Resurrecting and upgrading the Hartman Neuron

Neuron1Somewhere in december 2015 I had a chance to get my hands on a defect Hartmann Neuron Synthesizer. This is a rare synth and the chances to get my hands on a second hand unit around here were really close to none.

The deal

This unit I found was apparently stuck at the powerup light show, it stopped booting after its previous owner had replaced the motherboard battery. I already knew that this was a common problem (the computer inside being stuck at the “Error, Press F1 to continue” prompt when BIOS settings are reset by the battery replacement). I also knew that its owner had a IT background so couldn’t be that easy. I made him an offer based on the risk I was willing to take and on how much I could get from salvaged parts (only a joystick was missing) and, deal done. Brought it back home without testing anything since I knew it was dead anyway. While moving it, I heard something loose in the case… mmm probably some plastic bit moving around.

Getting late, lets wait tomorrow, yeah right… of course, first thing I did was opening it, hooking a VGA monitor to see the damage. Good news, BIOS screen was there, it was booting, it was stuck at F1 prompt. I quickly hooked a computer keyboard, reconfigured the BIOS settings correctly and fired up the beast. It was working! Talk about a deal… Hooked up headphones and listened, played some notes with a big smile, happy to hear how great it sounded and how noisy this thing is (not it’s output signal… the synth itself)… Having a 15 years old PC at home ? Give it a go, you’ll see how silent todays computers has become.

I have read somewhere, this thing is a unicorn… sounds like nothing, rare as hell and fragile as glass.

Cleanup and damage check

It was coming from someone who probably allowed some smoking near it, just by the smell and dust color… Cleaned up everything.

While cleaning, I found what was moving around… not a plastic bit but a surface mount crystal… Checking around where it is coming from, the motherboard didn’t seem to miss anything and it was working… I found several days later that it was coming from the top of the sound card daughterboard. The only problem it was causing was sound dropouts when I was moving joysticks too quickly. Strange, but not a problem that I can’t fix.

Inspecting the motherboard capacitors was not good news either, they were running very hot and many had bumpy tops. They were ready to pop and die. Meh, I could replace a couple of caps, not a problem either. But at this point I was starting thinking of getting a replacement motherboard…

Fans were running, hard disk was going fine even if I expected it to get stuck at any moment, everything seems to be hanging on, so I closed everything telling myself it was safe to play at least a little bit with it before I get replacement parts. While closing and opening the case I forgot the headphones were connected so I did it like a pro, teared the headphone connector off the board while lifting the cover… need to replace that as well… Lesson learned, always disconnect the headphones…

A couple of days running the synth and it died. It was powering up and going down immediately…typical computer ATX power supply problem… yeah.. that could be fixed too but now I had to take it back to the bench, order everything and fix this thing.

Shopping time :

Grocery list :

  • New power supply unit
  • New motherboard, CPU, CPU fan, RAM
  • Replace the HDD for a SSD, including PATA/SATA adaptor
  • New silent case fan
  • Headphone connector

Salvaged my old computers to find some RAM, a spare 120GB disk drive for tests and backup purposes, a silent triple-speed case fan and a ATX power supply to boot it while I replace the PSU.

First I soldered the crystal back in place, quick fix. The audio dropouts stopped and everything was fine. Good news.

Found on eBay a new Motherboard with a CPU, that was apparently tested and preconfigured for a Harmann Neuron from Australia. User XXXX was probably some other Neuron fan I guess. Around 280$AUD. Expensive but I’ve seen some boards at 1500$USD just because it it used in some kind of industrial machine… And I didn’t wanted to wait. Everything comes with a price.

Also found on eBay, a Kentek Power 250W Micro ATX Power Supply for about 12$USD.

Ordered from a Kingston 120GB SSD (Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SV300S37A/120G 2.5IN SATA3 LSI Sandforce) drive for 60$CAD, a Socket 7 cooler, thermal paste, Startech Parallel to Serial ATA drive adaptor ( 2.5in and 3.5in 40 Pin Male IDE to SATA Adapter Converter).

I remember that my uncle mailed me something like 10 years ago a CD of Acronis imaging software, that I kept in the bookshelf since then. Things always happen for a reason. It was the exact version needed for the job. I backed up my current drive and imaged the Christopher Simmons image (still available here). Thank you Mr. Simmons.

Next up, Re-assembling the beast, powering up and claiming the reward…

Stay tuned 🙂