Tag Archives: midi

A novel and affordable MIDI to clock design - Erica Synths - Midi to Clock V2 is here

In the beginning it was dark… I was using an MSY2 from Doepfer to sync my QCD with my Electribe MIDI sequencer which is in charge of controlling my Vermona DRM1. Now I could replace it with something monstrous from Erica Synths. The new version of the MIDI to Clock module is out now!
Erica Synths – Midi to Clock V2

I used to set the divisions of the MIDI clock with DIP switches on the Doepfer MSY2 which are cost-effective, yet it needs no proof to see that those were not designed for daily use and are obviously less durable. But now the MIDI to Clock deals with that on the front panel with enough immediate divisions at hand. Setting different divisions is no big deal with deeper MIDI-CV interfaces  like Yarns from Mutable or the Shuttle Control from Endoprhines. However this new module has an ultimate winning point: it has both MIDI in and out mode.

What does this mean? You are able to control your MIDI device with clocks coming from anywhere in your modular system (LFO’s, clock modules, stepped random voltage generators, etc.). Forget “setting up and playing”, say hello to “setting up while playing”. Want async or div/mult changes based on your Midi devices or analog clocks (which are more easily bouncing and with a little modulation can have more life which is hard to emulate digitally) at any time with ease? There we have it for a really good price and with great ease: as the module can be switched to “MIDI out mode”! How amazing would it be to send some “analog storms” towards your previously calm and straightforward MIDI-devices?

It is also worth mentioning that the module is very slim (can be housed in skiff cases!), and ivery low current (25mA altogether on the +12V rail).

The built-in Start/Stop function is also available in both modes (It used to be pretty frustrating that with plenty of modules you just had a clock signal which stayed there forever.).
So it is no doubt that it was worth waiting for a gamechanger in live performance and studio routing!

"Never before seen" electronic music circuits - Paul T. Schreiber (Synthesis Technology)-interview

Paul T. Schreiber, the man behind Synthesis Technology is a man who you might want to talk to first when you become a eurorack manufacturer. Or when you start DIY-ing a difficult project. Or when you just want to have an insight on instrument-design. He is a great storyteller as well, and has created a lot of truly innovative tools which brought synthesis forward, so we were happy to start a conversation with him.

I’d like to know what made you start working on one of your latest modules, the Quand Temporal Shifter. I’d like to also know what sorts of electronic music you are thinking about – if any, when you are designing your products. Or is that just „pure” music theory?
Paul T. Schreiber of Synthesis Technology (photo: wiretotheear.com)
Paul T. Schreiber of Synthesis Technology (photo: wiretotheear.com)

Way back in 1979 I was thinking about using some ’fancy’ sample & hold parts from a company called PMI (I think they were bought by Analog Devices a few years later). Anyway, these chips were used by my employer (Data General) but were really expensive back then, like $12ea . However, they were very very good and I managed to get 3 samples from them. I was designing some digital VCOs and a clone of the Eventide Harmonizer when I got bored at work, and these chips were for the harmonizer’s de-glitcher in the DACs. I had seen pictures of the Serge ASR, and so I breadboarded up a 3-stage one using these samples. It worked great, but I thought to myself: the droop is still an issue, why not do it with A/Ds and D/As instead and make a ’perfect’ one? Well, the harmonizer clone had a ’really good’ 12-bit A/D that my boss got as a sample, but it was $48ea. The D/As were about $19ea. Processors were relatively cheap, we had drawers of 6502 chips. But to build a full digital ASR back then was about a month’s pay.

I also use musicians that I know and trust that will not just auto-approve anything I do, in fact I *want them* to say „this flat out sucks” if it does, or tell me „the range on this control is not useful”. The last thing I want to do is release products and then go through what seems to the users an endless cycle of firmware updates.

synth-tech-logoI try not to ’over-think’ the musical context for my designs, above a basic level (this is a LFO, etc). I’m 60yrs old, grew up in the Wendy Carlos/ELP period but now mainly listen to ambient music (Robert Rich is a big influence and contributor). I’m not very ’musical’ myself, although I studied pipe organ a bit but decided it was more fun to build them than to play them (in fact, my design partner’s father is a famous pipe organ builder). I think places like Facebook forums is good idea to get feedback, although you have to apply a lot of filtering sometimes. I do a lot of beta testing, 3-4 months is not unusual, to have up to 6 different people with very wide musical styles comment ton a modules before I ship it.

Lately, some prices got better, and some competitive aspects got worse. The latest flood of eurorack modules has made „hoping for the best” harder as the market has changed, hasn’t it?

I don’t think so, there is always this portion of any product (not just a Euro module) that has this chance to really take off. When I was a kid, this guy put a small rock in a cute box and called it a Pet Rock. He sold MILLIONS of them. You just never know it any product becomes a “hit” or not. Same is true releasing music. But we still keep doing it 🙂

Paul's workshop
Paul’s workshop

A few years ago on the Muffwiggler forum some people were talking about the lack of ASR’s (i.e. analog shift registers – the editor) (the Serge analog version, with the droop issue) and whining there were not any good ones. So I decided to show them exactly what a ’good one’ would do! The E102 uses true 14-bit accurate A/D and D/As along with true 14-bit level shifting, which is not easy or cheap. But thankfully it’s also not a month’s salary to build! And since the logic needed to do the basic function only required 10% of the total program memory of the microcontroller, we decided to add the voltage-controlled delay between the taps, something never done defore.

This is a hallmark of a SynthTech design: we try to add something never before seen in either HW or plug-ins. This leads into the 2nd part of the question: how do we ’decide’ what to build? And then ’how to build it’?

The fair answer is about 80% market research and 20% „hoping for the best”. It is hard to predict what is a big hit, although in my little corner of the market, I do not try to get close to the number of modules shipped by say Doepfer or Mutable. Rather, I try to approach it as „What is missing that I know how to add value to it?”. Value can mean several things: better audio quality, a new feature (like The E340 Cloud Generator) or a feature that we greatly improve on (the morphing algorithm in the E350).

What made you release a MIDI CV interface as well for example? I mean almost every manufacturer has one now nowadays.
Paul T. Schreiber at NAMM showing the Quad Temporal Shifter and the E620 MIDI-USB interface
Paul T. Schreiber at NAMM showing the Quad Temporal Shifter and the E620 MIDI-USB interface

No one to date has one with both USB Host and Device. Doing a Device is easy, but that requires connecting to a computer. The Host part, now that is very difficult in terms of both the HW needed and the USB stack, which is probably 4 *times* the complexity/size of a Device stack. The E620 was put on hold because of my time, but we will ship by the end of the year. I still do not know of anything like the E620 on the market: you are talking about years of development to do it properly. USB is non-trival!

How do you see the latest developments / generations of eurorack modules with plenty of functionality, digital elements like the Disting or other DSP tools?

It’s always nice to see people play catch-up with me (grin). I think what has happened is that the casual hobbiest manufacturer (the majority) have reached an ’end of the Google’ problem: they can’t find any more schematics or service manuals to copy from. It’s all been done to death. So going forward, the innovation will be coming from the trained EE’s that know how to code in DSP and design higher end analog because this stuff just isn’t laying around on the web. You have to know it first. Sure, people have already started buying little development boards and bolting them to a front panel,

I’m surprised no one has stuck on an iPad by now. But this is never cost effective or power-effective. The power consumption of some of these modules is staggering, 100s of milliamps from the +12V rail.

For SynthTech, we plan to offer DSP and 100% analog modules. It’s just REALLY hard to do decent VCFs in DSP. Over last few years, many really fast ARM processors with large memories have been released. Microchip still has the best user libraries to speed code development. We are not “DSP snobs”, we choose the best part for the module in use.

One of the most famous wavetable VCO’s made by SyntTech – The keyed header is there too.

My biggest concern, one that I’m known for on the forums, is the lack of power supply knowledge in Euro. Something as simple as marking where the red stripe goes on a pc board somewhow escapes many of these so called „module designers”. I’m not trying to demean anyone: I’m trying to get everyone on the same page for the customers. Euro manufacturers need to rasise the bar: I try to raise it on every module I design. In fact my new low-cost VCO design I’m doing, called the E330 Multi-Mode VCO, has „The red sripe is -12V and goes here” on the silkscreen. My father used to print catalogs, and he had a big sign in his office that said „INK IS FREE”. The point is: why not put this on the board? It costs YOU nothing, but think of the help it is to your customers. I hear suff like „Well, there is no room on my board” to which I say „Then MAKE ROOM”. I view it as being willfully lazy and sloppy. Why is Euro so inconsistent? What other comsumer electronic family is this way? Put yourself in the customer’s place.

Also, the issue of not using shrouded, keyed headers. I know Doepfer has lead the charge, but that was initially a cost issue and really, you can source Asian shrouded connectors that are maybe $0.23 more than unshrouded. I think this is a small price to pay.

A lot of users ask questions about standards (and realise that there are no such stuff). Also, another issue is build quality. You tend to take the finest components when you build a module. Do you think that people – either users or makers – will be able to see as bad quality pots, switches, jacks may go wrong?

It’s not a matter of ‘being wrong’. There is always a tradeoff in any design for cost versus quality of parts used. In many cases there is a point of diminishing return: added more money doesn’t change the customer’s experience.

Sometimes, the “quality” is in the design itself, not just picking a more expensive part.

There is an art to being really low-cost. I did this for many years at Tandy/Radio Shack and to the extreme at BlackBerry, were saving $0.05 per phone got you promoted.

But there is also a nice “feeling” knowing you are free to pick and chose whatever part you want, and there is so many now to pick from. It’s the path SynthTech has chosen, not everyone can relate.

I am also curious about this VCO design. Anything you could share with the public at the moment?

It is a spinoff from the coding work we did for the E950 Circuit Bent VCO, without the speech. We are always trying out new VCO designs in both HW and SW, I guess that is just my personal thing I like to work on. This new VCO will be shown at Knobcon on Sept 10th in Chicago. I will have details then. The test pc board arrives on Tuesday [which is today 😉 – the editor], I think I will refrain saying more until it actually works.

We were really happy to talk to Paul! See our post on the Quad Temporal Shifter

Your Next Drum Machines: MFB Tanzbar Lite and Tanzmaus - NAMM '16

MFB has come to NAMM to show us two of their new stripped-down and more affordable drum machines. They truly have a sound of their own – and now you can have them for a better price!

tanzbar-liteThe Tanzbar Lite is a more stripped down and affordable version of the well-recieved Tanzbar.
It lets you have what only Elektron masters could: paramter locks in step sequencing. The drum machine is also MIDI compatible – so any digital or DAW integration would not be a problem. Each knob can send(!) and recevie MIDI (CC). Individual outputs, MIDI in, out and THRU, and a solid metal chassis would not make you feel that you should have spent more. Not to mention that there are 5 LFO’s that you can manipulate the voices.
tanzmaus-liteThe Tanzmaus is a followup to the original 503 drum machine. 5 LFO’s are also here to manipulate other parameters. This is a different – but definitely not cheaper – sounding drum machine in which you have sample-based drum sounds as well available from MFB’s website. Oh and the Claps are in stereo – I would say a great hint that the module is more targetted towards users intend to create works in house-esque genres. 🙂
All in all, MFB has progressed a lot and we were very happy to see this at NAMM, live!

Make Noise kickstarts NAMM '16 with 0-Coast Desktop Synth

Make Noise has made a very strong start this year at NAMM ’16. The 0-Coast is available in spring!

Make Noise 0-Coast is a small patchable single voice monosynth. Don’t be fooled by the word mono though thanks to its modulation capabilities. It is MIDI implemented, with a mini-MIDI-jack.

Even the control voltage adding and subtracting is nice already.
Waveforms are also really twisted: the oscillator is empowered by a multiplier and an overtone generator. All this can be controled and reduced by the fundamental control which would also act as a kind of sub oscillator.

The slope generator (also functions in audio rate) is different from Maths and the 0-Coast also has a contour generator apart from that.

Sounds very lovely with really thought-over functions. It is a really strong start for Make Noise’s first desktop product!

It will be available in 2-3 months! You can pre-order now!

Sculpting and coloration in synthesis - Andreas Zhukovsky (Endorphin.es)

Endorphin.es is about novel things that you feel good with. Their introduction of a radically new design philosophy, which has broken the monotony of the many ever-silver eurorack frontplates with the most playful and colorful looks is just the outside. They provide innovations that make you have fun with complexity, without scratching your head too much. We talked to Andreas Zhukovsky from the company to tell his stories about their first module, their approach with their latest hardware updates and last but not least, what they are bringing to NAMM2016 which Analogue Zone will be covering on its Youtube channel!
Endorphin.es Furthrrrr VCO was something just a bit ahead of its time. It was among the first comlpex eurorack oscillators on the market. The former two oscillators were recreations of the 259 Buchla oscillators but in my opinion Endorphin.es cute monster won in my opinion as far as forward thinking and musicality is considered. At the time of designing, Andreas had an idea about doing synthesis backwards:
Andreas & Moritz from Endorphin.es (source: Horizontal Pitch)
Andreas & Moritz from Endorphin.es (photo: Horizontal Pitch)

“….a thing-in-itself approach – to test if harmonic’s waveshaping in analog environment will work out in an interesting way. In experimental and avant-garde music filters come after the oscillators and playing with the harmonics in an interesting way recreates the principle of a filter somehow. One simply have to apply different modulations to play with the harmonics instead of filtering. There was a very good example from WIZOO’s Kawai K5000 book [Kawai K5000: Introduction to Additive Synthesis, Advanced Sound Design, Tips And Tricks by Dave Bellingham and Peter Gorges] to describe difference with that – namely nowadays we call it east- and westcoast – as you make a statue from a piece of stone cutting off the rest or as you paint the picture and mixing different colors. And both means give interesting output and evolve with one another.”

Apart from endless tonal variations one will just never forget about the gorgeous-looking sweet design once it was seen somewhere. Actually, it was the first frontplate I was proudly showing it to people uninsterested in synthesis before (yes, women as well). They did start asking questions. Also, I read a dozens of pages of forum discussions about the look “not being serious”. It really broke apart from everything at the time, while remaining functional as well:
(Photo: greatsynthesizers.com)

“Our initial approach didn’t suppose making a faceplates just for the fun but a meaningful instrument that someone will use. A real tool for artists. Endorphines grew up like weed and now we have a full system – an independent performance instrument. We travel with it all over the world in hand luggage and don’t even bother if it is ~220v or ~110v in the wall outlet. We also make approaches into related but differently established spheres of industrial design. We are interested into visuals and apparel and you will see some new stuff at upcoming NAMM Show 2016 and later on at SUPERBOOTH16. So far, we developed pretty much a lot for that time we are not ashamed about.”

Technology and innovation is another place where Endorphin.es have provided us with unprecedented tools…
When it cterminalomes to the functions – usually a few words is enough to describe something that module can do. However technically that always a big challenge to implement every even tiny but smart feature, that comes out afterwards in a complex rework. For years we try to improgatewayve or even re-invent the approaches of interacting with instrument. We truly believe our new auto-tuners in the Gateway is a breakthrough in sense the tuning the oscillators – it is a one-button-press solution. Our envelopes in Terminal don’t stretch in time when changing the slopes of the curves and easily go into voltage controlled audio range and even without aliasing:

“We’ve made band-limited triangle VCO core same as our initial analog one with both hard and soft syncs – the new Strong Zero VCO core for Furthrrrr Generator, so aurally people even may not even feel the difference until it comes to a musical linear FM.”
While a lot of things have become common sense in synthesis for a wide range of users, thru-zero FM still leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. Well, it adds all these metallic, bell-like, whistiling and crystalline tones to your oscillator – if it is capable of accepting it. Thru-zero means that the voltages “cross” the 0V section and start moving backwards – that is why this modulation is so rich in tones, because otherwise only the positive end would have been affected. A VCO core’s manufacturing process would be considered as dry and not so exciting, however Andreas and his team have found the handcrafting beauty in it as well:

“Utilizing the same pinout from stock analog VCO chips, we
did a digital implementation of that core that accepted same voltages, tracked the same frequency range (1v/oct endzero_3 (1)usually even without v/oct re-tuning), and had all the functions one may ever need from a VCO. Every Furthrrrr Generator is supported. Because of a very small space on a PCB, we had to use very dense double-sided components placement and increase the length to fit the STM32 ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller. 
There is enough space on the backside of the Furthrrrr so the new core may fit there anyway, however we already found very cool metal boxes and liked them so much – a special packaging into which the new VCO core must fit and in which it should be delivered to the customers. The metal box from a VCO core may be used afterwards for storing some small things like pills etc. After a few days we’ve managed to make the Strong Zero VCO core length of 42 mm which is less than two centimeter increase comparing to the stock VCO which is 24 mm:

Simultaneously with the Gateway (Terminal XPansion) we released Strong Zero VCO Core. From the beginning we had our own analog VCO cores for Furthrrrr Generators – small discrete chips, which are manufactured and encapsulated separately and then attached in the sockets to the rear side of the Furthrrrr. The core itself is a heart of the oscillator that generates basic triangle and square waveforms from which all the rest waveshapes are derived. It may look like a routine process to make a separate small PCBs with the size of a DIP chip. Then find proper thermal conductive epoxy that enables proper compound of elements in exponential converter and make it stable under thermal fluctuations. After roundabout two days epoxy is fully dry and the cores are ready to oscillate. After all, that becomes a pure handmade labor of love.”
 The company does not just physically update their products – the line of expansion the release of the Shuttle control module itself have given a very well thought out and undeniably one-of-a-kind feature – which is not just closed to one system. I love the idea of hitting some patching going on a tablet on the way home which would wait for you… And that is what the Shuttle control does already with more functions:
Shuttle Control easily holds any USB-MIDI controller simultaneously with iOS/Mac/PC and the new Cargo2 shuttle-control-firmware with bi-directional MIDI-THRU and tap LFO is lovely, just lovely. This new Cargo2 v2 firmware for Shuttle Control with a lots of new additions and bugs fixes was recently released (http://firmware.endorphin.es). We were working on it and tested so hard so now it seems a proper time to announcement. That’s not a simple bug fix but a fundamental update recommended for every Shuttle user.  After stabilizing the MIDI Sync clock and adding some old USB-MIDI devices support we added bi-directional MIDI THRU from USB device-to-host and vice versa incl. host loop-back. You may now play a MIDI keyboard and simultaneously record the notes into your DAW or distribute clock from your Mac running Ableton Live to Novation Bass Station 2 and modular both connected to Shuttle or create a chain of your MIDI devices. Musicians may find useful TAP LFO controlled by a certain (or any) note to immediately synchronize your layout after literally three consequence finger taps on your keyboard. After Dave Smith followed Endorphines and implemented linear FM at his Prophet 12, we implemented more classical polyphonic voices allocation (CV/GATE) to prevent notes interruption by upcoming notes as was introduced in early Prophet and Oberheim synthesizers. “
The best thing about Endorphin.es is that they are selfless and altruistic when it comes to compatibility with other manufacturers who would in one way or another their competitors. The latest addition of the Cargo 2 firmware is another proof of this:
“Recently we’ve got a few emails from entirely different persons who wanted to connect their Elektron Octatrack or Analog Rythm to the Shuttle Control and while Elektrons act as a master clock, use one more MIDI controller to play notes or generate CC for modular. After a short brainstorming, a complement mate to a Shuttle was created and will be released at upcoming NAMM. We look forward to a deeper iOS integration into a modular system (and even when no one cares Apple may abandon headphone jack in the new iOS devices) – we will show at NAMM some finalizing and missing part to complement full 84HP-ed Endorphines row in a smart housing.”

Follow Analogue Zone’s Youtube channel for a dozens of exclusive videos covering NAMM this year!

A (kábel)dzsungelharc vége – Expert Sleepers – FH-1

Az eurorack talán egyik legnagyobb kihívása a méret és a felhasználók keserédes viszonya. Ez az a problémakör, amivel a legtöbbször szembesülünk: a) szeretjük, mert kompakt nagyságú modulokkal egy egész liveactet / sound design stúdiót elcipelhetünk A-ból B-be b) szívjuk a fogunkat a kábeldzsungel / spagetti szindróma miatt. Az Expert Sleepers segít.
Expert Sleepers – FH-1 Faderhost USB MIDI Host

Ahogy azt már az Expert Sleeperstől, az eurorack modulár szintivezérlés nagy szakértőjétől megszokhattuk (Silent Way pluginjükkel és moduljaikkal az elsők voltak, akik a DAW és az analóg rendszerek között közvetlen digitális vezérlést adtak a felhasználók kezébe), megint előrukkolt a szerény, de annál hatásosabb és kifinomultabb megoldással. Mindemellett tovább is gondolta az egészet. Az új FH-1 modulnak hála, a vezérlést végre megoldhatod elegánsan, a ház előtt kedvenc MIDI kontroller eszközöddel. Máris kevésbé lesz idegen a moduláris világ.

  • Az első és legjobb dolog, hogy ehhez a modulhoz bármilyen standard USB-midi-kontrollert hozzáköthetsz – ismétlem, pl. akár egy régi Akai Wind Controllert, mellyel bele is fújhatsz a szintidbe (videó alább). Az modul tehát kommunikációra kész, illetve 300 mA-ig táplálni is tudja a MIDI eszközödet.

  • A második legjobb dolog, hogy nem állunk meg a MIDI-to-CV MIDI-jelet CV jellé alakító modulok kínálta megoldásoknál. A modullal a polifonikus MIDI-CV konverzió mellett nyertél pár plusz LFO-t, ami a beérkező MIDI órajel többszörözésével vagy standard módon vezérelhető az FH-1-en belül, 6 különböző hullámformával! Végül Mindemellett itt egy 2 x 4 soros step szekvenszert is!
  • A felbontás miatt nem kell aggódnod: a 14bit MIDI CC konverterek nem fognak csalódást okozni.
Az eurorack piac kontrollerjei évről évre újabb és újabb evolúciós lépéseket hajtanak végre. Mindegyik út más miatt szerethető. A külső vezérlő egységekre és mély, de könnyen átlátható integrációra esküsző felhasználók számára az FH-1 az eddigi legjobb és legelérhetőbb árú eurorack vezérlőmodul.Expert Sleepers Hivatalos
Expert Sleepers  FH-1@ Analogue Zone