OpenDeck Makes Spinning Your Own MIDI Controller Easy

These days, MIDI controllers are just plain cool. There are a million of them out there, and they’re all dressed to the nines in flashing LEDs and sporting swag like USB MIDI interfaces and sliders that just feel right. With our italics budget running out, I should get to the point – you can make your own, and the OpenDeck platform makes it easy.

The OpenDeck board. Readily apparent is the fact that it has tons of IO.

In its most refined form, the OpenDeck is a board covered in pin headers. To these, you may connect an absolute truckload of buttons, encoders, sliders, and LEDs. The OpenDeck handles all of the inputs and outputs, while you get to have fun attaching your various gizmos to the control surface/keytar/birthday cake you happen to be building. It saves you reinventing the wheel as far as reading switches and potentiometers goes, allowing you to focus on the creative side of your project. All configuration is handled through a simple web interface.

Boards are available on Tindie,  but it’s also possible to take the code and run it on various Arduinos and the like, as it’s wonderfully opensource. This gives you the power to take things to a higher level once you’re good and ready.

We’ve seen a rather cool OpenDeck build already, and if you’ve got more, you know where to reach us.


31 thoughts on “OpenDeck Makes Spinning Your Own MIDI Controller Easy

  1. Except the price. $199 plus all the buttons, pots, and sliders you’d may want to purchase? The Livid Instruments Brain v2 is only $189 by comparison and has been around for years. I like DIY projects but this one isn’t practical for me.

      1. Heathkit certainly was about the price. Manufacturing back then was much more labor intensive in the days of through hole components that were hand-placed before passing the board through a solder wave machine, and there was a lot more to mechanical assemblies. Leaving all these chores to the customer allowed the kits to be a lot cheaper than comparable finished products.

        Today, there is so much automation involved that if the device is made at scale, a kit has to be far more expensive. But it wasn’t like that in the golden age of Heathkit. In some ways it’s sad, I do miss the relaxing process of putting together those larger projects.

        OTOH, I never saw the point of anything from Velleman, their kits always seemed to be junk at 700% what the prices should be.

        1. Agreed. Perhaps if Heathkit had actually understood markets, advertising, and the fact they were selling 6 dollars worth of parts to someone who most likely actually knew what the components were valued at off the shelf, and you kind of have a perfect storm of ‘do not buy’. Also agree at Velleman. Out of the several kits of theirs I have bought over the years, only two had a circuitboard without manufacturing errors. Utter shit to not even test for ground shorts on an unpopulated board. Actually, the second BBS I ever visited was for help with a Heathkit. ProfNarmol, wherever you are, thanks for the assistance back then :)

  2. I was shocked at the $200 price tag as well, but looks like Arduinos and Teensys are also supported, so you can get started a lot cheaper. I was hoping this was going to be an alternative to MidiBox, but at first glance, it looks to be geared toward I/O (ie you wouldn’t build a sequencer in it).

      1. Lol right? Every time I see another DIY MIDI product I think “midibox does that better” or “midibox offers a lot more options/versatility”, or “midibox scales controls easier”. Not much it can’t be made to do.

    1. This is clearly build for people like me who wants a ready-to-go solution without needing any form of programming skills or hours of research.

      I think the price is ok, and the online programmer is very easy to use. I was very quickly up and running.

      I looked at MidiBox as well when I started my build, but quickly felt a bit overwhelmed with information and research needed for me to complete my idea. No doubt it is an awesome platform, but timewise too much for me.

  3. Hi,

    thanks @Hackaday for featuring my project.

    About the price – official OpenDeck board is intended primarily for people without much experience in programming and/or electronics, and I think those people are getting great value in official OpenDeck board – plenty of I/O, plug’n’play on every OS, easy to use Web interface and lifetime support. Yes, you can draw your own schematic, your own PCB, write your own code and debug it and spend (usually) large amount of time on just getting the essentials to work. OpenDeck eliminates all of that. It would be nice if it were cheaper, however almost 40% of the price is pure tax.

    I’d like to point again that entire project is open-sourced (schematic for official board is also available). Firmware can be flashed on Arduino boards and it can also be ported to any other development board quite easily. Therefore, concerns about the board price don’t really seem justified to me given that everything else is freely available.

    Igor / paradajz / Shantea Controls

        1. Opendeck:

          > I’d like to point again that entire project is open-sourced

          Also Opendeck:

          > PCB design files for the official board aren’t available nor they will be

          ….So, what you’re saying is, the entire project is not open-sourced, because part of it is closed-source. You’re not OSHW compliant. I think you’re playing a semantics game at best, and are being contradictory at worst.

    1. I don’t know that the price is that outlandish, especially compared to other similar products on Tindy at least.. all around similar prices.
      Maybe all the through hole parts (headers and sockets) are adding a lot to the labor cost at assembly? How about offering a partial assembly kit: all SMD is complete, solder your own headers as and where needed. Might help drop the price a bit for the moaners ;)

  4. We have 8x (!) of these boards currently for our live modular rig. RE: the Livid stuff: I’ve had a few Brain v2 and the Jr. as well as several other MIDI controller boards. I will say that these are by far the best of the lot. Why? 1) They are *much* more compact than the Brain v2… and you have to consider that the Brains require external breakoutboards which take up even more space if you want any sort of wiring job that isn’t a complete mess. I’d gladly pay extra for the fact that the OpenDeck boards are plug n play with enough headers for everything with no daisy chaining required – no ‘building the matrix’ at the panel or any nonsense like that. So it’s clean using the OpenDeck hardware. 2) Igor is the shit when it comes to responsiveness to customers to add new things and improve the performance of the devices. Meanwhile, I’ve got support tickets with the Brains that are years old and will never be answered. I’d also requested even very basic things like being able to set different elements on different MIDI channels – per element. So the OpenDeck guys are far more configurable. The web configuration tool is also super easy to use. And because it’s open source, if Igor decides to pursue other avenues, we’re all not SOL like I was with the Brain boards and we can tweak the FW as we see fit or for our application.

    In regards to cost, well, that’s a personal thing. The DIY community typically expects ‘parts prices’ as I’d say where any labour or even small scale production costs are somehow subsidised. It’s not realistic. And besides, this is open source – so why is cost even a concern if it is a concern for you? Just roll your own! That’s DIY! You still get access to all of the software and you’ll be up and running much more quickly than you could otherwise. Now also keep in mind that the Livid DIY stuff did not succeed and they are no longer sold… maybe their prices were too low! Price comparisons are a tough one in electronics. It’s hard to see the true costs – esp. when you consider the human labour on the other end or things like ease of use, etc.

  5. While I’d (probably) not spend $200 on this board, it is great to see that it exists and that the majority of the code/info is presented as OpenSource. I would not knock anyone for keeping ‘a little piece of the pie’ to help support the project.

    From looking over the GitHub pages/wiki, the bit that sound really interesting is the infra-structure for configuring and re-flashing. I especially like the “configure via SysEx” implementation.

    It looks like this project would be very easy for the non-technical person to put together. Good job all around.

  6. I investigated this yesterday, because I’ve got a couple of part-built projects that could be repurposed as amazing MIDI controllers, and a spare Arduino or several. On the main website, in a comment on a blog post, there was mention of the build requirements being on GitHub (Ubuntu was mentioned, gcc-avr, that sort of thing) but when I went to the repo there was absolutely no documentation there. I tried searching for all the keywords I could think of but the documentation for the very first step was completely missing. As a result… it’s a no from me. I simply don’t have the time to pick over a makefile, nor enough space in my head to learn yet another new thing, when there’s no guarantee of a functional payoff at the end to keep my attention. Sorry! Now, to look at Midibox (thanks for mentioning it, other commenters)…

      1. I spotted that (I happened to have the wiki open as you were updating it!). Thanks very much, I’ll give it a try (using the Windows Subsystem for Linux to do it – I’ll let you know how it goes)

  7. You can get the software of ‘OPEN’deck for arduino for $20.00
    Nice and open to receiving funds and open to not giving it out for free, open and all.

    Reminds me of the interpretation of ‘net neutrality’ by the big telcos.

    But anyway, this is the kind of ‘open’ I think Microsoft also has in mind for github.

    1. Wow, seriously? Instead of showing off your lack of reading comprehension skills, you could’ve just gone to my website and read the following:

      “Pre-compiled firmware for Arduino/Teensy is also available for 20€.

      Source code can also be freely downladed, compiled and uploaded to any supported board free of charge, although no support is given for this.”

      So what you’re getting for 20€ is *precompiled* software AND installation support. If you don’t want that then you are free to clone the repository and build/upload it yourself since the code is actually open.

      And yes, I *am* open to receiving funds since that pushes the project forward.

  8. What? How do you figure that it should be 5 times cheaper? 40$ for a ready-to-go controller board with a very comprehensive feature set and a well functioning online programmer.

    The Livid system, which has been mentioned here a lot, was 189$.

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