I'm alive! State of the weird Aksoverse

Hi all,

This is long, long overdue. I’m alive and well.

I realize that I have fallen way short staying in touch with you all about what I’ve been up to and what the status of the project is and so on. I don’t have any good excuses. Things that have contributed: extreme demands on my time coming from my day job, burnout / mental health problems, simply not being sure what to say or where I want to go with the project, various emotions: shame, dread, boredom, fatigue, confusion.

In addition to this, there are fundamental issues with producing the hardware as currently designed and hitting the current price point. This is especially hard in the current climate of low part stock and higher part and assembly prices. Each board requires manual assembly of the following parts: both USB-C connectors, both tactile switches, the power inductors, the codec, the 3.3 linear regulator, the USB-C host management IC and the audio jacks if that’s requested on the order. Each board needs to be tested manually. I’ve done this by hand on every shipped board. This takes hours and hours of manual labor.

This is the most critical thing that I need to eliminate to keep the project alive. The fundamental issue is that I can’t realistically hit the price point having someone else do the full assembly of the current design, but doing it myself is essentially not accounting for that labor cost. In other words, I’m not really making money because I have to sink so many hours into assembly. I think the approach here is going to be to do a design revision that makes a couple of key changes to ensure that I can pay someone to do the assembly but still keep the price reasonable.

I realize that the software is imperfect. There were known issues when I shipped it originally. The main reason I haven’t been able to do more work on it is that all of my free time is being eaten up by the assembly and ship activities. Getting that resolved will free up time for me to focus on the software. For those who have Akso hardware in hand and feel that it is not meeting your needs or expectations because of software issues, please file tickets on the Github page. Many of the open issues are actually pretty straightforward to fix; it’s just a matter of finding the time. I want to prioritize them so I can address issues that will be beneficial to the most users first.

Shipping issues: several boards have bounced back to me or have been lost in shipping for whatever reason. My current policy is to simply refund orders that bounce back. If you think your order was lost, i.e. you received a shipping notification but never received the parcel, please contact me and I’ll issue a refund.

Outstanding orders: there are approximately 11 remaining open orders. I have stock on hand to fulfill them; they are going out as soon as I finish assembly and test on each one. If you are in this set of 11 and would rather have a refund now, let me know. If you ordered and have some other issue that maybe I missed and need a refund, let me know.

Bottom line for me: I will never give up on this project. This is only the beginning of a much larger journey. I have no shortage of ideas about future hardware and software I want to implement. Akso in its current form is really only an alpha version of something deeper I think. There are rough edges, imperfections. I’m imperfect. I haven’t consistently managed the project the way I would like. I’m hopeful about the future though! I think we can learn a lot from the current implementation and channel that data into various improvements.

Hope you are well!

Nicolas

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Glad you are well, and thanks for the update.

I’m not one to judge, it’s never easy to handle these situations. Being straightforward and open about it is the only way forward, I can tell you that much from my experience in similar situations, and by helping boutique manufacturers, such as yourself, with their communication. An honest message such as this one is all it takes for most spirits to calm down and it usually brings a huge relief to all parties. We’re all human after all, and to empathize with hardship comes more naturally thank we imagine when we’re the ones falling behind.

Glad you’re still on board. Not sure what the software issues are, but happy to see you plan on ironing them out. :slight_smile:

If a fully assembled unit remains, I’m probably going to order a second one. I’ve been happy with the one I got second hand, and I’d be happy to support the project by buying one directly from the source.

What is the plan moving forward? The last part of your message reads a bit open-ended. What’s the future for Akso? New version? More objects?

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Thank you Nic, for reaching out and the perserverance, both heavy burdens… this small corner of the Aksoverse breathes a huge sigh of relief…

@ParanormalPatroler I have never been happy with the architecture of the patcher itself, going back to my first exposure to Axoloti. Nonetheless, I’ve been hugely inspired by it. It has many fundamental limitations and lots of complexity, design decisions I don’t agree with, etc. As I’ve said from the beginning, the goal has always been to move beyond the Axoloti legacy; I’ve always seen it just as a temporary solution, a means of bootstrapping the hardware. I see keeping it around as an option for those who like it, but moving primary development to an alternate software stack.

As I said above, the current hardware design is simply too hard to produce for a reasonable cost, both in cash and in labor time. I’m thinking about creating a stripped down version that can be completely outsourced as a stepping stone to get us through this period of low part stock. I understand the core elements well enough that we can easily mix and match and port to alternate processors or codecs that happen to be available. The firmware core should really be done in such a way that we easily migrate to new processors.

I have a separate project going at the moment that uses the newer H755 processor that includes both an H7 and an F4 core. That would clearly be very interesting for Axo-style applications.

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Hi Nic!

Great to read your message and I hope all the other things ease off and give you some time and space to take a breath.

There are some really clever software/hardware people around here (not including yours truly) - so shout out with what you need help with/if you need help. Everyone wants to see this become a huge success and Im sure on-one more than you!

Good to see you back!

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Great to hear from you!

Please keep coms open that’s the real killer on projects like this. We’re all happy to hang around and spit ball on the project even if there’s limited progress. You should seriously consider upping the cost a bit the akso offers substantially more than the original board and which already underpriced for what it is.

Sad to hear about the continuing production issues I had hoped that with JLC now offering connectors and sd card slot as part of their assembly services it would alleviate these problems but i guess now chip shortages are the issue.

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Hi Nic,

Thanks for posting this. This project looks super interesting. I am looking forward to be a part of the community. Good luck!

@Tim JLC relaxing their assembly restrictions absolutely helps. The challenge is that it’s extremely difficult to count on them having stock of any particular part, and they don’t seem to have a way to “wait on” a part. It’s either in stock at the moment you submit your BOM or not. That’s really obnoxious to deal with.

What we need to get to I think is something like the following: 1. User clicks order on webpage. 2. Board ships out from fab without having me involved in manual assembly at all. 3. User goes through a setup procedure to flash the firmware, etc. Just like needing to do a bit of software setup for a Pi. 4. If there’s an issue, user clicks some other button on a webpage that produces a return shipping label. New board is dispatched to user from fab after approval. Problematic board is shipped to me for debug. I debug and either scrap the bad board, direct ship for another order or return to the fab stock pool.

In my experience so far I haven’t actually run into a “bad part” or “bad board” on this project; it’s purely that I introduce some bug coming from imperfect manual assembly and then have to waste time debugging and reworking, etc. If you haven’t gathered already, that process is just excruciating, especially on a design that is this jam packed; I’m completely burnt out on manual SMD rework. I think we can achieve a high good board rate coming direct out of fab with everything assembled. It’s a matter of doing that at a reasonable price.

We’ve essentially been wasting all of my useful cycles on tedious stuff that should be outsourced. All of that energy needs to go into software and design.

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I understand the hassles of making products for sale. I have been making Synthwerks Eurorack modules for over a decade and I have done all the post PCB stuff myself in the basement of my house. All through hole parts and testing are done by me. My stuff is MUCH more simpler than yours for sure. There is a company in a neighboring state to me that can take the project all the way from BOM and Gerbers to tested boxed units ready for sale. They do it for many Eurorack makers and pedal makers. It cost more of course, more than my volumes of sale can afford, but I am sure that there are houses in the EU that can do that for you too. Charge more for the AKSO. It will STILL be much cheaper than the competition for what it offers. I can wait for a new design though, especially if it is a better design. Compatibility with the Axolotti is not that important to me personally (I easily see how it was a way to jump-start the AKSO project). I have found after doing this for as long as I have done it, that my sanity is worth every cent I have to charge the user for. So is yours. Value your labor, you are worth it.

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V glad to hear you’re ok and you’re back nsm! I struggle with poor mental health at times and also find facing communications very challenging when overwhelmed. It’s an awful feedback loop when there’s too much to do. I think re-scoping, and realistically assessing project needs are very positive moves.

Maybe some additional project management could help? I’m sure there’s some good eggs around who are invested enough to help out with a communications strategy who could act as go betweens/community managers when you just want to focus on work.

Good to hear from you. The board is a lovely design and so chock full of capability. I’m not surprised to read about the effort to assemble them and the crazy low price. I’ve been playing with several boards to compare them and the Akso in particular is a sweet spot in terms of capability but I guessed was unsustainable at the price.

Thanks for the feedback.
This project is very promising!
I received my unit about 5 months after the order was charged and was kind of worried, but so far my Akso proved to work well. I can see all the work involved and what kind of burden this represents for a one person business.
Keep us informed: that’s the way you can get positive support!
Thanks for your work.

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It’s a sign of good personality to not work when it’s unhealthy.

When you one day return to this project: double the price, if that’s not enough, then triple it. Axoloti boards sell out in a day, there is demand and you should let that demand drive the price.

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Hi!!

Thank you for sharing, I hope you can get out of this predicament and regain your health!
I’m very excited that you may be finishing my akso board at some point, for me it was starting to feel it was not going to happen. But, as said before, I can appreciate that this is a one-person business, and I’m just very happy that you’re still here and that I’m going to get my super nice board!

Thanks!, Henk

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Good to hear from you Nicolas and grlad that you are doing ok!
I have that tripple order. Is it ok if I simmer the order down to one board and ahave a refund on the to other boards? If its already on the way its ok as it is. Just let me know what you decide.
Best, Chris

Great to hear from you. Glad you’re taking good care of yourself. That’s the most important thing.