Category Archives: Equipment

Studio revamp

Had a bit of a purge and downsized from three Mantis Eurorack cases to two. I took all the modules out, then put them back in a logical (and ruthless) order, being honest with myself about what I actually use. It all feels a lot more cohesive now and more like an instrument rather than a collection of random modules.

I also took the opportunity to rethink my sequencing and integration with the computer as I had a lot of duplication, never finding a solution I was truly happy with. So, out went the Turing machine, the Expert Sleepers ES-40, CV Pal, the Erica Black VC Clock, Pico Trigg and DrumGirl. And instead, I’ve finally embraced the Beatstep Pro that I’m ashamed to say has spent more time in it’s box than out of it! What prompted this change of heart was investing in the ALM mmMidi and mmT modules which take a single stereo jack from the Beatstep MIDI Out and make all the patch points available directly in the rack. It’s been an absolute game changer for me. I’ve also repurposed the ODIO audio interface which I previously used to integrate with my iPad and found it works really well with Ableton CV Tools to send clock signals around the system.

I did decide to invest in a few new things with the money gained from the unused modules, including a Moog DFAM (Drummer from another Mother).

The DFAM is… AWESOME! Taking the raw sound straight out of the VCA rewards you with a full, bone crunching bass and fizzy, crunchy white noise that combine to make some amazing beats. I’m sure in a mix they would be a bit dominant, but I was seriously impressed! It’s something I’ve had my eye on for a while and worthy of sacrificing the rack space for. Plus it has copious modulation options so plays well with the rest of my system.

It does mean I’m pretty spoilt for choice in the Eurorack percussion department, what with my ALM Taiko’s and Mutant Bassdrum, but you can truly get some unique sounds with this selection of modules.

Other than that, it was just the usual reorganising of the desk real-estate. Really pleased with how it’s turned out.

Kurzweil 900MX Pt. 4

Well, I’ve managed to sort out the cause of the noise. I swapped over the Op Amp chips and the noise practically disappeared. So I imagine one of them must have been damaged in some way. The residual noise that’s remaining is only audible when the gain is whacked right up, and Izotope RX can easily sort that out.

I haven’t made any progress with getting the left channel up and running, and it’s proving difficult to find a replacement long-pole dual gang potentiometer, so have decided to cut my losses and stick with a mono output only which is fine.

I also noticed the LCD had a bit of a flicker to it, so thought I’d look again at the power output on the motherboard, now that I’ve established there was a problem with the old PSU. And I’m pleased to report that it’s outputting power, so I’ve redirected the LCD backlight back to where it should go and the flicker has totally gone.

So all in all, a success and I’m already quite a way through multi-sampling it. Will put together an audio demo once I have a full palette of sounds to choose from.

Mutable Sheep

I’ve been running the alternate ‘Sheep’ firmware on my Mutable Instruments Tides module for some time now and really like the range of sounds you can get out of it. So, I decided to change the faceplate to a new Sheep one, courtesy of Pusherman Productions.

It arrived today, but what I expected to be a simple case of removing some knobs and nuts turned out to be a lot more difficult. The lower middle jack socket was deliberately stuck to the faceplate with what appeared to be some form of strong cement glue. I scraped away what I could, then tried to lever the faceplate away from the socket, but it snapped the socket in two!

It then took me the best part of an hour to desolder the broken socket and replace it. I must admit, now it’s reassembled, it looks great, but what a pain it was! No idea why they did that?

Kurzweil 900MX Pt. 3

Finally, some progress! I replaced the relay, but this didn’t seem to make any difference. Next, I replaced the nearby capacitors (quite a tricky job on a 30 year old module) but this didn’t help either. So I resorted to my trusty multimeter and determined that there was no power getting to the negative voltage regulator.

Now, I’ll fully admit at this point, I was way beyond the knowledge gained in my Electronics GCSE. But my theory was that the display, navigation, MIDI etc. all used positive voltages but the sound making areas must need negative voltages. So logically, it can’t have been receiving an alternating current (AC).

It was at this point that I found a forum post along the lines of “Do make sure you are using an AC adapter, not a DC adapter, otherwise you’ll get no sound”. So I thought I’d better order a new one to be on the safe side.

It arrived this morning and low and behold, we now have sound! Sort of.

More issues

The first issue is that there is only sound in the right channel. Also, the volume knob seems knackered and only works when turned fully clockwise. So I suspect that could be the cause of the left channel problems too.

There is also a lot of background hum, particularly around 50hz. Fortunately, the Izotope RX De-hum seems to get rid of most of and I’m sure with a bit of tweaking should give me an acceptable sound.

But what does it sound like?

As expected, the pianos sound really nice, if a little one dimensional (i.e. Don’t appear to have many velocity layers). In fact, most of the sounds seem to be piano based with varying degrees of brightness, attack and detuning. For want of a better word, they sound ‘Expensive’, but are perhaps a bit too full sounding. Fine for solo piano, but I would guess they might need to be thinned out a bit to fit in a mix.

There are also a selection of growly synth sounds, soft pads, digital bells, harpsichords and a quite usable Acoustic Bass too.

The Electric Piano is an interesting one. It appears to have two velocity layers, but they sound nothing like each other. The lower velocity has an almost FM like quality, but the higher velocity is a lovely Rhodes sample. It does sound a bit unnatural moving from one to the other, so I’ll probably just multisample them into two separate instruments.

What’s next?

Well, I probably will have a go at replacing the volume potentiometer at some point and tracking down the cause of the hum. If the volume pot isn’t the cause of the left channel being silent, I’ll probably try swapping over the Op-Amps as they are mirrored for left and right channels. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m losing too much in Mono and can always widen the sound in my DAW.

But before I do any of that, I think it’s best to multisample the sounds into Kontakt just in case I manage to fry anything.

Christmas Acid

No socks for me this year. My in-laws bought me a red Behringer TD-3!

Have repurposed my old guitar FX pedalboard as a stand with built in Delay and Reverb. The Micromix allows me to blend the dry and wet signals as well as creating feedback loops via the second output of the reverb.

Kurzweil 900 MX Pt. 1

Picked up what I hope will be a bit of a bargain on eBay, the Kurzweil 900 MX MicroExpander.

There’s not a lot of information out there, but I believe it was launched in 1989 as part of their Home Product range and features 63 sounds taken from their flagship K250 including pianos, bass and strings. Being a home product, there are some compromises such as using phono plugs rather than 6.5mm jacks and having a wall wart power supply rather than a built in PSU, but it does retain the 12 note polyphony of its older sibling.

This particular unit looked a little worse for wear on eBay, with some scratches on the top and no power supply. It didn’t look too bad when it arrived today though, but I had no idea if it would actually work.

Connecting a spare 9V AC PSU, the MIDI light flashed on for a second, but it appeared the backlight on the LCD was dead. I could just about read the text though and navigate through the sounds – so far so good.

The 900 MX uses a 16 character, single-line LCD so I set about sourcing a replacement, finally settling on a Winstar WH1601 which you can find on eBay. Unlike my Akai S2000, the LCD isn’t wired directly to the circuit board, so this should make it much easier to swap out. I’ll follow up with more details once I get the LCD replaced, but for now, check out this video from Espen Kraft where he demos the similar 1000 PX

Update 8/1/2021

Still waiting for the replacement LCD, but it has at least shipped now so should arrive next week. Meanwhile, I’ve started reviewing the pinouts on the old LCD as it’s in 2 rows of 7 pins (plus separate pins for the backlight) rather than a single row of 16 as is on the replacement.

This website has been quite illuminating (pardon the pun) and revealed that the pins are numbered in pairs.

LCD 101 – https://www.spikenzielabs.com/learn/lcd_how_to.html

Akai S2000 notes

Have started work on upgrading my Akai S2000, so thought I’d capture some notes for posterity on how to get the Gotek floppy emulator working.

Swapping the Floppy Drive for the Gotek emulator

Removing the old floppy drive is just a case of removing 4 screws from the underside of the S2000 as well as the power and IDE cables. This gives you access to a further 4 screws which secure the floppy drive to the metal chassis.

Once separated, you can then mount the Gotek onto the metal chassis, connect the power and IDE cables to it and finally reattach the chassis to the S2000 itself via the 4 screws on the underside. All being well, it should then look something like this…

Gotek / Flash Floppy Configuration

The Gotek I ordered already had FlashFloppy pre-installed, so I went to their Github page to see what configuration settings were needed.

Using a USB drive formatted as FAT32, I created a file in the root directory called ‘FF.CFG’

I then updated it with the relevant parameters for Akai samplers which in my case were…

host = akai
interface = ibmpc-hdout
nav-mode = native

The instructions also mention setting jumper S0 which a quick Google revealed means ‘Disk 0’. Mine arrived set as S1, so I just moved the jumper to S0.

S2000 OS Image

The other thing you will need is a copy of the S2000 Operating system (preferably v2.0) in HFE format. I got my copy from http://akai.mnx2010.nl/ then copied it into the root directory of the USB drive.

And that should be all you need to get the S2000 to boot from USB via Gotek!

Further reading

Here are some links that helped me along the way…

HxC Floppy Driver Emulator Forum – S2000 thread
http://akai.mnx2010.nl/
https://jimatwood.wordpress.com/tag/akai-usb-to-scsi/
http://martin78.com/tag/sampler/
Akai S900 and S950 factory libraries

MIDI CC Sequencer 1.1

Couldn’t sleep last night. Kept having ideas on how to improve the sequencer, so in the hope of having a better nights sleep tonight, I announce version 1.1!

First addition is variable pattern length for each of the 4 sequencers, so you can create polyrhythmic patterns.

Next, I’ve added a toggle to switch between the original note-in trigger mode and a new host mode, synced to Ableton’s tempo. This allows for sustained notes to be played with the parameters being changed over time, rather than per note.

Then there’s a clock divider so you can choose what speed the host mode runs at.

And finally, I’ve changed the purple colour of the fourth sequencer to pink, because, why not 🙂

Hope you like the changes, I’m really quite pleased with them! Here’s a quick (and noisy) demo…

Only had one more idea, namely a slew level to sweep between the parameter changes rather than jump to them, but not even sure if that’s even possible yet. I’ll leave that for another time though.

MIDI CC Sequencer

Very pleased to announce another new maxforlive device, this time a 4 channel, 8 step MIDI CC Sequencer! Whilst it was primarily designed for my Korg NTS-1, I’ve made it configurable so you can choose any 4 MIDI CC’s you want to sequence by typing their numbers in the boxes at the top. By default, it’s mapped to the Korg Oscillator Type, Shape and Alt controls.

You might be wondering why it only has 4 knobs if there are 8 steps. Well, the design was inspired by one of my favourite Eurorack modules, the DinSync ModSeq where each knob controls two steps. So, taking the first green knob for example, on step 1 it would output a value of 25, but on step 5 it would output the inverse (102). The second green knob would output a value of 80 on step 2, then on step 6, it would output the inverse (47) and so on. After it reaches step 8, it loops back to 1 again.

It’s available to download on maxforlive now, and I’ll hopefully upload a demo video in the next couple of days!