Back in the ’80s, home computers weren’t capable of much in terms of audio or multimedia as a whole. Arguably, it wasn’t until the advent of 16-bit computers such as the Amiga that musicians could make soundtrack-quality music without having to plug actual studio gear up to their machines. [Michael Wessel] is trying to bring some of that and many more features to the Amstrad CPC with his ambitious LambdaSpeak 3 project, an expansion card built completely up from scratch and jam-packed with features.
First, and likely giving it its name, is the speech synthesizer. [Michael] has made an emulation mode where his card can act just like the original SSA-1 expansion, being able to be controlled by the same software as back then. By default, the card offers this mode with an Epson S1V30120 daughterboard (which is based on DECTalk synthesis), however for further authenticity you also have the option of fitting it with an SP0256-AL2 chip, the same one used in the original Amstrad hardware in 1985.
As for the more musical part of the project, the board supports 4-channel PCM playback, much like the Amiga’s sound offering. This can be used for a drum machine sequencer program, and it has an Amdrum mode, emulating another expansion from the original Amstrad days. Sample playback can also be used alongside the speech synthesis as shown here, with random allophone beats that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kraftwerk recording. Finally, by using the UART interface included on the LambdaSpeak, you can also turn the CPC itself into a synth by giving it MIDI in/out and interfacing a controller in real time with the computer’s AY-3-8912 sound chip.
If you like modern expansions giving old computers new life, did you know that you can get just about any retro computer online, perhaps a TRS-80, an Amiga and even a Psion Organizer? And if you’re interested in just using old systems’ sound chips with modern USB MIDI controllers, it’s easy to make a microcontroller do all the heavy lifting.
Continue reading “Giving The Amstrad CPC A Voice And A Drum Kit”
The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.
This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone
6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.
As much as we like this repair, it doesn’t imply that EL is a dead technology. Far from it – [Ben Krasnow] is using it to create unique displays, and EL wire makes for some dazzling wearables. It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, it’s pretty neat stuff.
We’re all familiar with record-your-own-message greeting cards. Generally they’re little more than a cute gimmick for a friend’s birthday, but [dögenigt] saw that these cards had more potential.
After sourcing a couple of cheap modules from eBay, the first order of business was to replace the watch batteries with a DC power supply. Following the art of circuit bending, he then set about probing contacts on the board. Looking to control the pitch of the recorded message, [dögenigt] found two pads that when touched, changed the speed of playback. Wiring these two points to the ears of a potentiometer allowed the pitch to be varied continously. Not yet satisfied, [dögenigt] wanted to enable looped playback, and found a pin that went low when the message was finished playing. Wiring this back to the play button allowed the recording to loop continuously.
[dögenigt] now has a neat little sampler on his hands for less than $10 in parts. To top it off, he housed it all in a sweet 70s intercom enclosure, using the Call button to activate recording, and even made it light sensitive with an LDR.
We’ve seen a few interesting circuit bends over the years – check out this digitally bent Roland TR-626 or this classic hacked Furby.
Check out the video under the break.
Continue reading “Lo-Fi Greeting Card Sampler”
The goal is simple: test a bunch of arcade buttons from different manufacturers to get the one with the best function and feel. The resulting build is anything but simple: this wonderfully over-designed 16-channel WAV sampler and mixer.
For those wondering why [Atarity] would go to this much trouble to test arcade buttons, we suspect an ulterior motive – skip to the 21:14 mark of the long video below to see the real design inspiration. Regardless of the motive, there’s no doubting the care that went into the build – CNC-milled birch case, extremely detailed laser-engraved graphics, and a carbon-fiber back plate covered with suede, because suede. We especially like the detail on the speaker grill: the embroidered fabric and puffed-up look really works with the rest of the design, including the leather hand strap.
It’s not entirely clear from the post what the end goal of the testing is, but we assume it’ll be some sort of MAME build. In which case, [Atarity] might want to check out our recent articles on a tabletop MAME cabinet or this portable MAME rig. But whatever he comes up with, we’re sure the craftsmanship will be there.
Continue reading “16-channel Sampler Tests Arcade Buttons With Style”
For the last 15 years or so, software synths have slowly yet surely replaced those beatboxes, drum machines, and true synthesizers. It’s a loss for old hardware aficionados, but at least everyone with a MacBook is now a musician, amiright?
The Raspberry Pi and Pi2 already have more processing power than a desktop from ’99, so it’s no surprise that all of those classic synths, from a Moog. Yamaha DX, Casio CZ, Linn drum machine, Fairlight, and a mellotron, can all be stuffed into a Pi thanks to the work of [Phil Atkin] and his Raspberry Pi synthesizer.
[Phil]’s efforts to bring audio synthesis to the Pi fall under three techniques: subtractive synthesis, phase distortion synthesis, and sample-based synthesis, something that’s found in everything from Akai MPCs, MacBooks, and that one episode of The Cosby Show. [Phil] is combining all of these techniques into a piece of software that’s capable of running seamlessly on the Pi, giving anyone with a $35 computer a tool that would have been worth several thousand dollars in 1985.
The project is pretty far along, but the recent release of the Raspberry Pi 2 has thrown [Phil] for a loop. On one hand, the Pi 2 is much more capable than the original Pi in terms of hardware, and this lends itself to more sounds and a better GUI. On the other hand, there are millions of original Pi 1s out there that still make for exceptional synthesizers. Either way, [Phil]’s work is a great example of how far you can push the Pi with audio work.
Thanks [Wybren] for the tip. Videos below.
Continue reading “Piana – Musical Synthesis For The Raspberry Pi”
This portable sample player packs quite a punch. [Lee] wanted a nice portable way to take his samples with him, but refused to water-down the features just because it is portable. He set of goal of playing between 3-8 simultaneous notes from a large assortment of stored samples.
Sample space was the first design consideration, and it’s hard to beat the price per megabyte of an SD card. After some calculations he concluded that it is possible to pull these samples off the card quickly enough to achieve his simultaneous note goal at CD quality frequencies, but only if there is little or no latency when reading from the card. This means [Lee] needed a fast processor so he chose the LPC1769 which is an ARM Cortex-M3 processor which can run at 120 MHz.
The project box includes room for a volume knob to control the output from the in-build headphone amplifier. There’s also a rotary encoder for selecting sample sets. But we’re a bit confused on this part as the device is MIDI controlled. [Lee] is the creator of the electronic Moolodeon, which itself has MIDI out and will be used as a controller for this project.
Here’s a floppy drive which is being used as an audio sampler. At first glance we thought this was another offering which drives the stepper motor at a specific frequency to generate that characteristic sound at a target pitch. But that’s not what’s happening at all. The floppy is actually being used as a storage device (go figure).
From what we can tell, it’s being used almost like an 8-track tape. A PWM signal is stored on one circular slice of the disk, then the head can be moved back to that same “track” to play back the wave form. The head doesn’t move during playback, but just keeps reading the same track of bits. To the right you can see an Arduino board. This allows for MIDI control of the track selection. [Alexis] shows off some keyboard control in the video after the break. There’s a buffer chip on the breadboard which allows the audio output to be quickly switched off as the floppy drive head is moved. This keeps garbage out of the sound until the new track can be read.
Continue reading “Floppy Drive As An Audio Sampler”