Atari Punk Console – How It Works!

The Atari Punk Console is the most famous DIY synthesizer out there!  Its simplicity helps DIYers looking to get their feet wet in the world of electronics by completing a simple electronics project, and the payout is huge.  For some of the more advanced electronics people, the design is ripe to be extended, modulated, controlled, etc.    So get started with making your own music with electronics for a build costing for less than $10!


 In this tutorial, we are going to break this circuit down to its most essential elements, analyze their function, then figure out how to extend this circuit.   I’ll include a step-by-step breadboard construction example so you can build your own today!


The Atari Punk console is a great source of lo-fi synth sounds!  Reminiscent of vintage Atari video games, the synthesizer’s output is a characteristic

Forrest Mims, a popular electronics author, published the original Atari Punk Console schematic for a “Sound Synthesizer” in Engineer’s Notebook: Integrated Circuit Applications   and then a “Stepped Tone Generator” in Engineer’s Mini-Notebook: 555 Circuits.  Kaustic Machines took the circuit and popularized their version as the “Atari Punk Console”.

This is the original schematic Forrest Mims published.


The Atari Punk Console is actually two configurations of a 555 timer circuit.  It can been built using the convenient 556 Dual Timer package, which requires only one IC.555 timer circuits are great, and are used for all sorts of purposes.  Click here for a list of cool 555 timer circuits!

The first timer is a 555 astable multivibrator/oscillator circuit.  I’d advise committing this one to memory; its uses are limitless.

The second timer is a monostable multivibrator.These are fun circuits to play with.  The output of the circuit is totally dependent on a R x C value for when the output goes HIGH/1/On.  This can be boiled down to a math equation, which introduces some cool variability (more on this later).

The 555 astable timer’s output drives the 555 monostable circuit.  It outputs squarewave pulses with a duration controlled by R3. You have to actually hear the end result to fully appreciate the stepped tones that are generated as R1 and/or R3 are adjusted.


How It Works

The Atari Punk Console circuit is simple: One 556 timer (or 2x 555 timers), some resistors, a couple caps, and other parts.  Actually, we’ll have a whole list ready for you later in this tutorial.

555 astable multivibrator circuit- the potentiometer for this circuit controls the frequency of the output oscillation.

555 monostable multivibrator circuit – the potentiometer controls the output pulse duration of the monostable multivibrator.

The final potentiometer is volume control that follows the decibel shift.

Eagle CAD files

Potentiometer Variable Substitution

Further resources:

Wikipedia page.

Youtube Videos

Atari Punk Console is now available as a Kit from GetLoFi for only $24.



produce 2 layers of square wave sounds. Atari Punk Console (APC) is a name given by Kaustic Machines crew because of the “low-fi” sound it produced is similar to the games from Atari Consoles in the 80′s, with square wave similar from Atari 2600.


Part List

  • C1 0.1uF   C2 0.1uF   C3 10uF
  • 9V Battery Clips
  • IC1 NE556N   S
  • Audio mini jack out mono
  • R1 pot 500K   R2 pot 500K   R3 1K   R4 1K

NE556 Pinout diagram




Atari Punk Console EAGLE PCB design files:  [Schematic][Board]


Rate control

Most notably, the resistors are often substituted for potentiometers.  This gives the circuit more swing.  Photoresistors are also popular, but I find their substitution to be a bit chaotic.  However, combine photoresistors together with a controlled environment such as a vactrol and you will have an excellent means of buffering + control.


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