norns shield

Hi, I’m curious about the audio quality difference between Norns & Norns Shield in more detail. Only info I can find is that Norns has “very high quality audio”. But what does that mean in relation to Norns Shield?

@zebra Ok, thank you for the explanation & quick reply, much appreciated!

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I have a version with your older boards, but have always been bothered by my flimsy case… (yes Norns is the long term solution but a bit more costly.)

Would it be possible to buy the case+top plate alone? Or just the top acrylic plate and I could buy the case from JHC?

(Or perhaps someone is doing a run of top plates?)

the top plate and case are both in the github repo. you can easily order these from any rapid proto service. pololu does good laser cutting (plates) and shapeways is a common 3dprinting source.

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I do see an aluminum top plate for sale on Reverb sometimes if you want to go that way.

1 Like there is also this thread , I think I have seen ppl in there offer to make cases for others before if u wanted to look around


Thanks! I checked shapeways (from JHCs Dropbox link, I’ll check github too) earlier and the cheapest estimate was over 40 USD, which seemed excessive compared to some other prints I’ve done. But there might be some options to tweak to get the cost down. I’ll figure something out.

I have a Norns Shield due to arrive midweek and thought I’d get on with as much prepping as possible ahead of receiving it - but I’m unclear about the role of the SD card and would be grateful if anyone could enlighten me.

I have a (new) SanDisk 16gb card, I’ve installed Etcher on my Win10 laptop and have downloaded and unzipped norns201202-shield.img from the link at

So far, so good - but I’m not sure what comes next. Am I supposed to put the SD card in my laptop and just copy norns201202-shield.img to it? And then what? Is there a card slot in the Shield that the SD card goes into? If so, should I leave the whole Etcher/image thing until then? Or is the SD card/image/flashing procedure just a one-time thing that (somehow) runs from the laptop to the Shield, and which can be disconnected and put away when the Shield is up and running? I’m really struggling to understand the steps outlined in the shield fresh install process in the link above.

Apologies for the supremely n00b question, but I’d be really grateful for an “explain this to me as if I’m 10 years old” walkthrough.

Thanks in advance for any clarity that anyone can bring…

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hi @Helen – happy new year!

shields require a different flashing process than stock norns:

  • after you download the norns201202-shield.img, you’ll also need to download etcher (a program that helps flash the norns software to the SD card)
  • then, pop your SD card into your computer and etcher will walk you through – you’ll need to select the unzipped norns201202-shield.img as the image and your SD card as the target, but then it should take care of everything from there
  • once done, drop the SD card into the Raspberry Pi you’re using for your shield and you’ll be in business!

once your shield is up and running, you might notice that the available capacity is less than your card – the steps listed here will help with that :slight_smile:

let us know how it goes!


That’s fantastic - thank you!

As ever, I was overthinking things :thinking: and I’m grateful for the straightforward explanation.

Really looking forward to receiving my Shield now!


there are some differences between the norns and norns shield:

  • norns has a battery, 1/4” mono jacks, a separate headphone jack and driver, very high quality audio, serial connection over power port
  • norns shield has 3.5mm stereo jacks (headphones work on the output jack) and an ethernet port

As it’s mentioned in the differences, how is the audio quality on a shield unit with off-the-shelf Pi? I’m seeing myself eyeing over Norns and Grid more everyday, and the price is not an absolute dealbreaker. Norns seems a really, really pleasant design and I would be happy to have a robust, ”complete” unit, and 1/4” jacks would be preferable, but those are things I could live with and would justify the price difference. But absolute sound quality is something that would leave me always wondering if it would’ve been better to just take the plunge full on. I don’t have golden ears, but after switching to RME interface won over my scepticism of real-world audible difference in conversion/amplification quality of modern consumer grade interfaces I’ve been more interested in this stuff. Although I do see the irony in simultaneously building more quality setup and sliding into noisier and more experimental style of music…

just in case you missed it, this post from above seems to answer your question in a bit more detail than the first post:

i have zero personal experience with the shield though so i can’t speak to how much the noise difference is felt in practice


i personally have never been able to hear the difference, your build might be noisier…hard to say

if I were in your shoes (able to afford full norns and grid) i’d probably get the shield and grid, see how i like em and upgrade norns later after selling the shield

tons of people are willing to buy a built shield secondhand so that could be a win-win

(but if you pull the trigger on full norns from day one you won’t regret it)


Oh, I was sure I had read this thread couple of times before asking but lo and behold there it was. I was thinking about buying a shield and maybe upgrading later on, but in my experience the market for these kind of more esoteric machines is not great where I live, and I’m not sure if I’m into the hassle of international or pan-european shipping. It took me ages to sell my w/ even when it was out of stock everywhere, with what I would call a very fair price, and I have probably seen a single Norns and not a one Shield on sale in the biggest online used instrument marketplace of Finland.


Quick question. I have a norns shield on the way but I’m about to buy a used Grid 64. Just want to make sure that the grid 64 and norns shield are compatible?

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definitely compatible, but your mileage my vary on ease of use – this is sorta mentioned here and there’s a collection of scripts which do offer 64-grid compatibility without any additional user coding: Norns Scripts for a 64 Grid


Hi again, lovely patient Shield experts :upside_down_face:

Another of my seemingly endless supply of clueless n00b questions, I’m afraid…

I think I’ve successfully updated my Shield to 210114 - it all seemed to go smoothly - but I guess what I’d like to know is, how can I check? How can I find out what version is installed? Is there anywhere in the Shield software that would tell me? Or maybe in Maiden somewhere?
[insert head-scratching emoji here]

tia, as ever :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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yes! K2 on the home screen will reveal system info.

screenshots from: wifi + files - docs

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Thank you so much! I really appreciate the info!
Will go and check - and a further shot of reading the manual looks like it’s in order, too!

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FWIW, I think I was the guy who bought your w/ in the end!

So - I’ve built a couple of Norns Shields for a circle of friends (last year, some time before the current “no soldering needed” version was available at Monome store), and a Fates for myself. I’m not sure if I have a single PCB of one of those still in store somewhere or not.

In any case, if you end up in Helsinki one day, I’m sure one of us can arrange the possibility to check one of the shields (or the Fates) out in person so you don’t need to order from the US just to hear what it’ll be like / whether it’ll be good enough for your ears.

I’m not very picky about SNR and usually try to apply sane gain staging anyway, but I do think I have semi decent monitoring and ears, there’s nothing lo-fi or overtly noisy about these ones I’ve built and heard. The “factory built” Norns will be better in that spec, but whether it matters for me or not I don’t know.

(Probably planning to upgrade to a factory built Norns at some point myself, just because I like these things a lot, not because I find the sound quality or SNR wanting…)