please inform me when completed units and/or kits are available, and cost. Thanks.

  • 18

    Josh said:
    August 13th, 2012 at 3:07pm #

    Do you have a page with operation notes like the page about the Drone Lab? Just basic use and maybe some notes on the outputs?

  • 19

    Jon Raskin said:
    August 28th, 2012 at 1:39pm #

    I’m also interested in a completed unit and the kit when available.

  • 20

    glitchbent said:
    September 24th, 2012 at 11:09am #

    LOVE this design! Also, the idea of a tricolor instead of three individual LEDs is a lovely idea that I am totally going to steal.

  • 21

    casper said:
    October 5th, 2012 at 7:26am #

    Thanks! Have fun.

  • 22

    casper said:
    October 5th, 2012 at 7:29am #

    They are available!

  • 23

    David said:
    October 20th, 2012 at 6:36am #

    Hi, do you know how much import duty on a dual nova drone kit + adventure kit to uk is? ta

  • 24

    casper said:
    October 23rd, 2012 at 7:34am #

    @David. That’s a very good question but unfortunately there is no simple answer. I did a quick search on the UK customs&revenue website and found that “There are around 14,000 different classifications” for imported items which determines the amount of duty required. Write to us before you place your order and we can discuss it further.

  • 25

    Fresh Pants said:
    October 26th, 2012 at 1:45am #

    Fun build and really enjoying the light show that accompanies the knob tweaking.
    Great work! That RGB LED gets bright! One Nova Drone is awesome, the dual PCB is just plain nuts.


  • 26

    January 28th, 2013 at 7:36am #

    Awesome build, the .47 capacitors are not shown in the directions, the plexi backer board is not drilled out for the taper on the lower two screws. Remember to place the screws in the holes before sticking down the adventure boards on the dual model. Surprise, awesome detail laser etched in the plexi board, I filled mine with white paint and am adding colored knobs with pointers as it is hard to see the knob settings in a low light environment. Only turned it for for a few minutes so far, SWEEEEEETTT!!!!!!!

  • 27

    casper said:
    February 23rd, 2013 at 3:53pm #

    We still have to modify the assembly manual to include the .47 cap. Blarg.
    Yes the holes are NOT tapered. Since they are laser cut there’s no easy way to do this other than by hand.. But luckily its not really necessary. The foam tape will cover up the bit of screw head that pokes out. Glad you like the etched design :-)

  • 28

    Davin said:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 12:21pm #

    The orange .47 cap goes at the top to the right of the three blue 1uF caps, correct?

  • 29

    Davin said:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 4:28pm #

    Will it make a difference if I installed the adventure board upside down? ie. the left most pin is going into the 7 hole, not the right most.

  • 30

    casper said:
    March 3rd, 2013 at 3:14am #

    No it will not make any difference.

  • 31

    Shawn H said:
    March 18th, 2013 at 8:06pm #

    I am really interested in getting the double kit, but am curious if there is a way to make this battery powered. Normally it would not matter, but I need to perform out in the wild with this thing and will have no way of plugging in. fingers crossed..

  • 32

    Zeb said:
    March 19th, 2013 at 3:47pm #

    I just finished a double nova drone and it is awesome! I have one problem though and I’m not sure if this is the place to ask, but the “blue” channel on the left side is producing only a very faint sound. Everything works on the channel except the volume being low. Any troubleshooting suggestions? The only thing I have tried is swapping the ICs.

  • 33

    casper said:
    March 19th, 2013 at 5:08pm #

    @zeb. Hmm. I’ve never heard of that one. Sounds like there is most likely a short circuit somewhere.. it’s possible you put the wrong value component somewhere (for instance used too high of a resistor value in the mixer inputs) but I would put my money on short circuit OR maybe a cold solder joint. The solution for both potential problems is to go over the whole board slowly with an iron and look for problem solder spots where there may be too much or too little solder. If you have an oscilloscope you can pretty easily diagnose the problem by tracking the signal from the oscillator (the right most TL074 IC) to the PWM circuit (the top right TL074 IC) and then to the volume pot, THEN to the mixer. All of the components are labeled on the schematic and on the board so it is relatively easy to track your signal. Hope that helps!

  • 34

    casper said:
    March 19th, 2013 at 5:10pm #

    @Davin. Yes the 470pF cap goes at the top to the right of the three blue 1uF caps. It is a recent addition to the design and still needs to be added to the instructions.

  • 35

    Zeb said:
    March 19th, 2013 at 11:00pm #

    So trivial yet so crucial. I now have a fully working Nova Drone. Ooh! I was wondering about the 470pF caps. Mine works great without them, but what’s the difference?

  • 36

    Ben said:
    April 6th, 2013 at 5:45am #

    Just finished my double nova drone! And the build was really easy (except that the lfo on one channel does not work)
    Its a really cool instrument with soooooo much options!
    But i have a request: is there a hidden way to control the lfo mod depth? This would be a killer feature cause sometime i need it a bit more subtle!

  • 37

    casper said:
    April 6th, 2013 at 6:50am #

    @Zeb. The 470pf cap is there to eliminate hi frequency oscillation that CAN occur on the output mixer. You dont hear it but it can mess with the operation of the NovaDrone in subtle ways.

  • 38

    casper said:
    April 6th, 2013 at 6:54am #

    You can power it with a battery no problem. You just need a battery clip with a plug on one end so you can plug the battery into the power jack.

  • 39

    casper said:
    April 6th, 2013 at 6:59am #

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying your NovaDrone. Sorry to hear the LFO isnt working. Please feel free to contact me if you want help debugging that. As far as LFO depth is concerned…. there’s no simple way to change that. If you are up for some real hacking and rewiring I can explain it. There’s a description of how the PWM is achieved in the theory manual here:
    This will give you an idea of how the LFO is used to modulate the pulse width of the audio wave. It should also give you an idea of how that feature can be modified.

  • 40

    Ben said:
    April 14th, 2013 at 1:38am #

    Oh, i hoped it needed just two wires an a pot. What about disalbling the lfos, would that be easier? Since one isn’t working anyway on my second nova..
    But otherwise it would be very kind to give me/us a tutorial concerning the mod depth. I looked into manual, but i am too bad at theory to work this out by myself.
    Btw. What kind of wires/cable do you use for the adventure board?

  • 41

    Ben said:
    May 13th, 2013 at 2:53pm #

    I found the problem of my lfo! The upper right leg of the channels TL072 got bent and did not slip in the socket. So this seems to somehow turn off the lfo.
    Could one do this switchable so you have a “mod on/off” switch?

  • 42

    casper said:
    May 13th, 2013 at 3:12pm #

    @Ben. Yes! you could imitate this effect with some switches.

  • 43

    Ben said:
    July 1st, 2013 at 11:49am #

    I did the mod and it is awesome!
    I got the double nova drone and – on all threes osc of the right nova – i soldered a long patchcable to the upper right leg of each TL072. So i can patch the LFO to each mod in or input on the adventure board.
    The nova drone won incredibly more sounds – i get great new bass drones with strong hi-cut. This build an amazing low frequency foundation for left nova that does more higher drones and melodies.

  • 44

    deborah said:
    July 23rd, 2013 at 9:19am #

    Hi there! i’m totally in love with my double Nova Drone since i soldered it. TNX a lot for making it open source. Put some gray knobs on poties and would like to add some cover /buttons on slide switches to make it more practical while using it at the concerts… any advice pls?

  • 45

    hlxlplxl said:
    July 28th, 2013 at 1:28pm #

    Hi, I assembled one of your novadrone and its great instrument – it works great. But last weak I made stupid thing and accidentally connect the novadrone to the mix input with 48V phantom power on. And now the LED is blind a no sound. I have no big experience with electronic repairing. Please will you give me some advice what is need to be replaced or its all lost? thx a lot

  • 46

    casper said:
    August 1st, 2013 at 1:34pm #

    hmmm. Thats a bummer. I would try first replacing the top right TL074 opamp.

  • 47

    casper said:
    August 1st, 2013 at 1:45pm #

    @Deborah. Im glad you’re enjoying and modding your NovaDrone! sadly the switches are pretty tough to mess with. I haven’t found any simple snap on solution. The best I can come up with is making a custom faceplate and using toggle switches.

  • 48

    Ryan said:
    August 5th, 2013 at 7:21am #

    how difficult would it be to create a low pass filter on the adventure board? also, could you create a filter per voice?

  • 49

    Geo Glasssmasher said:
    August 16th, 2013 at 2:34am #

    I bought the bare double board and ordered the parts from Mouser, mostly from the parts list on this site. I made a few different choices for some connectors to suit my needs, otherwise; built as designed.

    Some tech notes for prospective builders:
    1. Quality of bare board is excellent! Solder pads are crisp and clean, easy soldering.
    2. Solder mask and artwork – top shelf. Component locations clearly marked; I still strongly recommend printing out the assembly guide.
    3. It works well! Good design, op-amps are socketed for a good reason. Let the blue smoke out of a few just for fun, positive feedback rocks! Bought spare op-amps from Mouser ’cause I knew I’d need ‘em.
    4. If you are not really comfortable with hand soldering, get the assembled unit; this is not a project for novices.
    5. Go nuts! I’m tinkering analog and digital screams.
    More later.

    The Glasssmasher sez:
    Hey, is this rattlesnake dead? sss…

  • 50

    casper said:
    September 1st, 2013 at 4:15am #

    @ Geo glasssmasher. Thanks for the tips and input!

  • 51

    casper said:
    September 1st, 2013 at 4:17am #

    @Ryan. It is easy to build a filter. All you need is a single or dual opamp, a few resistors and one or two capacitors. and a potentiometer.
    Doing one filter per voice is easy too but would require more space.

  • 52

    hlxlplxl said:
    October 14th, 2013 at 1:09pm #

    hmmm. Thats a bummer. I would try first replacing the top right TL074 opamp.”

    it works!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thx!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 53

    samE said:
    October 21st, 2013 at 5:16am #

    hi, i could only get 470k log instead of the 500k lin for the LFOs, will this affect the operation much?. could i add a 30k resistor to bump it up to 500k?

  • 54

    casper said:
    October 21st, 2013 at 2:08pm #

    @SamE. That should work fine. There is no need to add a 30k resistor. The curve may be a little weird(because its a log instead of lin)… but it was a bit weird to begin with. Ideally it should be an anti-log pot. but I think you’ll get by.

  • 55

    Controlling the Nova Drone and Light Synthesizer with a Raspberry Pi @Raspberrypi #piday #raspberrypi « adafruit industries blog said:
    October 25th, 2013 at 12:00pm #

    […] This is a cool new project from Manjuan Gnanaratnam featuring our Raspberry Pi Starter Pack! Read more about the Nova Drone here. […]

  • 56

    samE said:
    November 17th, 2013 at 1:18pm #

    hi, i finished my nova drone today, unfortunately it sounds super high pitched and not like any of the demos on youtube.
    I used 100nf box capacitors for the .1uf capacitor.
    an online calculator showed they were the same value. have i made a mistake with that?
    thanks in advance

  • 57

    samE said:
    November 21st, 2013 at 1:30pm #

    hi, sorry to double post.

    the box capacitor is it, 0.1uf = to 100nf or 1uf = to 1000nf?

  • 58

    Casper said:
    November 21st, 2013 at 8:38pm #

    Hey samE. They should be .1uf which is equal to 100nf.

  • 59

    samE said:
    November 23rd, 2013 at 9:05am #

    ok, all my components are correct, but its sounds all wrong,

    any ideas?

  • 60

    Marc said:
    May 19th, 2014 at 1:04pm #

    Just built Double Drone and holy smokes! One of the coolest builds there is! Thanks!

  • 61

    Clark Nova said:
    November 23rd, 2014 at 10:57am #

    Loving this!

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