A drum kit I put together using a few scripts I threw together to try and help package all of this content up a bit neater so I can focus more on the samples and post content. Right now I know I’m not writing anything terribly interesting, but I’m hoping the demo tracks I’m putting together show off the sample packs a bit. I’ll be considering documenting up the process to get the samples together, but then again, maybe it isn’t terribly interesting. We’ll see.
I was just testing a few things on the VX90/S950 combo setup and figured I would record off a few key groups to see how things were sounding. Below are the files if you’re interested in checking them out.
I am pretty sure that Cherry Crush was the first key group that I recorded yesterday after getting everything setup and working again. I recorded a sample into the S950 and then worked on tweaking the filter and resonance to see what kind of sweet spots I could find.
Wasted Space is probably the oddest here, because I just cranked up the resonance on the lowpass filter of the VX90 to see where it would got and what it would do. It’s definitely responsible for adding in a bit more grit and giving some more oomph to the sound into the tail.
The Heavy Gate pad was just an attempt to play around with a sample and use loop points on the S950 to try and get something that still sounded natural by having the VX90 still do some envelope filters on the sound.
This Sample Pack was first published to my Patreon. Head over there if you’d like to learn about getting early access to the Sample Packs I am putting together.
A pad I put together as my first pass at making an BY-SA key group. Definitely going to need to make some tools to simplify the process, but I’ll need to see how it works out after doing the next three sample packs for the month.
I spent a few hours messing around with the configuration, and trying to get everything to work. It is not exactly straight forward, and I had to dig through a lot of old posts and try and understand what exactly different sources were trying to tell me. I found a few that indicated that it should work polyphonically, but didn’t exactly describe the steps to get there, or said things a little too generically. I can say, I now have it all working (yeah!), and will go through how to get this setup step by step, where you might hit a few problems, suggestions to test out issues. Let’s get into it 😀
First thing is first, you’re going to need a few things… an Akai VX90, and Akai S950, a 13-pin cable, and a midi controller than can output midi notes.
Sorry, I’m not going to be able to help you with sourcing the Akai gear… and I understand, it is super pricey.
Below is what the 13 pin connector looks like. I ended up getting mine off of eBay, by searching for “13-PIN MIDI ROLAND GUITAR SYNTH INTERFACE CABLE“. The one I got is pin compatible, and I believe can actually carry all eight voices of the Akai S950 over, but… for this application we’re only going to be able to use six of the eight voices, since the Akai VX90 can only support six voices. For those of you wondering, you really cannot take advantage of the other two voices in a meaningful way, so while I may look into a few applications in the future, just consider this a six voice only operation. If you want to experiment go nuts, but you’ll be on your own 😀
The back end of both of your synths should look similar. Though you might not have the IB-105/IB-109 on your S950. Don’t worry if you do not have either, we won’t be using those connections for this setup.
Of note though, and before things get covered with cables, is that you’ll want to pay attention to the SAMPLER IN, MIDI IN, and MIDI OUT on your VX90, and VOICE OUT and MIDI IN on your S950. The VX90 does some MIDI magic to transform incoming notes into different MIDI Channel events on the S950 over the MIDI OUT port, so you won’t be able to take advantage of MIDI THRU without a lot of rewiring and other things I’m definitely not going to cover here.
As you can see, the 13 pin cable I got is ridiculously long, but even though it is about six feet long, it still works fine. So go ahead and plug that into your VX90 SAMPLER IN port, and your S950 VOICE OUT port. Just be careful to make sure that your pins are aligned correctly, and you should be all set.
Next up is plugging in your MIDI. From your controller, plug the MIDI OUT into the VX90 MIDI IN. If you want to test it, you can just try and play some notes from your VX90 right now if you’ve got it hooked up to a mixer.
Then from the VX90 MIDI OUT, hook that up into your S950 MIDI IN. This will get you all of the routing that you should need setup through hardware for the MIDI.
Finally, hook up the audio from the VX90 to your input. In my case I used the Phono outputs in the front of the VX90 because my STEREO outs on the VX90 are quite noisy. Something to repair in the future for certain.
Akai VX90 Setup
With all of that completed, you now have the hardware configured properly, but besides seeing if the VX90 plays, you are not likely going to be able to hear your S950 samples quite yet, because now we need to configure the software to actually do something.
Let’s start with the VX90 configuration. To configure the VX90, you’re doing to need to press the EDIT button. You can see it is on for me because the red LED has turned on, and I now see in the menu Exx to indicate I am in edit mode.
Next we’ll need to move over to the menu item E06 to configure the Sampler mode. To navigate through your edit options, look to the SELECT or number buttons and you’ll see BWD to move backwards, and FWD to move forwards. In all likelihood you’ll need to use FWD to move over to E06, and then use the VALUE slider to make sure it is set to ON. Once it is on you will see the SAMPLER LED light up red, indicating that the VX90 can now receive audio information from the S950.
Next up is to adjust a-b balance, which allows us to mix how much audio comes from the VX90 and how much comes from the S950. For now, let’s set it to 100, but later when you want to have two voices playing, you can adjust it to get a mix of the VX90 oscillator and S950 oscillator playing together.
Next we’ll move on to option E10 to adjust the VCF. I’d suggest setting this to 100 as well, just to make sure that the filter is wide open for our application, and doesn’t interfere with our S950 program we’ll be creating next.
Similarly, I’ll suggest editing E11 to make sure that there isn’t any resonance for now that could cause us problems or confusion as we get started, so set the resonance to 00 for now.
Next up, make sure your High Pass Filter is not impacting the sound by also setting it to 0. Again, this will be good to adjust once you’re ready to make some sounds, but for now it could just make things confusing when processing the S950, so just set it to 00.
The next two settings are for setting how the VX90 actually plays, and you can absolutely adjust these two settings as well, but setting them as directed for now will make sure that we have everything setup properly before we begin to experiment.
First up, let’s have the VX90 be setup on Polyphonic mode, this ensures that when you play one note, it will play one oscillator from the VX90 and one oscillator from the S950. You can use DUAL or UNI later to stack the voices for a thicker sound, but the easiest way to test that everything is working properly is with POLY mode. So head over to E50 and set it to POLY.
We need to make sure E51 is 00 to disable portamento.
Last but certainly not least, we need to make sure we have the MIDI channel on the VX90 set to MIDI channel 1. Head over to E70 and set the MIDI CH to 01.
Akai S950 Setup
With all those settings changed, we’re ready to move over to the S950. Personally, I’d suggest an initial boot up without a disk, and we’ll just use the default TONE PRGRM to make sure everything works. You’ll have plenty of time to mess with samples later!
Also, if you want to try and skip all of the steps, I have provided a disk image at the end of this blog that is the TONE PRGRM that you will have created once you’ve completed all of the steps listed here.
So first up, and this hung me up on my S950, we need to make sure that we have OMNI turned off, otherwise you’re not going to be able to get Polyphonic sounds. The reason for this is because it the way we are going to setup the program it will play all eight S950 oscillators/samplers at the same time, consuming all of your polyphony. Which is almost certainly not what you want.
To disable OMNI, press the MIDI button to get into the MIDI menu, and on the first page you can arrow over to the Omni on/off, and press OFF on your PARAMETER KEY.
While you are here, also make sure that your Basic MIDI channel is set to 1. I imagine you can play with this some, but if you’re following along with me, keep it at 1.
Now, with our simple TONE PRGRM we have something to work with. We’ll need to go to EDIT PRGRM in order to make sure we have six key groups that will respond to each separate MIDI event uniquely for each VX90 received key press.
Page down to the third page, and you should see that we currently only have one key group due to Select ( 0 to 1) indicating that we only have the one key group at this time.
Arrow over to Copy(+) and press the ON/+ button five times so that you now have six key groups to work with.
Now the next part is a little tedious, but I am going to post pictures for all of the settings to make sure that everything matches up.
Page down to page 16, and we will set the MIDI channel offset for each KG so that the MIDI ch. matches the key group. KG1 to MIDI ch. 1, KG2 to MIDI ch. 2, etc…
Don’t worry, you’re almost done and should be able to hear something shortly!
The last step is to now page down to page 17, so we can set the audio outputs. As we did for the MIDI channels, we now want the OUTPUTs to match the key groups. So KG1 is set to 1, KG2 is set to 2, KG3 is set to 3, etc…
Now, if everything is setup properly you *should* be able to hear some sounds! Start by playing a single note at a time, and play up and down the keyboard/pads of your controller. If you don’t hear anything, the first thing I would suggest checking is that you have monitoring turned on your device.
Once you can hear a single note playing at the same time, try playing a chord to make sure that you can hear individual notes playing at the same time. This is where I had made a mistake by not having OMNI turned off on the S950, and as soon as I turned it off everything worked as expected.
If you’ve got a Gotek drive, or can write an .hfe file to disk, the file below has a default program pre-setup to work with the VX90 so you could skip the steps above.
If you’ve got the hardware, I’d say that this is pretty fun to mess around with. On the other hand, if you’re really considering dropping $1k or more for both the VX90 and the S950, I’d be pretty hard pressed to say that all of this is worth it. Both devices have a unique sound to them, and how they can operate with each other is even more unique, and likely rare to see the two together, but these old devices are something you’ll need to also factor in if you’re looking to repair, maintain, and keep working. All I am saying is that it is not a cheap investment, so just think about what you are getting in to.
For those of you who do have both devices though, definitely good luck putting it all together and I am sure you can record off some really cool sounds, key groups, and other things. I’m going to be experimenting and seeing what I can come up with, and will keep you guys posted on where it goes for sure.
Links that had different and important information for putting this post together
Folks seem to be unhappy with the Q-Link overlay that was added into the Akai MPC Live/Live II/One firmware. While it is handy, it can put this overlay over the end of a sample you are trying to edit as soon as you touch the Q-Link, and can be about as annoying as it is helpful.
To turn it off, you’ll need to get into the Preferences Menu, go into General, and scroll down to the bottom and look for “SHOW QLINK STATUS WHEN TOUCHED”, and remove the check mark. This will enable/disable this feature.
The picture comes courtesy of a trip I took with my family and in-laws to a butterfly garden when the kids were just two or three. The girls really loved seeing all the insects in their natural habitat. Especially since it was winter outside, and in some sections nearly tropical from the level of humidity. It’s amazing to see the life cycle of these sometimes so foreign creatures.
To put the track together, I just sampled the intro, and went from there. I felt like it had enough harmonic content to work with, and while my initial instinct was to dirty it up a lot, I actually didn’t get too crazy here. I had been thinking a dirty track would be fun, but about the dirtiest this gets is just from the tape delay. I have to say though, the track has plenty of amazing content to work with and I’m definitely excited to see what the other submissions sound like.
Once I had the intro chopped up to my liking, I did have to tweak some of the notes. One of the notes in particular was very short, and I really liked the tone of it, but it just wasn’t fitting. I ended up opening my utility belt of tricks, and just put the note into a forward/backward loop so that it would keep the same tone, and not create too many clicks/pops or sound too awkward when doing it. Of course to do this I had to change the note from One Shot to Note On, and then there came a lot of messing around with ADSR to try and get the volume of the note to be somewhat similar to the other notes playing. I would give myself a “B” for how it sounds by itself, but in the mix I don’t even think you’d notice it unless you knew it was there and tried to look for it.
I ended up recording a few variations of playing the notes out, straight, staggered, and kind of grooved out. From there I realized that I wanted these to make a bit more of a tapestry of sound, so duplicated my program to make a -12 semitone, as is, and +12 semitone version of the program, and then duped this for the playing style variations and program semi tone variations to build up a matrix.
At this point, I decided it was time to start laying out the sounds through track mutes, and keeping mind to make sure that each of the program versions was only playing one melody, and it worked well, but it did lead to a bit of a complicated mess of track mutes to work through the way I did it by recording track mutes in live. I did have to go to the list editor a few times to tweak the notes… and holding shift saved my dang life to note have to adjust 960 values… wooo.
With all of this settled… although there was a bit of a bass sound, I decided to look for another section of the song to drop -24 semitones. What I came up with I liked, but it sorted of dropped in a bit jarringly at first. I ended up working out some automation to sweep the sound in… which is a bit janky to some extent, but it worked much more effectively than what I had before that.
This lead to me taking the time to break the drum tracks into somewhat discrete parts so I could overdub in some track mutes for the drums.
Overall I’m pretty happy with how this all came out, but of course, there is always more room for improvement 😀
This Sample Pack was first published to my Patreon. Head over there if you’d like to learn about getting early access to the Sample Packs I am putting together.
This Sample Pack is intended as a drum kit that I put together as my first pass at making a BY-SA licensed Sample Pack. Definitely going to need to make some tools to simplify the process, but I’ll need to see how it works out after doing the next three sample packs for the month before I get too ahead of myself.
I kicked off a discussion over on MPC Forums Akai VX 90. There was some interest in the LPF/Resonance, so I figured I’d just do a quick video. Definitely doesn’t illustrate the entire scope of the resonance, but just to give a quick idea of it.
This is just showing off the Tauntek Custom Firmware I recently installed, and access to using CCs to control parameters. In particular I setup two Q-Links to control both the low pass filter and resonance.
I’ve been looking off and on for an Akai VX 90, and finally found one. Probably paid too much, but wanted to hook one up to my Akai S950, so there will be that, once I get the cable in.
I’ve spent the last couple of days just playing around with it, reading the manual, and trying to get my brain around how it works. As you can see from the featured image, the interface is a bit sparse, and not a whole lot of direction as to what is going on.
Above, you can see that unlike the Akai S950, there’s not much in the way of knobs, and if you want to edit anything you’re going to have to be using the number pad or value slider a lot. Or do you? In my research on the Akai VX 90 I did find some smart people working on a customer firmware for the device the device in forum posts, but it was hard to tell if the work was done for the Akai VX 90, the AX 60, AX 73, or something else. Well… with a little poking and searching on eBay, I was able to find something that NESYNTH was selling on eBay that was created by Tauntek, and it just showed up today. I took some pictures and figured I’d try and give a high level overview of how to upgrade the firmware yourself if you happened to want to try. If you’re looking for what was documented check out the page A firmware update for the AKAI AX73 Synthesizer.
Before I get into the upgrade itself, the firmware opens up the option to using MIDI CC to assign your own controls to different parameters so that you can make changes with knobs, sliders, and buttons. This will definitely be much easier, and I figured it may also lead to some interesting control voltage to MIDI CC opportunities. It also allows for SYSEX dump backups, which I’ll also be looking into once I get settled in how the VX 90 works.
As is the style for other Akai systems of this time, you probably just need to remove two screws on each side, and one on the back in order to get the case off. The rack ears were included, but removed when shipped, and I currently have no reason to put them back on. In another month or two I am sure that will change, but for the time being they will remain off.
Before you get started, don’t forget to unplug the VX 90. These systems can hold an incredible amount of charge and just pass the power on to you. Don’t want to electrocute yourself, and you don’t want to accidentally fry anything fragile here. Always remember to ground yourself, and it is not a bad habit to get into to just touch the metal on the case to help discharge any shocks you may have built up yourself.
Once you get the top off, you’ll see the guts of the synth. There isn’t too much going on with the boards really. The left side is mostly power and regulators, so nothing too fancy, the lower right board appears to be the 6 chips that provide the VCO voices and the upper right is two boards, the one on top that is brown is your audio output interface, and the lower board has the MIDI and (covered) the firmware that you’ll be replacing if you’re going to do this job.
I took the picture above to show where the firmware actually sits. It’s not hard to get at, but you can see that you’ll need to take the top board off so that you can get at it and be able to replace it.
In the picture above, you can see I removed to screws, one on the middle back of the board, and one on the bottom middle of the board. You only need to remove the one on the bottom, and then the two black screws on the outside of the case that hold up the audio output for the board. The upper screw that I removed helps hold the PCB to the metal bracket on the audio out section (or at least I am pretty sure), and seems be unnecessary to remove.
From here you can just flip the board over without having to remove all the cables and jacks, it’s a little bit tight and in the way, but doesn’t require having to pull the whole thing apart. One that is out of the way you can remove that metal mounting bracket that is covering the firmware.
Now, for those of you that don’t know, look closely at the chip here. First it’s labelled Akai AX 73 v1.2A… so yeah, this is literally the same system as the AX 73, just repackaged inside of the VX 90 rack mount. Second though, what I wanted to point out is you can see a notch in the white outline for the chip, this is showing you which direction the notch on your firmware should be when you install it. There is a tiny notch there on top if you look closely. Absolutely make sure that you line this up properly or you’re going to fry the chip. This old hardware definitely doesn’t have circuits to protect from putting chips in incorrectly, and it will result in burnt out chips and can negatively impact other components. Be careful, cautious, and don’t be afraid to double or triple check as you make these changes.
Here’s a picture of the replacement chip, still in the STATIC packaging to help protect it from shock. Again, electrical components are fragile… make sure you are grounded properly. Touch the side of your case before handling components.
The picture above is just me checking to make sure the notches lined up the way I thought, and checking that it has the right number of pins. No sense going further unless it all looks right, which it does.
To get the firmware out, I just took my time with my Swiss army knife, using a flat bottle opener to slowly wiggle it out a little bit on each end at a time. You want to do this slowly and rather carefully because you don’t want to bend the pins. (NOTE: I did bend a couple pins a little, and was very careful to realign them properly in case I need to go back to the original firmware for any reason).
Above it me checking the alignment of the chip before I pushed it in. I took my time to make sure that the legs were all lined up and going to go into the IC socket. The first couple of times attempting to line it up they were on the outside of the socket, so again, just take your time and line it up. You really shouldn’t have to bend any of the pins, but do keep in mind that they may be out of alignment. Once you’re ready to push the chip in you want to apply a small amount of pressure across the top on both some so that it sets in straight and flat. This is the best way to make sure the pins don’t bend, and get a solid connection with the socket.
Here’s a picture of putting the whole shebang back together.
Everything back together and powered on! Display actually has a valid output… woot!
So yeah… for now I’ll be using the headphone jack because there’s no (well not much) noise there… I can at least make some sounds off of it and not getting a ground hum like I am off of the L/R outputs.
Gotta figure out what to tackle next, but it is nice to be able to use the q-links to modify CC parameters, will provide details on that next 😀