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The Chipophone — an 8-Bit Chiptune Organ

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the tones-of-childhood dept.

Hardware Hacking 84

adunk writes "Linus Åkesson has built an 8-bit synthesizer inside an old electric organ case. 'All the original tone-generating parts have been disconnected, and the keys, pedals, knobs and switches rerouted to a microcontroller which transforms them into MIDI signals. Those are then parsed by a second microcontroller, which acts as a synthesizer.' The Chipophone is perfect for playing classics such as the Super Mario Bros in-game music or Rob Hubbard's Spellbound. A description of the build process, with photos, is available."

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Two words : (1, Troll)

unity100 (970058) | about 4 years ago | (#33013672)

THIS KILLS !!!!

Re:Two words : (1, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | about 4 years ago | (#33018558)

i would like to meet the moron who downmodded this troll. it would take someone to have a lot of upside down mind with sarcasm etc to be unable to recognize a honest exclamation of appreciation anymore.

no wait, on second thought, i wouldnt want to meet that moron.

Anyone remember the SIDstation? (5, Interesting)

mccalli (323026) | about 4 years ago | (#33013706)

Similar vein, and I always wanted one of these: SIDstation [elektron.se] , but sadly they're no longer made anymore.

For those using softsynths, have a look at QuadraSID [refx.com] too (demo MP3 on the right-hand side of that page), particular with the Rob Hubbard expansion packs. I use that a fair amount in what I write. If anyone else knows of some interesting softsynths along the same lines, I'd be interested to hear.

Cheers,
In

Re:Anyone remember the SIDstation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33013898)

You should check out the midibox sid sequencer. http://ucapps.de/midibox_sid.html

Re:Anyone remember the SIDstation? (1)

bipbop (1144919) | about 4 years ago | (#33014084)

I have both a Sidstation (one of the last ones they made) and Quadrasid, and to be honest I use Quadrasid more even though it's technically a bit less authentic. Quadrasid is great :-D I have the Rob Hubbard expansion pack as well. You may also be interested in Chip32.

Re:Anyone remember the SIDstation? (1)

Achra (846023) | about 4 years ago | (#33014678)

I can second the AC's suggestion of the midibox SID, it really is superior to the SIDstation in every way. The only problem is that you will never find one on ebay due to the restrictive licensing scheme that the project originator implemented. Sometimes you can find a completed one on the site's forums (Selling for no more than the cost of parts) but this would be VERY rare. Your best bet is to just build one yourself, it's a fairly simple PIC based project, and there are PCB's available.

Re:Anyone remember the SIDstation? (1)

trayrace (1182967) | about 4 years ago | (#33015844)

Not a softsynth, but how about building a MIDIbox SID [ucapps.de] from a spare SID chip and some other parts?

scandinavian again. (0, Troll)

unity100 (970058) | about 4 years ago | (#33013712)

him, torvalds, this, that. such kind of people always come up from scandinavian countries.

Re:scandinavian again. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33013790)

It's cold. You stay inside long enough and you're going to do something crazy. It just happens that instead of crazy-insane they managed crazy-awesome.

Re:scandinavian again. (2, Insightful)

CptPicard (680154) | about 4 years ago | (#33013946)

Torvalds is Finnish; Finland is strictly not Scandinavian. Scandinavia is the peninsula with Sweden and Norway.

Re:scandinavian again. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014226)

That's not how I learned it at school in the Netherlands. Scandinavia was Norway, Sweden and Finland. And if you tossed Denmark into that mix there weren't too many objections.

Re:scandinavian again. (3, Informative)

CptPicard (680154) | about 4 years ago | (#33014604)

The whole geographical point here is the Scands mountain range, that runs north-south in Sweden and Norway. Hence, Scandinavian peninsula.

Whether the "cultural" argument is valid is a bit contentious -- a lot of the typically Swedish-speaking Nordists who are objectively speaking a bunch of Swedish imperialists certainly want to extend the concept of Scandinavia to include Finland ("because it is good for us").

Personally, although we all live a in typical Western European democracy with similar political leanings, I find Scandinavia to be culturally different. And of course it is linguistically different too; it's just that for some weird political reason, Finnish never is allowed to "count" in these kinds of considerations. After all, we're a bilingual country and all that, and in the future Swedish is going to be the mother tongue of all of us...

Re:scandinavian again. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33015836)

Thanks for your reaction. I've learned a lot from it (and subsequent Googling).

I'm not going into the Swedish/Finnish discussion (as I frankly don't know the details of that, although I can guess). Suffice to say that Swedish is a language that I could learn if I tried, but Finnish, no way I could master that one.

And, seeing that my own country is rapidly declining due to insane government policy, I would like to think I'll someday move to a more pleasant country. And that would be an Scandinavian (in the broadest sense) country.

If it wasn't that I can't leave my family, I'd already packed up and gone north...

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

fishexe (168879) | about 4 years ago | (#33019836)

The whole geographical point here is the Scands mountain range, that runs north-south in Sweden and Norway. Hence, Scandinavian peninsula.

Which is a moot point, because derivation is not synonymous with definition. Specifically: "Finland is sometimes considered a Scandinavian country in common English usage..." [wikipedia.org]
Given that English is the language in use here, one oughtn't quibble with someone's correct English usage of the term 'Scandinavian' on grounds that it would be incorrect in Swedish or Finnish.

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

CptPicard (680154) | about 4 years ago | (#33019858)

Yes, sometimes considered; common usage... but it's still a wrong common usage, that I will keep pointing out, in particular as there is some charged politics here :-)

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

fishexe (168879) | about 4 years ago | (#33019910)

I think you and I should team up to battle the people who use "Caucasian" to mean "white" (in reference to race). No, my ancestors did not come from Georgia, or Armenia, or Azerbaijan, thank you very much.

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 4 years ago | (#33014280)

Torvalds represents the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland. Besides, when people say "Scandinavian", they usually refer to the Nordic Countries, which include Denmark, Finland and Iceland in addition to the scritcly defined Scandinavia. These countries are deeply connected in history and culture, for example Finland was a part of Sweden for most of its history.

Re:scandinavian again. (2, Insightful)

CptPicard (680154) | about 4 years ago | (#33014412)

It's still wrong, and the Cold-War invention "Nordic countries" should perhaps be preferred if Finland must be included. Scandinavia is definitely not only a geographically separate entity, but a separate cultural-linguistic whole as well. Just listen to the Swedish People's Party folks who insist on us having to integrate to Scandinavia because it's so damned special compared to *us* (of course, an alternate variant of this argument is the idea that nothing except Swedishness exists, and the wrong kind of people will be allowed into the club after enough manipulation into accepting the idea themselves).

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

fishexe (168879) | about 4 years ago | (#33019848)

Besides, when people say "Scandinavian", they usually refer to the Nordic Countries, which include Denmark, Finland and Iceland in addition to the scritcly defined Scandinavia.

Very true. In fact, the Scandinavian Studies department at my university includes courses on all of those countries, and their languages.

Re:scandinavian again. (1)

RMS Eats Toejam (1693864) | about 4 years ago | (#33014398)

Torvalds is Finnish;

By birth, yes. However, many homosexual Scandinavians migrated to Finland in search of tighter anuses. It's reasonable to conclude the Torvalds family, being lovers of same-sex sodomy, did the same.

Re:scandinavian again. (-1, Offtopic)

bonch (38532) | about 4 years ago | (#33015412)

Could be one of the lamest attempts at karma-whoring ever. I really have to salute you for barely putting any effort into that one.

heh (1)

unity100 (970058) | about 4 years ago | (#33016836)

does it seem like i care much about how much karma i lose ? i speak my mind whenever, wherever. i swear when i feel to, too.

oh crap... (1)

hitmark (640295) | about 4 years ago | (#33013780)

this brings back oh so many hours spent in front of the NES.

a real mega man (3, Interesting)

frank_carmody (1551463) | about 4 years ago | (#33013792)

My jaw was already on the desk but when he started playing the Mega Man theme... OMG!

Re:a real mega man (1)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | about 4 years ago | (#33018130)

Indeed I was singing along.

I've had friends laugh at me for considering 8-bit chiptunes, but I think this is the future....

How long did it take to get a working piano? 25 years? So now we can start on our journey....

Blasphemous (0, Troll)

nurb432 (527695) | about 4 years ago | (#33013794)

All this destroying of real items just to shove in some micro controller board to pretend it still works has got to stop. Its not cool, it doesn't prove you are special or anything else.. Anyone can tear things up. Real talent is restoring an original object to its true glory.

Has everyone completely lost their value of history in this 'throwaway' culture?

Re:Blasphemous (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 4 years ago | (#33013806)

Yeah because someone's going to cry about making one of the billion learner organs out there into a sweet 8-bit instrument.

FYS

Re:Blasphemous (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33013812)

Better restored as a synthesizer than in a landfill.

Re:Blasphemous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33013854)

All this destroying of real items just to shove in some micro controller board to pretend it still works has got to stop. Its not cool, it doesn't prove you are special or anything else.. Anyone can tear things up. Real talent is restoring an original object to its true glory.

Has everyone completely lost their value of history in this 'throwaway' culture?

I see your point - however i don't think he 'pretends' the original organ works as such.
He didn't have to build a new interface himself, saves a great deal of work - and not unlikely, owning such organ might have led him to this idea.

Re:Blasphemous (2, Informative)

sourcerror (1718066) | about 4 years ago | (#33013974)

Has everyone completely lost their value of history in this 'throwaway' culture?

Other people are making lamphades from vintage sheet music. [associatedcontent.com]

Re:Blasphemous (3, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 4 years ago | (#33013984)

I inherited a similar one a few years ago. Mid 70's one owner Yamaha DK-40 [electone.com] , pristine condition. ~$3500 orig price. I couldn't give it away. Name your price, free delivery anywhere in Ohio. No takers. I talked to the main piano/organ dealer in the city I was living in. "If you can get $300 for it, you're lucky. I have a basement full of those."

Throwaway culture or no, some things just aren't worth it.

Re:Blasphemous (2, Insightful)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 4 years ago | (#33014296)

As the article puts it,

Let me clarify at this point that organs like these are not particularly rare. They were mass produced in the seventies, and most thrift stores in Sweden have at least one of them on display.

Re:Blasphemous (2, Informative)

musicalmicah (1532521) | about 4 years ago | (#33014500)

Yup. The easiest instrument to get for free on Seattle craigslist is an organ from the Cold War. The second easiest instrument to get for free is an upright grand piano, which is easy because everyone wants to get rid of a huge freakin' upright grand, but hard because it's a HUGE FREAKIN' UPRIGHT GRAND.

Re:Blasphemous (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014058)

He didn't throw it away, he recycled it. He could've gone out and bought a cheap MIDI keyboard and hooked it up to a softsynth, but instead he reused something he already had in a novel way. How is that throwaway culture? Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Re:Blasphemous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014178)

Oh, come on! This old maid organ had no "true glory," it was a cheap and tacky instrument from the day it left the factory. There's no history to be had in it - we're not talking about a vintage B3 here.

This guy took something lame and turned it into something cool. We should applaud that.

Re:Blasphemous (1)

kevinmenzel (1403457) | about 4 years ago | (#33014260)

I dunno, I have a cheap tacky solid state hammond kicking around that's still "good enough" for use in live music settings because when you're throwing a 57 in front of the speaker grill, most teens/young adults can't tell the difference between the vibrato switch and the rotating cone of a hammond... especially with a couple electric guitars in the mix. Admitted, it IS a hammond, it DOES have an internal leslie cab, heck it even has an 11 pin out for an external leslie cab (albeit no one has the new 11 pin cabs these days cos the B3 and C3 used 5 and 6 pin cables)... but still. There's room for even the tackiest of organs in live rock these days.

Re:Blasphemous (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | about 4 years ago | (#33017330)

Exactly. It like how my guitarist and I love to go looking for "pawn shop special" guitars and basses, which we then trick and tweak and just have a blast with. One bass I have that always gets people coming up afterward to check out is a late 70s/early 80s Washburn that kinda looks like a P-Bass with longer horns. Since it had some serious scratches on the paint I found some 40s style pinup girl stickers on Beale Street, replaced the busted knob cover with a pair of home-made dice knobs(goes nice with the black and white theme), used glitter fingernail polish to paint the black pickguard and headstock, and finally had a friend that was good with a soldering iron rig me a push button on the volume so I can switch between series and parallel on the P-pickup. Sure it only cost 70 bucks with a little TLC and imagination it is now a fun easy playing bass that I've had guys offer me $400 for on the spot.

so I say bravo to this dude for taking something that was a dime a dozen and making it into something cool. Sometimes you just need to let your imagination loose and have some fun. Just like for my next project I have an acoustic electric bass I picked up for $50 that has some seriously bad frets, so me and a buddy are gonna pull them and fill in the gaps with epoxy or something and make it a fretless.

Re:Blasphemous (1)

Fizzl (209397) | about 4 years ago | (#33014268)

If you bothered to RTFA, you'd know the thing was of no real historical or any other value. Mass produced old organ whose future was either this or the garbage heap. I think this is infinitely more awesome.

Re:Blasphemous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014558)

Apart from the other comments about a mass produced organ, you are neglecting that the guy made a truly cool synthesizer with some real engineering and intelligence in it.

Re:Blasphemous (1)

bonch (38532) | about 4 years ago | (#33015446)

What a bizarre comment. The chipophone was created for live chiptune performances. The intention wasn't to destroy anything or prove how special anyone is. The organ, which is a very common model produced in the seventies, is just the shell that happened to be used for this project. Your comments about restoration of history are all the more strange considering the whole point is to resurrect 8-bit synthesized instrumentation for live play.

Re:Blasphemous (1)

moonbender (547943) | about 4 years ago | (#33015930)

It's not like he hacked it to pieces and made a shelf from it. He turned one electronic music instrument into another. Essentially, he installed a hardware upgrade. Like installing more RAM, only a tad more involved.

Leisure Suit Larry (1, Insightful)

linebackn (131821) | about 4 years ago | (#33013886)

This synth is great, but it isn't a REAL synthesizer unless it can adequately play the theme music to Leisure Suite Larry. :)

Re:Leisure Suit Larry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33015048)

Ah, good old days. I remember when using leisure suite Larry was pretty much the defacto way to determine how good a sound card or eternal midi device was at playing MIDI music. Roland MT32 FTW!

ahh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33013960)

so Scandinavia finally invented the electric piano.

The guy is amazing (3, Insightful)

blind biker (1066130) | about 4 years ago | (#33014244)

Well, a couple of years back I was thinking of a similar project: use an Atmel AVR 8 bit (RISC) microcontroller to create a sound chip, controlled by MIDI. Well, this Linus dude did that, and MUCH, MUCH more! Pluse, the guy is a great musician (he can actually play a full organ, which in addition to hand, needs also foot coordination), and can play the whole of Rob Hubbard's Spellbound entirely by heart [youtube.com] .

In a perfect world, this guy should be famous, make millions, and sportsmen like Tiger Woods would be happy to mow his lawn :o) (that's my geek utopian dream).

Re:The guy is amazing (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | about 4 years ago | (#33014918)

He'll record more tunes on it. At which point an enterprising records company should make a CD of his works. The cd should be an audio/data mix cd. Audio tracks with his recording and the data one with .sid/mod files of the original songs.

Re:The guy is amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014948)

Tiger who?

Re:The guy is amazing (2, Interesting)

d99mo (718046) | about 4 years ago | (#33015542)

I was lucky to be one year senior to Linus at Lunds Tekniska Högskola (Lund University's tech faculty). He's done a lot of crazy things, his project where he implements a VM running Conway's Game of Life using symlinks is really out-there. Here's a link: http://www.linusakesson.net/programming/symlinks/index.php [linusakesson.net]

Re:The guy is amazing (1)

Dj_fishlover (1149779) | about 4 years ago | (#33019654)

I also went to Lunds Tekniska Högskola (n04). Am I right in the assumption that he is also the local trance dj Dj Akesson?
On another note, isn't he one of the guys in the "Stampa med Leroy" humorous dance instruction video?

Way cool; online help is available (2, Interesting)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | about 4 years ago | (#33014304)

I like the very DIY flavor of this particular installation. But old organs are commonly stripped and MIDI-fied through a similar process, frequently enough that there are forums and even commercial products to assist. Two of my favorite are Midibox (midibox.org), and Hauptwerk (www.hauptwerk.com). The former is a DIY MIDI hardware site, with a forum for people trying to add MIDI capability to old organs and similar instruments; the latter is essentially a MIDI sampler designed specifically for playback of organ music. I am in the early stages of a similar project to add MIDI capability to an old Allen organ, which I am attempting to do without disrupting any of the existing electronics, which makes it quite a bit more challenging at least for me.

More from the same guy... (2, Interesting)

TerranFury (726743) | about 4 years ago | (#33014370)

He's apparently also involved in the 8-bit demoscene: Craft by lft [youtube.com] .

Re:More from the same guy... (1)

david.given (6740) | about 4 years ago | (#33017314)

That... is awesome. It is one of the most hardcore pieces of badass geekery I've ever seen. Not only has the guy written a kick-ass demo that runs on a 20MHz device with 1kB of RAM and 8kB of ROM, but he also built his own computer to run it on. And then made it generate Julia sets. And submitted it to a demo competition. And won. And it's generating all the audio and video signals in software!

More info here. [linusakesson.net]

Re:More from the same guy... (1)

Albert Sandberg (315235) | about 4 years ago | (#33017322)

Not only involved, he did all parts of it. Also, check out turbulence which is similar hardware but with composite output (manually created signal on the fly).

8 bits are not enough (1)

daemonc (145175) | about 4 years ago | (#33014472)

8 bits are not enough to measure the awesomeness of this device.

Re:8 bits are not enough (1)

heson (915298) | about 4 years ago | (#33014566)

On the contrary, less is more! Like a 4k into is more awesome than a 64k (and 256B is so awesome it hurts)

Re:8 bits are not enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014592)

Yes, 8bit can only measure 200%, but 16bit goes to over 9000!

Re:8 bits are not enough (1)

scaryjohn (120394) | about 4 years ago | (#33018942)

Exactly. That's why it goes to eleven! Bits, that is.

Different approach to cheap great music (2, Interesting)

Simonetta (207550) | about 4 years ago | (#33014494)

For cheap cool music, I took a different approach. I wrote an open-source hardware controller for an inexpensive commercial MIDI tone module. The best tone module to use is the Yamaha TX81Z, because they are cheap and very flexible. They are widely available still because there were millions sold new about twenty years ago. They are available on eBay for about $60-$80. The sound engine is a four-operator FM synthesizer that can programmed to make all kinds of weird sounds, along with classic analog-synth sweeps and 80's video game sounds.

    Instead of a real organ keyboard, I use a standard PS2 (purple connector miniDIN6) computer keyboard to play the notes. The standard PC keyboard has its own internal microcontroller. It sends a scancode when a key is pressed and also when the key is released, which makes it able to be used as a music keyboard. Its advantage is that it's really cheap, about a few dollars each. The disadvantage is that the keys are small, and, certain combinations of keys (played as chords) don't sound. The specific combinations depend on the keyboard manufacturer.

    Google for the Two-Pot controller at the Yamaha TX81Z Homepage. I also do have later versions of the firmware, all open-source.

Re:Different approach to cheap great music (2, Insightful)

moonbender (547943) | about 4 years ago | (#33015982)

That also sounds pretty cool. Might I suggest making a video of it and uploading it to YouTube?

Incredible (1)

Jorl17 (1716772) | about 4 years ago | (#33014568)

Watch the video. This is amazing!

Inspiring. (1)

falzer (224563) | about 4 years ago | (#33014642)

Truly inspiring. It makes me want to get back into the microcontroller hobby. (No arduinos though, where's the fun in that?)

So...? (2, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | about 4 years ago | (#33014738)

So... this guy takes an electric organ and turns it into a synthesizer? Reminds me of that guy that turned an old guitar into a giant, six stringed ukulele, or the other guy who turned a trombone into a bugle.

Re:So...? (1)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | about 4 years ago | (#33015522)

Indeed. If the whole point of this experience was to run the synthesizer through a MIDI keyboard then it would be much better to just spend 50 euros on a MIDI keyboard and, from there, build a small 8-bit synthesizer that supported standard MIDI input. There was no need to scrap a perfectly good organ just to cannibalize it and convert the shell into a synthesizer.

Yes, I get the spirit of the "because it's there" crowd. I also understand that economics doesn't play a major role in this sort of project. Nonetheless, they would earn a whole lot more geek points if instead of trashing the vintage synthesizer they simply built a portable 8-bit synthesizer which supported standard MIDI controllers and, when finished, released a how-to along with parts list and schematics.

Nonetheless, I still admire the talent that's needed to pull this stunt. I could never pull that off. Kudos for the project.

Re:So...? (1)

flux (5274) | about 4 years ago | (#33015962)

Internally it encodes the keyboard as MIDI and then again decodes them in the synthesizer. So basically the portable synthesizer you want is a subproject of this. I guess he figured he might want to use the synthesizer separately at times (much more portable).

Re:So...? (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | about 4 years ago | (#33017936)

Those organs are a dime a dozen. It's not like he defaced the last remaining one or anything. There are also advantages to using an organ as a starting point: the kind of synth he is using has a bunch of presets, and the sound is changed by turning them on and off in various combinations--exactly like the stops on an organ.

A synthesizer connected to a module would have been cool. But retrofitting that synth into an organ case and using the expected behavior of an organ's controls to make an extremely playable instrument is wonderful. I have software that can reproduce all those sounds, and a big, friendly MIDI controller to play them all. It would take me ten minutes to get everything set up for one of the songs he plays, and another five to switch up for the next one. He just flips a few switches and turns a knob and he's there. That's genius.

Re:So...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33022840)

How about the parts where he plays faithful renditions of classic 8bit tunes? Can ya at least give him some points for that?!

MIDI device (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 years ago | (#33015226)

According to TFA, the conversion involves 1)creating MIDI data from the keyboard and 2)synthesizing audio from that MIDI data. Since there are very good synths available (much better than an 8 bit uC), I hope this design has the option for sending the MIDI to such an external device. Now THAT would be awesome.

Re:MIDI device (1)

pelrun (25021) | about 4 years ago | (#33015438)

Uh, so converting this organ into a boring old midi keyboard similar to what everyone already has is more awesome than making a unique instrument perfect for playing back old chiptune music?

I disagree.

hmmm (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 years ago | (#33015286)

I see a part for him in the next The Royal Tenenbaums / The Life Aquatic...

VST keyboards? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 4 years ago | (#33015788)

You see, this guy's a genius, but it shouldn't have to be this hard.

Not so long ago, I enquired to see if there was a keyboard (preferably weighted) which can take VSTs as input to allow for an infinitude of possible instruments.

Guess what? No such keyboard exists.

It would be incredible to use and play a keyboard, but with the infinite range of VST instruments and effects out there. Unfortunately though, manufacturers like to 'lock in' their keyboards with the own limited range. It's pretty sad.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 4 years ago | (#33015832)

Just to reply to my own comment, if keyboards could use VSTs as input instruments, the quadraSID VST would be perfect for attempting something like he's done:

http://refx.com/?page=products/quadrasid/summary [refx.com]

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 4 years ago | (#33016410)

Are you asking for a keyboard that can run a VST module? Frankly I think having a Windows-based synthesizer is a ghastly idea and a maintenance nightmare (the digital equivalent of lining up a 24-track without a manual), but if you really, really want to do this, I know of two products which will allow it:

The MUSE Receptor/Receptor 2. This runs Linux, and AFAIK seems to be fairly self-maintaining. It's a 19-inch rack module that can run VSTs through some kind of WINE hackery. According to Google it costs approximately $1800, which is why I don't have one. It was too expensive for me even when it was half that price.
Since it's a rack unit, you will of course require a controller keyboard so you can get a nice weighted one with whatever action you prefer. Note that this thing is DRM'd to the hilt, has to be activated and will have to be returned to the manufacturer when the HDD crashes since you can't replace the disk yourself thanks to the DRM, at least according to their website. It is not compatible with all VSTs, or so I have heard.

The OpenLabs Neko, Miko and various others. It looks like most of them are discontinued now that XP has finally been buried, but for $4000-$7000 or so, you can have a brand new model running Windows 7 with a core i3 or i5 inside it. I don't know if it has to be connected to the internet every 90 days to prevent it self-destructing, their website doesn't say.

Frankly, I'd get a netbook and a controller keyboard.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 4 years ago | (#33016426)

Correction: the Muse is $2600 - it is £1700 in British Pounds.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 4 years ago | (#33016542)

Maybe you can tell me though why keyboard manufacturers haven't already done this. Whatever the OS it runs on (or maybe they can create their own mini OS inside the keyboard?), the whole idea is that you have an almost infinite collection of instruments at your disposal. Each of the parameters of the VST could be assigned to a knob or button on the keyboard. It could be extremely easy to use, and the user doesn't have to know an underpinning OS is at work behind it all.

The whole idea of VST is universality, where it can be used anywhere. Why not take that a step further and put it inside a keyboard? If I want to 'upgrade' my keyboard to use a better piano sound, I can keep with the same keyboard, but buy a brilliant piano VST to use with it.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 4 years ago | (#33017242)

Maybe you can tell me though why keyboard manufacturers haven't already done this. Whatever the OS it runs on (or maybe they can create their own mini OS inside the keyboard?),

I'm not a keyboard manufacturer so I can only make an educated guess, but to put it bluntly, your question is basically the same as "Why can't I run my old VB6 application on an iPad?".

The long answer: From what I do know, most keyboards are based around cheap embedded CPUs, and maybe half a gig of flash or ROM at most for the OS and waveforms. The basic design doesn't have to change very much over the product's lifespan as the components generally have long production lives. It's cheap to mass-produce, it runs cool without putting out too much heat and it doesn't need a fan. In short, it's an embedded system.

For example, the Triton uses a Hitachi SH3 and a bunch of ASICs to handle the DSP stuff. It's relatively slow to boot, taking about 11 seconds. The Antares ATR-1 has a Motorola 68k or something and IIRC, a SHARC DSP core. It takes a second or so to power up. Like everyone else, they're probably migrating to ARM cores nowadays, but that still won't allow you to run a VST.

Simply put, the way I see it, making a synth that can run a VST is like making an iPad that can run AutoCAD (or the VB6 app) - the only way you can sensibly do it is by turning it from a keyboard (or iPad) into a PC, and thereby negating all its advantages.

In order make something that can run a VST module, you have to have an x86 processor (that probably costs more than the entire Triton motherboard cost to build) and an OS compatible with windows. You have to add a video card and a screen so that the user can install and use the VST (so the keyboard becomes massive, or you have to lug around a monitor with it). You have to have a 500W power supply (Triton Extreme draws 38W), a fan and a hard disk that breaks when the roadie knocks it over, or an even more expensive SSD. You have to deal with installing windows. You have to redesign the entire motherboard each time Intel, AMD or VIA discontinue the processor. You have to live with Microsoft discontinuing the OS. By the looks, it took OpenLabs about three years to deal with losing XP. MUSE seem to have sidestepped that by using linux and WINE, but their system won't work with every VST.

Maybe now that you can get a netbook and a 7" screen at low cost, that kind of technology will become easier to integrate into something the size of a Triton, but it's not really a future I look forward to. I want to be able to turn it on and turn it off at will. I don't want to wait minutes for Windows to boot or have it brick itself if I forgot to shut Windows down first.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 4 years ago | (#33017482)

I'm with you on the whole instant switch off/on thing. Heck, I even detest the 2 seconds I have to wait on my current Roland FP4 :) I also dislike fan noise (my own PC is silent even with a quadcore, after careful choice of components). One can always decrease the GHz if heat is a problem. SSD is perfect for VST storage, and again silent and durable.

But having said all that, I can't see why it isn't possible to interpret a VST even without a full blown OS. Software and hardware can do virtually anything, and the amount of versatility it would give to a keyboard would be amazing (it's a pain to cart around a laptop when playing at gigs etc.).

You mention about 'installing' the VST, but I know of many VSTs which are just single files and work off the bat (they're not even zipped up). The custom hardware inside the keyboard can surely see what parameters the VST has, and assign them to a knob, so you wouldn't need a screen to do this necessarily. I use a tracker program called 'Renoise', and behind the graphical frippery of the VST's GUI is basically just number parameters, and Renoise will allocate each of these a simple slider. You can see how that would translate to a knob or slider on a real keyboard.

Granted, it might take more specialized hardware than what keyboards currently have, but a full OS..... really?

If what you say is true and VSTs really need a full OS to run, then all I can say is that the VST format is more than a bit broken.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | about 4 years ago | (#33018120)

This gadget [smproaudio.com] will let you use VSTs without a computer, looks to be around $500 and has a smaller footprint than a laptop. It doesn't have a built-in keyboard, and reading a little more about it, it looks like not all VSTs will work with it. I guess it's a first step. While I'm not really surprised that a dedicated VST controller isn't out yet, I think it's only a matter of time before one is introduced. Everybody's moving to softsynths nowadays, and VST is a pretty prevalent architecture for them.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 4 years ago | (#33019598)

That's a far more reasonable price, and they seem to have done away with the HDD, which is also good. Looks like they've done the linux approach like MUSE did, and as you say, not all VSTs are liable to work on it as a result.

If I hadn't given up on the whole VST thing and gone all-hardware, I'd definitely look at getting one.

Re:VST keyboards? (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 4 years ago | (#33019662)

One can always decrease the GHz if heat is a problem. SSD is perfect for VST storage, and again silent and durable.

But having said all that, I can't see why it isn't possible to interpret a VST even without a full blown OS.

Depends what dependencies it has. If the DLL wants to create a pretty picture of a PPG Wave you'd have to at least stub most of the GDI subsystem. The fun part is when they've designed it badly so that the parameters can only be controlled by clicking on it, so to make those work you'd have to have the mouse, keyboard and screen. As for reducing the clock frequency, that SM Pro thing has a 1GHz processor, probably for that reason. You could probably run that nice and cool, but it's going to eat into your polyphony and complexity before it starts to drop out and stutter. That said, the V-machine is cheap enough for you to buy a bunch and dedicate them.

You mention about 'installing' the VST, but I know of many VSTs which are just single files and work off the bat (they're not even zipped up).

Before giving up on the whole idea I bought two VSTs, Lounge Lizard and the Waldorf PPG Wave, and came close to buying M-Tron. (Now replaced by the Triton and a MicroWave respectively - I use a PC for the 'Tron which boots DOS off a CF card and runs a sample playback engine I wrote a few years ago. Fun times.).
While all of these are implemented as a Windows DLL (M-tron probably has a bunch of datafiles too), you have to run InstallShield to get them out and in the case of Lounge Lizard, you can't then copy it onto another machine because of the copy protection (I'm rather curious how SM Pro worked around that, maybe they eased off the protection..?).

Is it just me...or (1)

genner (694963) | about 4 years ago | (#33016622)

Is it just me or did he consistently miss the same note when playing the Mega Man Soundtrack.

Why oh why (1)

NotOddManOut (1656659) | about 4 years ago | (#33020354)

Just another story explaining why some people never get la*d.

Re:Why oh why (1)

Ant P. (974313) | about 4 years ago | (#33021558)

Having trouble operating that computer, there?

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