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Cult of 990 – special JD-990 soundset for Roland Zenology

I made this soundset for all of you who don’t have actual JD-990, yet want to get to the original hardware sound as close as possible. This is not another “Hey let’s make a bank that sounds like a JD-990!”. Quite the contrary. This is a bank created on the actual JD-990 and then patch by patch recreated on Zenology Pro. Normally when I program for Roland I program banks directly on their Zenology and Cloud instruments, which makes perfect sense. However this was completely different story and completely different approach. If you have passion for synths and especially in this case authenticity, you will understand exactly why I did what I did, the reasons behind this and how it came out. And will be glad to share my little story. I guarantee this is the closest you can get to the actual JD-990 sound, if you don’t have a hardware.

Stage 1 – This is impossible
The Roland JD-990 synthesizer, a classic in the world of electronic music, has garnered significant interest among musicians and producers for its rich, intricate sounds. This iconic status has led to various attempts to emulate its distinctive tones in modern software. Inspired by this trend, I embarked on a project to recreate my custom soundset for hardware JD-990 within Roland’s Zenology Pro software. This was the initial idea. For start, the TVF in Zenology and on hardware JD-990 sound different at extreme settings, hence these types of patches were avoided from the start. These is also Effects Block B on Zenology, just a part of it (ie either delay, or a reverb, never both, and no chorus if Block A is used), so these patches had to be avoided as well. So after a couple of weeks of work of building the bank on JD-990 it was now time to transfer these patches to Zenology. At leats that’s what I thought was the next step. Big mistake! To my horror I’ve realised the waveforms in Zenology Pro are in completely different order. On top of that, there are thousands of them, the envelope times are in totally different ranges, depths for values are different (LFO’s, envelopes, modulations) and so many other things. Had I known all this I doubt I would do this project. So initially I gave up. Eventually after a some time when I cooled down decided to take a second look into this thing.

Stage 2 – Maybe it is possible
The task was to transfer each patch manually to the ZEN engine. This involved detailed adjustments to ensure authenticity, particularly with regard to pitch, filters, and effects settings. My goal was to make the patches indistinguishable from those produced by the original JD-990. So the first step was to find out where is each JD-990 waveform located inside Zenology’s waveform ROM. After several days of dedicated effort, the initial results were promising. I had mapped the entire JD-990’s wave ROM to the much larger ROM of Zenology Pro. Once this foundational step was complete, the rest should be easy, that’s what I thought. In theory this was all sounding promising but after a while new problems came up, some patches just didn’t sound right. Eventually found the source of the problem. Some of the inharmonic waveforms of Zenology are set to a different root key than their counterpart in JD-990. This was unpleasant surprise. Another issue were the envelopes. You can not just copy paste the numbers, since the envelopes in JD-990 are in 7 bit resolution while the envelopes in Zenology are 10 bit depth. So you can’t copy ie T2 75 -> T2 75, that just doesn’t work. Further more, envelope slope shapes seem to be slightly different between the two. You literally end up A/B testing one against the other while adjusting the value on the fly which is time consuming and can be extremely frustrating at times as the number scale itself in both units outputs logarithmic(!) results, which means you can forget about the rule of a thumb and similar “guesstimate” tricks. It just doesn’t work.


Zenology ROM map -> JD-990 ROM map – conversion table, Don Solaris 2023

Stage 3 – Trying the first patches side by side
The process of converting patches was labor-intensive. Each patch was evaluated by comparing the sound from the JD-990 with the recreated sound in Zenology Pro. Through a methodical A/B testing approach, I adjusted the Zenology patches until they matched the JD-990’s output as closely as possible. This meticulous attention to detail ensured that the recreated sounds retained the unique characteristics that made the JD-990 so beloved.

I believe the end result of this effort is a highly faithful emulation of the JD-990 within Zenology Pro. The patches, now converted and refined, provide a near-identical sonic experience to the original hardware. I am confident enough in the accuracy of my work that I would challenge listeners to distinguish between the two in a blind test. This project underscores the potential of modern software to replicate classic hardware sounds with remarkable fidelity, preserving the legacy of vintage synthesizers for contemporary music production.

This process requires a lot of time and a lot of passion. It depends upon people whether they will recognise this dedication or not. In average takes 3-4 times more to build such a soundset than a regular one directly in the Zenology (or any Cloud instrument). Because you are building the soundset on a hardware synthesizer first, then you are manually recreating it on a totally different syntheizer.

Stage 4 – It’s finished!
You can find this soundset on Roland Cloud, titled simply as: “Cult of 990”. I am not allowed to comment about future products (possible followup of this bank) due to NDA with Roland, but if there will ever be one, I am sure it will be called Cult of 990 Part 2. 😉 Here is the link to the demo in uncompressed .wav format:

Cult of 990 Audio Demo (copyright, Roland Corporation)

Soundset is available from the Roland Cloud and can be found here: ZEZ011 Cult of 990

Conclusion
It takes too much time and I wonder is it worth it in the end. We will see what the end users have to say, especially those with the hardware JD-990 who know its sound, and who have tried this set. Since there is no software version of JD-990 yet, this is the best we have at the present time. I will be glad to hear from you folks, down in the comments section. The critic is welcome as well. Thank you!

Keyboard and other music magazines content index search tool

Last September, a generous member of the music forums known as Clusterchord bestowed upon me his extensive collection of Keyboard magazines spanning from the 1980s to the 2000s. His noble gesture was driven by the need for additional space, and I gladly accepted the treasure trove of musical knowledge. Recognizing the value of such a collection, I embarked on a mission to maximize its utility by making it easily accessible and searchable.

To achieve this, I dedicated two weeks of diligent effort to meticulously scan the front covers and index pages of each magazine. With precision and care, I converted these scans into searchable text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. This transformative process has imbued the collection with newfound functionality, enabling me to swiftly locate specific topics, articles, or references with a simple search command.

Now, armed with a comprehensive index of the entire collection, I possess a powerful tool for exploration and discovery within the realms of musical history, techniques, and equipment. Whether delving into the pioneering synth sounds of the 1980s or uncovering production secrets from the turn of the millennium, I can navigate this wealth of information effortlessly, thanks to the digital transformation of Clusterchord’s cherished collection.

Legal
It’s important to clarify that while I’ve meticulously indexed the front covers and table of contents of each magazine in the collection, I have not scanned or reproduced the actual content contained within the pages. Instead, I’ve utilized Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology solely on the metadata—the titles, headings, and index entries—to create a searchable index.

This approach ensures compliance with copyright laws and respects the intellectual property of the original publishers and authors. By focusing solely on indexing the metadata, I’ve maintained a legal and ethical framework while still providing a valuable tool for accessing and navigating the wealth of information contained within these publications.

What is it for?
The primary objective of creating this searchable index is to enhance the utility of the magazine collection, especially when dealing with hundreds of individual issues. Memorizing such a vast amount of information would be impractical and daunting, but having a searchable index enables quick and efficient access to specific topics, articles, or references.

With this indexed collection, anyone who possesses a substantial library of these magazines can instantly locate desired information without the need for exhaustive manual searching. Whether you’re a collector, researcher, or enthusiast, this tool significantly streamlines the process of finding relevant content amidst a sea of publications.

So, rather than relying on memory or spending countless hours flipping through pages, the indexed collection empowers individuals to effortlessly navigate their magazine archives and extract knowledge with ease. It’s a practical solution tailored to the needs of magazine collectors and enthusiasts alike.

What’s inside
In recognition of the immense value this indexed collection holds for music enthusiasts, I have decided to share it with the broader community. This meticulously curated index encompasses a wide array of esteemed publications, including:

  • Keyboard Magazine
  • Future Music
  • Sound on Sound
  • Electronic Musician
  • Roland Users Group
  • Home & Studio Recording
  • Music Technology
  • Mix
  • Home Recording.

By making this indexed collection available to fellow aficionados, I aim to foster a spirit of collaboration and exploration within the music community. Whether you’re a seasoned professional seeking to delve into the archives for inspiration or a budding musician eager to learn from the insights of the past, this resource offers a wealth of knowledge and inspiration at your fingertips. I am aware of the muzines website which contains actual content of the magazines, however it does not feature Keyboard, Future Music and some other magazines that are featured in here. In the context of topic search – I think the two can complement each other perfectly. You can think of this tool made for us who have actual (physical) magazines, and need a quick search tool to find some specific topic. Keep in mind that muzines is far superior as it features meta search that goes literally into every article’s every word. But then again, this one is super simple and super fast. You press Ctrl+F, you find the info and go pick up the magazine from the shelf.

Donations are welcome
Furthermore, in an effort to continually expand and enrich this repository of musical history, I welcome donations of magazines spanning the period from 1980 to 2006. Your contributions will not only help build the searchable index but also ensure that future generations can benefit from access to this invaluable reservoir of musical wisdom. Together, we can cultivate a vibrant community dedicated to the celebration and exploration of music instruments, production and technique in all its forms.

Database access
Given the extensive nature of the indexed collection, hosting it on a blog platform could indeed present challenges due to its size and complexity. To ensure a user-friendly experience, I opted to create a dedicated page specifically for this project.

On this dedicated page, users can employ the familiar “command + F” (or “Ctrl + F” on Windows) search function within their web browser. By typing in the desired phrase or keyword, users can initiate a search that will scan the indexed metadata across all magazines in the collection:

https://donsolaris.com/mags/mags.html

The search results will then promptly display which magazines contain references to the searched phrase or keyword, enabling users to quickly pinpoint relevant articles or topics. This streamlined approach simplifies the process of accessing information within the collection, enhancing usability and efficiency for users seeking specific content.

In essence, by providing a dedicated page and leveraging the browser’s built-in search functionality, users can effortlessly navigate the indexed collection and extract valuable insights with minimal effort. It’s a user-centric solution designed to optimize the accessibility and utility of the magazine archive.

Ethical Dilemma Unveiled: A Conversation with a Student at The Royal Danish Academy Of Music Raises Concerns

Intro
On November 17, 2023, an email exchange with Kristian Alexander Pedersen, a student enrolled at The Royal Danish Academy Of Music, brought forth an unsettling interaction that prompts reflection on ethical conduct and professional behavior within academic spheres. Kristian Alexander Pedersen initiated communication with us, requesting a discount. Upon our standard policy explanation of non-negotiable pricing, the conversation took an unexpected turn. Pedersen’s response deviated into hostility, including threats to unlawfully pirate our products.

Piracy also known as Cracking (Cracks) constitutes a serious legal infringement. Engaging in piracy, which involves the unauthorized duplication, distribution, or use of copyrighted material, is a violation of intellectual property laws. Such actions are subject to legal consequences and penalties, including fines and potential legal action. It’s important to recognize that laws governing intellectual property rights are in place to protect the rights of creators and innovators, and individuals or entities found guilty of piracy can face significant legal repercussions.

Upholding these laws not only ensures fair compensation for creators but also maintains the integrity of creative industries and encourages a culture of respect for intellectual property rights. This exchange raises profound concerns about the behavior exhibited by a student associated with The Royal Danish Academy Of Music. Such conduct not only reflects poorly on the individual but also poses questions regarding the institution’s educational ethos and teachings regarding professional etiquette.

Consideration of Ethical Education
Below we will submit the entire email exchange with Kristian Alexander Pedersen (marked in orange color) and our responses (marked in white). The email exchange with Pedersen is also available in PDF form: email_log_file.pdf

The Importance of Ethical Behavior
Professionalism, respect, and ethical behavior are fundamental pillars in any educational setting. The incident with Pedersen underscores the necessity for educational institutions to emphasize these values to shape responsible and ethical professionals in their respective fields. This incident serves as a poignant reminder of the criticality of ethical education and the need for constructive dialogue between educational institutions and the professional world. Upholding ethical standards ensures not only individual integrity but also preserves the reputation and credibility of academic entities.

Possible repercussions
In general, by neglecting to impart the importance of intellectual property rights and ethical conduct, educational institutions potentially perpetuate a culture of disregard for legal boundaries and fair practices. This type of oversight undermines the responsibility of institutions to nurture responsible and informed professionals, potentially damaging its reputation among industry partners and accrediting bodies. Furthermore, graduates lacking awareness of piracy’s repercussions could face legal liabilities in their careers, impacting their professional trajectories and potentially reflecting poorly on the institution that failed to provide adequate guidance. It is critical to understand this can be an isolated case and we can not blame it in advance on this particular institution. Instead we hope to see The Royal Danish Academy Of Music open an investigation on this case and come up with their conclusion / statement which we will gladly publish in here, if they ever do so. Also it is important to understand that we were contacted by someone who represented themselves as “their student” rather than a private customer, hence how this institution unintentionally ended up in this whole event.

Inviting Perspective
It’s essential to recognize that individual actions might not encapsulate an institution’s overall culture. Therefore, an open invitation is extended to The Royal Danish Academy Of Music to offer their perspective on the incident and the ethical standards they advocate for among their students. We welcome them to contact us and will gladly forward their response as soon as we receive it.

The Royal Danish Academy Of Music, Image source: Wikipedia

Unnecessary insults
In professional settings, rude language can tarnish reputations and hinder career opportunities. There is also the emotional harm – Rude language can deeply affect individuals emotionally. It may cause stress, or feelings of disrespect. It is unfortunately beyond our scope of understanding what was the exact reason Pedersen decided to insult us. Polite communication is definitely something that all academic institutions in general could add some extra focus on, either through workshops or additional re-education.

Outro
I have decided to document this event as a cautionary tale for fellow sound designers, shedding light on the unpredictability of some individuals’ behavior, particularly when faced with contentious situations. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential risks and challenges that can arise in professional interactions, highlighting the importance of maintaining professionalism and vigilance at all times. By sharing this experience, I aim to raise awareness within the community and encourage others to remain vigilant, proactive, and prepared to navigate similar circumstances with resilience and composure.

Don Solaris sound designer, Roland Corporation
November 18, 2023

Finally retrieved back my Yamaha VL1-m

It’s back. I totally regretted selling it without trying it fully. I stupidly followed an advice from some GS member that VL1 is essentially gone into history hole and there are way better options in software now. After trying some of the “better software” I’ve realized none of them sound like VL and I wanted my unit back. Although I’ve sold it on eBay, I’ve kept contact with the buyer. So two years later I asked him if he was interested in selling it back to me. Of course he wasn’t. Three years after that I sent him the same question. Answer this time was: No way!

And last month I gave it a random shot, in fact it’s been so many years that this time I’ve sent him an email just for fun, just to see where the unit ended. To my shock, the owner still had my unit and was just about to sell it on eBay. We agreed to go with the original price that I sold him for. And now the unit is back. My beloved VL1-m Ver2 that I originally bought from some confused dude, which is a story of its own*.

*Essentially I bought it in may in 2007 from this rich guy who, although knew exactly what it is, he overestimated the power of those physical modelling (PM) software synths back then, thinking Yamaha VL1 was already obsolete so he wanted to get rid of it asap. I actually came to buy his XV-5080, which was at regular market price. But in the online ads, I have noticed under his username another entry, this time with Yamaha VL1-m. It was a very strange entry because what he asked was essentially the amount just the Ver2 upgrade cost which was 350 notes. So I phoned him one afternoon and asked if it was Version 1 maybe? To which he replied, no it is Ver2, it even has a sticker.


Somewhere up the hills where rich ppl live…

Now comes the best part. So the next day when I came to pick up XV-5080 I noticed he does in fact have VL1-m Ver2. While looking for it and taking out my money I asked him if he could lower the price from 350 to 250 notes. Which he in fact did. LOL! It was an insane deal!!! He told me that VL1 is outdated technology and he is moving completely ITB. Since I bought XV5080 at the regular price of what he asked for, without bargaining hence why he probably agreed for the deal of the VL1-m. Being a rare synth it was impossible for me to check within those 20 minutes to find out the -actual- secondhand market value of VL1-m. I too was surprised their value went so “low” (350 notes), but decided to take the risk. Keep in mind – no smartphones back then. It was only a couple of weeks later I learned these things were x10 more expensive than what I’ve paid for!! As for the seller himself, I wasn’t surprised. It was a rich upper class neighbourhood with villas and stuff, those folks sometimes can’t tell a hundred from a grand. And I don’t blame them!!!

All in all it was epic, except the small detour which I had to take as there was some construction work on the road, and there were no smart phones back then so I had to drive thru some hill and forest where I got lost! LOL! I mean I could see the direction of his house on top of the hill I just couldn’t get there. Eventually I did. It was a beautiful early summer, so the forest detour felt nice. One of the best days in my gear acquisition life!!!

Back to 2017. Coincidentally, I just restored one old Power PC Macintosh, which runs OS9, which means I can run VL1 expert editor in there, export the patches on a floppy and load them into VL1. I should point out I did not buy this unit for flutes and violins, but rather for the sick sounds that it’s capable of generating. The unit can also work as a full Virtual Analog synth via another OS9 based editor.

And so I joined the Korg DSS-1 club!

What a beast! I don’t care for playing acoustic samples at this stage just using it a synth itself is enough power. I kid you not, this thing sounds as good and powerful as a Prophet 5. Still can’t believe its sound. The low end is insane. Osc sync is killer. You can change the bit depth of the samples in real time from 12 bit down to 8 bit and even 6 bit. Also the two delay lines can pull up some incredible flangers. Took me two years to find a mint unit. But it was worth it. I have another unit which I got few yrs ago but it has one dead delay unit and some problems, but when ever I would play it I was always blown away by its sound. Patiently waited to find one in good condition to ensure long life. So here it is. If you can find one locally, give it a try. Press the Synthesize function, use a standard Saw wave (it will auto generate one for each octave) and try it as a synth and tell me it doesn’t sound good! There is also additive engine inside which can generate all kinds of weird sounds like formants, bells etc.

As of the upgrades, for those interested…


We upgraded the PSU with the new caps


Installed a LED based display.


Goodbye to that old “80 calculator” display. Hello LED.


Then we had new tact switches installed, so that when you press the switch it actually works.


Old floppy was removed replaced with Gotek Flash Floppy currently running some 140 floppies on the USB. Floppy images are available here.


Sharp eyed ones probably noticed something unusual about the first image. It’s because this unit has a Evil_Dragon_sayz_the_DSS’_too_big_letz_fix_dat mod. Took a while to build these sides as the slope has that unusual “stair” not easy to do on regular carpenter desk, but a friend Chris is good in his business and built a pair over the drawings I’ve provided. Also this mod is not easy plug and play type of thing. Some things need to be cut inside the unit. Don’t do it unless you know your shi1t.


This is the design I went with. Probably can be made better, I’m not a gear designer. So take it with a grain of salt.

Scammer alert: Julián Calvo Orquín (aka Inspektor Gadjet)

SCAMMER ALERT! Dear fellow musicians I’d like to share an experience we had in the past regarding a transaction involving Julián Calvo Orquín (also known as Inspektor Gadjet). On 4/17/2020, Mr. Orquín reached out to us expressing interest in a product from our store. Initially, while we were hesitant about engaging in an exchange, Mr. Orquín persisted with a total of seven emails, expressing his intent to create YouTube demos and tutorials in return for a free copy of our MC-909 soundset. After careful consideration, we decided to honor his request.

Today is October 3, 2023, three years later and he never produced any of the YouTube demos he promised. Julián Calvo Orquín stole 39.00 EUR worth of goods from us. I advise you not to do any business with him.

Don Solaris soundset for Waldorf Blofeld just became worldwide bestseller

Just got some interesting snail mail from the Waldorf Company today. I’ve opened it up and it looks like the Analog Voltage soundset which I’ve developed for the Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer became the bestseller.


My first so far!

ADDENDUM: Please note, this is my old post from the 2016, which during the server migration got wiped out.

Working for Waldorf – project Quantum 2.0 – part II

waldorf-waldorf-quantum

Intro
This is a series of articles that will detail the process i went through when designing the new factory patches, wavetables and samples for the Waldorf company for their high-end synthesizer called Quantum. The process took several months but fortunately from time to time i would post the progress on the Gearslutz forum. The bad thing about this is that eventually all those posts will be lost in time like tears in the rain. So I’ve decided to compile these posts into proper articles and place them on my webpages. This is the part II of the series.

Converting Prophet VS ROM into Quantum wavetables
I wrote my previous post late at night, it was a bit cryptic, so decided to go with full info instead, because the former idea wasn’t too useful. Ok… so where do we begin. I guess with the first waveforms i downloaded from the web. Actually i downloaded just two and they were enough to figure out we’re on the wrong path. I love when folks who are not familiar with the subject get the idea they should do a job about that same subject and as a result we got a set of Prophet VS waveforms available for download here. Seems great at the first sight, but for anyone working with the Prophet VS waveforms and building a set will tell you there is a problem in here. A single Prophet VS waveform is 128 samples long, and definitely not 336 samples as the previous link suggested. At that point you realize you need to do the whole job yourself. To cut the long story short, eventually i got Prophet’s internal waveforms in their original 128 samples long size. But they still had one little problem. And this dates back to the days of when they were designed. Most of them were not named or marked or given any description. So this is where the new work started. I took time and analyzed each individual waveform then what i would do is to write tags that would describe it. I used a limited set of words. And working in Linux i used tags directly in its file name, because that will later help me a lot in that same Linux system. More on that in a moment.

Looking on the above image we can see directories built. Sharp eyes will also notice a directory called 1-47 and the one called 48-96. These are essentially half wavetable. The reason is, Prophet VS contains 96 waveforms and having a such large wavetable can be overwhelming and confusing at times. Hence why i also included the first half and the second half of this huge wavetable. The folder titled ‘all’ is self explanatory, it contains all waveforms. And this brings us to another interesting situation, waveform sequential order. I included original order but also created several random orders, because you might find some of these random wavetables even better sounding than original.

Looking back at the previous image, in the top terminal we can see how i built individual wavetables. Remember when i made each waveform contain tags? Well now it was too easy to sort them. You just invoke the copy command, use your tag and place asterisks around, point it to the destination folder, and it will contain just certain types of waveforms, ie. those who sound bell like. Wavetables were then “baked” using sox and that was about it. Yeah as you can see on the lower terminal, first image, some of the wavetables didn’t turned out too big ie. a sine wave has only 5 waveforms, vocal contains only 7 wavefroms, but hey, they are genuine and you can always layer a couple more. I created two random variations of the ‘1-47′ wavetable, three random variations of the ’48-96’ wavetable and four random variations of the ‘all’ wavetable. The ’48-96′ and its random derivations can be seen on the image below.

Next task: Roland JD-800 and JD-990 ROM waveforms synthesis and building a wavetable out of it. What i did was to synthesize them from scratch, so technically they are not a copy from the ROM itself. Hence there is not much a Roland can do, as these are completely different byte by byte. However, since they are sonically near identical i decided to ask Eric Persing first.

In the meantime i would like to share one interesting story i found out from John Bowen. Someone on the Gearslutz forum asked a question about Prophet VS and how originally did they made ROM waveforms. “Do you know what tools they used back-in-the-day to make them? Was it waveterm? It just feels like we should have moved on to having amazing wavetable tools in 2019, but those old wavetables still have some real magic to them.”, so i contacted John and got the following information from the man:

“I’m going to say it was an IBM PC and it was definitely a custom program that Josh Jeffe created. It had 2 modes – I could use the mouse to draw a wave shape and hear it in real time, (then just generate the VS file from that) or a screen that had 24-28? vertical bars whose height represented amplitudes of each sine (so additive synthesis). For 3 or 4 of the waves, I just visually estimated the amplitudes from the little graphic printed on the front panel of a Korg product we had there. Then Josh wanted some of himself in the VS, so he recorded his voice and captured 2 waves from that. I’m trying to remember the Korg keyboard we had – Jack Hotop knows. I was just surprised how close the visual approximation sounded…pretty cool!

But for most of the waveforms, I just moved the mouse around, and stored them when I thought they were interesting. I also made a few with specific intent, like putting the harmonics up for the root and an octave+fifth above, or 2 octaves above, etc.. Those I did name as correctly as I could. I didn’t put names for a lot of them, because they were just all made up empirically, but later on, another Sequential employee (Will Loutensock, I think), decided to make up some names for them. Funny that you are asking about this now – yesterday I got an email forwarded from Dan at Korg R&D by a Sean Luke, who developed the Gizmo toolbox and the patch editor Edisyn, asking about all of ther VS waves, and what were the extra ones that we put in the Wavestation (ones numbered higher than 127).”

And to continue from here. Speaking of waveforms. I too regret they didn’t label VS waveforms, it made this VS project take a little more time than usual. I had to analyze each waveform, then build several text tags around each, then store it. Now with the tags finally finished, it will be easier to create VS based wavetables because now i know which waves will go easily with others. It will be very easy to group them now, rather than just building a random all waves wavetable which would be not too useful. There will be at least 10 Prophet VS wavetables for Waldorf Quantum, just like there are from the Ensoniq ESQ-1 and SQ-80 series.

Part 3 – The JD-990 Story
I know i bother you with technical details all the time but this episode, i promise you no numbers or lines of command lines. In the previous episode i’ve mentioned the possibility about doing one wavetable out of a few waveforms from the JD-990 synthesizer. Obviously didn’t want to be lazy scumbag who would just take the existing waveforms directly off the ROM. Instead i decided to synthesize them myself from the white noise, for three reasons:

— Out of respect for their authors
— To learn something along the way
— To avoid stepping on Roland’s toe

So i fired up Audacity and started analyzing a dozen waveforms from JD-990 and JV-1080. These are in fact my favorite waveforms from the JD/JV era. For those who don’t know i grew up with JV-1080 and i came with idea to put a DNA of dozen of those waveforms into ONE wavetable for Waldorf Quantum. The idea will actually fail and i will shortly tell you why – it has to do with periodic and aperiodic wave shapes. If anyone is familiar with JV series he will immediately recognize names such as: Anklungs, Feedbakwave, Metal Wind, Pitch Wind, Windago, etc. To transform all of them into one single wavetable which will be only 1.1 seconds long, the synthesizing process isn’t that complicated as much as how tedious it is.


Step1: Analyse spectra of source waveform


Step2: Recreate waveform using white noise and filters


Step3: Take 4096 bytes short snippet from it and place it in your wavetable as an entry No1. Repeat the process for 11 other waveforms. Save the final product as a wavetable.

You work with white noise and a set of filters which you stack until you get the desired result. Sounds easy on paper, but once you start tweaking and adjusting, an hour can pass yet you made barely 2-3 waves. Anyway i’ve created a dozen waveforms this way and before even converting them into a wavetable, decided to ask Eric Persing about them – can i use a short snippet of each (4096 bytes to be exact which translates to 92ms) Because if i recall correctly he designed those waveforms. I wasn’t too considered with Roland as these are completely different byte by byte as i’ve said earlier. But out of the respect for the man, decided to contact him.

I send him a PM via facebook, mentioning i generated a couple of waveforms, initially got a response but unfortunately never got a reply could i use 92 milisecond long snippet of each or not. I do remember i mentioned it would be “92 milisecond short snippet from each waveform”. However i forgot to mention that i will be using a cloned copy of his waveforms which i synthesized using white noise. As i’ve mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to blatantly rip them from the ROM so i cloned them using white noise and series of steep filters. I also mentioned Quantum OS 2.0 offers 4096 bytes long frame, which means some sonic texture can be heard thru. Anyway I’ve sent 13 files, each 10 seconds long which i synthesized in Logic X using white noise and filters… but unfortunately i never got the response.

I wonder did i communicate improperly? Now when i look at the text i’ve sent him, it says “here is the final wavetable”. While in fact, that information is in serious error. Those 13 files that i have sent are NOT the final wavetable. From those 13 files i would only take 92 milliseconds from each. So mathematically speaking the final wavetable would only be 1.1 second long. Not 130 seconds as it appears if one places all those files in linear fashion. I also didn’t mention the waveforms i’ve created from white noise are clones based on his original waveforms. So there was definitely an error in communication from my side. And therefore i would sincerely like to apologize to Mr. Persing.

Non periodic wavetable won’t pass thru
Ok truth be said things didn’t turn that bad. Being curious i’ve tried building that wavetable that i so desperately wanted. Aaaaand … honestly, it kinda sucked. Differences in amplitude and phase of each 92 ms snippet are too great for them to be connected together into one. And the reason is – i made a lame mistake. I wanted to create a periodic waveform from non periodic source. Waveforms like Anklungs, Feedbakwave, Metal Wind etc are noisy / airy types of waves – we can see that in the fact i generated their clones using the white noise. They can’t become a good or useful wavetable. Even with a window as large as 4096 it’s not enough. You can’t smuggle it as a Transwave neither – the method which i’ve discussed earlier in this thread with extreme transposition down and using Quantum practically as an (Ensoniq style) Transwave synth.

Positive side is, i can work in Audio Term as easy as eating a cookie now. Because at one point i sat down and decided to learn that software start to end. Now after 2 months I can generate any type of wavetable i desire to. The wavetable converter in Quantum is very good and will cover most of your needs. But if you want to dig down the rabbit hole, Audio Term all the way! So yeah, now i pretty much build wavetables. There are some very cool ROM wavetables in Quantum, but there will be more even cooler ones, since they are being made, as we speak. I know most of the sound designers who worked on Quantum and i am grateful to to them that they didn’t generate those that i wanted to generate. Those are some that i think are kinda essential yet for some reason do not exist in the stock “ROM”. Audio Term is a great software that at first appears to have an archaic UI. But it isn’t. Just set it all to green, click full screen, make yourself some nice tea, and have fun.

Next task
I plan generating some waveforms in Wolfram Mathematica. Converting mathematical equations into sound is a long hobby of mine i like to play from time to time. I will start with simple things then move to extreme and bizarre. There was an excellent program for Win95 which did just that and in which i had a tonne of equations that i’ve found by trial and error, but as they say you need to move with the times, or the times will move without you. So Wolfram it is! Inside Quantum “ROM” there will be a folder called Math in which you will find bizarre waveforms sounds of which some might damage your speakers, so a disclaimer is given – just in case! One caveat though: they will be all 8 bits. Rolf was very specific on giving available “ROM”, so i have to follow it and not break the quota or else i might get into trouble. Rolf is very strict!

Working for Waldorf – project Quantum 2.0 – part I

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Intro
This is a series of articles that will detail the process i went through when designing the new factory patches, wavetables and samples for the Waldorf company for their high-end synthesizer called Quantum. The process took several months but fortunately from time to time i would post the progress on the Gearslutz forum. The bad thing about this is that eventually all those posts will be lost in time like tears in the rain. So I’ve decided to compile these posts into proper articles and place them on my webpages. This is the part I of the series.

Converting Ensoniq ESQ-1 ROM into Quantum wavetables
I always liked the waveforms of Ensoniq ESQ-1 and thought it would be cool if that synthesizer could do wavetable synthesis. Unfortunetly it can not, but luckily Waldorf Quantum can. Now since i know Rainer Buchty and since he was able to extract the waveform rom of the ESQ-1 into binary format – that means we are on a good path. I should point out i did found a couple online, but turned out they all originate from the same guy who sampled them. And that’s not what i want. I really don’t like all the D/A, A/D staging in between and who knows what quality soundcard. I want them in their original pristine form!!

Hence started the work directly with the ROM files in their original 8-bit form. Extract each waveform with a single byte precision, then stack them into a wavetable. This will require a lot of work because the SQ-80 ROM is non linear. But eventually i will build it. The result will be a very exotic Ensoniq SQ-80 emulation on Quantum. Three oscillators with Sync and AM, in 8 bit audio, into analogue low pass filter. Just like the real thing. Except this time, the “Ensoniq” will be able to sweep through the waveforms realtime.


Image 1 – click for full size

This turned out way better than i thought! Just three days ago i was looking around to find a SQ-80 wavetable. And now here is the SQ-80 ROM dismantled into individual pieces. We need to give kudos to Google for giving us free spreadsheet calculator (Google Sheets), which saved me hours of hard work. Using Linux i was able to do the rest.

Each individual waveform is being extracted in its original 8 bit form. Tomorrow i will “align” the files and eventually build the wavetable. I am a bit nervous. The ESQ-1 waves will work perfectly, but SQ-80 ones have pitch offsets and i totally dislike the idea of resampling & repitching things (26 out of 56 SQ-80 waves require pitch adjustment). I am still trying to figure out the best method in here. Perhaps SoX should be used as a last resort.

There will definitely be more than 1 wavetable. Most likely one wavetable with pristine waveforms yet without pitched SQ-80 waves, second one with pitch corrected aka “all waves”, third one will be first one but without drum sounds (the one i’m most excited about), and last one will be original ROM dump which will most likely sound horrible without interpolation, but very exotic with interpolation. The benefit of the last one is that every frame size can be used since total size is 262144 samples. That number is divisible with every preset frame size, which means 7 totally different sounding variations from the same wavetable. Of course you can abuse first three waveforms by changing the frame size but i don’t think they will sound as interesting, since their frames will be full cyclic.


Image 2- final step before merge


Image 3 – successfully merged in original 8 bit raw form and then converted to 16 bit .wav file. And here is how Ensoniq SQ-80 Wavetable looks like

104 waves, all perfectly cyclic, merged into one. I have set them all to 1024 samples long per frame. It was all manual screwdriver work but it was worth it. I don’t like resampling, repitching etc, i want them in their original 8 bit form and shape. And here they are! Essentially, source waves that were 256 samples long i quadrupled in size, 512 were doubled to achieve 1024. This is the first revision. I will also include a half and quarter versions, because 104 waves at time can be overwhelming, especially when interpolation is used and long crossfade times. I will also include a couple more from the ROM2 and ROM3 ic’s. These were skipped because they contain waves of different length often more than 1024, and i decided to stay with 1024 since most of the stock ones are that length.

Next task – Prophet VS wavetable(s)
I’ve added “s”. There will be at least two wavetables. One from the stock ROM, and one from custom RAM waveforms that i’ve made 6 years ago when building a soundset for Prophet VS. I’ve spent a lot of hours synthesizing waveforms from scratch (i wanted a good choir on VS among other things) and even sampling some of my analogs to put all that into VS RAM. Technically, the soundset is IMO a flop since there were only 1500 units built. If i had known that in advance, i would never bother. But hey, at least the waves are here, let’s turn them into a wavetable and do something useful. As opposed to 8 bit Ensoniq, these are 12 bit, so a little bit cleaner, but much shorter since each wave is 128 samples long.

Facepalm area: Of course i’ve first looked on the web for the ROM waveforms and found them on Muff forum. Except they are 336 samples long. This is just fascinating! Are people one some drugs or just gone crazy? Why touching original waveforms? Why trying to correct Anything on them? Just leave them as they are. And i will decide whether i want to re-sample them, re-tune them etc. Don’t change their stock properties, because that makes them no longer authentic.

Don’t celebrate too early
Turned out the situation was a bit more complex than i thought and i seriously underestimated the task. I deleted that first SQ-80 wavetable that i’ve built and started the whole process again this time in more depth. I will shortly explain why. Looking back at Acreil’s post i’ve learned that ESQ-1 and SQ-80 are in fact multi sample devices. I had no idea about that. However as i’ve started doing some waveform analysis i noticed something weird is happening and realized i need to re-do the whole thing again.


Image 4 – click for full size

Looking at the image 5 i’ve noticed that each consequent saw wave in the ROM has less and less harmonics, and then it became clear to me this is the same SAW waveform except that each one is mapped to a different key and the higher we go, the less harmonics this saw will carry to prevent aliasing. Long story short i removed all of the “upper keys” and left just the basic “waveform” from the lowest key, the one with most harmonics. The Audacity software helped me a LOT in this. And i was never fan of their UI, but now kinda got used and must admit it ain’t a bad program. It sped up things a lot! I would place all of the individual waves vertically and simply delete unwanted ones from the folder, because by then i would know their names. So it was super easy to remove “doubles”.


Image 5 – click for full size

Looking at the image 4, in the right side x-term we can that the Soxi reported the size of 52224 samples of my merged wavetable which included all “cleaned up” waves. Divided by 1024 per each wave, gave total 51 frames. So, way way below 103 which is something i originally had. In this case the less is more. Wave tables with over 64 frames can be way too chaotic. While Microwave XT had max of around 64 frames.

The merging process is very simple using Sox (shown on the image below). Of course this immediately gave birth to a sinister idea. What if i merge them randomly? Well that didn’t took long to execute a batch of 7 which can be seen on the top image, right bottom side of the purple terminal by using dev/urandom as a source for the waveform sort.


Image 6 – click for full size

Visiting Carbon111’s website (highly recommended resource from James Maier) and observing some wavetables there originating from XT gave me another idea. Let’s now take those waveforms and built custom wavetables out of them. For example let’s only take vocal samples and build a wavetable for just that. Let’s take all the bell samples and build a bell wavetable. Of course each of these cases includes 7 random variations. And before i blinked i’ve noticed i have 40 wavetables to test. And i barely started the process.

I’ve noticed there are some wavetables on XT with just 8 waveforms. So this is the next task that i am currently working on and can also be seen on the first image. The Bell1 is one such wavetable built of just a selection of 9 waves out of the Bells wavetable which has 26 waves. All of these originate from the Ensoniq SQ-80 ROM. Image 7 shows the Bells wavetable and its 7 variations. And image 8 is the spectral signature of the SQ-80 Voice wavetable (can help when selecting best candidate). If ask me why doing variations when the same can be achieved with a random LFO. Well if you are lazy, or just want to “browse” though the wavetables with a mod wheel then definitely a variation or two of the same wavetable but with different order of waves comes handy!


Image 7 – click for full size


Image 8

Testing first Ensoniq ESQ-1 wavetable!! It sounds exactly as i imagined it would!!! Cold menacing ESQ-1 character pushing though (and some 8 bit noise in the background). I wish i had time to record more, the sounds this one wavetable can provide are unlimited i spent at least an hour listening to it and adding various things. Wish i pressed Rec earlier.

As you can see below there are 12 wavetables so far that have been built. However, some of them will have several iterations with different order of the waveforms as was shown earlier. So in total we can expect 20 wavetables for the Ensoniq series. Yeah, Alien waveforms are form SQ-80 i know, but currently they are all named ESQ-1_(name).wav. So pardon me for that!!!!! I hope to fix things a bit and sort SQ and ESQ where they belong to.

Ensoniq Transwaves on Quantum?
Earlier on the Gearslutz forum i’ve mentioned that Transawaves could be possible. And indeed they are, however there is one thing that should be addressed when importing larger window sizes such as 4096. Some slight OS modification in here is needed. It is the pitch that is way way WAY too high when the 4096 window is used. And that was making the confusion. Once you import your waveform with something like 4096 long frame, in order to hear each frame on its original pitch you need to go so low that the existing range of Semitone: -24 isn’t enough. You have to go to the Octave switch on the Quantum and go -1. Only then you will be able to hear the sample in original 1:1 pitch, and that happened to be the F1 key. That means the solution would be, when importing 4096 size window samples, that oscillator should be transposed 3 octaves down, but behind the user’s back, so that he still has an option to touch the Semitones setting and go up or down 2 octaves if he wants to. I assume the 2048 window might need -2 octaves transposition accordingly, but i didn’t tried that.

Why using old hardware samplers?

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Here is a common question that pops up from time to time on various music production forums:

“I am really curious…WHY would anybody want a dedicated hardware sampler in this age of high performance computers?”

Here is what i have to say on the subject:

  1. Sound (very important)
    I have a NI Kontakt which is de-facto standard in computer sample playback. While i use it on daily basis as a working tool to develop a sample library i find it zero to non interesting for sonic manipulation. So, if i need tool to play a 1GB piano sample, i will obviously use a Kontakt, because it’s there within a few mouse clicks, not to mention the library explorer, etc, thousands of sounds at your finger tips. Plus the all powerful scripting tool. But if i want a specific sonic character, i go straight for the ASR-10 or Emax I or S-550, etc without any second thought.
  2. Authenticity (sometimes crucial)
    If i want authentic sound of the 90s, yes i can import an Akai sample CD into Kontakt, but that doesn’t mean it will sound the way it was designed to sound, when played from original machine (ie S1100), with original parameters, and all its quirks.
  3. User interface & mind focus (i find it important others might not)
    Yes i have a few samplers for which it can be said they sound the same as a Kontakt would if sample is not transposed too far away, a non resonant filter is used etc. For example Akai S3000XL. However the problem is i just can’t stare at the screen for 10 hours. Sorry. Second thing, and more important, not only it is tiresome after a few hours but the mind during that time occupies *totally different area* of the brain, which in this case is visual cortex, instead of finding myself in the creative portion of the brain and going for the SOUND. While its 32MB might not be spectacular, it is more than adequate to run a complete drum set and run some loops thru resonant filter, etc. During all that time i want to focus on the keyboard, a mixing desk and effects processors rack, NOT on a computer monitor. It is a night day difference after a few hours of working – and those who work this way know what i talk about. In fact, take a look at second hand sampler prices. Emax I was $100 just a few years ago. Try to find SE/HD rack version nowadays below $1000 if you can. We talk about a machine with 512kB of RAM.
  4. Fetish factor (probably irrelevant but…)
    Yeah there’s something cool about navigating thru Akai’s screens or moving that second rotary dial on S1100 to setup various things. The one that goes “click” each time you move it a single tick.
  5. Misconception (many people don’t know)
    While in the 90s it might be pain in the a** to setup something like a 76 keys drumset on Akai S1100, today with modern computer this takes several seconds using a software called Translator. In fact it takes the same amount of time to build a drumset on Akai as it does on a Kontakt. Just drag and drop a folder of samples and they are automatically mapped across any amount of octaves you set. Only requirement is that your computer has a CF card slot and that Akai is connected to CF drive or has a CF drive (such as Raizin Monster). Gone are the days of navigating thru menus and setting each sample with its dozen parameters.

There’s probably more but this is what i decided to say on the first call. Particularly since the question became so ubiquitous. So i hope this solves the enigma – once and for all!

Waldorf Streichfett Demo (making of)

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And so it came. One little package i’ve been eagerly waiting to receive from Waldorf Music. There was no particular timeline by how soon i need to provide them a demo, i was just told it should be around 3-4 minutes long. Immediately i knew this wasn’t enough, because this synth offers so much and did i mention i’m a freak for retro string machines so you bet i was going to try all the knob positions in recreating some of the old retro sounds. There’s no particular serial number on the unit, it just says BETA273 which i think is just cool enough.

First things first, right after unpacking i’ve installed the latest OS and immediately started testing the unit. Found couple of bugs and sent them to Stefan along with all the details (some mild distortion appeared at certain settings – this will be fixed with next release, so don’t worry). Despite those i was immediately pulled away by the smooth and hypnotic sound of this unit. That moment you touch the animate knob, it’s over. No more playing by you, just push the hold pedal with your foot and enjoy the ride. In fact this was inspiration for the Streichfett Freestyle three demo takes i’ve later put in the video. Let the machine sing it’s way. All i did was press Rec and it came out perfectly.

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On various music forums I’ve noticed some complaints that it doesn’t sound vintage. Well, no one ever claimed it will so i don’t really see a problem in here? I’m still a happy owner of Logan II String Ensemble, Arp Omni II and Korg Trident MkI. I’ve never went for expectation Streichfett will replace those. I used totally different approach to the equation and that is – Streichfett will complement those. So as of now on i’m a proud owner of fourth string machine in my arsenal.

Soundwise, Streichfett stands proudly on its own. While its synth section is a bit limited, there is however a nice PWM emulation in it, that combined with panned Tremolo adds a nice extra to the sound. Example can be heard by the end of the first Streichfett Freestyle recording in the demo when the balance knob was pushed more toward right side and synth section is introduced to the mix, giving that extra shimmering to the sound, though smooth at the same time.

Since i always liked Solina in combination with phase shifters, one of the first things to do on Streichfett was to try its Solina recreation, then run it thru PH-3 phase shifter from Boss. The result is actually what is last track in the demo, though it was first recorded. If you ask me, given in a busy mix, would someone notice a difference between real Solina and Streichfett, its really hard to answer given over 50% of people listen to music on their <insert smartphone name> ear buds. Kinda sad, isn’t it?

One thing that surprised me on the Streichfett was the quality of reverb. TBH I was never a fan of Blofeld’s reverb. This one however sounds much better. Another cool feature is the fixed phaser position (the other half of the knob turn). This opens a whole new area for sonic exploration, particularly if you’re into voice / vocal ensemble emulation. There’s a lot to try in here. No it doesn’t model VP-330, bit it can yield some surprisingly interesting choir / ensemble types of sounds. Which brings me to the start – this machine is not here to replace, but complement. And i intend to keep mine.

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Back to demo. Actually right after receiving the unit i went to the sea for vacation, so there was no much movement in demo progress for three weeks. As soon as i came back, started working day/night on it, to produce some output ASAP. Video editing didn’t worried me too much. Idea was to grab some old renderings i did some 10 years ago, mix it with some filming i did, a few classic synth tweaking shots and of course some retro 70’s materials taken from webarchive for the vintage mood of the video. I also added a short excerpt from New York School Of Synthesis instructional video by Dean Friedman. As of the audio/video quality in my demo, unfortunately Youtube compression kills a lot of it, including the sound, which is why i have to say this, the demo played from Youtube and actual unit sound quite differently. So best is to try one in the store, because in general – don’t rely on the “sound” of any unit by watching Youtube videos!

Pussy Galore
One of the Gearslutz forum members with a nick Astralform said how it would be cool if Waldorf actually named their synth Pussy Galore (original post here). So i’ve decided to make his wish come true in a way, at least in imaginary form of a music video. And so the car scene was born. The one with secret package that was placed near back tire with special letters saying – codename – Pussy Galore. Well, there you go! I hope you enjoyed it as much as i did making it.

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Problems as usual
Just as i was about to record first demo, my E-MU 1212m soundcard died. This is the second 1212m soundcard that i had problems with. So i was forced to use a second backup system which is a Roland VS2400CD multitrack HD recorder. I should point out that my first to go converters, which is Ensoniq Paris rig at that point was not in function since i had some wall painting works in the studio (read: bedroom) and simply had no enough room space to set it up. I will not complain about the VS2400CD sound, since it is 24bit/44k and offers linear PCM encoding, essentially what you put in comes out. Never tested if something gets lost though, i might run a DC-20k sweep, but i doubt anything will be lost. There’s a lot of Voodoo talk when it comes to converters and I’m simply not one of the believers in the “magic” of some of the converters, unless it includes surrounding electronics with certain design in mind, such as was the case with Ensoniq Paris where their goal was to deliberately give it a slightly warmer sound, so maybe not 100% accurate per se, but boy does it sound sweet.

Easter eggs
Of course this wouldn’t be a proper Don Solaris demo without some Easter eggs. This time it was really simple, well at least the part i will reveal. That burst at the beginning of the video consists of various people i randomly picked off my Facebook friend’s list. So it’s not alphabetical or in any special order, just plain random. Your eye will see it in the video but brain might not be able to detect it (not meaning this in any offensive way). It’s simply moving too fast. If you’re curious you can click on the image below to see the full content of that burst, if not, just move along to the demo instead.

Contact

The Demo
It took me a week of work for video making but i think it was worth the fun. Unfortunately Youtube chews some of the video data like crazy. No matter how high bit rate you provide, it just doesn’t care, it will chew up anything that moves fast. Other than that, i’ve already mentioned kinda poor audio quality. However if you click the 720p option, there is definitely some sonic improvement. I should also note video was optimized for full screen viewing.