Neutral Labs MEG - DIY Build
As many of you know, we have a thing for unusual musical equipment or modular gear. There are a few manufacturers out there that really turn our heads and open our wallets. It easily goes without a doubt that Neutral Labs is one of these manufacturers. As you may recall, Neutral Labs created the Elmyra, a small desktop synth inspired by the Lyra-8. They also created the NERMAL eurorack module which quite literally mangled anything we threw at it.
Their latest module, the MEG is a waveshaper like no other that we have in our racks. It was a definite must have kit to get as soon as it was announced.
What is the MEG?
The MEG is a waveshaper plain and simple, but it is very unique. Unlike normal waveshapers, that fold the wave back in on itself, the MEG shifts parts of the wave up or down. This shift is also adjustable and pulse-width modulation (and more) is also inherently added. Now, this sounds really confusing and trust us… it was when we heard it too. Thankfully Neutral Labs sent over this diagram to show how this folding occurs. (see below).
What is in the kit?
The Neutral Labs MEG is a relatively small kit, with a few little gotchas (the vactrol and power header). Upon opening up the kit, you will notice that the components are grouped into 2 small bags, one of them is plain white and the other is metal-coated (silver color). Bag 2 has the transistors and IC, while all other components are in bag 1.
Now, before you go emptying things out everywhere, take a look through the BOM or Assembly guide that Neutral Labs provided. This is going to be your roadmap to accomplishment. (Links below).
Resistors and Diodes
There are a total of 4 diodes on the MEG and their polarity matters when you place them. Line the black line of the diode up with the white line on the silk screen of the PCB and you are good to go. Follow these up with the resistors. These are not polarized so you can mount them any way you wish. We used top down soldering to tack these into place when we were done.
You can flip over the PCB when you are done and double check your work to make sure the solder flow goes through the pad to the other side.
R21 and R22 will be mounted standing up. This can be done now, or saved for later if you choose to. Trim the leads when this is done and move on to the IC socket.
The IC Socket…
An easy way to mount the IC socket is to either use a piece of cardboard or something flat and lay it across the part after placing it directly on the PCB. This helps aid in flipping the board over and soldering it down. Another way you can do this is to place a dab of solder on one of the pads and then gently place the IC socket into place. Heat the underside of the pad you put the solder on and the socket will “pop” into place. This is our preferred way of tackling IC sockets and any header we come across.
** Lastly, do NOT install the IC chip until the very end of the build to protect it from any shorts or overheating.
Neutral Labs MEG - Time Lapse Build
Pin Headers and Power …
After knocking out the IC socket, you can move onto the other pin headers. The MEG comes with one 2×5 header (where the power cable attaches) and one small 1×3 header for AC/DC selection. Simply follow the same tip as above by placing a dab of solder on the pads and then heat it up as you gently click the headers into place.
We chose to use a shrouded power header socket bc we like the ease of attaching the cable and we never really have to check if we unplug and plug over and over. If you do use a shrouded header, play special attention on how you need to match it up. Locate where it says “STRIPE” on the PCB and line this up with the small triangle on the power header. This is pin 1… and it is VERY important it remains that way. Tack everything down once you have completed mounting the headers. It’s capacitor time.
Caps and Transistors…
First and foremost, polarity matters with these. Their longer leg goes on the plus side as indicated on the PCB. The solder pads for the small capacitors are quite close to each other too, so make sure there’s no accidental solder bridge between them, or you might damage the module when plugging it in. It helps to bend the capacitor’s legs slightly outward before soldering. Once you have completed the 3 caps, it is time for the 3 transistors. Insert them as the outline on the PCB indicates.
IMPORTANT: Make sure that the transistors labeled J109 go into Q1 and Q2 and the 2N3904 goes into Q3. They’re very different beasts and not interchangeable!
Pots and Jacks…
Remove the nuts from the pots (RV1, RV2) and jacks (J1-J4). Then, clip the little silver anti-rotation tag off of the pots with a wire cutter and fit the pots and jacks onto the PCB without soldering.
Next, lower the panel onto the jacks and pots and lightly tighten all the nuts to hold the panel in place. Carefully flip everything back over and solder. At this point you have completed the build of the MEG and it is now time to power it up.
Prior to plugging it in and shredding every wave you come across, you need to set the IC chip that we have left unpopulated throughout the build. Bend the legs at a 90 degree angle and gently place it into the IC socket. It has a little notch on it which should match the little notch on the socket (and the notch in the white outline on the PCB). If you mess this part up, well… just call it quits and don’t build again. (just kidding… ok not really!).
While you are here, make sure you place the jumper on the 1×3 pin header. If you are unsure where to mount it, double check the user manual (linked above) to set your preference. Ours is set to DC so it can handle both CV and audio.
MEG - Build Gallery
Neutral Labs MEG - Final Thoughts...
When we first plugged it in, nothing happened and we were kinda wondering what was up, but if you go onto read the manual and understand how it works to fold the wave, it made sense. We adjusted the top knob to 12 o’clock and it found our spot. These modules are unique and they require a sense of finesse. Thankfully, Neutral Labs provides stellar documentation and even helped us out by sharing some patch ideas in their user manual.
In the short amount of time we have had with this little beast, we can tell you that we would like to order another. Take notice that we don’t say that about modules very often. This is partially due to us wanting to daisy chain them together to see what kind of craziness we can get out of these 6hp monsters. They are wave folders like none we have ever experienced which is something that few manufacturers can provide these days.
Neutral Labs might be new to the synth/modular market, but you wouldn’t think so due to their top notch synths and their unique take on synthesis. The MEG just hit the market (March 2022) and it can be purchased at THONK (in the UK) or Exploding Shed (EU).
Kits are relatively inexpensive and the novice builder can complete this build in about an hours time. As we previously said in both the NERMAL and Elmyra builds, we cannot wait to see what Neutral Labs comes up with next… and you can guarantee that we will be grabbing it as soon as it does…
If you have questions about the build process or suggestions/feedback about this article, feel free to let us know by contacting us. We look forward to hearing from you!
Until the next build …