Dead Novations Society

No, that Bass Station you are trying to play isn’t dead. It’s just gone… to an undefined state.

I had a Novation Bass Station that did not produce a single sound. Although I could confirm that MIDI was still working – the device was sending Key ON/OFF and CC messages – and the LFO LED was blinking and responded to parameter changes, the synth was mute. And some research on Ebay and on the net confirmed that there are lots of Bass Station owners with the very same problem.
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Securing Jenny’s power supply

Pretty straightforward, this one: Replace the JEN SX-1000‘s fixed power cable with an IEC socket. (Like weird German words? You’ll love this: In German, this thing is called a “Kaltgerätestecker”, more precisely, a “Kaltgeräte-Steckverbinderbuchse”, which translates to “Cold unit connector socket”. Don’t ask me.)

Jenny's backside

No problems here apart from cutting a hole for the socket; I used steel drills to mark the corners of the cutout and then cut the steel with my Dremel tool. Lots of metal dust but fast, and it did the job precisely.

A word on Jenny’s power supply: It’s extremely oldschool – a transformer and a diode bridge generating +/-18VDC, two 7812 regulators generating +12V and -12V, and another 7805 regulator generating the +5V supply rail from the 12V. If you would like your JEN to be a bit more eco-friendly I’d advise replacing those regulators by the 2931CT low-dropout type, but apart from that, there’s hardly any reason to look at the power supply – it’s rather solid and possibly not your primary concern if the synth does not work.

“Dommschwätzer.” (*)

Jaaaa…. kann. man. so. machen.

(*) Ich mag diese Szene: Heinz Becker bedankt sich bei einem hilfsbereiten Baumarkt-Mitarbeiter für den guten Tipp, die gekauften Latten doch zersägen zu lassen, bevor er sie ins Auto packt.

When exactly did analog synths become cool again?

Have a look at this picture.
First picture of the JEN SX-1000 after it arrived
Do you like what you see? Of course you do.

Analog is cool. Prices for analog gear are consistently going up. Just when processing power, sophisticated audio algorithms and smooth user interfaces have become ubiquitous, manufacturers have started developing and selling new analog synth hardware. Yes, I know: Analog sounds different, you say. Tell you what: I don’t believe it. Reminds me of those types who swore that golden CDs sounded better than the silver ones. It’s not the sound. Like I said: Analog is cool.

Just about thirty years ago, analog became uncool. Yamaha’s digital DX7 synth proved that digital was cheaper, more reliable, and more versatile than the old technology. Analog became harder and harder to sell, even in the discount variety that came without all the expensive knobs and switches, and one by one, the former giants went out of business: ARP. EMS. Oberheim. Moog. The whole Italian synth industry. Poof.

When did analog become fashionable again? The simple JEN synthesizer I am fixing and upgrading may provide an answer to this question. To be honest, there is quite a lot not to like about this machine. Single oscillator: tends to sound thin. Simple filter design: lacking bass punch and proper key tracking. Only one LFO with only one waveform (triangle). Portamento but no legato. Not to mention the no-brainers of modern (ie 1980s ff.) technology: preset memory, MIDI and USB interface, stable tuning.

On, there is a review page for the Jen SX-1000. Users may rate their synth from 0 to 5 points, 5 being the top rating. Taking these reviews, you can see the gradual change from fairly mixed reviews to an unanimously positive opinion.


Granted, there is a systematic bias: why should anybody who didn’t like analogs to begin with acquire and rate a Jen? Still, this graph shows one thing to me: The point where analogs became cool again was somewhere around 2001 to 2002.

Now we know when. If you’ve got the patience, let me argue why.

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Next Project: Korg R3 Aftertouch Hack

Not there yet, but it’s in reach: An Aftertouch, e.g. channel pressure control, retrofit for the Korg R3 synth.

Korg R3 under press


I really like the Korg R3. No, there’s more: I bought it second-hand out of very rational considerations, and ‘ve come to love it deeply. There are people who don’t like it for its plastic housing, for the limitations in comparison with its more expensive sibling, the Korg Radias, others hate it simply for not being a first-generation Microkorg. In my experience, it’s an excellent virtual analog synth capable of doing massive bass as well as very unusual pads. It’s versatile, it’s compact, it’s cheap, and it sounds great. And unlike the Microkorg, it’s got a proper keyboard, albeit without aftertouch.

For some reason, the MIDI Thru jack in my R3 stopped working today, which is bothersome, but also a welcome excuse to open the R3’s housing and take a look inside. I had this idea of equipping it with an aftertouch sensor for even more variation and liveliness in playing. And now I’m confident it would work, although I won’t be able to do the mod for some time.  Continue reading

iPad Air: Shut up and take my money!

Yes, I know. We’re all a bit disappointed with the “New New New iPad”, a.k.a. iPad Air. And remember what Apple pulled off when they discovered that they had a game-changing new component, the Retina display, but the overall hardware wasn’t up to the level yet – they sold it as the iPad 3, only to be replaced with the iPad 4 less than a year later.

No, I’m not bitter with Apple over that. Well yes, I am, but the problem with my iPad 3 is that processing power has become an issue when using it for making music – an important use case for me. Waldorf’s Nave is a dream of a soft synth, but it’s pushing my iPad to the limit – run Nave, and you won’t be able to run much else. So processing power is increasingly becoming the driving force in deciding on what to buy and when.

The least thing that you could say about the iPad Air is that it’s going to drive down the prices for iPad 4’s. But considered that the Air is sporting a variant of the last-generation Apple A7 processor, you can expect it to have about double the processing power of an iPad 4, or about six times the performance of the iPad 3. That’s presumably worth a hundred Euros extra.

To get rid of the iPad3 now might be a good idea anyway. See Tim Webb’s analysis over at Discchord:

The iPad 3 shipped with an inferior processor incapable of keeping up with the huge retina display, and suffered a life-time of sluggish performance and annoying bugs. Developers consistently tell me that the majority of their bug reports come from iPad 3 users.

Now there you go. Unfortunately, this means that my carefully hand-modded IO Dock becomes obsolete – the iPad Air, due to its smaller bezel and different overall dimensions, just won’t fit, and there’s the issue of the Lightning connector which the IO Dock doesn’t have – although there are reports that an adapter would work, this would mean additional tinkering, soldering, dremeling. With hardly any chance of producing satisfactory results.

So what I’ll probably do is build a USB setup from scratch, with a modded Lightning-to-USB-adapter capable of charging the iPad; maybe with a powered hub, and a multi-channel interface like the Akai EIE. (Good list of class-compatible, iPad-friendly devices here.) It’s far from perfect, and maybe sometime I’ll integrate it into my own Dock. Once again, terra incognita.

Hammerhacks: Das gehaltene iPad und das verschwundene Keyboard

Ist noch gar nicht so lange her, da sah meine gemütliche kleine Krachmacherecke zuhause in etwa so aus:

Krachmacherecke: Keyboard und Rack

Dann kam so nach und nach noch ein wenig was dazu: ein Hardware-Synthesizer, das IO Dock und ein IKEA-“Lack-Rack”-Style-Schränkchen für den HiFi-Receiver. Und ich sah, dass es gut war.

Doch auf einmal ist die ehemalige KRachmacherecke nahezu unheimlich – ähem – gemütlich:


Was ist passiert? Musste die Technikzone verschwinden, weil sie die WAF-Grenzwerte gerissen hat? Ja und nein – Antwort nach dem Klick. Continue reading

Proof-of-concept: Alesis IO Dock bekommt einen Hub

iPad im IO Dock - macht das Midikabel am wackeligen Camera Connection Kit überflüssig

iPad im IO Dock – macht das Midikabel am wackeligen Camera Connection Kit überflüssig

Am Alesis IO Dock führt kaum ein Weg vorbei, wenn man mit dem iPad Musik machen möchte. Zugegeben: man kann Verstärker auch an den Kopfhörerausgang anschließen, und für die Verbindung zum Midi-Masterkeyboard sorgt auch die Kombination aus Camera Connection Kit und einfachem Midi-Adapter. Wirklich betriebssicher ist das nicht, dafür sorgt allein der 30-polige Apple-Stecker. Das IO Dock gibt dem iPad nicht nur eine stabile Heimstatt, in der es mit Strom versorgt wird, es bietet vor allem exzellente Audio-Ein- und Ausgänge in stereo, einen regelbaren Kopfhörerausgang, Goodies wie Phantomspeisung für Kondensatormikros und Midi- Ein- und Ausgänge. Unverzichtbar.

In einem Punkt ist das IO Dock einem Camera Connection Kit allerdings unterlegen: es bietet keine Möglichkeit, zusätzliche USB-Geräte einzuschleifen. Bei mir wäre das ein kleines Masterkeyboard namens M-Audio Axiom; man kann es entweder über die klassische Midi-Schnittstelle anschließen – wobei es seinen Strom dann über ein klassisches 12V-Steckernetzteil bekommt – oder einfach über USB: dann hat das Keyboard nicht nur Anschluss, sondern wird auch gleich über die USB-Speisespannung mit Strom versorgt. Man muss nur darauf achten, einen USB-Hub mit eigener Stromversorgung zwischenzuschalten, weil das iPad auf alle größeren Verbraucher äußerst allergisch reagiert.

1 Netzteil sparen, 1000 neue Möglichkeiten gewinnen

Wäre es nicht schön, das Keyboard direkt an das IO Dock anschließen zu können und auf diesem Weg ein Netzteil (a.k.a. “Wandwarze”) loszuwerden? Leider hat das Dock den falschen Stecker: An den eingebauten USB-B-Stecker (das sind die fast quadratischen, wie sie sich in Druckern und externen Festplatten finden) muss man irgendwo einen Computer anschließen. Ein USB-Bus braucht nämlich einen Master – einfach nur einen Hub anzustöpseln würde nicht reichen. Was aber auch heißt: es gibt leider keine einfache Möglichkeit, weitere USB-Peripherie anzustöpseln – sei es ein weiteres Audio-Interface, sei es eine Kamera, sei es ein Keyboard. Spätestens, wenn mein von mir via Kickstarter stolz mitfinanzierter Superluxus-Musik-Controller kommt, ist das kein Zustand mehr – der hat nämlich ohne Zusatz-Hardware gar kein Midi mehr, und ich wäre gekniffen.

Deshalb reifte in mir schon länger die Vorstellung, dem IO Dock mit einem kleinen chirurgischen Eingriff einen Extra-Hub zu verpassen. Der könnte Geräte wie mein Keyboard problemlos mit Strom versorgen – und für ausreichend Anschluss sorgen. Seit heute weiß ich, dass das nicht nur eine theoretische Möglichkeit ist: man kann den Hub zwischen iPad und Dock einschleifen – und wie beim Camera Connection Kit ist das iPad dann der USB-Master. Das IO Dock funktioniert wie gewohnt, aber man kann weitere Geräte anschließen und aus dem Hub mit Strom versorgen. Das lässt sich alles sogar bequem ins IO Dock einbauen!

Testweise frei verdrahtet: Ein USB-Hub "im" IO Dock

Testweise frei verdrahtet: Ein USB-Hub “im” IO Dock

Loopy HD erkennt das Dock ohne Probleme - trotz zwischengeschleiften Hubs.

Loopy HD erkennt das Dock ohne Probleme – trotz zwischengeschleiften Hubs.

Wie das lief, darüber demnächst mehr. Detailliertes Howto und Video folgen, wenn der Einbau fertig ist.

Nebenbei: Wahnsinn, was sich alles getan hat, als ich mich über die Unstimmigkeiten der Musiksoftware auf dem iPad ausgemährt habe. In diesem Dreivierteljahr sind viele der Probleme, die ich beschrieben habe, verschwunden; die Software ist erwachsen geworden. Man kann ihr regelrecht beim Reifen zusehen. Und großen Anteil daran haben Einzelkämpfer wie der Loopy- und Audiobus-Entwickler Michael Tyson. Wie die sich mit ihrer Nutzergemeinde austauschen, um Bugs auszubügeln und neue Features zu erfinden, ist großartig. Wäre doch nur Apple auch so offen – dann wäre uns der zu nichts kompatible Steckverbinder im neuen neuen iPad erspart geblieben, es würde weiter ins IO Dock passen und ich hätte mir mit Sicherheit eins gekauft – die zusätzliche Prozessorleistung kann man für Musik gut brauchen. Seufz.

iPad-Animoog: Killer!

An sich freue ich mich ja immer noch diebisch über die Animoog-App auf meinem iPad, trotz kleinere und größerer Zipperlein bei Bedienung und Systemintegration. Getrübt wurde diese Freude allerdings vom letzten Update auf V1.1.0: das führte nämlich auch bei mir dazu, dass gar nichts mehr ging – die App stürzte gleich wieder ab. Etwas Rumexperimentieren hat die Lösung gebracht: einfach löschen und nochmal neu installieren.

Nachtrag: Manchmal hilft es, erst die FAQ zu lesen – auch wegen der Warnung: Vor dem Löschen alle Sounds zu iTunes speichern, sonst sind sie weg!

The Humble Art of iPad Music: A Rant

Aaaah, the iPad! Loads of screen real estate to convey intuitive information, smart touch interfaces to provide groundbreaking usability, and enough processing power to emulate almost any synthesizer you ever dreamt of. For pennies. If only the programmers were up to a simple task: implementing a standard that has been around for 30 years.

I’m writing this post in the feeble hope that it’s my knowledge that needs to be updated rather than nearly all of the iOS music software I’m using, but I fear it’s really that simple: Suppliers of state-of-the-art virtual synthesizers for the iPad are, in general, incapable of a few simple things. Like enabling their instruments to change preset on a base MIDI command. Or respond to the most standard controllers, the modulation and pitch wheel and the sustain pedal, by default. In the 30 years that MIDI has been around, obviously no one taught them that MIDI commands are paired with a bus ID, a “Channel”, and that there are 16 around so that it’s possibly not a good idea to have every instrument listen to Channel 1. The idea of multitimbrality – one synth engine responding to different channels doing different sounds – seems way too advanced for most of them.

Poor lot. But not as poor, ill-informed and illiterate as the guys writing the manuals.

Anyway, here’s what I’m using, and I’m proud to say that all of my music equipment can be hauled around in a backpack, including the amp box. Not like in the olden days when playing keyboards made you strong because it was quite a lot of really, really heavy gear you had to move.

ESI MidiMate II

Actually the only no-brainer on this list. Connected to the iPad Camera Connection Kit, it just works – as would any other class-compliant USB-to-MIDI interface. This one’s cheap and has the additional benefit that you can plug the MIDI connectors into MIDI IN or MIDI OUT – the interface figures it out for itself.

M-Audio Axiom 25

Not an app but actual hardware. Simple, lightweight, versatile. A decent 2-octave keyboard comes with a bunch of pads, controls and trigger pads that can be programmed to send almost any MIDI command. Hardware’s fine, software’s dodgy, as far as usability is concerned.

But what I really admire the Axiom for is it’s manual. I think that you couldn’t make the simple task of programming a controller any more incomprehensible if you tried. It almost makes the thing unusable – until you’ve found out for yourself how it works. Which takes some resolution not to consult the manual – which you have to, if only for the MIDI charts.



I bought this app when it was still 99 cent rather than the regular 24 €, which is a bit over the top if you ask me. Still: A brilliant softsynth, great sounds, and an ingenious user interface. Loads of fun. Kinda makes you hope that it would receive notes on any other channel than 1, doesn’t it? Not that the CoreMIDI implementation is any fun to play with – any time you plug/unplug the MIDI port you have to reload the configuration. Couldn’t get it to run in the background either. No MIDI implementation chart in the manual (and I’m using that term in the most liberal fashion here). Did I mention it does only work on Channel 1?

Korg iMS-20


Cheap it isn’t, as apps go: € 26 for one music app? Well, this app is worth it – considering that it’s a true reproduction of an 80s vintage production system, the MS-20. They say that the MS-20’s filters did not resonate as much as distort, and judging from the iMS-20 app, it’s so true. Analog basses and drums delivering incredible punch – and it looks great, too.

It’s even multitimbral. Sort of. Seven voices can be produced at once, each of them can sport a different sound and is controlled by a different MIDI channel. Now guess by which ones. Channels 1-7 are hard-wired. So is a limitation of the original: No changing sounds on Voices 2-7 while a song is running. This even makes sort of sense – those voices are supposed to be the drum section, and obviously, you wouldn’t expect anyone to change drum voices, would you? Voice no. 1 is for expressive bass, even for solo.

Now: wouldn’t it be nice to use this lovable monster to trigger loops while playing along, or even running a sequencer? Sorry: It does not run in the background. It does not understand Program Change commands. Or standard start-stop commands for the pattern sequencer. And you can’t actually trigger the loop “pads” via MIDI – according to the painstakingly detailed MIDI controller map, you can’t. Unless you own some special hardware that used to control MS-20 soft synths via some kind of “native mode” that kept Korg from bothering to implement this functionality in MIDI.

The SynthX


The SynthX is that little, skinny guy in your class that constantly tried to make everybody laugh. It’s a brilliant idea: Take a “vintage” (read: outdated) one-oscillator-per-voice ARP monosynth as a model, make it polyphonic and make it use effects, and give it a unique, fretboard-like, touch user interface. Which keeps you entertained for about 15 minutes – no, you’ve guessed wrong, it’s not stuck on Channel 1, it does not understand MIDI at all, as far as I can see. The poor thing even refuses to load on my iPad HD most of the time any other music app is running in the background. Which kind of sabotages the humble plan of playing it as a solo/pad voice over a background drum track. This is why I won’t dwell on the fact that in my humble opinion, the usability concept is stuck half the way: No using the iPad’s motion sensors as a modulation source – or midi controllers, by the way. Sounds would have been so much less boring.

Sunrizer Synth


This one’s actually great – and though the guy who made this app seems to have had a rather sketchy knowledge of MIDI controllers, he is willing to learn – and is constantly updating his soft synth machine: It knows how to deal with a sustain pedal now. It has learned to understand Program Change commands. Well, Program Change, not Bank Change, which is a hassle because you can’t reorder preset banks, but no nitpicking now. It has a MIDI learn mode to route any controller to any control, and it runs spotlessly in the background of software like the Genome sequencer app. All the parameters are on one page. You can even switch off the faux keyboard and use valuable screen estate for the effects section controls.

I used to play a borrowed Polysix for a couple of months, a rather simple and cheap machine as synths went, even at that time, but with the instant fun of turning knobs and achieving great sounds – just because it was simple. The Sunrizer app gives me exactly that sort of fun – but is so much more powerful. Combine stacked sawtooth waves with a traditional lowpass filter and manipulate depth and resonance of a formant filter in row, and you can cross over from rich, warm pads to Zombie-like solo voices in an instant.

And, believe it or not: it’s not even stuck on MIDI channel 1.

Summarizing a Humbling Art

There are so many more missed opportunities. Modrum is nice and lean -but no preset change via MIDI. NLog Pro, a soft synth from a guy in my home town Frankfurt, is a proper professional instrument – unfortunately it was programmed for looks rather than usability. What’s the point of having gorgeous little knob dial panel graphics if you have to switch (!) between six (!!) of them to control your sound? It’s an iPad, for Christ’s sake, learn how to use it! And don’t let me even get started on Garage Band and MIDI.

So the iPad is not really your ultimate music machine yet, although you can almost see how the software is becoming more and more mature – having a decent sequencer/drum/synth combination up and running is possible now, after all. This is the good news, and it almost makes you forget the bad news: Never forget that in terms of processing power, an iPad is a rather weak piece of equipment. Any old Celeron laptop packs more power – so you are bound to run into some limitations at some point.