Dance and house music exploded in a big way at the end of the 1980s. Typically the product of well-equipped studios with samplers and mixers worth thousands of dollars, it was difficult for the home gamer to get involved. That was, until the advent of the glorious Amiga, as [cTrix] ably demonstrates.
The video explains the history of both the music and the hardware, and highlights just why the Amiga was so special. Packing stereo audio and a four-channel sound chip, it had the grunt to pump out the tunes. All it was lacking was an audio input – which is where third-party hardware stepped in. Parallel-port analog-to-digital converters hit the market in a big way, letting users sample audio on their home computer without breaking the bank.
[cTrix] then proceeds to demonstrate how one would go about producing a dance track on an Amiga way back in 1990. A home stereo is used to play records, hooked up to a Stereo Master parallel port sampler. With a bunch of drum, piano, and synth samples recorded and saved on disk, a tracker is then used to assemble the track. It’s then compared with other music from the era as a great example of how things used to be done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.