$5 USB MIDI adapter with ATmega32u4

This article will detail how to build a USB MIDI adapter (one-directional: you connect the adapter with USB cable to your computer, and it receives notes and pedal data from your keyboard’s MIDI OUT and transmits them to your computer) with ATmega32u4, 6N137 optocoupler, a few resistors and spare MIDI connector or cable. Read on for details!


Last year I wrote how you can turn Teensy LC into an inexpensive USB MIDI adapter. I used it to replace a non-working Chinese MIDI-USB adapter that did not send controller messages (i.e. piano pedal) properly to PC.

However, since the Teensy still costs $12, and you have to get some additional components, it doesn’t make sense to use it in a dedicated MIDI adapter, since you can get a working USB MIDI adapter for around $15 from Thomann and probably many other places.

But how about other boards? After making my Teensy LC adapter, I actually tinkered with Adafruit Pro Trinket, and got that working as well (the standard Trinket does not have hardware UART so V-USB and software UART is somewhat risky). But there is even a better board for this: The ATmega32u4 board I previously showed how it can be made into USB HID mouse. Let’s see how to turn it into a USB MIDI adapter!

Required hardware

To build this, you will need roughly $5.40 worth of components:

  • SparkFun Pro Micro (clones with ATmega32u4 can be had for $3.50 from AliExpress, eBay, etc.)
  • 6N137 optocoupler, which can be had for ~$0.30 a piece (I suggest sourcing a couple in case you burn one by accident)
  • 330 ohm and 2 kohm resistors ($0.10) and 1N4148 diode if you want to be safe
  • MIDI connector or alternatively you can just cut a short cheap MIDI cable and wire it to your project, let’s say $1.50

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USB Mouse with ATmega32U4 Pro Micro Clone and LUFA

I have spent a fair amount of time with 8-bit AVR microcontrollers and one of the cooler things has been the V-USB library which implements low-speed USB with clever (and very time-critical) bit-banging. The popularity of my USB tutorials is a testament to its usefulness, and I’ve gotten lots of mileage out of that.

There are, however, some limitations to software USB with such a low spec microcontroller. USB communication hogs up the MCU completely during USB communication, which means you lose dozens of microseconds in random (or in many cases 8 ms) intervals. This rules out things like software UART at reasonable speeds (which I discovered when trying to implement MIDI on Adafruit Trinket). And more powerful ATmega328-based dev boards like Pro Trinket start to get quite large.

ProMicro on a breadboard

Not so with this tiny beauty shown in the image. It’s a ATmega32U4 based board, where the U4 means it has hardware USB support. The form factor is extremely compact 12 pin header length, which leaves 5 rows free on the smallest prototyping breadboards. That means you can have a DIP8 component with a few resistors on the same breadboard (such as a 6N137 optocoupler which is nice for MIDI… ;).

And the best part is, that because the chip is flashed with same firmware used in Arduino Leonardo (and a largely matching pinout), you can use Arduino for programming, and avrdude supports it out of the box.

Actually, scratch the above statement. The best part is the price. The board is based on Sparkfun Pro Micro 16 MHz, but it’s actually a Chinese clone, which you can get for $4 via DealExtreme and from quite many places in AliExpress: Just search for ATmega32U4 and they will come up. This means you can just order five and solder them into whatever project you’ll make permanently. And unlike Arduino Micro (for which clones exist as well), this has the micro-USB port already in place.

Using Pro Micro without Arduino IDE

Now you can just follow SparkFun’s instructions on how to use that thing on Arduino (short version: select Leonardo as board type, and look up the schematic if you are unsure which pins are connected to LEDs, etc.). But if you’re like me and want to get to raw metal, avr-gcc and avrdude is the way to go. Here’s a simple blinky demo:
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Turning PC On with a Knock Using ATtiny45 and a Piezoelectric Sensor

PS/2 with ATtiny45

Today’s post is something I’ve prepared for a long time. Hardware-wise it’s a simple thing – ATtiny45 emulating a PS/2 device, sending a keypress when three knocks are detected in the attached piezoelectric sensor (or piezo buzzer as they are also called). But if your computer can boot on PS/2 keyboard input and you have your computer stowed somewhere hard to reach (or just want to impress your friends), it’s a pretty neat little gadget! Here’s a video of it in action:

My PC takes a few seconds to put anything on display, but if you look at the bottom right corner, you can see the blue power LEDs light up immediately after the knocks.

What You’ll Need

Hardware-wise this hack is super simple. You’ll need less than $10 in parts and many probably already have these lying around:

  • ATtiny45. Actually, any ATtiny or ATmega with 4kB or more flash, A/D converter and two timers will work with small adjustments, and with -Os -DMINIMAL compiler flags also 2kB MCUs (ATtiny2313 doesn’t have a A/D but you can either work around it or use a button)
  • Piezo buzzer and 1 Mohm resistor to act as knock sensor
  • PS/2 connector, or alternatively a passive USB-PS/2 adapter (I have half a dozen from old keyboards and mice) and USB cable (like the one I used in my V-USB tutorial)
  • Breadboard and wire. Alternatively you can solder it on a simple PCB like I eventually did.
  • Optionally, a 4k7 ohm pullup resistor for RESET line, and a LED and 330 ohm resistor to indicate state

The Schematic and Breadboard Setup


The PS/2 part as discussed in my minimal PS/2 keyboard post doesn’t require any other hardware than the ATtiny. The piezo element uses a 1 Mohm resistor like in the Arduino Knock Sensor tutorial, providing a path for voltage level to get back to zero over time. The LED is connected to PB4.

The PS/2 connector also provides power to the device. Instead of soldering a custom PS/2 connector for the project, I took a passive USB-PS/2 adapter I had lying around and used a multimeter to find out which USB pins correspond to the PS/2 ones. Not surprisingly, PS/2 GND and VCC are connected to USB GND and VCC. In my adapters, PS/2 clock was connected to D+ and data to D-. You can see the mnemonic printout I made on that one below, as well as one possible breadboard configuration.
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Tutorial: State Machines with C Callbacks

State machine

Many electronics projects involve the device transitioning from one state to another. On a high level, it could be that your project is initially in a state where it awaits input, and once it receives it, it goes to another state where it performs a series of actions, eventually returning back to the initial state. On a lower level, many communications protocols are often simple or increasingly complex state machines. In many cases, an elegantly implemented state machine can simplify your code and make it easier to manage.

There are several methods to implement state machines programmatically starting from simple if-conditions to state variables and switch structures. In this tutorial I’ll cover a slightly more advanced method of using callbacks or “function pointers” as they are implemented in C. This has some performance benefits, makes up for some clean code, and you’ll learn a bit on the way!

State Machines with Conditionals

First, to introduce the idea of a state machine, lets take a simple example: Blinking LEDs. Imagine you want the LED to turn on for a second, and then turn off. We could do it with a simple 2-state machine:

enum states { 

enum states state = LED_OFF;

while(1) {
  if(state == LED_OFF) {
    state = LED_ON;
  } else {
    state = LED_OFF;
  sleep(1); // sleep for a second

If you can understand the code above, you have pretty much grasped the fundamentals of state machines. We have some processing specific to given state, and when we want to go to another state, we use a variable (in this example it’s called state) to do that. And by the way, if you haven’t encountered enum before, you should check out Enumerated type in Wikipedia. It’s a very handful tool to add to your C coding arsenal.
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Super Simple 50+ kHz Logic Analysis with ATtiny2313 and FTDI Friend

AVR & FTDI logic analyzer

While banging my head against the wall with debugging my PS/2 keyboard thingy, I really wished I had a dedicated logic analyzer (preferably with PS/2 decoder, but even raw binary data would’ve been fine). So I decided to try out a long hatched idea – combine an ATtiny2313 and FTDI for some unlimited-length logic capturing with a PC. You’ll only need:

  1. ATtiny2313
  2. 20 MHz crystal and caps (slower will also work, frequency just defines what baud rates you’ll achieve)
  3. FTDI USB/serial converter, like the FTDI friend from Adafruit
  4. Optionally, some power-stabilizing capacitors, reset pullup and ISP programming header for flashing the firmware

ATtiny2313 is ideal for this, as it has all eight port B pins on one side in numerical order – attaching up to 8 logic lines is really straightforward. With 20 MHz crystal, baud rates close to 1 Mbps can be achieved in fast serial mode. I used Adafruit’s FTDI Friend for really simple (and way faster than most cheap serial adapter dongles) serial to USB conversion – just connect ATtiny RXD pin to TX, and TXD to RX, and you can even get power from the Friend so you’re all set! For crystal and that other stuff, see my ATtiny2313 breadboard header post for schematic, the picture above should fill you in with the rest.

Firmware code

This device has some of the smallest firmware codebases ever (firmware is 128 bytes). All we need to do is to set up UART with desired speed, and have the AVR chip to fire up an interrupt whenever data has been sent, and then use that to send current state of port B (using PINB):

#include <avr/io.h>
#include <avr/interrupt.h>

void USARTInit(unsigned int ubrr_value, uint8_t x2, uint8_t stopbits) { 
  // Set baud rate
  UBRRL = ubrr_value & 255; 
  UBRRH = ubrr_value >> 8;

  // Frame Format: asynchronous, 8 data bits, no parity, 1/2 stop bits
  UCSRC = _BV(UCSZ1) | _BV(UCSZ0);
  if(stopbits == 2) UCSRC |= _BV(USBS);

  if(x2) UCSRA = _BV(U2X); // 2x

  // USART Data Register Empty Interrupt Enable

  // Enable The receiver and transmitter

int main() {
  // 230.4 kbps, 8 data bits, no parity, 2 stop bits
  USARTInit(10, 1, 2); // replace 10 with 4 to get 0.5 Mbps

  sei(); // enable interrupts

  while(1) {}
  return 1;


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Retronics USB Joystick Adapter and Other Coolness with V-USB

Retronics joystick adapter

There are a ton of cool gadgets available in eBay, and even though I sometimes do impulse buys, I rarely mention those in my blog. However, this extremely cool piece of retro tech is something I just cannot pass by without a comment: Retronic Design USB joystick adapter. It is essentially a joystick adapter for the popular 9-pin D-SUB connector used in many of the 80s consoles, most notably Atari, Commodore 64 and Amiga. On the outside, it’s not much to be excited about – USB connector on the one end, and grey dongle that accepts a joystick on the other. However, things quickly change when you open up the enclosure (click on the image for a large view):

Retronics USB adapter opened up

Inside the D-SUB end there is a very neat little piece of engineering, and many of my readers probably know how to program it — it isn’t anything other than a ATmega8A, a 8-bit AVR microcontroller that employs the same V-USB library I’ve covered in my tutorials to appear as a USB HID device on PC side.

All the components are on one side, and you have to admire the tiny ISP header the Retronic Design guys have fitted on the PCB. And wait, it doesn’t stop there. On the Retronic Design web site, they have full specifications for the device, and the download page includes both schematic, as well as full source code to the firmware.
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Minimal PS/2 Keyboard on ATtiny2313

AVR PS/2 keyboard

I recently got myself a mechanical keyboard (to be precise, a Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2). One side effect of this switch was, that the new keyboard no longer works with simple passive PS/2 adapter. And the only type of input my current motherboard can be configured to power up on is spacebar from a PS/2 keyboard.

Well, I had read from somewhere that PS/2 protocol is not too complex, so I decided to find out if I could make a simple gadget that would send spacebar keypress over PS/2 when a switch was toggled. That turned out to be quite easy (with some limitations, read the end of this post to find out more).

PS/2 basics

The Wikipedia page for PS/2 connector already looked promising – there are GND and VCC pins straight available, and only two additional (open collector type) lines are needed for data and clock lines. Communication is bi-directional with the keyboard providing clock signal and sending end toggles data line while the receiving end listens.
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Using WinAVR and Command Line for AVR Development


Since my V-USB tutorials became popular, a recurring theme in the comments section have been people who are obviously motivated to try out the tutorial, but due to limited exposure to C language and command-line are either having trouble following my short instructions to compile the example .hex files, or being scared of the command-line, have tried to use AVR Studio instead, and fail.

I have to admit that first I was a bit annoyed by these people – why are they trying to follow a challenging project, when they seemingly have no understanding of how command line, makefiles, C compiler and linking process works? Then, comment by comment, I finally realized that not everyone started coding in the nineties where you launched Windows 3.11 mostly to play Solitaire, and biggest thing in coding productivity was 80×50 text mode which allowed you to have 16-color hacking bliss in your Borland Turbo C++ 3.0 IDE (or RHIDE, after DJGPP came around).

So, instead of either ignoring these people, or spending any more hours answering the same questions, I decided to start a new series of tutorials to cover really basics of getting into AVR development the way I like to do it: Old skool.

Navigating the command line

The bar for command-line wizardry in AVR development is low. There are four levels in it:

  1. Firing up command prompt
  2. Navigating to a directory and viewings its contents
  3. Running commands

The first one is really easy. In Windows 7 you can just click the start button, type “cmd”, and you’re there. Or type “command”, as the Command Prompt is usually the first search hit displayed. More hardcore persons use Win+R (that key with flag symbol finally does something useful!) and type “cmd” into the Run dialog as shown in title image of this post.

Windows Explorer

Once you’ve bitten the blue pill, commanding #2 is also quite easy. First, you need to understand that command prompt is very much like Windows explorer (shown in the above screenshot) – you are always in some directory, and the commands you enter usually work within that directory. In the example above, we are in directory E:\Koodi\AVR\usb_tutorial – let’s try if we can replicate that in command line:
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AVRweb 0.1 alpha released

After several months of sporadic coding, I finally got this large project to a point where I can consider making the first alpha release. So without further ado, I present AVRweb, a web-based UI for programming AVR chips.

Basically, it is a self-contained web server that allows you to interface with avrdude to read fuse settings, change them, and in the future, much more. The first alpha release is centered around fuse settings, and should already make the changing of AVR fuse bits a much quicker task – current settings are automatically read from the connected device, so you don’t need to toggle switches anymore to find the current setup. Also, new settings can be changed with a press of a button. See the video demonstration below (note that I’m running AVRweb on a PC, and just using the web interface with iPad, it’s not an iPad application!):

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Fast DDS with ATmega88

I’m planning to make some RFID hacking in near future using 150 kHz tags. Since I don’t have a signal generator, I decided to go where quite many people have gone before and build myself one, more specifically a DDS. Instead of just taking a complete project from the net, I thought this would be a good way to learn a bit of AVR assembly programming, and manual D/A (digital to analog) conversion using R-2R ladders. Here’s what I built:

I’m skipping the schematic to save some time – basically it’s a ATmega88 with 6-pin programming header, power, a 16 MHz crystal (other frequencies also work, lfuse for this setup if 0xFF) and a red LED that is not used. The R-2R ladder is wired with white jumper wires to PB0-PB5 (it’s a 6-bit DAC) so that PB0 is the “least significant bit” and PB5 the most significant one. Read on for details.

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