norns shield 2022

shields are back. it’s been quite a journey.

availability

order at the normal place.

kit

we’re offering a kit variant which includes a pi4B (2GB ram) and official pi usb-c power supply (US plug, works internationally with a plug adapter).

pi’s of all types are in shortage— we managed to secure these a few months back. there is no wholesale discount: we paid full price. we’re adding a modest markup which is roughly equivalent to shipping costs if you were to order them separately.

the standard shield (w/o pi) is compatible with the pi 3, 3B+, 4B. norns only uses 1GB of RAM, so don’t bother paying more for a high-RAM version. it’s also imperative that you get a high quality power supply, otherwise you’ll experience all sorts of seemingly confusing problems which have a very simple solution.

SD CARD STILL REQUIRED — we chose not to bundle an SD card based on their wide availability and varied user preference for different sizes.

audio

prior to the pandemic-related semiconductor shortages the audio codec used in the norns (and norns shield) was already scarce, and as many DIY builders discovered, they simply have not been available for a long time from reliable sources.

we redesigned the audio section (again) with a different codec, which required both hardware prototyping and also kernel updates. the new codec has additional conditioning circuitry (five op amps) and a ton more passives. the levels have been tuned slightly (louder), and we believe the noise performance is good. but generally, most people will not notice a difference from the previous generation— all of the extra engineering was simply to overcome the global supply crisis.

as a result of all of this there’s a very meager price increase.

pi4?

those watching the project closely know that the main sourcecode is currently not compatible with the pi4. we chose to put the extra time into supporting the pi4 simply because pi3’s are in such short supply. this does, however, present a problem with community sharing continuity, as all existing norns have the slightly lower CPU capacity of the pi3. we’ll be writing more about this later, but we plan to enforce compatibility across all versions in the main maiden catalog.

source

i’m not going to immediately publish the hardware schematics and boards. i’ll write more about this at some point.

and

thank you for your continuing support. the parts all came back in stock just in time— we’re about to invest heavily in moving our workshop to the street level, where we’ll be able to host workshops and performances and also carry less boxes up and down so many flights of stairs!

(if anything here is confusing please post so we can clarify!)

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Great news!

Clarification: - there is no “4” vs “4b” . All (current) “Pi4” boards are Raspberry Pi 4 Model B .

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Cool! Will old versions of the shield (with the previous codec) continue to be supported, and will they work with a raspberry Pi 4 now as well?

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yes, they will be supported, and yes the pi 4 will work with them once the new software is released.

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I’m glad ya’ll figured out a way to offset the chip shortage! Will the new batch of official Norns also have the pi4?

I am really happy to read this post, and your continuous effort to keep on developing this product further.

Really happy to see that the older versions will be compatible with RPI4! No more need to continue hoarding for used ones! :stuck_out_tongue:

PS - Your work has been one of the most inspiring things that I have encountered last year, which made me come back to ‘soundscaping’ and also to learn to build my own hardware.

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no, as we were able to obtain the needed CM3+ modules (after waiting a year).

furthermore, the CM3 to CM4 is not an easy pin-compatible upgrade such as that for the consumer Pi: the CM3 uses a SODIMM whereas the CM4 is a small DIL, so the engineering for the redesign would be beyond a small modification… it would make sense to more or less start from scratch.

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I don’t think this is necessary beyond marking scripts that will only work with Pi4.

The Monome community is already fragmented through different colors, sizes and varibright support of grids (and some people don’t have grids at all). Arc is currently unavailable (I hope it will come back!) yet some scripts in Maiden are written with it in mind. Older Norns don’t have CM3+ which, while running at the same speed, has a heatsink so it can withstand more sustained load without thermal throttling. And then there’s Shields and Fates, and…

You get the idea. There’s a degree to which anybody’s setup will be unique. Many scripts already do a lot to respond to those varying needs. I believe memory and computing power might be just the next variable.

I mean, I understand that you don’t want to leave the original Norns owners behind. And you won’t be! Plenty of scripts exist for them, and plenty of new scripts will still be written for them.

However, allowing Norns users to take advantage of the increased CPU and memory of Pi4 is vitally important for long-term success of Norns going forward. Let’s make sure we stay relevant. We are mostly fine in 2022 with 2016 Raspberry Pi performance! But we should be able to evaluate, experiment, develop for 2022 Raspberry Pi performance as well. After all, there will be a Pi5 in 2-3 years, and what then?

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Thanks to everyone involved in making this product possible. You’re all heroes.

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So excited for this. Total norns newbie here, and this is arguably the best time to get into it: solder-free assembly, pi and psu included, etc. Very happy to support.

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i couldn’t disagree more with this sentiment.

the success of norns is not that it’s a computer, or a how fast that computer is. it’s the thoughtfulness that went into the architecture and how that facilitates community. the core team understands this intrinsically, and as a result we’ve long been against Pi4 support as it raises various problems with continuity. these problems can be “solved” but it requires both technical solutions (engineering time) and community information management. we previously preferred to focus on the core goals, but we’re now in a position where accessibility is limited by scarcity: so now we’ll put the time in.

to be super clear: we won’t prevent a Pi 4 from being fully used. it’s more that the community library succeeds by being widely applicable. we’ve already experienced cases where Fates-based (Pi 4) engines have gotten into the catalog, creating a flurry of debugging (and support tickets to, yes, us directly).

so, we want to keep the main catalog universal. maiden supports multiple catalogs, if one wanted a edge-of-cpu collection.

but for anyone obsessed with the added CPU power i’d encourage investigating what it’d take to optimize your heavy engine work to on a slower CPU. because we’ve also seen quite frequently that high CPU use is a result of what might be described as “bad code” (*see below)

as computers get faster, code tends to get worse because “it works” despite perhaps burning heaps of extra energy. given the times we live in, writing better code is imperative— and what better way to achieve this than through community art-making.

to address the assertion of existing fragmentation: having or not having a grid or specific midi device is not the same as creating (potentially artificial, if it’s just sloppy code) CPU requirements. being interested in a grid (or not) is very different than being on an upgrade-treadmill where the older thing will increasingly be perceived as “obsolete” and useless. we aim to ensure these things stay useful, and perceived as such.

yep. this is why we are “pastproofing” now.


(addendum)

so of course “pastproofing” is lexically nonsensical, meaningless to the point of actually indicating the opposite of that which i was attempting to convey.

past-proof: to make resistant against the past? to ensure the past is useless, irrelevant?


(further addendum)*

“bad code” was a poor choice of words. what i was trying to illustrate is a case where the CPU has to do a lot more than is necessary to achieve the desired outcome, which could be improved substantially by structurally changing the code.

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My own thoughts echo many comments here… I simply don’t want to get in a “wish for more” Arms race…if I did I would be using a laptop or so forth…which I detest for this exact reason …I don’t want the stress of things constantly becoming the “old version”… It’s awesome to buy a gadget and play within ideas created within its walls and limits rather than constantly be on a quest for more power

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Words to live by for any hardware manufacturer!

Congratulations on the release. I have a shield so I won’t be getting one, but I’m very happy that more people will be able to join the community. The more people use it, the more the platform will improve.

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Thanks for the continuous work on this !

To add my voice to the chorus, I think Norns is in several ways a bit like a much evolved and modern version of the Clavia Micro-Modular.

That thing was released in 1998. You create patches for it with an editor and it works as an independent device after that. It’s got a DSP that can be considered puny by today’s standards.

Yet, it can still be a wonderful instrument even now. The hardware still works fine and its main limitation now is really a matter of interface and user tools, which is something that Norns does in a much more future-proof way.

I think an unified userbase is definitely more important for a platform’s viability than pure specs. That’s also valid for people who actually write scripts for Norns : having to manage potential variations in specs is not necessarily easy.

When I was poking around on the RasPi site a few weeks ago and saw the change in form factor from CM3 to CM4, my heart sank. Really unfortunate. I also couldn’t really find a justification anywhere. Just like…“we did this”.

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If it ever came to a situation where the original norns hardware was untenable, I’d be happy to purchase a diy update kit to save replacing the housing and screen etc.

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So hyped about placing the order at 22.02.2022
Important question: Will be Shield’s 3d printed housing improved since Pi4 have different Usb/Ethernet position?

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And I’m still waiting to receive my Shield since ordered in December from a vendor… :unamused:so I wonder what are the main differences and/or Pro/Con

Congratulations on release, sounded like lots of tough decisions had to be made.

The idea that someone could be trying out a newly released norns script on their 2016 norns in 2026, or even 2036, assuming the infrastructure still exists then, is extremely exciting to me.

The work y’all do towards breaking the constant tech upgrade cycles, despite literally everything conspiring against that is honestly incredible. And I get why some people are having a hard time understanding that, it’s counter to literally everything we are taught by modern consumer culture. To unlearn the lie that new and bigger is always better is a challenging thing!

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Is this process documented anywhere? I’d be curious to give that a try.