C64 MIDI and Flash Cart

KerberosThe SID chip inside the Commodore 64 and 128 is arguably still the gold standard for chip tunes, and the C64 itself still a decent computer for MIDI sequencing. [Frank Buss] realized most of the MIDI cartridges for the Commodore computers are either out of production or severely limited, so he set out to create his own.

Unlike the few Commodore MIDI cartridges that are available, [Frank]’s Kerberos has MIDI In, Out, and Thru, controlled by the 6850 ACIA chip, just like the old 80s interfaces. This allows the Kerberos to interface with the old Sequential Circuits, Passport, and Datel software. He’s offering the Kerberos cart up on a crowdfunding site, so if you’d like to grab your own, have at it.

Because the Kerberos is also a Flash cart, it also ships with some of this software; [Frank] got permission from Steinberg to install their Pro 16 software with the Kerberos.  SID Wizard is also pre-loaded on the cart, along with a few other fabulous trackers and sequencers. Of course, there’s no requirement for the Flash portion of the cart to only host MIDI and synth software. You can always upload a few games to the cart over a MIDI interface. Video of the Kerberos below.

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Making a Commodore 64 portable

making-a-c64-portable

This is [Wpqrek’s] Commodore 64 modified to go on the road with him. The elderly machine has a special place in his heart as it was what he learned to code on. He performed a series of hacks which house everything necessary to use the machine inside the original case.

Obviously the hack that has the most effect when it comes to portability was swapping a display for the small LCD mounted above the number keys. This was a pretty simple process because the screen, originally intended for a rear view camera in a vehicle, already had a composite video input. To emulate the floppy disc drive he’s using an SD card via an sd2iec board which he laid out himself. Rounding up the alterations is a stereo SID. The second channel uses the pre-amp circuit cut from a second C64. This audio hardware will let him do cool things like playing some classic Zeppelin.

You can get a video tour of these alterations after the break.

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Creating a MIDI synth from a Commodore SID

The Commodore SID was the audio chip in the venerable Commodore 64 and in the 30 years since release has attained classic status and become one of the best ways to get your chiptune on. Designed by famous synthesizer designer [Bob Yannes], it was only a matter of time before we saw a real, homebrew MIDI synth based on the Commodore SID.

Because real SID chips are rare as hen’s teeth nowadays, [Jeff Ledger] built his SID synth around an emulated system running on a Pocket Mini Computer. This very cool microcontroller platform runs on the Parallax Propeller. An emulated SID runs in one of the Propeller’s 8 cores, with the remaining cores kept open for reading MIDI notes and displaying info on a display.

The hardware portion of this build is amazingly simple; just an optoisolater, a few resistors, and a diode connect a MIDI keyboard to the Pocket Mini Computer. The buttons and dials on [Jeff]’s MIDI keyboard control the waveforms, filters, and envelope controls. A very neat setup if we do say so ourselves, and just perfect if you’re needing more chiptunes in your life.

You can check out [Jeff]’s video after the break.

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Ask Hackaday: Who likes retrocomputing?

Last week we posted a link to Project Kiwi, a homebrew Motorola 68008-based microcomputer built by [Simon] that includes Ethernet, a very good display adapter, an interface for IDE hard disks, two Commodore SID chips (for stereo chiptunes), a floppy disk controller, and an already existent software library that will make it very easy to develop your own software for this wonderful computer.

After thinking about [Simon]’s Project Kiwi for a while, I’ve been thinking there really hasn’t been a homebrew computer made that is so perfect for a proper Open Hardware release. There are more than enough peripherals in the computer to make development very fun. I’ve suggested doing a group buy to get Kiwi PCBs out into the wild and into the hands of other retrocomputer fanatics, but [Simon] would like a little more feedback.

Of course, this means turning to you, the wonderful Hackaday reader. Would any of you be interested in your own Kiwi microcomputer?

[Simon] tells me there are a lot of problems for turning the Kiwi microcomputer into a Open Hardware project. His prototype PCB cost €300, greatly reducing the number of people who would be interested in making their own Kiwi. Also, there are a few problems on the current PCB design (easily fixed for the next revision), and [Simon] would like to add a few features like DMA and a proper framebuffer.

Despite all those problems, I can’t see a better way to learn about computer architecture the hard way (i.e. 80’s microcomputers as opposed to futzing around with a Raspberry Pi). You’ll also get a really wonderful computer system that will show the power of 80s-era electronics, with the very hopeful goal of spreading the gospel of retrocomputing with the venerable Saint MC68000.

If you’d like to add your two cents – if having an Open Hardware 80s microcomputer is a good idea, or some technical requests such as adding a proper 68000 CPU to future designs, leave a note in the comments or on the forum [Simon] set up on his Kiwi page.

I think it’s a cool idea, but then again I’m probably blinded by how cool an 80s computer of this caliber is. The fate of this project is now in your hands.

Propeller turned into chiptune player with a software SID

If there wasn’t reason enough to love the Parallax Propeller, now you can listen to chiptunes with your own pocket SID audio player.

This chiptune audio player uses the very unusual and very cool eight-core Parallax Propeller microcontroller. After soldering a few caps and resistors to a Propeller dev board to allow for audio out, the only thing necessary to play SID music files is a bit of code and an SD card breakout.

The key piece of code for this build would be the SIDcog object written by [Johannes Ahlebrand] this piece of code turns one of the eight cores in the Propeller into a virtual version of the classic Commodore 64 sound chip.

Since the SIDcog object only takes up one core on the eight core Propeller, it could be possible to turn this SID player into an all-inclusive chiptune audio source; the addition of an Atari POKEY or FM synthesis cog would allow for just about any conceivable chiptune sound to be carried around in a pocket.

No Hackaday post about chiptunes or SIDs would be complete without an audio demo, so you can check out the Propeller-powered SID after the break.

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[Jeri Ellsworth] on making her c64 bass keytar

[Jeri Ellsworth] finally set aside some time to talk about the build process for her Commodore 64 bass keytar. We think what started by taking a band saw to the guitar body ended up as a fantastic new instrument.

When she was showing off the project at Maker Faire we really only got a cursory look at what it could do. Her most recent video covers all that went into pulling off the project. Once the bulk of the guitar body was gone she tore the guts out of a dead c64 in order to mate the case with the guitar neck. Always the craftsman, she altered the computer’s badge to preserve the iconic look, then went to work adding pickups to each string using piezo sensors. This was done with Maker Faire in mind because magnetic pickups would have been unreliable around all of the tesla coils one might find at the event. These were amplified and filtered before being processed via an FPGA which connects to the original c64 SID 6581 chip.

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Putting every chiptune ever in an FPGA

Finally one device combines the power of the Commodore 64 SID, Atari ST YM2149, and Amiga MOD audio into one awesome box. It’s called the RetroCade Synth, and there’s a Kickstarter that is perfect for starting your chiptune composing journey.

[Jack]’s RetroCade synth is connects directly to the Papilio One 500k FPGA. All the classic chiptune ICs can be emulated in this FPGA including the Commodore 64 SID chip, and an Amiga MOD player. Being a follow-up to [Jack]’s previous FPGA YM2149 project, he also threw that chip into the project for good measure. While the RetroCade doesn’t ship with every old chiptune IC – there isn’t support for NES, Atari, GameBoy, or SN76489-based chiptunes yet – that is something [Jack] will add once the Kickstarter is completed.

After the break you can see [Jack] jamming out on his RetroCade project playing a YM2149, SID, and Amiga MOD sounds simultaneously. For $100, it’s comparable to the venerable MIDIbox SID, but also allows anyone to play whatever genre of chiptunes they desire.

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