"Tiny, tinny and totally pointless": The story of the world's "smallest and silliest" synthesizer

Small synths have become increasingly popular over the past decade: just look at the success of Teenage Engineering's Pocket Operators and OP-1 if you need confirmation.

None have taken this trend as far as inventor and engineer Tim Alex Jacobs, though, who has created what he believes is the smallest synthesizer ever made. A tiny, tinny and totally pointless creation, it's about the size of a raspberry. Of course, we absolutely love it. 

Back in 2015, Jacobs created what he believed to be the world's smallest MIDI synthesizer. Jacobs retrofitted a broken MIDI cable to create his mini synth, squeezing in a microchip, some DIY wiring and a piezo buzzer before wrapping the whole thing up in electrical tape.

The synth drew power through the MIDI signal and emitted sound using its piezoelectric buzzer. "As brilliant as this design was, I wasn't content, and decided to go deeper", Jacobs says. Next up in the tale of tiny synths was the world's smallest USB synthesizer, essentially the same thing but with a USB connector.

"I seem to have crafted myself a niche, a very small niche, a micro niche. A niche where I build the smallest and worst... whatever," Jacobs continues. "To be clear, no one is competing with me. No one is vying for the title of the smallest and worst MIDI synthesizer. But that's not going to stop me."

This week, Jacobs has outdone himself once again, building the world's smallest USB-C MIDI synthesizer. Essentially a USB-C connector wired up to a tiny circuit board and the same piezo buzzer that was used in his previous mini synths, it's his tiniest creation yet.

Jacobs is admirably candid about the limitations of his diminutive noisemaker: "You might be thinking that this is utterly pointless, and you'd be right," he says. "There is no device we could plug this into that doesn't already have a speaker. There are no USB-C hosts that couldn't already run a software synthesizer [...] The only thing it can do is a monophonic square wave".

In the video above, Jacobs plugs four of the synths into a USB hub before performing an endearingly awful rendition of a theme from Mario 64 which has thoroughly brightened our day. Perhaps the world's smallest synthesizer isn't so useless after all. 

Subscribe to Jacob's YouTube channel or visit his website.

Matt Mullen
Tech Editor

I'm the Tech Editor for MusicRadar, working across everything from artist interviews to product news to tech tutorials. I love electronic music and I'm endlessly fascinated by the tools we use to make it. When I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, carefully crafting the beginnings of another project that I'll ultimately abandon to the creative graveyard that is my overstuffed hard drive.

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