Category Archives: Tech

How I manage my Cubase template

As good as it’s been to finally organise my Kontakt libraries in Cubase, it does mean you end up with a template containing literally hundreds of instrument tracks. Fortunately, with the help of the Project Logical Editor and TouchPortal on my iPad, navigating them is a breeze. So I thought I’d share what I did as it may be of help to you too!

Before I get onto that though, it’s probably best to take you through the naming conventions and folder structure I used first.

Folder Structure

There are lots of schools of thought on how to organise your instruments but I decided to start with 5 top-level folders of instrument families; Strings, Brass, Winds, Percussion and Synths. Within each of these families, I then have subfolders for the individual instrument types. For example, Strings has subfolders of Violins, Violas, Celli, Basses and Ensembles.

This worked for the majority of my libraries, but I did also create some separate folders which sit outside of the above for things like Guitars, Voices and Music Boxes. Whilst I freely admit that Music Boxes could have sat in the Percussion family (under Tuned Percussion), they are one of my go-to sounds, so I liked the idea of them being their own thing.

Track Naming Conventions

I prefix each of the Instrument Tracks with either the name of the brand or the name of the library if it contains lots of instruments. For example, the Spitfire Audio BBC SO library is prefixed ‘BBC’, whereas the individual Waverunner Audio instruments, are just prefixed ‘Waverunner’. I then add the name of the instrument, followed by any details on the articulations used.

e.g. BBC Tenor Trombone Legato

Individual Tracks vs Key Switching

This is a whole topic in itself, and there’s a great video from Guy Mitchelmore covering the pros and cons for both approaches, but having tried both, I personally like to have the most commonly used articulations on separate tracks.

Project Logical Editor

Now to the fun bit! How to take control of your template and only see the bits you are interested in. And this is where the Project Logical Editor comes in. You’ll find it in the Cubase ‘Project’ menu, under ‘Project Logical Editor…’

You can create and use Logical Editor presets to hide or unhide specific folders, which Cubase refers to as visibility. I’ll describe the process for hiding everything apart from the Strings.

First, I created a preset to hide all folder tracks. I named this ‘Visibility – Hide All’

Next, I created a preset to show the Strings folder, which will automatically make any subfolders visible as well. I named this ‘Visibility – Show STRINGS’.

I then mapped the two new editor presets to key commands. You’ll find this in the Cubase ‘Edit’ menu, under ‘Key Commands’. To locate the preset you created, use the search field above the ‘Commands’ section (Shown below with the search term ‘STRINGS’).

Then type any key, or sequence of keys, until you find a combination which isn’t used. As you type, it will appear in the ‘Type in Key’ field on the right of the ‘Key commands’ window, and any existing mapping will be shown under ‘Assigned to’. Once you have found an unused combination, just click ‘Assign’, then the OK button.

In my case, I mapped ‘Hide’ to Control+Shift+H, and ‘Strings’ to Control+Shift+1.

Touch Portal

As a front-end navigation tool, I’m using Touch Portal, an iOS app which simulates key presses on my iMac. Taking the example of the ‘Strings’ instrument family, it’s just a case of mapping a button to the ‘Hide’ and ‘Strings’ key commands per the below screenshot. I’m sure you can do much the same with Lemur, Touch OSC or even a hardware controller such as Stream Deck.

Other suggestions

You’ll no doubt be wondering why I suggested putting the brand or library name as a prefix? Well, you can also create Logical editor presets that show only tracks that contain a given keyword. Here’s an example for the BBC Core library.

I then have a second Cubase screen available in Touch Portal which has buttons for libraries instead of Instrument types.

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.

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.

Kurzweil 900 MX Pt. 2

Well, it was a bit of a battle, but I finally have a working display for the Kurzweil!

The removal and replacement of the LCD itself wasn’t too difficult, but the backlight didn’t appear to be working on the new LCD. So I checked the two connection pins on the circuitboard, but couldn’t detect any power coming out of them.

I then checked the specs for the LCD and which revealed it accepts a maximum of 13V, so I hooked up a 9v battery to it and the backlight burst into life.

I guess there’s a component somewhere in the circuit which has failed or a dry solder point perhaps, but a quick visual inspection didn’t reveal anything obvious, so I decided to look for an alternative 9v source.

Fortunately, the 900 MX has an external 9v wall wart PSU, so I ran wires from the input socket and power switch to the backlight. The reason for running it after the power switch of course is because otherwise the backlight would be permanently on!

After reassembly, I did some testing and found that there was good and bad news.

The good news

I could navigate through the menus fine, select patches and change MIDI settings. All buttons work too.

The MIDI indicator responds to incoming data from my controller. In fact, the MX has a handy built in MIDI monitor function so I could see the note on / off information as well as pitch bend.

The bad news

It doesn’t make any sound. Pretty bad news I think you’ll agree.

So I whipped the top off again to have a good stare at the circuit board. I noticed two IC’s with Left and Right screen-printed below them on the circuit board, so guessed that might be a good place to start. The IC’s were marked PCM56P, which I think are Digital to Analog converters (DAC’s).

However, the likelihood of both DAC’s failing at the same time seemed unlikely, so I carried on looking for any shared components in the same general area. That’s when I chanced upon a relay by American Relays Inc, marked AD2A05D. I must profess, I didn’t really know what it did, but it was positioned on the circuit board between the DAC’s and the output phono jacks so I guessed the sound must be somehow routed through it.

I then chanced upon a webpage dedicated to problem solving for the Kurzweil K1000 http://k1000.net/problems.htm which revealed I could be onto something. Under the heading ‘No Sound or Distorted Sound’ it read..

“This is most often caused by a faulty audio output relay – a relay that connects the audio to the two output jacks on the back of the expander or keyboard. If the relay gets stuck or fails, no sound will be heard at the output jacks.”

So I’m hoping that’s also what’s wrong with my MX. Being in the UK, the chances of finding the original relay are nil, but I managed to find what I think is a compatible one on ebay. It’s the Hamlin HE722A0510 which is a 5v DPST reed relay with diode.

To be continued…

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!