Replacing the backlight of a Roland MKS-80 rev 5

Today I changed the backlight on a Roland MKS-80 rev 5. If the backlight is very weak, the electro-luminescent foil it’s probably worn out. They simply have a limited lifetime. When this happens you have three choices;

  1. Ignore the problem and use a flashlight
  2. Replace the whole LCD
  3. Replace the foil

I think the missing backlight is really annoying and makes the synth harder to use, so not doing anything was not an option.

Replacing the LCD would probably not be too hard, it has standard dimensions of 80×36 mm and are cheap. If you’re lucky a new LCD would just work, but in the worst case there could be compatibility problems. I’m not saying there will be problems since I haven’t tried it, but there’s an obvious risk. For example, changing the LCD on an EII to modern LCD also required changing a chip, otherwise the LCD just displayed strange characters.

I went for the third option, namely just replacing the foil. There are some companies providing replacement foils cut to the right size in various colors. However, I thought I’d give Roland a try since they seem to have a lot of old stuff left in stock. So I emailed Roland Scandinavia asking for a foil for a Roland MKS-80 rev 5. Since they didn’t know exactly what part was, they emailed me the service manual for me to look up the part number.

After browsing the manual I finally found what I suspected was the correct part, namely “15029181 EL-101 (electro luminescence)”. Roland said it’d be around €20 and recommended me to visit my local Roland retailer to order it, so I did…

Replacing the foil is quite straight ahead. Most of the work is getting to the LCD. To do this you of course have to remove the lid, and then the front panel. Then you have to undo three screws and three standoffs so you can fold the two voice boards upwards to finally reach the CPU-board at the bottom which the LCD is connected to in three places. Two of the connectors are snapped in place, so use a small, flat screwdriver to fold the latches away. Then you finally remove the four screws holding the LCD in place, remove the LCD and heat up your soldering iron.

I used desoldering wick to remove the old solder. Then it’s just a matter of sliding the old foil out of the LCD. The “new” one I got from Roland is probably NOS, because it looked exactly the same as the original one. I slid it into the LCD and soldered it’s two legs to the circuit board. I actually cut away about two mm of each leg since they were a bit too long. I powered the MKS-80 up, and the backlight was really bright – success! However, it seems that I should have placed it a little more to the right.

Then it was just a matter of reassembling the MKS-80. However, this was not as easy as disassembling it. The tricky part is the front panel that has three rectangular holes for the OMNI, POLY, MONO leds. The leds have to go straight in their holes, otherwise the front panel won’t sit where it should. There’s also a similar led for MIDI MESSAGE to the right which makes it even more trickier… Do not try to force the front panel, just take it easy and align the leds, and do try not to get too annoyed.

I put the MKS-80 back in the rack and fired up my DAW to realise that the MKS-80 sounds great and the backlight is strong – but – the MIDI MESSAGE led doesn’t work… I will replace it some other time.

Eventide H910

Long time, no blog updates – but – today is Black Friday, and even though I prefer Blue Monday, I took the plunge and purchased the Eventide H910 Harmonizer plugin. I downloaded the trial a couple of days ago, and found it really inspiring! You could do some really crazy stuff with it, and there’s always some use for it whether you put it on the LinnDrum, a Microwave or on the Prophet 5!

Another really fun thing is that after playing around, tweaking and getting to know it, I now can now identify it in plenty of songs. This thing has character, no doubt about it. I’d suggest downloading it and trying it out.

The Black Friday price is $99 (down from $249), but since I have an account on JRRShop, I got it for $84. I think this offer is available for the rest of November.

By the way, you need an iLok account, but you don’t need an iLok dongle. You can of course put the license on the dongle, if you prefer that.

The H910 is a nice addition to my “vintage” plugin arsenal. I’ll probably have to write a separate post on that!

 

 

Roland JX-3P sold

The JX-3P was sold today to finance the Prophet 5. I really liked it, it had character. For a while it has been the only affordable vintage sounding Roland poly, but I’m certain the prices will rise! It’s so much better than the later JXs and Alpha Junos.

SCI Prophet 5 bought! (and reloaded with patches!)

Today I bought an SCI Prophet 5 rev 3.0! This is cheapest one of the three editions made. That doesn’t mean it came cheap, I’ll have to sell at least 3-4 synthesizers to make up for the loss.

Rev 3.x is the last and most common main revision. 3.3 is the last sub revision and came with support for SCI’s midi kit, but it also got 120 patch memory slots. The 3.2 can easily be upgraded to 3.3, but 3.0 and 3.1 can’t without lot’s of hardware modification. Not having the capability to be upgraded to 120 memory slots or getting the official midi make 3.0 and 3.1 the cheapest ones. Kenton does however offer a midi kit, but it’s a bit expensive, so I think I’ll pass. The P5 has CV/gate for one voice if you need to sequence.

The seller said the P5 had the original patches loaded, but clearly it didn’t. On non-midi P5s patches can be saved to and loaded from cassette. Of course any audio recorder better than a tape recorder will do.  The patch data can be downloaded from analog.no as 8-bit wavs.

I downloaded bank 1 as it contains the first 40 factory patches. To be able to import it in Logic I had to convert it to 24-bit audio. I followed the instructions below taken from Prophet 5 Resources

  1. Look at the Prophet’s rear panel and set the Data Record slide switch to ENABLED.
  2. Set the tape to the position that holds your program. Listen for the announcement.
  3. Set playback level play at 0db.
  4. Hold the Prophet’s orange RECORD switch down while pressing the grey LOAD FROM TAPE switch.
  5. The Prophet front panel will go dark, except for the LOAD FROM TAPE switch indicator will be lit.
  6. The L.E.D. will go out after about 40 seconds, now Stop the tape.
  7. If the LOAD FROM TAPE light blinks, an something has gone wrong. Adjust your playback level and try again.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work. And the instruction doesn’t mention how to try again, or describes the confirmation you get if the loading was successful.

I read somewhere that some poly Oberheim from the same era needed quite a hot signal for it to work, and therefore the headphone jack was recommended instead of the ordinary outputs. Before testing the headphone jack I tried all output settings on my RME Fireface: -10 dBv, +4 dBu and Hi Gain – but it didn’t make any difference. Except on Hi Gain where I once actually got the blinking led, which means error. Maybe the signal was hot enough at least at some point?

I connected the cable to the headphone jack instead and restarted the load procedure. In the first run I had the headphone volume encoder on very low volume, and it actually gave an error – some success! I tried again by pressing the “Load from tape” button. This time I set the headphone volume encoder to point to a quarter to, and believe it or not, the patch data was loaded and it was confirmed by the P5 rebooting.

I shot a quick video of it, first showing a failure, then success:

Here are my additions to the standard instructions:

  • The LOAD FROM TAPE light will stay on until it gets something loud enough
  • The P5 will reboot after a successful load (you’ll notice the TUNE button light up for a couple of seconds)
  • I don’t know how to cancel a load, but if someone knows, please tell me
  • The P5 wants a hot signal. Start low and gradually increase the output level

Waldorf Microwave rev A bought

Today I found a Microwave rev A locally on Vend. As always, I discovered the ad a couple of hours too late, it was already “sold”. After almost two days the ad was still there and I contacted the seller who said the buyer had backed out because he’d bought a guitar instead. Sounds a bit strange going from a Microwave to a guitar, they’re on totally opposite sides of the spectrum…

I convinced the seller I could get there quick and pay more than the price he’d put in the ad. So I went there and bought it. Apart from a small scratch on the front and a couple of scratches on top (not noticeable when it’s racked), the cosmetic condition was very good. The “alpha” wheel was a bit loose though.

The rev A is cosmetically different with a green bottom LCD display and blue anodized aluminium. The rev B is painted with a paint that peels of and has a black bottom LCD display. The biggest difference though is that they use different filters, the rev A has CEM3389s and rev B has CEM3387s. The rev A is valued higher than the B.
Read more about the differences here!

Sometime in the future when I’ve time I’ll be doing a A/B test, literally speaking.

FIXED: Native Instruments RC-24 & RC-48 “Reverb Classics” and El Capitan

Update 2015-10-23: The latest release of El Capitan 10.11.1 that was released yesterday fixes the auvaltool. It seems like a lot of other plugin manufacturers had the same problems as well.

Unfortunately one of my favourite plugins, RC-24 by Native Instruments, does not validate in the new auvaltool that comes with El Capitan. This does not only apply to the Reverb Classics bundle, but to many plugins in NI’s portfolio. The recommended “solution” from NI is a hack by a forum member which simply is finding an older version of auvaltool and replace the new one. I find it very strange that NI or anyone else didn’t notice this in the developer test releases of El Capitan.

RC-24 is a faithful recreation of the Lexicon 224 digital reverb, the only reverb I use.

LinnDrum midi kit from Dtronics

I recently ordered a “Linnterface” midi kit from Dtronics and a kit for the Juno-60 from them as well. To be honest, a big part of the joy with the LinnDrum is using the internal sequencer and its’ shuffled timing . You can always sync it to your DAW using clock pulses. But in some cases it’s convenient to have midi.

The kit is not as advanced as the Forat or JL Cooper ones, on the other hand it’s just a fraction of the price. It simply has a GM midi-mapping and supports only note on/off. It’s only midi in, not out.

It works by simply hijacking the signals between the cpu-board and voice board of the LinnDrum.  This is done by placing a new midi board inside the LinnDrum, disconnect the flat cable between the LinnDrum’s cpu board and voice board an connect it to the midi board instead. From the midi board a similar flat cable is then connected to the voice board. The kit comes complete with all mounts and a midi connector and no non-reversible modification is required on the LinnDrum. You have to solder power and ground to the kit, but thats all.

The first midi board I got had some kind of problem, when the LinnDrum was turned on, all leds lit up and the numbers 00 were shown. This was very scary – had I destroyed my LinnDrum? Panic! I emailed Dtronics who were very helpful and immediately sent me a new board. I installed it and it has been working flawlessly ever since. I recommed these guys, the do great products and are very supportive!

I decided not to write a step-by-step guide of my installation since there’s already a nice one at Dtronics web site.

Roland Juno-60 midi kit

Last night I upgraded my Juno-60 with the MDCB60 midi kit from D-tronics. Even though I prefer not to use midi, there are situations where midi is nice to have, for example when doing quick sketches that you want to save, or try different sounds without manually having to play the same sequence over and over.

The DCB port

The Juno-60 was an upgraded version of the Juno-6, with the main difference that it had memory section, just like it’s main competitor Polysix. Another addition was the DCB port, which was Rolands predecessor to midi. Remember, this was back in 1982 and midi was first introduced in 1983. Before midi, Roland had DCB, Oberheim had it’s own proprietary protocol etc. Too my knowledge, only the Juno-60 and some of the Jupiter 8s had DCB . The JX-3P was the first Roland synth with midi, so DCB didn’t live more than a year or two. We should be thankful that the manufacturers actually managed to agree on the midi standard, that still lives 32 years later, even though it has its flaws.

Luckily, DCB is quite primitive and therefore simple to convert to midi. The MDCB60 only adds note on/note off, so there’s no pitch bend, program change, arpeggiator sync etc.

Installation

The installation was very straight forward:

  1. Open the Juno
  2. Remove the DCB-connector from the back
  3. Cut one zip tie so the DCB-connector reaches outside the synth
  4. Unsolder all wires
  5. Insulate the green and purple wires
  6. Solder the wires to the MDCB60
  7. Screw it to the back of the Juno-60
  8. Add a new zip tie
  9. Solder the wire from the MDCB60 to the gate pin on the Juno-60 board for 5V power

There’s a video here describing the installation, however, they seem to take the 5V power from another place than the gate pin.

The installation took less than an hour in total, and it worked straight away! I recommend this kit if you need basic midi on your Juno-60.

IK T-RackS vintage plugins

I’m not a big fan of software synthesizers, at least not for my kind of music. For effects however, I’ll have to settle with the software counterparts –  I simply don’t have the cash and space for an SSL desk and other vintage high end gear.

What I’m trying to do is to find the best software counterparts: channel strips, tape emulation, chorus, reverb, delay etc. UAD has all this, but their weak hardware and pricing would set me back a lot of money, which I’d rather spend on hardware synths and drum machines. For example, the cheapest UAD PCIe SOLO, which you can find for $200 used, only allows 17 SSL channel strips at 24/44.1 – I’m recording at 24/96.

I found that IK has a lot of vintage emulations, and the last days JRRshop had a 50% sale. So this is what I bought:

IK T-RackS British Studio Series

A bundle containing the British Channel (SSL 4000 channel strip), the White Channel (SSL 9000 channel strip) and the Bus Compressor (SSL 4000 bus compressor).

The BSS has had very good reviews and is one of the top rated ones along with UAD. Waves SSL has a similar bundle, but it’s now almost ten years old and a bit behind in the competition. Waves has had their bundle on sale for $249 lately. I got the BSS bundle on JRRPlugins for $71.82 – a steal (RRP $169)!

I honestly can’t compare the BSS it to the real hardware, since I’ve only spent a couple of minutes at a real SSL 4000 desk. But the plugins do their job, and the lack of a graphic eq feels liberating and forces you to use the ears  (you can cheat by adding a standard Logic eq after to see it graphically). By the way, even though IK has updated the British Channel GUI, it’s still looks cartoonish and is the ugliest in the competition.

Tutorial video

IK T-RackS Tape Echo

Browsing the IK Custom Shop application I found the Tape Echo plugin that’s a highly praised emulation of the Echoplex EP3 tape delay. I got it for $31.78 RRP (€74.99). All IK products have a free 14 day trial, which is a bit dangerous…

Having no experience in real tape delay, it’s hard to judge whether it’s authentic or not, but it has gotten very nice reviews. Looking at this video for example, I immediately recognise its sound and behaviour.

The GUI is very true to the original, and the naming of the knobs can be a bit confusing. Volume is the wet/dry mix, and Sustain is the number of echoes. Differences to the original is that it’s stereo and has a BPM sync option. Clicking the Echoflex logo reveals additional controls for Rec Level, Tape Wear, Wow/Flutter & Noise.

Tutorial video

The Tape Echo is very true to the original, but has some exceptions: 1) It's stereo, 2) BPM sync. Clicking the Echoflex logo reveals additional controls for Rec Level, Tape Wear, Wow/Flutter & Noise.
The Tape Echo is very true to the original, but has some exceptions: 1) It’s stereo, 2) BPM sync. Clicking the Echoflex logo reveals additional controls for Rec Level, Tape Wear, Wow/Flutter & Noise.

E-MU Emulator II HxC Floppy Emulator

Ever since I got my EII I’ve been planning to add an HxC Floppy Emulator. These are some of the reasons:

  • One of the floppy drives doesn’t work and replacement drives are expensive
  • an SD card can hold a lot of floppy images
  • I don’t have a computer with a 5.25″ drive, so I have no way of transferring all the EII images I’ve got (could be solved if I get my Mac SE 30 and the serial thing working)

As the EII uses 5.25″ floppy drives, the connectors aren’t the same as for 3.5” drives. To solve this you basically have three alternatives:

  1. Create a new custom cable
  2. Create some kind of extension/adapter cable
  3. Modify the original cable

There’s a comprehensive manual from E M X P describing everything that you need to know about the HxC installation, including diagrams of the cables, whichever one you choose. Since I don’t like messing with the original one I chose to create one from scratch. I skipped the extension/adapter route since it would require a female 5.25″ connector, and I could as well create a whole new cable since I was messing with cables anyway. It’s also worth noticing that the cable is very long, almost a meter, which makes it nearly impossible to find a standard floppy cable and just add an extra 5.25″ male connector. In the picture below, taken from the manual, alternative 1 is the route I took. Alternative 2 shows the extension/adapter cable route.

Drawing of the 1) custom floppy cable that I make 2) The extension cable alternative. Screenshot from the E M X P manual (a must for everyone doing this conversion)
Drawing of the 1) custom floppy cable that I make 2) The extension cable alternative. Screenshot from the E M X P manual (a must for everyone doing this conversion)

Parts

  • About 1 m of 40-pin ribbon cable
  • Two standard 3.5″ floppy female connectors
  • One 5.25″ floppy female connector “34-way card edge connector IDC”
  • Lotharek REV F HxC drive (REV F is the 3.5″ floppy version). Buy it directly from Lotharek’s homepage. I should cost around €100, but I’ve seen “unofficial resellers” on eBay selling them for €150-200 – that’s a scam.
  • 5.25″ to 3.5″ adapter bracket, like this (I already had one from a computer chassis)
  • 4 pin Molex to floppy power adapter, like this (I had one lying around, probably included with a PSU)

Disassembly

First thing to do is to up open up the EII, which is a very simple process. Just a couple of standard Philips screws at the back and underneath. Then take the top of. Also locate the 4 screws that attaches the “floppy tower” to the chassis to remove it. 

At the middle of the main board, above middle C, a flat cable is folded, then going to the left, under the floppy tower and up to the drives. Remove this cable and use it as a model for the new cable.

Making the new cable

Prepare the flat cable by removing 6 of the wires to “convert” it from a 40 pin to a 34 pin flat cable. Then fold it at the exact same places and put the connectors at the same place, with one big difference – where the original cable has a 5.25″ for the upper drive, replace this with a 3.5″ connector. I used a vise to evenly squeeze the connectors to the cable. Make sure you orient the connectors the right way. Look for a little plastic piece between the 2nd and 3rd pins on the 5.25″ connector.

Swapping the faulty 5.25″ drive

The lower floppy drive didn’t want to load a disk that I know worked in the upper floppy drive.  Therefore I swapped them and carefully set their jumpers right. Now the lower one worked, but not the upper. Perfect, since my intention is to keep a working 5.25 floppy in the lower position and the floppy emulator in the upper position.

The faulty floppy drive with serial no 143922. Maybe it just needed cleaning, I don’t know –  I’ll keep it as a spare or something. It’s amazing the upper one works after 30 years…

5.25″ adapter and HxC metal work and jumper

I’ve used the HxC in lot’s of different samplers, and it has never properly aligned with the machine I’ve put it in. It always extends a couple of millimeters outside. So I decided to modify the HxC by drilling new holes in its metal chassis. For this I used 2.5 mm cobalt drill and used the adapter as a template. I chose this particular adapter since its pattern on the plastic matched the EII best.

Also set the jumper on the HxC to first position, as in the photos.

Floppy power adapter

For power to the HxC, a Molex to floppy power adapter was needed. Luckily I had a few of these lying around, probably included with some PC power supply, but never used. They can easily be found on eBay for a dollar or two. It’s simply connected to the Molex power connector that was previously connected to the now removed 5.25″ floppy drive.

Assembly

Simply reassemble the EII the other way around!

80's synth and sampler blog