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DW-8P Programmer for Korg DW-8000 & EX-8000
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Author DW-8P Programmer for Korg DW-8000 & EX-8000
NewEnglandAnalog
I've been working on this programmer for the Korg DW-8000 and EX-8000 synthesizers. The unit is wide enough to be rack mountable, and it comes as a desktop unit. (Rack ears can be screwed into the cheek blocks). The unit is 3U high, with 46 sliders, MIDI output, a display showing the value of the current slider, random patch generator, scratch patch generator, and a few other features.

I'm looking to sell these as a DIY kit (all parts, PCB, CPU, panel included) and as fully assembled units. The build is fairly straightforward. There are about a dozen SMD chips, and a lot of through hole buttons and sliders.

The programmer will send sysex messages by default, but provisions will be included in the software to support VST versions of the DW as well, most of which use CC messages.

I'm trying to keep the cost for a fully built unit at about $420 and about $320 for the kits. I ought to know for sure what the unit cost is when I have made a few.

I'd be interested in hearing if you're interested in this, or if you have feedback. If there's enough interest, I'll set up a pre-order. People that get in on the ground floor would get a discounted price for helping to get the project funded.
hippo1
Wow.

I thought I was more or less alone in the late 80s/early 90s -era hybrid Korg synth love. I have one fully functional DW8000, and another with a bum keyboard (all voices still working). Back in 'the day', I was pretty good at maneuvering thru its ONE data entry slider [I grew up with a Poly-800 as my first synth]; but sadly that day has long passed, whether thru lack of patience, or otherwise. I'd love to get one of these... I just gotta get my SMD chops up a bit.

#dwgsforlife!! [Sorry...]
NewEnglandAnalog
hippo1 wrote:
Wow.

I thought I was more or less alone in the late 80s/early 90s -era hybrid Korg synth love. I have one fully functional DW8000, and another with a bum keyboard (all voices still working). Back in 'the day', I was pretty good at maneuvering thru its ONE data entry slider [I grew up with a Poly-800 as my first synth]; but sadly that day has long passed, whether thru lack of patience, or otherwise. I'd love to get one of these... I just gotta get my SMD chops up a bit.

#dwgsforlife!! [Sorry...]


I might add an option to buy a DIY kit that has all of the SMD parts installed. That way you would just need to solder the jacks, buttons, and sliders, which is easy. Since I'm going to order a bunch of PCBs that are partially assembled, it probably makes sense to offer this as one of the DIY configurations. Then people don't have to buy special soldering tips etc. If there's sufficient interest in this controller, I'll put a preorder page on the website. (www.retroaktivsynthesizers.com)
chrisryan15
Damn!! I would be so down for one of these! Ive been thinking about getting one of the stereoping controllers for the DW, but this one seems nice! I'm not too confident on my SMD soldering skills so i'd probably go for the partially assembled kit.

What will the case be made out of? It would be nice to have a solid feeling metal casing with the DW stripes and logo.

Would it include a midi in? I'd want to make sure I could still send it midi notes from my computer/sequencer while being able to tweak the sounds.

Looks like a great idea, really hoping it works out!
NewEnglandAnalog
chrisryan15 wrote:
Damn!! I would be so down for one of these! Ive been thinking about getting one of the stereoping controllers for the DW, but this one seems nice! I'm not too confident on my SMD soldering skills so i'd probably go for the partially assembled kit.

What will the case be made out of? It would be nice to have a solid feeling metal casing with the DW stripes and logo.

Would it include a midi in? I'd want to make sure I could still send it midi notes from my computer/sequencer while being able to tweak the sounds.

Looks like a great idea, really hoping it works out!


The case is made of plastic. I love metal too, but to keep it in this price range, metal is not ideal. I don't think I can justify the extra cost for the powder coated metal enclosure. The case does feel very solid though. Folks seem to get upset when a controller costs more than this one would, but they also get upset when something isn't made of powdercoated metal. It's hard to satisfy everyone and keep the product in the affordable range. I think there's an imaginary ceiling to the price of controllers like this one, especially for an inexpensive synth. smile

Right now there is no MIDI in. Use of a MIDI merge is required to send multiple streams to the synth. I thought about adding the MIDI IN though. I'm still on the fence. I'd need to add a MIDI merge to the design, which would add cost. I have a PG300 for my Juno and it's just got the MIDI OUT as well. I'm sure that they ran into the same cost/benefit situation as me. I'll think about adding that, as it's not too late in the design process to do it. It just complicates the software end of things.
-Rob

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it.
Seaweed Sound
If it doesn't have MIDI In how does it work with the EX-8000?

I'd be interested in a kit if SMD was pre-soldered.. but if you have to buy a MIDI merger and SMD soldering tools it would increase cost up to another price bracket where other solutions may make more sense.
NewEnglandAnalog
Seaweed Sound wrote:
If it doesn't have MIDI In how does it work with the EX-8000?

I'd be interested in a kit if SMD was pre-soldered.. but if you have to buy a MIDI merger and SMD soldering tools it would increase cost up to another price bracket where other solutions may make more sense.


It does have MIDI OUT. I think the last person was asking if it had MIDI IN as well. I was saying that it just had a MIDI output, like the PG-300. This means that in order to simultaneously send data from the programmer and another keyboard to the DW, you'd need to merge the two streams of data. Not sure if I answered your question or not.
chrisryan15
That makes sense! honestly the plastic case would match the build quality of the DW more anyway, so it would work pretty well (Im always a sucker for a nice metal case though hah)

Makes sense with the midi in... the midi solutions midi merger is about $70 from a quick google search. Im curious to know how much cost the midi in would add to the programmer. Ill keep my eyes open for any details
chvad
great work! ive had the DW and the EX8000 in the past. Wonderful synths. Had I either of them still I'd grab this is a second! Awesome this exists! It's peanut butter jelly time!
NewEnglandAnalog
chrisryan15 wrote:
That makes sense! honestly the plastic case would match the build quality of the DW more anyway, so it would work pretty well (Im always a sucker for a nice metal case though hah)

Makes sense with the midi in... the midi solutions midi merger is about $70 from a quick google search. Im curious to know how much cost the midi in would add to the programmer. Ill keep my eyes open for any details


Ha! Yes, the plastic doesn't feel foreign to the EX and DW series. It fits their build style quite well.

Adding the merge function would require changing the uP that runs the core of the module. Like I said, I'm on the fence about it. It's a cool idea. If I can implement it without a lot of additional cost, then I'm in.
chrisryan15
Oh another thing I just noticed! Is there a slider that adjusts the OSC Pitch MG amount? Maybe I just missed it
NewEnglandAnalog
Oh, good catch. I can add that to the pitch section. I only implemented the MG pitch mod for aftertouch. Luckily there's room in that top row of controls for another slider. Thanks!
Seaweed Sound
NewEnglandAnalog wrote:
It does have MIDI OUT. I think the last person was asking if it had MIDI IN as well. I was saying that it just had a MIDI output, like the PG-300. This means that in order to simultaneously send data from the programmer and another keyboard to the DW, you'd need to merge the two streams of data. Not sure if I answered your question or not.


The EX is a rack unit that doesn't have a keyboard.. so your product would require a separate MIDI merger to work with the EX right?
NewEnglandAnalog
Seaweed Sound wrote:
NewEnglandAnalog wrote:
It does have MIDI OUT. I think the last person was asking if it had MIDI IN as well. I was saying that it just had a MIDI output, like the PG-300. This means that in order to simultaneously send data from the programmer and another keyboard to the DW, you'd need to merge the two streams of data. Not sure if I answered your question or not.


The EX is a rack unit that doesn't have a keyboard.. so your product would require a separate MIDI merger to work with the EX right?


Yes. Same deal as the Roland PG300 with the MKS30 and many other rack mount synths wth controllers. When I use that, I merge the controller and the keyboard/sequencer data. Midi merging takes a lot of effort to do well. Generally to do this well, you want a dedicated processor for the merge function. Adding a merge to this product would add a lot of extra cost. A dedicated merger like the MIDI Solutions Merge 2x2 can be had for about $50. I use a JLCooper MSB+ for alll of my MIDI streams. It's the best MIDI tool I've owned. Making a reliable MIDI merger is not a trivial task, especially if you've got a lot of controller data mingled with multitimbral MIDI data. I'm probably not going to include a MIDI merger on this product, as the design is already tight, and the price point is pretty key for a controller like this.
Seaweed Sound
Curious if this needs a dedicated MIDI channel slider.. seems like the kind of setting you woudn't need a realtime controller for or want to risk accidentally bumping it

Perhaps a front panel power switch would be handy if the unit is rack mounted. Just a thought
cwhiley
I own a DW-8000 and I must say you've already got a lot of competition.

On the inexpensive end you have MIDI controllers like the Behringer BCR2000 or the Novation Zero Remote SL MkI and Mk II (I run the MKI) with free sysex templates that can be had second hand for less than $100. The Novations even have little LCD displays with a full MIDI complement.

Then at about $285 for a completed unit (not a kit, it's much less) for a Stereoping synth controller which has the benefit of being firmware changeable for a whole litany of vintage synthesizers. I run one hard-wired into my Oberheim Matrix-1000 and I can attest to their very high quality construction and are housed in a metal enclosure again with a full MIDI complement.

So I think you've got a hard market here to try to sell these at this price point.
NewEnglandAnalog
cwhiley wrote:
I own a DW-8000 and I must say you've already got a lot of competition.

On the inexpensive end you have MIDI controllers like the Behringer BCR2000 or the Novation Zero Remote SL MkI and Mk II (I run the MKI) with free sysex templates that can be had second hand for less than $100. The Novations even have little LCD displays with a full MIDI complement.

Then at about $285 for a completed unit (not a kit, it's much less) for a Stereoping synth controller which has the benefit of being firmware changeable for a whole litany of vintage synthesizers. I run one hard-wired into my Oberheim Matrix-1000 and I can attest to their very high quality construction and are housed in a metal enclosure again with a full MIDI complement.

So I think you've got a hard market here to try to sell these at this price point.


I have the stereoping as well. I tend not to like having to keep switching the knob functions. It's also not hard to hit a $250 price point with a metal case when you only have six knobs to deal with. Adding another 40 or 50 increases the complexity and cost pretty significantly. Also, the case for something tiny is cheap compared to the case for something that's a 3U rack. There are differences and compromises that allow one company to change $250 while another needs to charge more. I made this because I wanted something that had everything brought out to the panel without switching. You're right about the BCR2000 as well. I also own one of those. They're great, but it's nice to have graphic overlays to see what the controllers are doing. You're right that people want to pay $150 for a controller with 50 sliders and a metal box though. Unfortunately, I'd need to be a company the size of Behringer to make that happen, as those prices only happen when you make a shit ton of units at a factory. That's not in the cards for me. Maybe there's no point in trying to make controllers these days unless you can charge $150 for them.
NewEnglandAnalog
Seaweed Sound wrote:
Curious if this needs a dedicated MIDI channel slider.. seems like the kind of setting you woudn't need a realtime controller for or want to risk accidentally bumping it

Perhaps a front panel power switch would be handy if the unit is rack mounted. Just a thought


Yes, a front panel power switch is a good idea. I could turn the Midi channel slider into a button. Pressing the button would maybe put the device into channel mode, where using say, the glide slider or whatever, would allow channel selection. I think that would be a good idea. Then I could add the MG AMT slider to the pitch section. None of that is too hard to implement. Good ideas.
bronko
Nice Work. I'd be interestet in a DIY Kit with presoldered SMD Parts, but I'd also need a MIDI in option. Don't like the idea to add another box and another PSU only to allow me to play the DW from an external Sequencer while editing Sounds. Maybe you could offer a MIDI merger board as an optional extension.
NewEnglandAnalog
bronko wrote:
Nice Work. I'd be interestet in a DIY Kit with presoldered SMD Parts, but I'd also need a MIDI in option. Don't like the idea to add another box and another PSU only to allow me to play the DW from an external Sequencer while editing Sounds. Maybe you could offer a MIDI merger board as an optional extension.


If I add the merger, it's going to be on all units. I'm looking into it. I'd like to see if I can arrange the merge function using the current processor configuration. Then it won't add much to unit cost. Unit cost is everything in the end. There's a big difference between a box that multiplexes 5 pots, and a box that has MIDI merge, 50 pots, and a display. I need to do some experimentation with this and see how well the merge function works. Merge is probably the most difficult MIDI function to do well, especially if you're mingling lots of controller data. I think I can probably make it happen though. Plus, if I find a good solution to that issue, I can use it on future products. This particular product won't see the light of day for a while, if ever. I'm just gathering feedback right now.
bronko
Of course, you have to consider situations when about 10 or more sliders are moved at once. Merging incomming MIDI with the resulting sysex data is ideed not trivial. When I built my own personal matrix-1000 controller I've used MIOS from T.Kloses ucapps.de which made it very easy for me to implement merging. Though his OS is for non commercial projects only maybe thats a good starting point for your investigations.

A layout suggestion:
I appreciate your design but I think it could be slightly improved with the envelope sections laid out one upon the other. This makes it easier to compare settings of both envelopes which is sometimes usefull with those complex ADBSSR envs.

made a little sketch
NewEnglandAnalog
bronko wrote:
Of course, you have to consider situations when about 10 or more sliders are moved at once. Merging incomming MIDI with the resulting sysex data is ideed not trivial. When I built my own personal matrix-1000 controller I've used MIOS from T.Kloses ucapps.de which made it very easy for me to implement merging. Though his OS is for non commercial projects only maybe thats a good starting point for your investigations.

A layout suggestion:
I appreciate your design but I think it could be slightly improved with the envelope sections laid out one upon the other. This makes it easier to compare settings of both envelopes which is sometimes usefull with those complex ADBSSR envs.

made a little sketch
[/img]


I like that a lot. I'm going to get rid of the midi channel slider and change it to a MG amount for the oscillators. That will go in the pitch section. The LED display would move all the way to the left.

Yes, there's lots of MERGE code out there that people have released, with varying degrees of effectiveness. For me to sell a product using merger code, the code needs to be commissioned or developed by me. I just need to alter my design to a processor that has multiple UARTs and then write the code. There's a wide chasm between the firmware that scans the pots, drives the display, scans the buttons and converts that to MIDI and the firmware of a unit that's merging a ton of sysex data. The program memory for this needs to be about thrice that of the former. The way it's written now, if you move ten sliders at once, it's just going to update each one consecutively, then whichever slider was the last one to move is going to be the "live" slider. The MIDI data is generated by my code, which would then be sent to the second set of UARTs and merged, so the mingling of 10 sysex streams is unlikely in this case. There's a few ways to skin the cat when it comes to merging MIDI data. I've got to play around with this for a while to see what I can come up with.
Sir Ruff
The design looks nice, but given that the controller costs as much as the synth and the synths are pretty easy to program as is, justifying buying one could be a problem for many. But in any case, a custom controller is always nice. thumbs up

More broadly, it seems like there is a constant flow of programmers for these simple, low end synths. It would be great if someone stretched to make a programmer for something that could really benefit from it like the Ensoniq ESQ-1/SQ-80 or Oberheim Xpander/M-12.
NewEnglandAnalog
Sir Ruff wrote:
The design looks nice, but given that the controller costs as much as the synth and the synths are pretty easy to program as is, justifying buying one could be a problem for many. But in any case, a custom controller is always nice. thumbs up

More broadly, it seems like there is a constant flow of programmers for these simple, low end synths. It would be great if someone stretched to make a programmer for something that could really benefit from it like the Ensoniq ESQ-1/SQ-80 or Oberheim Xpander/M-12.


I think people build programmers for the less expensive synths because that's what most synth users can afford. There just aren't enough Matrix 12s out there to make a dedicated programmer a very profitable thing to make. On the other hand, Korg sold a ton of DW8000s. I think that's why we see lots of programmers for the Roland JX, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Korg DW synths, etc. There's just a higher likelihood of being able to move controller units if there are a lot of synths out there. Making a controller for a model that only sold 2000 units seems like the recipe for losing money. (Unless you're selling your controller at a premium, like the Chroma Enabler)
I've often though of making a controller for some of the Arturia soft synths like the CS-80 clone or something like that. Seems like lots of folks own that and would use a dedicated controller for it. I'd need to do some research to really know though. People are fickle.
Sir Ruff
NewEnglandAnalog wrote:
Sir Ruff wrote:
The design looks nice, but given that the controller costs as much as the synth and the synths are pretty easy to program as is, justifying buying one could be a problem for many. But in any case, a custom controller is always nice. thumbs up

More broadly, it seems like there is a constant flow of programmers for these simple, low end synths. It would be great if someone stretched to make a programmer for something that could really benefit from it like the Ensoniq ESQ-1/SQ-80 or Oberheim Xpander/M-12.


I think people build programmers for the less expensive synths because that's what most synth users can afford. There just aren't enough Matrix 12s out there to make a dedicated programmer a very profitable thing to make. On the other hand, Korg sold a ton of DW8000s. I think that's why we see lots of programmers for the Roland JX, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Korg DW synths, etc. There's just a higher likelihood of being able to move controller units if there are a lot of synths out there. Making a controller for a model that only sold 2000 units seems like the recipe for losing money. (Unless you're selling your controller at a premium, like the Chroma Enabler)
I've often though of making a controller for some of the Arturia soft synths like the CS-80 clone or something like that. Seems like lots of folks own that and would use a dedicated controller for it. I'd need to do some research to really know though. People are fickle.


That's an interesting perspective. My logic was that folks spending $4-5K on an Xpander or M12 would be much more willing to spend 5-800 on a controller than those spending a tenth of that on a hybrid synth. I also feel like the cheap hybrid market is going to keep dwindling as new (typically superior) polys appear on the market, but as you say, the former are also very common so I guess there is ultimately more of a market. I have NO idea how the Chroma Enabler price is what it is. Stereoping have managed to knock out a very nice looking Chroma controller for a fraction of that price (along with a few others).

Anyway, the more the merrier! I guess the market will ultimately dictate whether there is a need for these, and if it leads to controllers for the big boys, that's good.
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