MuSeq update

Well things were going swimmingly and then I hit a problem.

Basically with the current software development (SDK) and tool chain I’m using there is no way to get “self programming” to work. Self programming is basically the bit that allows you to update in the field from an SDCard, USB, MIDI, etc.

To get around this I’d have to do one of the following;
– Swap to a new micro processor and new SDK and start from scratch (will take a lot of work, several months)

– Swap to a new SDK and port over the code and libraries I’m currently using (will take a month of two of work)

– Send out programmers to repair centers around the world to allow them to do updates (no extra time, but a lot of extra cost and annoyed customers).

None of the above are particularly appealing and I need to have a think about which way to go.

2020 has been a terrible year for Dove Audio sales wise, and I’m just about treading water financially, yes I do this as a hobby so don’t have salaries to worry about but I do have accountants bills, website bills and tax bills to pay.

These two things, and a number of personal issues I’m dealing with, have hit my mood very hard and I can feel myself dropping back into depression.

So, I’m going to be stopping for a while whilst I try and get some semblance of a “level playing field” back into my personal life and have a think about MuSeq.

Triggers

A few people noticed something odd to the left of my Q119 sequencer from synthesizers.com. This is my trigger expander, basically I wanted something that would let me trigger noise shots, or toggle end points on the sequencer.

Now, synthesizers.com very kindly put a header on the back of the Q119 which brings out the key signals you need to do this, so adding an external trigger module was simply a case of reverse engineering the pin out and making a PCB.

D119 trigger PCB
D119 trigger PCB

This shows the PCB, and what I wanted to accomplish was that this was something people could make themselves rather than something I was going to sell. Why? well a number of reasons, I don’t honestly believe many people would be interested in buying and also the cost of the switches would make it quite an expensive module to sell, for what it does.

So I made it through hole, this was a huge pain in the butt, routing PCBs with surface mount parts is so much easier because you can run tracks under pads, with through hole, every track has to go between the holes. Add to this the fact I wanted to keep it 1U wide.

This PCB ended up being 4 layers, but is still quite cheap (4 layer PCBs from china only cost a couple of dollars more than 2 layer versions).

  • Rear of D119 PCB
  • D119 trigger PCB

You’ll need to be careful about the order in which you solder parts on, I’d suggest that the second to last is the switches and the final parts are the LEDs (so you can position them at the correct height.
You’ll also need to solder ground and output wires to the three connectors which are not mounted on the PCB.

In the ZIP file of the project I’ve included the schematics, gerbers and KiCAD files you need so you can make your own, or tweak the design as you see fit.

If I was to make these again, I would pretty much certainly make it surface mount to make it easier to route and this would make it cheaper to manufacture in quantity.

MuSeq Update

Another quick update for MuSeq, This time I’ve added the ability to set the “clock out” rate, so you can go from 1 clock per 4 beats all the way to 32 clocks per 4 beats. A short video is below

MuSeq Clock out demo

There are a few things left to do, so here’s a list;

  • Clock in from front panel (feed it say 8 clocks and get 24 PPQN resolution)
  • Self updating, i.e. you can update from SDCard
  • MIDI out
  • Sync 24 Out
  • Some internal tidying up of sequence loading/saving, particularly when in Bank play mode.
  • Redesign of PCB and Front Panel

The big hurdle is going to be the self updating, it always is. As it essentially requires you to boot into a bit of code to check for updates, then clear itself and load the main code, add in the ability to make it so you can’t brick it and things become quite difficult quite quickly.

The remainder should be straight forward, then it’s a case of getting prices and looking for a couple of beta testers before it can be shipped.

Life in Boxes and FPGAs

Well, the move went “ok”, I can’t say it was the most enjoyable experience, nor the smoothest, but it’s done.

I’ve unpacked about 75% of things and now have my soldering iron and workbench set up again. Which now means I’m starting to catch up on orders that were placed during my move.

The new place is smaller and so I’ve had to downsize my workshop considerably. So I have relutctantly taken the decision that I will no longer be manufacturing Eurorack modules, onc ethe last few Waveplane modules have gone, that will be it. I will however be working with someone to license these designs for their own product line, in much the same way as I did for Tangible Waves “wavetables” module

There are a number of reasons for this but primarily because I don’t have the space to store all the parts and modules for 3 types of modular system (MU, tangible waves and eurorack).
For now, I will be focusing on the MuSeq sequencer for the MU (dotcom) system and the delta poly synth but there are other modules planned which will be available to be licensed for eurorack systems going forward. Likewise the same is true of Tangible waves modules (which I really enjoyed working on). 
Does this mean I’m sick of modular and/or synths? no, I don’t think I could ever give up synths, I suspect I’ll still be designing them when I’m in my 90s. I still love modular , and non modular, synths, but just right now I have a much smaller space in my new place, so a downsize is a must sadly.

Some of you may have seen some of the pictures I’ve posted of my playing with FPGAs.

VHDL code on an FPGA generating three sawtooth outputs

This is a bit more than “playing”, what I’m trying to do is see how much/how many oscillators/voices I can fit into a single FPGA. I have a number of concerns over the use of CPUs for creating oscillators and voice control.
So I’m seeing if there is mileage in switching to an FPGA in place of the CPUs for Delta.

Life & Focus

We’ve finally found a suitable place to relocate to and we will be moving the end of August, this means we will temporarily not be be able to complete and ship further orders until around the middle of September.

This has taken a huge pressure off me personally, as have a couple of major life changes in recent weeks. My mood has lifted significantly in recent weeks as a result.

In short, I’m going to drop my current project list down to just three things and try and focus my efforts on those, they are;

  • MuSeq – My MU sequencer, there are a number of hardware changes that are needed, so I will be looking at these first. I did post a recent video with an update on some extra functionality that has gone in on my YouTube channel.
  • Delta – The basics are there, the analogue VCFs and VCAs work and the oscillators are all working. I’m considering a slight change to the VCF to give it a fourth filter mode and there is likely to a processor change (which is why it’s on headers) . I am pleased with how small it is, 110mm by 110mm for four voices.
  • PJ5CPU project, this is a bit of fun for me, basically it’s a RISC microprocessor made from TTL logic with a single instruction per clock cycle. I’m hoping to achieve 1Mhz/1MIPS from it, but it’s really just for fun and is not aimed at becoming a commercial product.

There are other things I would like to do, for example more modules for Tangible Waves, but for the moment I need to try and keep my focus.

Whilst Dove-Audio remains a hobby/cottage industry things aren’t likely to happen quickly, but I will post updates when I can.

Personal update

I’ve been quiet the last month or two and I would like to explain a little.
Right now I have a lot going on in my life, I’m having to move due to the flat I rent being sold, I am going trough a divorce and I’m having some health issues which are affecting the amount of energy I have, these coupled with the isolation that COVID has brought us is pushing me into depression again. A lot of people are in the same boat as a result of the changes to life that have been brought on by 2020.

I’m not writing this for sympathy, but i want to help others realise there is no shame in suffering with depression, its a major art of my life and has been for decades, I suspect I’ll never fully be free of it, but I no longer feel ashamed of it. I suffer with depression, there said it.

What does this mean for Dove Audio? Well right now things are going slowly, I have very little energy at the end of my day job (I can barely make it through the week and spend the weekends recuperating) and as a result things like MuSeq and Delta have significantly slipped.

I did very much enjoy working with Robert at Tangible Waves on the “wavetables” module, and I would very much like to work on more modules for that Tangible Waves. But for now, I need to focus on my mental health.

I’m hopeful that after September when I’ve moved and things are moving with my divorce that some the “black dog” will diminish a little, I’m working with my GP on solving my lack of energy, again hopefully things will be greatly improved by the end of September. So please bare with me, normal synth-geeky-ness will be resumed.

Update on life at Dove Audio

Just wanted to give a quick update about things going on here at Dove Audio.

Things on Delta have halted for a short while whilst I finish a couple of projects, the NJM2069 Module was one of those and the MuSeq is the next.

MuSeq is significantly behind, basically Dove Audio is just myself, Paula, with the odd bit of help from my partner Jon. I hit a major bug with the MIDI handling in that the library I was using (which seemed to do everything) wasn’t interrupt driven and you had to poll it. Which meant that when syncing to MIDI clock it would sometimes miss clock when switching pages.

Reworking, or refactoring, this took a while. But it’s working. This blow kind of took the wind out of my sales, hence finishing the NJM2069 module first. Now the NJM2069 is out, I am working on the MuSeq again.

Delta Build Blog #2 (It’s Alive!)

New CPUs arrived last week (I bought a spare this time) and after a few tweaks I’m happy to report it’s alive. All four voices are now making basic sounds, in my case each voice has two oscillators, each running a saw tooth and slightly detuned. I’ve done a very simple VCF sweep with sweeping the VCA level and recorded it with some different values of resonance.

Delta VCF sweeps

This is only once voice right now, the next step will be adding very simple MIDI control and mapping of CCs to allow me to control the parameters.

Work has been progressing with the mechanical design as well, I do have some renders, but I’m not yet ready to share them. Once I’ve got all the features fully implemented on a single 4 voice card, I’ll be sharing the renders at that point. It does look stunning and unique though (yes, I’m a tease).

Delta Build Blog #1 (The truth hurts)

These days I build synths for a hobby, yes I sell them, so it’s a “self funding hobby” and I’ve been very lucky to be in that position.
So I thought I’d share some of the joy, and pain, of designing and building a synth in today’s world. This will be an ongoing blog, so if you’re thinking about building synths professionally this might help you in some way.

As you may, or may not know, I like synths and I really enjoy making new and interesting synths, I like modular synths because they allow you to connect things in ways that conventional mono and poly synths don’t always permit. On the plus side for mono and poly synths, you can usually store and load patches.
So there are pros and cons for both, and both modular synths and fixed architecture synths have their place in my life.

One of my passions is making something new. 002 did that in many ways with it’s internet updating (not new to us, but new to synths), HTML editable patches and control morphable ladder filters in hardware and a bunch of other things.

The WTF (Window Transform Function) Oscillator also came out of my wondering what it would be like to switch at audio rate between two waveforms, it didn’t imagine how I thought it might, it sounded totally different, but it’s a very cool thing.

The waveplane oscillator was a way to allow people to sort of create their own tables, at least a way for people to morph between waves in any order they wanted, something that’s difficult to when you create wavetables (believe I’ve created lots of wavetables in my life and it’s a lot of work involving hex editors, audio editors, spreadsheets and code editing to make them come to life).

The natural step, for me at least, was to move to a poly synth. So whilst I’m finishing the MuSeq I’ve begun working on what I’ve tentatively called the “Delta” polysynth.

What are the specs? Well I’m keeping what I’m working towards close to my chest, but it will have both the WTF and Waveplane oscillators in, along with some new features (remember I like making new things, move forward, not backward).

First step on the development path was to prove the oscillators, Having done that by selling both as modules for Eurorack and MU systems I’m quite pleased they sound good.

Next step was prototyping the VCFs, this time I did this on breadboard.

Then we moved on to prototyping the voices for a poly synth, I found that I can get 4 voices of oscillators and 12 CVs from a single 600Mhz processor.

So we have all the parts!
The next challenge is getting down the cost, and here is were things get tricky, thanks to some budget brand companies, people now expect the moon on a stick for $300.
Ok, I get it, I’m on a really tight budget (still paying of debt thanks to a certain someone from a few years back) and I certainly can’t afford £3000 for a synth.

So how do you get the cost down?
Well there are a number of ways, firstly you go all digital/DSP or you could compromise on the quality of the parts used, You could use lots of menus and reduce the panel complexity (complexity = cost), you could reduce the feature set and so on.
So you have to find what works for you, I have a target retail price in mind, now one thing consumers of synths probably don’t know is how the synth market works.
Let’s say a synth costs $1000 (nice easy number to work with), that is split 4 ways… $250 to the dealer, $250 to the distributor, $250 for the raw parts which leaves $250 for the manufacturer.
So next time someone moans about the cost and has a go at a company for the “excessive pricing” please, keep in mind that the company in question has only made 25% of the retail, if that.

How I’ve chosen to keep costs down?
I’m trying to keep things small and light, yup big boxes and weight cost a fortune to ship to distributors, and to dealers (this all has to come from somewhere!). So my Voice PCB is 100mm by 110mm for 4 voices currently, I hope to make it smaller.

So, we’ve chosen a design approach, we’ve proto-typed our oscillators, our filter and worked on the cost down. Now we roll a PCB.

Delta 4 Voice Prototype PCB

Now, let’s be clear, this stuff isn’t cheap, I have 4 of these quad voice PCBs, that cost £1100, in volume they’re much cheaper. Remember that rule of thumb? as a one off this synth is already at a £4400 retail price.
Which brings us to the next bit of your “mega synth project”, how many are you going to sell? if you can sell a thousand of them, then yup you can get the cost down, if you can only sell 20 then the cost is going to increase.
Let’s say the board in 1000 off costs you £50 each, that’s £50,000.
That’s the world we live in. And don’t forget, YOU have to pay this upfront!

Yes, my aim is to make this commercially available, how possible that is depends on potential sales, pre-orders, investment and what the final cost will be, at this stage I have a target cost but nothing firm.

So your PCBs are here, you power them up and…… nothing quite works…
Welcome to Research and development. The first PCB you roll in any project will not be the one that goes into production, there will always, always, be a change. The WTF had 3 iterations of PCB, the Waveplane had 2.

In my case, I have two mode wires (I got two chip selects the wrong way around for my sample and hold circuit). and I will be changing the value of some resistors (the range on the cut off doesn’t quite cover what I’d like, it’s close, but not right).

Mod Wires (not intentionally blurry, it’s just hard to photograph something that small)

So, having figure out why half my CVs were not working or in the wrong place, they’re now fine.

I’m now tweaking the resistors, and one of the tiny little ones gets lost whilst I’m modifying the board (they’re 0402 which is 1mm by 0.5mm), I think nothing of it…. carry on, power up and the CPU is dead… ugh, guess what? that resistor? shorted two pins killing the processor.

Thankfully I had the foresight to NOT put the CPU on this first generation of board, so another one is on order.

Project Progress

It’s been a mad few weeks since our last update and I’m really pleased to say that our first two NJM2069 modules have shipped. We’re waiting on some more panels and then we’ll be adding these to our store, cost will be £250 + shipping. So stay tuned!

And Jon has made a major breakthrough with the MuSeq and has solved the MIDI timing error, it’s now rock solid. Better still he’s spead up the graphics library that is used to display text and graphics so the UI is much slicker than ever.

So Jon is going to continue tweaking libraries whilst I add in the extra functionality, this should speed up the development time dramatically.

Work continues on Delta, we’re waiting for PCBs before we can do much more but things are coming along well.