Category Archives: Synth

Roland Juno-60 & TR-626

Today I did a great package deal, bought a Roland Juno-60 & TR-626.

My Roland Juno-6 is one of my absolute favorite synths, and nothing I’d ever sell – but it has one “problem” – no patch memory. To be honest that isn’t exactly a show stopper –  it’s a simple synth, and writing down the settings on paper isn’t that hard. However, when a Juno-60 in about the same condition appears locally for the same price I paid for the Juno-6, “upgrading” to the Juno-60 was a no-brainer.

By incident, the guy was parting with all his stuff and also offered me a TR-626 as a part of the deal. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with it since I’ve got the heavy digital machines like the LinnDrum and Oberheim DMX, but it has actually grown on me. It actually sounds quite gritty and louder than the beige box suggests…

Syncing LinnDrum, Polysix, JX-3P and Juno-6 with Logic (or other sequencer) using ReCycle files for external clock

Download RexSync files

The longest title of a post so far, but it describes exactly what this post is about. Syncing those vintage instruments with a modern sequencer without any additional hardware. The only thing needed is a sound card with more than two outputs.

How the vintage stuff works

In this tutorial I’ll be using three different instruments. They all have different kind of functions that deal with time. The LinnDrum is a drum machine and therefore has a built in sequencer which you can set at a certain BPM. The Roland Juno-6 has an arpeggiator with a simple slider – you never know the exact BPM it plays back on. The Roland JX-3P has a very basic 16 step sequencer which also has a simple slider and therefore unknown BPM.

For the instruments to know when to hit the next note or drum sound they have a built in clock. The clock generates pulses, and a pulse is simply 5V for a couple of milliseconds.

All the instruments each have one input jack at the back allowing us to feed them with our own pulses instead of the ones from the built in clock.

The Rolands are the most simple ones. Each time you feed the Juno-6 with a pulse in the “arpeggio clock in” input, it plays the next note in the arpeggiator.  The JX-3P works in a similar way, feed the “seq trigger in”  with a pulse and it plays the next note in the programmed sequence. This means that if you want your sequence or arpeggio to run play 16th notes, you just feed it 16 pulses each measure.

The LinnDrum works in a similar way, but it expects 192 pulses each measure to its “sync in” input jack. This might sound like a lot – and it is. If you listen to the sync signal sent to the LinnDrum it’ll sound like a very loud, annoying buzzing sound, whereas you in a 16th pulse signal would hear each pulse as a “tick”.

In addition to the sync in jack, the LinnDrum also a sync out jack. Back in the day, when recording a song with a synced LinnDrum, you’d do like this:

  1. Connect the sync out from the LinnDrum to your mixing desk, preferably to the last track, eg 24. The reason for putting it at 24 is that the signal is very strong, and could “leak” to the neighboring track (23). Track 23 might have to be unused of this reason.
  2. Run the LinnDrum for a little longer than the song duration and record the sync signal to that track.
  3. Connect the output of channel 24 to the sync in on the LinnDrum which would make LinnDrum sync to the recorded track.

To sum it up: External syncing of these old instruments work in a very simple way – you override the pulses from the built in clock with  your own external pulses.

How my convenient solution to this works

So, from where do you get the pulses? There are hardware solutions like the Doepfer MSY-2 available, and software solutions like AU/VST sync generator plugin.

My solution is very simple and convenient. I’ve sampled a clock pulse from my LinnDrum and created a couple of Recycle files that each are one measure long. These Recycle files has pulses from 1/4 note up to 1/192 note. As you probably know, Recycle files are like Apple Loops, they automatically adjust to the tempo of the sequencer by using a “slicing” method.

How to use (in Logic)

  1. Create a new mono audio track.
  2. Set no input and choose the output to eg output 3 of your sound card.
  3. In your sound cards mixer application, make sure that output 3 isn’t patched to your stereo output. You don’t want to listen to the sync signal, it’s quite annoying.
  4. From the output 3 jack of your sound card, connect a cable to the sync in on your instrument.
  5. Drag and drop one of the Recycle files to the track. You’ll get an error message, here it’s important that you choose Don’t fix, otherwise Logic’s “fix” will make it go out of sync.
  6. Press play in Logic and hopefully the instrument will start to sync!

Roland Juno-6 instructions

  1. Insert the cable with the sync signal in “Arpeggio clock in”
  2. Turn on the arpeggiator
  3. Try to play on the Juno-6 (nothing should happen)
  4. Run your sequencer
  5. Try playing again, arpeggiator should now sync to the sync signal

Korg Polysix  instructions

  1. Insert the cable with the sync signal in “Arpeggio trig in”
  2. Turn on the arpeggiator
  3. Try to play on the Polysix (nothing should happen)
  4. Run your sequencer
  5. Try playing again, arpeggiator should now sync to the sync signal

Troubleshooting

Q: Nothing happens!
A: Make sure that the sound card’s output really outputs the sync signal.

Q: I can’t stand the noise!
A: You have to configure your sound card not to include the audio output that’s used for the sync signal in the master stereo mix. On my sound card, the RME Fireface 800, this is done in the Fireface Matrix.

Q: Sync is not synced!
A: The output level of the sync signal is important. A level that’s too low can make the instrument miss certain pulses.

 

Korg Polysix arrived

Today my “new”  Polysix arrived. Cosmetic condition is quite good, with the exception of one major dent in the fake wood. It has the CHD midi kit, though I haven’t had time to test it yet.

It’ll need a cleaning and the factory presets, because the current presets are not very exciting at all. The filter sounds amazing, and I really like the built in effects!

Oberheim Matrix-6R

A couple of weeks ago I scored an Oberheim Matrix-6R on eBay. I’ve had a Matrix 1000 before, but we never became friends. It sounded too much techno and too little vintage. Therefore it might sound strange for me to go and buy a Matrix-6, since their guts are nearly the same. The thing that convinced me was the video review by my favorite Japanese guy, Katsunori UJIIE. He really brings out the nice brass and strings this machine is capable of!

Since I live in Europe and bought it from the US (the rack version is quite hard to find in Sweden, I’ve been looking out for one for a while), I turned to a guy I know to convert it from 110 V to 230 V.  I read on his blog that the built in PSU can be switched by doing something on the inside. I didn’t ask him exactly what, but for someone that’s good with electronics, doing the mod should be piece of cake. I suspect it’s something simple like repositioning a wire and changing the fuse.

When I got it back I plugged it in and was amazed by it’s sound! Fantastic brass presets, perfect for a brass guy like me. Compared to how I remembered the Matrix 1000, this sounded like something completely different. Maybe it’s the combination of more vintage sounding presets and the fact that the DCOs on the Matrix-6 aren’t controlled by the same clock.

Compared to the Roland MKS-70 that took two rack units, and really deserved them, the Matrix-6R definitely deserves its three rack units! I still have a JX-10 that has exactly the same guts as the MKS-70, but honestly, I think I like the Oberheim sound better! The JX-10/MKS-70 with their 24 DCOs are technically more advanced, but they are flirting too much with the digital trend of that time. I also find the Oberheim snappier and the filter more characteristic. To sum it up:

Roland JX-10 / MKS-70
Pros:
• 24 DCOs
• Roland chorus

Cons:
• Filter
• Slow envelopes
• Digital sounding presets
• Broken midi/sysex implementation

Oberheim Matrix-6
Pros:
• Filter
• Envelopes
• Vintage sounding presets

Cons:
• 12 DCOs
• 3 rack units (compared to MKS-70 2 or Matrix-1000 1)
• Slow CPU, lots of sysex chokes it

 

Roland MKS-70 swapped for SCI Six-Trak and cash

I just swapped my Roland MKS-70 for an SCI Six-Trak. I felt that I needed an American VCO poly in my collection. There aren’t many affordable ones available, but the Six-Trak is one. I also have a Roland JX-10 which is the keyboard version of the MKS-70.

Design wise, it’s kind of a strange combination of 80’s high tech and 70’s vintage. While it has the classic Sequential Circuits logo and solid wood sides, it has a “digital” user interface. You select a parameter number on a keypad and set the value with a pot.  This is probably a big reason for why it’s not more expensive, kind of like same thing with the Roland JX:s. However, it’s actually very easy to work with, and there’s a nice template for Ctrlr available. The Six-Trak has a very good midi implementation – each parameter is can be controlled by midi CC (!) and not sysex which was the common and annoying way back then.

The cosmetic condition is very good on this one, I heard it was previously owned by the guy who managed SCI imports to Sweden back then.

Soundwise, it’s not a Prophet 5. Compared to the Roland Juno-6, which also is a one oscillator poly, the Six-Trak sounds very weak. To come alive, some external effects like chorus and reverb is recommended. There are no built in effects.

However, there’s a unison mode that definitely turns the Six-Trak to an monophonic monster! This mode can make it deliver extremely fat leads and basses.

Organix JX-3P MIDI Expansion Kit ordered

I just got added in the waiting list for the Organix JX-3P MIDI Expansion Kit. The JX-3P already has midi, but the Organix kit adds some features. The one I need the most is the ability to use the PG-200 and midi at the same time (this isn’t possible when standard). Another cool feature is that the PG-200 will send midi CC’s, and the JX-3P will receive midi CC’s. This is extra valuable for those who don’t have a PG-200 and want to use a standard midi controller like a Behringer BCR-2000 or Korg nanoKONTROL. Since the JX-3P is from 1983 it can’t even receive midi sysex!

Now I just have to wait… 🙂

Kawai K3 for Akai S900

I just swapped my Kawai K3 for an Akai S900 and a pile of cash. The K3 was one of those synths that are nice, but of some reason never is used. For that reason I decided to sell it.

I’ve also been working on converting Fairlight I/II/IIx disks to other formats. Akai S900 is one of them. So far I’ve used one of my Oberheim DPX-1s to playback the disks, but a lot of the S900 file formats aren’t fully documented. To be able to reverse engineer those formats I needed a real S900 to be able to set parameters. The DPX-1 is a sample player only, no parameter can be changed.

What’s interesting about the S900 and S950 is the fact that they have variable sample rates just like old drum machines like DX/DMX and Linn. This means that the S900  can play back sounds at any speed between 7.5 kHz to 40 kHz, and it does this by changing the clock. This could be described as manually turning a vinyl disk at different speeds. Most newer samplers uses the “drop sample” method instead. What this actually does is to throw away or duplicate samples. If a sound is to be played back at the double speed using the drop sample method, every second sample is discarded and never played back.

Next thing is to temporarily take the HxC SD Floppy Emulator from the Roland S-330 and put it in the S900 for testing my own generated disk images.

JX-3P bought

I’ve been thinking about not renewing, but “reoldering” my synth park lately, since I’ve realized that drum machines and poly synths of the early 80’s is my thing.

Today I went to Denmark and bought a Roland JX-3P with a PG-200 programmer and a case. I got a fairly good deal!

So far, I really like the sound of the JX-3P. It sounds a lot more vintage than the newer JXs and feels a lot more responsive. The programmer is a very nice addition, it should have been built in the synth from the beginning. The presets are mostly hideous, but that’s easily solved with the PG-200. Custom patches can be saved to any of the 32 user slots. This must be one of the most underrated analog synths ever. It can do amazing brass sounds and I really like brass. It’s nice with two DCO:s and faster envelopes, compared to the other JXs.

The JX-3P was released in 1983 and one of the first synths with midi. And it works very well, I noticed that even program change messages work. One thing that doesn’t work though, is using the PG-200 and midi at the same time. There’s a switch on the back where you decide what to use. This is quite annoying if you have a midi sequence running and want to tweak the sound. However, there’s a cheap mod available called the Organix JX-3P MIDI Expansion that fixes this issues and also makes the PG-200 send midi CC! And some other stuff too. I’ll order it ASAP!

Another thing about midi and the JX-3P is that it was made in two revisions, I have an early one and it lacks midi through. Later revisions have it built in.

Changing battery on the TX-816

Sooner or later the battery will go dead on a TF1 module. It has a standard 3V CR2032 Lithium battery that can be found everywhere. When the voltage drops to low, the TF1 will fail to hold it’s memory and all patches and settings will disappear. Unlike the DX7, each TF1 doesn’t have a cartridge reader, but similar to the DX7 there’s no ROM memory. If you lose or edit the patches, the only way to get the factory patches back is to transfer them by sysex from a computer or another DX7.  The TF1 lits the error led and displays a 4 if the battery voltage is too low.

The error led is lit and the alpha numeric display shows a 4. This means error number 4 = low battery. At the top and bottom you can see the hex screws that need to be unscrewed.
The error led is lit and the alpha numeric display shows a 4. This means error number 4 = low battery. At the top and bottom you can see the hex screws that need to be unscrewed.

As with a lot of synths from the early eighties, when patch memory was a novelty, the battery is soldered to the TF1’s circuit board. So it has to be desoldered to be changed. Then the new battery must be soldered back. One alternative is to put a CR2032 battery holder there instead, then next time no soldering will be required. I chose the battery holder path.

First you have to remove the TF1 module and it’s actually very easy to do. Unscrew two Philips screws on the back, and two screws with 2.5mm hex heads (IKEA style, but smaller) at the front. Then push the card from the back so it pops out of the front. Pull it gently towards you without using any force, it should go smooth.

The TF1 module is nearly out.
The TF1 module is nearly out.

I desoldered the old battery and used a solder sucker to remove the old solder. I then measured the distance between the two holes to approximately 16 mm.

Battery is unsoldered.
Battery is unsoldered.
The space between the battery's legs is 16 mm. Unfortunately I could only find battery holders with 19 mm space.
The space between the battery’s legs is 16 mm. Unfortunately I could only find battery holders with 19 mm space.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a holder with 16 mm distance between it’s pins, 19 mm was all I could find (bought here). Fortunately the pins were quite long, so I managed to bend them inwards enough for them to fit and penetrate the holes.I then soldered the battery holder and put the battery back.

Look closely to see the bent pins (19 -> 16 mm conversion).
Look closely to see the bent pins (19 -> 16 mm conversion).

A quite simple operation. I think it’s worth the extra time and cash ($2) with a battery holder. That time will be spared next time the battery must be changed.

I recommend this site for more info on the TX-816.

Juno-106 sold (feat. some Juno-106 vs Juno-6)

I only had it for three weeks – current record! Blame it on the Juno-6.  It suddenly was for sale one block from where I live for a good price. I can confirm the fact that there’s a sonic difference, the Juno-6 sounds more organic/fatter/analog than the Juno-106.  Not saying that I don’t like Juno-106, George Michael was right, it’s a great synth. But I don’t need both. The Juno-106 was near mint, so I thought I’d share some photos of it.