Looking to get the latest revision of Bob Grieb’s firmware rewrite mentioned below? Click here.
As you may have seen in this blog, I really care about my old Matrix-1000 rack synths. A wonderful piece of retro technology from the final, post-DX7 phase of classic analog synthesizers. There have been attempts to improve on the old 6809 firmware code, most notably by Gligli, a French hacker best known for his SCI Prophet 600 hardware/firmware retrofit. His improved firmware, known as V1.16, introduced a couple of tricks:
- It enabled NPRN control of the Matrix‘ parameters by removing a small bug
- It sped up the VCF parameter control by skipping seemingly unnecessary calculations
- It told the synth to discard all parameter edits except the most recent one, thereby keeping the synth responsive.
This is a huge improvement and makes the Matrix feel and behave almost like a modern instrument. But it gets even better.
Matrix-6 project, Matrix-1000 upgrade
Bob Grieb has been analyzing the Matrix-6/1000 code for months. I guess you can say that these days, not even Marcus Ryle does understand the code as well as Bob does. Here is his explanation why the Matrix-6/1000 machines are not real-time responsive to parameter changes in the first place – it is the downside for the immense amont of real-time modulations the Matrix is capable of – 22 fixed modulation paths, 10 matrix modulation slots, 3 envelopes, 2 LFOs and 2 ramps. To implement that in software the programmers used a special technique; a pre-calculated memory area for each voice called the voice update stack. Quote:
This stack contains pointers to code, ptrs to variables, and some pre-computed values. Only pointers to the code needed to handle the enabled features are placed on the stack… This is a very fast and efficient way to update the voice cv’s.
A downside of this approach is that when parameters change, the stacks need to be updated for all six voices. Some parameter changes just affect one number on the stack, so that number can simply be changed very quickly. But some parameters can change the size of the stack. This is a problem, as the update values for that parameter may be in the middle of the stack.
This means moving around chunks of memory to make room for the updated parameters, and it has to be done for all six voices, which takes the ancient 8-bit, 2-MHz CPU a couple of milliseconds. When you turn an external VCF controller, all these parameter changes add up, and the machine freezes for a long, terrible moment, until it catches up. (Read Bob’s full description of the issue here.)
GliGli’s main trick is to tell the machine to discard anything but the last Sysex command. He also noticed that sometimes the stack is rebuilt although this is not technically necessary. And this is the road that Bob has been following. He rewrote parts of the firmware to handle a set of about a third of the parameters much, much faster – including VCF frequency and resonance, DCO PW and LFO control, and VCA level. Changing these parameters with an external controller will be smoother than with older firmware, others – increasing the effect of a modulator in the mod matrix – will still cause the machine to glitch.
Update, 2016: Now that you’ve made it this far, you’ll be glad to learn that Bob made his revised code available for Matrix-1000s and Matrix 6/Rs. You can get a firmware EPROM from him or, if you are in Europe, from me – just follow the links above.
This was originally a project for the Matrix-6, but Bob ported it over to the Matrix-1000. In the process, he also redrew the schematics, so that after all these years, there is finally a legible circuit diagram for the M-1000 on the net. Incidentally, it prompted another guy to scan his printed schematic and send it to Bob, so that there are now not only one usable version but two. (Download link to ZIP archive here.)
- Oberheim Matrix-6 and Matrix-1000 firmware update on eBay (Mittwoch, 13. April 2016; Schlagworte: Bob Grieb, Firmware, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Oberheim, Update)
- Oberheim Matrix-6 source code file available (Dienstag, 28. April 2015; Schlagworte: Firmware, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Oberheim, Source Code)
- There is a true Oberheim Matrix editor for iPad now. And yes, it’s worth buying it. (Freitag, 26. Juni 2015; Schlagworte: Editor, iPad, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Oberheim)