Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools

If getting your headphones and studio monitors calibrated sounds like a good New Years’ Resolution, we’ve got you covered. Some good questions came up in our last story on Sonarworks Reference, the automated calibration tool, so we’ve gotten answers for you.

First, if you’re just joining us, Sonarworks Reference is a tool for automatically calibrating your studio listening environment and headphones so that the sound you hear is as uncolored as possible – more consistent with the source material. Here’s our previous write-up, produced in cooperation with Sonarworks:

What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

CDM is partnering with Sonarworks to help users better understand how to use the tool to their benefit. And so that means in part answering some questions with Sonarworks engineers. If you’re interested in the product, there’s also a special bundle discount on now: you get the True-Fi mobile app for calibration on your mobile device, free with a Sonarworks Studio Edition purchase (usually US$79):

Readers have been sending in questions, so I’ll answer as many as I can as accurately as possible.

Does it work?

Oh yeah, this one is easy. I found it instantly easier to mix both on headphones and sitting in the studio, in that you hear far more consistency from one listening environment / device to another, and in that you get a clearer sense of the mix. It feels a little bit like how I feel when I clean my eyeglasses. You’re removing stuff that’s in the way. That’s my own personal experience, anyway; I linked some full reviews and comparisons with other products in the original story. But my sense in general is that automated calibration has become a fact of life for production and live situations. It doesn’t eliminate the role of human experts, not by a long shot – but then color calibration in graphics didn’t get rid of the need for designers and people who know how to operate the printing press, either. It’s just a tool.

Does it work when outside of the sweet spot in the studio?

This is a harder question, actually, but anecdotally, yeah, I still left it on. You’re calibrating for the sweet spot in your studio, so from a calibration perspective, yeah, you do want to sit in that location when monitoring – just as you always would. But a lot of what Sonarworks Reference is doing is about frequency response as much as space, I found it was still useful to leave the calibration on even when wandering around my studio space. It’s not as though the calibration suddenly stops working when you move around. You only notice the calibration stops working if you have the wrong calibration profile selected or you make the mistake of bouncing audio with it left on (oops). But that’s of course exactly what you’d expect to happen.

What about Linux support?

Linux is officially unsupported, but you can easily calibrate on Windows (or Mac) and then use the calibration profile on Linux. It’s a 64-bit Linux-native VST, in beta form.

If you run the plug-in the handy plug-in host Carla, you can calibrate any source you like (via JACK). So this is really great – it means you can have calibrated results while working with SuperCollider or Bitwig Studio on Linux, for example.

This is beta only so I’m really keen to hear results. Do let us know, as I suspect if a bunch of CDM readers start trying the Linux build, there will be added incentive for Sonarworks to expand Linux support. And we have seen some commercial vendors from the Mac/Windows side (Pianoteq, Bitwig, Renoise, etc.) start to toy with support of this OS.

If you want to try this out, go check the Facebook group:

(Direct compiled VST download link is available here, though that may change later.)

What’s up with latency?

You get a choice of either more accuracy and higher latency, or lower accuracy and lower latency. So if you need real-time responsiveness, you can prioritize low latency performance – and in that mode, you basically won’t notice the plug-in is on at all in my experience. Or if you aren’t working live / tracking live, and don’t mind adding latency, you can prioritize accuracy.

Sonarworks clarifies for us:

Reference 4 line-up has two different *filter* modes – zero latency and linear phase. Zero latency filter adds, like the name states, zero latency, whereas linear phase mode really depends on sample-rate but typically adds about 20ms of latency. These numbers hold true in plugin form. Systemwide, however, has the variable of driver introduced latency which is set on top of the filter latency (zero for Zero latency and approx 20ms for linear phase mode) so the numbers for actual Systemwide latency can vary depending on CPU load, hardware specs etc. Sometimes on MacOS, latency can get up to very high numbers which we are investigating at the moment.

What about loudness? Will this work in post production, for instance?

Some of you are obviously concerned about loudness as you work on projects where that’s important. Here’s an explanation from Sonarworks:

So what we do in terms of loudness as a dynamic range character is – nothing. What we do apply is overall volume reduction to account for the highest peak in correction to avoid potential clipping of output signal. This being said, you can turn the feature off and have full 0dBFS volume coming out of our software, controlled by either physical or virtual volume control.

Which headphones are supported?

There’s a big range of headphones with calibration profiles included with Sonarworks Reference. Right now, I’ve got that folder open, and here’s what you get at the moment:


AKG K72, K77, K121, K141 MKII, K240, K240 MKII, K271 MKII, K550 MKII, K553 Pro, K612 Pro, K701, K702, K712 Pro, K812, Q701

Apple AirPods

Audeze KCD-2, LCD-X

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x, M30x, M40x, M50x, M70x, MSR7, R70x

Beats EP, Mixr, Pro, Solo2, Solo3 wireless, Studio (2nd generation), X Average

Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, DT 150, DT 250 80 Ohm, DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm, 32 Ohm PPRO, 80 Ohm Pro, 250 Ohm Pro), DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm, DT 1770 Pro, DT 1990 Pro (analytical + balanced), T 1

Blue Lola, Mo-Fi (o/On+)

Bose QuietComfort 25, 35, 35 II, SoundLink II

Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless

Extreme Isolation EX-25, EX-29

Focal Clear Professional, Clear, Listen Professional, Spirit Professional

Fostex TH900 mk2, TX-X00

Grado SR60e, SR80e

HiFiMan HE400i

HyperX Cloud II

JBL Everest Elite 700

Koss Porta Pro Classic

KRK KNS 6400, 8400

Marshall Major II, Monitor

Master & Dynamic MH40

Meze 99, 99 NEO

Oppo PM-3

Philips Fidelio X2HR, SHP9500

Phonen SMB-02

Pioneer HDJ-500

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

PreSonus HD 7

Samson SR850

Sennheiser HD, HD 25 (&0 Ohm, Light), HD-25-C II, HD 201, HD 202, HD 205, HD 206, HD 215-II, HD 280 Pro (incl. new facelift version), HD 380 Pro, HD 518, HD 598, HD 598 C, HD 600, HD 650, HD 660 , HD 700, HD 800, HD 800 S, Moometum On-Ear Wireless, PX 100-II

Shure SE215, SRH440, SRH840, SRH940, SRH1440, SRH1540, SRH1840

Skullcandy Crusher (with and without battery), Hesh 2.0

Sony MDR-1A, MDR-1000X, MDR-7506, MDR-7520, MDR-CD900ST, MDR-V150, MDR-XB450, MDR-XB450AP, MDR-XB650BT, MDR-XB950AP, BDR-XB950BT, MDR-Z7, MDR-XZ110, MDR-ZX110AP, MDR-ZX310, MR-XZ310AP, MDR-ZX770BN, WH-1000MX2

Status Audio CB-1

Superlux HD 668B, HD-330, HD681

Ultrasone Pro 580i, 780i, Signature Studio

V-Moda Crossfade II, M-100

Yamaha HPH-MT5, HPH-MT7, HPH-MT8, HPH-MT220

So there you have it – lots of favorites, and lots of … well, actually, some truly horrible consumer headphones in the mix, too. But I not lots of serious mixers like testing a mix on consumer cans. The advantage of doing that with calibration is presumably that you get to hear the limitations of different headphones, but at the same time, you still hear the reference version of the mix – not the one exaggerated by those particular headphones. That way, you get greater benefit from those additional tests. And you can make better use of random headphones you have around, clearly, even if they’re … well, fairly awful, they can be now still usable.

Even after that long list, I’m sure there’s some stuff you want that’s missing. Sonarworks doesn’t yet support in-ear headphones for its calibration tools, so you can rule that out. For everything else, you can either request support or if you want to get really serious, opt for individual mail-in calibration in Latvia.


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What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

No studio monitors or headphones are entirely flat. Sonarworks Reference calibrate any studio monitors or headphones with any source. Here’s an explanation of how that works and what the results are like – even if you’re not someone who’s considered calibration before.

CDM is partnering with Sonarworks to bring some content on listening with artist features this month, and I wanted to explore specifically what calibration might mean for the independent producer working at home, in studios, and on the go.

That means this isn’t a review and isn’t independent, but I would prefer to leave that to someone with more engineering background anyway. Sam Inglis wrote one at the start of this year for Sound on Sound of the latest version; Adam Kagan reviewed version 3 for Tape Op. (Pro Tools Expert also compared IK Multimedia’s ARC and chose Sonarworks for its UI and systemwide monitoring tools.)

With that out of the way, let’s actually explain what this is for people who might not be familiar with calibration software.

In a way, it’s funny that calibration isn’t part of most music and sound discussions. People working with photos and video and print all expect to calibrate color. Without calibration, no listening environment is really truly neutral and flat. You can adjust a studio to reduce how much it impacts the sound, and you can choose reasonably neutral headphones and studio monitors. But those elements nonetheless color the sound.

I came across Sonarworks Reference partly because a bunch of the engineers and producers I know were already using it – even my mastering engineer.

But as I introduced it to first-time calibration product users, I found they had a lot of questions.

How does calibration work?

First, let’s understand what calibration is. Even studio headphones will color sound – emphasizing certain frequencies, de-emphasizing others. That’s with the sound source right next to your head. Put studio headphones in a room – even a relatively well-treated studio – and you combine the coloration of the speakers themselves as well as reflections and character of the environment around them.

The idea of calibration is to process the sound to cancel out those modifications. Headphones can use existing calibration data. For studio speakers, you take some measurements. You play a known test signal and record it inside the listening environment, then compare the recording to the original and compensate.

Hold up this mic, measure some whooping sounds, and you’re done calibration. No expertise needed.

What can I calibrate?

One of the things that sets Sonarworks Reference apart is that it’s flexible enough to deal with both headphones and studio monitors, and works both as a plug-in and a convenient universal driver.

The Systemwide driver works on Mac and Windows with the final output. That means you can listen everywhere – I’ve listened to SoundCloud audio through Systemwide, for instance, which has been useful for checking how the streaming versions of my mixes sound. This driver works seamlessly with Mac and Windows, supporting Core Audio on the Mac and the latest WASAPI Windows support, which is these days perfectly useful and reliable on my Windows 10 machine. (There’s unfortunately no Linux support, though maybe some enterprising user could get that Windows VST working.)

On the Mac, you select the calibrated output via a pop-up on the menu bar. On Windows, you switch to it just like you would any other audio interface. Once selected, everything you listen to in iTunes, Rekordbox, your Web browser, and anywhere else will be calibrated.

That works for everyday listening, but in production you often want your DAW to control the audio output. (Choosing the plug-in is essential on Windows for use with ASIO; Systemwide doesn’t yet support ASIO though Sonarworks says that’s coming.) In this case, you just add a plug-in to the master bus and the output will be calibrated. You just have to remember to switch it off when you bounce or export audio, since that output is calibrated for your setup, not anyone else’s.

Three pieces of software and a microphone. Sonarworks is a measurement tool, a plug-in and systemwide tool for outputting calibrated sound from any source, and a microphone for measuring.

Do I need a special microphone?

If you’re just calibrating your headphones, you don’t need to do any measurement. But for any other monitoring environment, you’ll need to take a few minutes to record a profile. And so you need a microphone for the job.

Calibrating your headphones is as simple as choosing the make and model number for most popular models.

Part of the convenience of the Sonarworks package is that it includes a ready-to-use measurement mic, and the software is already pre-configured to work with the calibration. These mics are omnidirectional – since the whole point is to pick up a complete image of the sound. And they’re meant to be especially neutral.

Sonarworks’ software is pre-calibrated for use with their included microphone.

Any microphone whose vendor provides a calibration profile – available in standard text form – can also use the software in a fully calibrated mode. If you have some cheap musician-friendly omni mic, though, those makers usually don’t do anything of the sort in the way a calibration mic maker would.

I think it’s easier to just use these mics, but I don’t have a big mic cabinet. Production Expert did a test of generic omni mics – mics that aren’t specifically for calibration – and got results that approximate the results of the test mic. In short, they’re good enough if you want to try this out, though Production Expert were being pretty specific with which omni mics they tested, and then you don’t get the same level of integration with the calibration software.

Once you’ve got the mics, you can test different environments – so your untreated home studio and a treated studio, for instance. And you wind up with what might be a useful mic in other situations – I’ve been playing with mine to sample reverb environments, like playing and re-recording sound in a tile bathroom, for instance.

What’s the calibration process like?

Let’s actually walk through what happens.

With headphones, this job is easy. You select your pair of headphones – all the major models are covered – and then you’re done. So when I switch from my Sony to my Beyerdynamic, for instance, I can smooth out some of the irregularities of each of those. That’s made it easier to mix on the road.

For monitors, you run the Reference 4 Measure tool. Beginners I showed the software got slightly discouraged when they saw the measurement would take 20 minutes but – relax. It’s weirdly kind of fun and actually once you’ve done it once, it’ll probably take you half that to do it again.

The whole thing feels a bit like a Nintendo Wii game. You start by making a longer measurement at the point where your head would normally be sitting. Then you move around to different targets as the software makes whooping sounds through the speakers. Once you’ve covered the full area, you will have dotted a screen with measurements. Then you’ve got a customized measurement for your studio.

Here’s what it looks like in pictures:

Simulate your head! The Measure tool walks you through exactly how to do this with friendly illustrations. It’s easier than putting together IKEA furniture.

You’ll also measure the speakers themselves.

Eventually, you measure the main listening spot in your studio. (And you can see why this might be helpful in studio setup, too.)

Next, you move the mic to each measurement location. There’s interactive visual feedback showing you as you get it in the right position.

Hold the mic steady, and listen as a whooping sound comes out of your speakers and each measurement is completed.

You’ll make your way through a series of these measurements until you’ve dotted the whole screen – a bit like the fingerprint calibration on smartphones.

Oh yeah, so my studio monitors aren’t so flat. When you’re done, you’ll see a curve that shows you the irregularities introduced by both your monitors and your room.

Now you’re ready to listen to a cleaner, clearer, more neutral sound – switch your new calibration on, and if all goes to plan, you’ll get much more neutral sound for listening!

There are other useful features packed into the software, like the ability to apply the curve used by the motion picture industry. (I loved this one – it was like, oh, yeah, that sound!)

It’s also worth noting that Sonarworks have created different calibration types made for real-time usage (great for tracking and improv) and accuracy (great for mixing).

Is all of this useful?

Okay, disclosure statement is at the top, but … my reaction was genuinely holy s***. I thought there would be some subtle impact on the sound. This was more like the feeling – well, as an eyeglass wearer, when my glasses are filthy and I clean them and I can actually see again. Suddenly details of the mix were audible again, and moving between different headphones and listening environments was no longer jarring – like that.

Double blind A/B tests are really important when evaluating the accuracy of these things, but I can at least say, this was a big impact, not a small one. (That is, you’d want to do double blind tests when tasting wine, but this was still more like the difference between wine and beer.)

How you might actually use this: once they adapt to the calibrated results, most people leave the calibrated version on and work from a more neutral environment. Cheap monitors and headphones work a little more like expensive ones; expensive ones work more as intended.

There are other uses cases, too, however. Previously I didn’t feel comfortable taking mixes and working on them on the road, because the headphone results were just too different from the studio ones. With calibration, it’s far easier to move back and forth. (And you can always double-check with the calibration switched off, of course.)

The other advantage of Sonarworks’ software is that it does give you so much feedback as you measure from different locations, and that it produces detailed reports. This means if you’re making some changes to a studio setup and moving things around, it’s valuable not just in adapting to the results but giving you some measurements as you work. (It’s not a measurement suite per se, but you can make it double as one.)

Calibrated listening is very likely the future even for consumers. As computation has gotten cheaper, and as software analysis has gotten smarter, it makes sense that these sort of calibration routines will be applied to giving consumers more reliable sound and in adapting to immersive and 3D listening. For now, they’re great for us as creative people, and it’s nice for us to have them in our working process and not only in the hands of other engineers.

If you’ve got any questions about how this process works as an end user, or other questions for the developers, let us know.

And if you’ve found uses for calibration, we’d love to hear from you.

Sonarworks Reference is available with a free trial:

And some more resources:

Erica Synths our friends on this tool:

Plus you can MIDI map the whole thing to make this easier:

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How to recreate vintage polyphonic character, using Softube Modular

It’s not about which gear you own any more – it’s about understanding techniques. That’s especially true when a complete modular rig in software runs you roughly the cost of a single hardware module. All that remains is learning – so let’s get going, with Softube Modular as an example.

David Abravanel joins us to walk us through technique here using Softube’s Modular platform, all with built-in modules. If you missed the last sale, by the way, Modular is on sale now for US$65, as are a number of the add-on modules that might draw you into their platform in the first place. But if you have other hardware or software, of course, this same approach applies. -Ed.

Classic Style Polyphony with Softube Modular

If you’ve ever played an original Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, then you know why it’s so prized for its polyphonic character. Compared to fully polyphonic offerings (such as Korg’s own Polysix synthesizer), the Mono/Poly features four analog oscillators which can either be played stacked (monophonic), or triggered in order for “polyphony” (though still with just the one filter).

The original KORG classic Mono/Poly synth, introduced in 1981.

The resulting sound is richly imperfect – each time a chord is played, the minute difference in timing between individual fingers affect a difference in sound.

The cool thing is – we can easily re-create this in the Softube Modular environment, using the unique “Quad MIDI to CV” interface module. Follow along:

Our chord progression.

To start with, I need a reason for having four voices. In this case, it’s the simple chord sequence above. In order to play those notes simultaneously using Modular, I’ll need a dedicated oscillator for each. Each virtual voice will consist of one oscillator, ADSR envelope, and VCA amplifier. Here’s the basic setup – the VCO / ADSR / VCA modules will be repeated three more times to give us four voices:

Wiring up the first oscillator.

For the first oscillator, I’ve selected a pulse wave – go with whichever sounds you’d like to hear (things sound especially nice with multiple waveforms stacked on top of one another). With all four voices, the patch should look like this:

Note that each voice has its own dedicated note and gate channels from the Quad MIDI to CV. Now, we need to combine the voices – for this, we’ll use the Audio Mix module. I’m also adding a VCF filter, with its own ADSR. Because the filter needs to be triggered every time any note is input, I’m going to add a single MIDI to CV module to gate the filter envelope. It all looks like this:

Now, let’s hear what we’ve got:

That’s not bad, but we can spice it up a little bit. I went with two pulse waves, a saw wave, and a tri wave for my four oscillators – I’ll add a couple LFOs to modulate the pulsewidths of the two pulse waves and add some thickness. For extra dubby space, I’m also adding the Doepfer BBD module, a recent addition to Softube Modular which includes a toggle option for the clock noise bleed-through of the analog original. I’m also adding one more LFO, for a bit of modulation on the filter.

Adding in some additional modules for flavor. The Doepfer BBD (an add-on for the Softube Modular) adds unique retro delays and other effects, including bitcrushing, distortion, and lots of other chorusing, flanging, ambience, and general swirly crunchy stuff.

Honestly, the characterful BBD module deserves its own article – and may get one! Stay tuned.

Here’s our progression, really moving and spacey now:

And there we have it! A polyphonic patch with serious analog character. You can also try playing monophonic melodies through it – in Quad MIDI to CV’s “rotate” mode, each incoming note will go to a different oscillator.

Want to try this out for yourself? Download the preset and run it in Modular (requires Modular and the BBD add-on, both of which you can demo from Softube).

DHLA poly + BBD.softubepreset

We’re just scratching the surface with Modular here – there’s an enormous well of potential, and they’ve really nailed the sound of many of these modules. Modular is a CPU-hungry beast – don’t try to run more than one or two instances of a rich patch like this one without freezing some tracks – but sound-wise it’s really proved its worth.

Stay tuned for future features, as we dive into some of Modulars other possibilities, including the vast potential found in the first ever model of Buchla’s legendary Twisted Waveform oscillator!

Softube Modular

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Escape vanilla modulation: Nikol shows you waveshaping powers

You wouldn’t make music with just simple oscillators, so why only use basic, repetitive modulation? In the latest video in Bastl’s how-to series hosted by Patchení’s Nikol, waveshaping gets applied to control signals.

A-ha! But what’s waveshaping? Well, Nikol teaches basic classes in modular synthesis to beginners, but she did skip over that. Waveshapers add more complex harmonic content to simple waveform inputs. Basic vanilla waveform in, nice wiggly complex waveform out. (See Wikipedia for that moment when you say, oh, well, why didn’t my math teacher bring in synthesizers when she taught us polynomials, then I would have stayed awake!)

Bastl unveiled the Timber waveshaping module back in May, and we all thought it was cool:

Bastl do waveshaping, MIDI, and magically tune your modules

But when most people hear waveshapers, they think of them just as a fancy oscillator – as a sound source. But in the modular world, you can also imagine it as a way of adding harmonics (read: complexity) to simple control signals, which is what Nikol demonstrates here.

That is, instead of Waveshaper -> out, you’ll route [modulation/control signal/LFO] -> Waveshaper in, and mess with that signal. WahWahWahWah can turn into WahwrrEEEEkittyglrblMrcbb… ok, okay, video:

Keep watching, because this eventually gets into adding variation to a sequenced signal.

You can try this in any software or hardware environment, but you do need your waveshaper to work with your control input. What’s relatively special about Timber in the hardware domain at least is its ability to process slow circuits.

You can also follow Nikol on Instagram.

But more of Deina the modular dog, please!

Tragically, while Nikol’s English is getting fluent, us Americans are not doing any better with our Czech. So, Bastl, we may need an immersion language program more than synthesis.

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Vadim is a master of the dark arts of DSP – listen to him explain filters

DSP is a secretive art form. But maybe its best-kept secret is, musicians can learn it. You just need a great teacher – and Vadim Zavalishin of Native Instruments, working in Reaktor, is a perfect place to start.

This talk is from June, but just came online – and it’s a rare chance to hear from anyone like this in the industry, let alone in a way that’s this clear and friendly from someone who’s one of the better DSP artists around. Even if you have little interest in programming, you can skim through this video and learn how Vadim made a lot of NI’s recent stuff sound better through analog-style filter modeling. But it might just get you into some casual toying about with core DSP, because Reaktor makes it easy – and Vadim makes it clear why it’s relevant to music and sound.

Some background first: Digital Signal Processing describes the transformation of sound through math, now inside your plug-ins, your hardware, and quite a lot of of Eurorack modules.

DSP is math, but the math itself often is straightforward. Take summing. You know the equation for summing signals, because it’s literally adding. That’s 1+1 adding – that one. (For years I listened to DAW programmers chuckle as people posted on forums about “summing engines,” because very often it is really the stuff you did in first grade. Well, if in first grade you used floating point numbers instead of integers, but you get the idea.)

Depending on the task in mind, of course, this can get to doctoral-level stuff instead. But if there’s only a handful of people doing DSP in audio, the reason may be that it requires overlapping expertise. You need to get the math part and the coding bits, but you also need a musical ear and a sense of art. (And you need to be willing to work with music instead of take a high-paying job for, say, the petroleum business or defense contractors.)

Music is very often about sophisticated results from simple building blocks. And so it is with DSP. DSP is a unique intersection between music, sound, science, art, and alchemy.

Then again, that’s why it could be a lot of fun to explore as a musician, and not just as an engineer. There’s not time for everything – that’s why it’s great to be able to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use existing DSP code, and existing research, to say nothing of going out and buying a nice guitar pedal or using the modules in environments like Reaktor or SuperCollider or Max/MSP or Pd or checking out a new plug-in or soft synth or keyboard.

But Reaktor’s visual environment, structured tools, and the ability to plug your latest filter or distortion into a larger context make this software an ideal way to learn or experiment. I think it’s more fun than brewing your own beer or something, anyway, and I kill plants when I try to grow them. Filters it is.

I’m experimenting myself with Reaktor and also the lovely free FAUST environment. If anyone else is, too, let us know how it goes.

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DIY music gloves for everyone, as Imogen Heap project gets kid friendly

You know – for kids. is a musical glove that can get young people coding and crafting and making music and electronics work. And it’s off to a simple, elegant, and affordable start, courtesy artist Imogen Heap and designer Helen Leigh.

It’s one thing for music stars to try out bleeding edge technology and explore performance using gestural interfaces. It’s another thing for kids to tackle computing and electronics – and to make teaching tools that serve them. But a new musical glove design could reach a far wider audience.

MI.MU gloves have been a story we’ve followed since the beginning. With artist Imogen Heap, the effort was to expand on musical gloves past and make something that could expressively navigate a performance.

But MI.MU’s work has tended to be technically complex and pricey. Not so MINI.MU.

You make this glove from scratch, with everything kids need included in the kit. (Helen Leigh is not only a brilliant engineer, but also a children’s author and workshop instructor – so she gets how to teach and how kids get going quickly. The kit is rated for age 6+.)

The price: retailing at £39.95. (just about fifty bucks USD). For many in the UK, it’ll be even cheaper, as schools already have the micro:bit “brains” of the glove

Apart from a cute-looking glove to put on your hand, the MINI.MU has a speaker, an accelerometer, and buttons. You use those sensors to pick up the position of the hand and particular events (like tilt or shake). Then code running on an included chip translates those motions into sounds – which you hear right on the glove, without any additional hardware.

The UK-based project takes advantage of the BBC micro:bit, an initiative to get UK schoolchildren into coding and embedded computing. There are loads of micro:bits around, so the glove is designed to build on this platform, but you can also buy the glove with a bundled micro:bit if you don’t have one.

And this can be extended, too. Pins on the board let you connect additional sensors, like flex sensors.

Helen worked with the MI.MU team, Imogen, and kit maker Pimoroni to make this happen.

What’s promising about MINI.MU is that it makes computing and crafting personal – you’re coding something that’s expressive and literally in your hand. If the creators can keep kids (and adults) interested in doing stuff with a glove, and building code around music, there’s real potential.

It looks like the beginning of a platform that could be a lot more – and that realizes some longstanding dreams to bring new ways of interacting with music and learning about STEM through music technology. We’ll be watching.

Check out how kids would get coding with this:

Visual coding using musical examples. (Check these things out in your browser, free.)

The kit is available for preorder – and you get that micro:bit in the deal.

MINI.MU Glove Kit (includes micro:bit) [Pimoroni]

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Novation’s latest videos “hack” advanced features out of their synths

I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.

Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)

Hack a Launchpad Pro into a 16-channel step sequencer, free

This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.

Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.

This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.

But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.

So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.

Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:


Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.

Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.

Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”

I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.

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Hacking and 3D printing the future of violins, in a growing community

Violins: they’re often the first example people site when talking about traditional acoustic instruments. But using new pickup techniques and rapid prototyping, that could be about to change. is a community for this new kind of digital age luthier – a place to discuss 3D printing and magnetic pickup possibilities and electric violin fabrication, rather than gut strings and wood carving.

Community member Guy Sheffer spoke recently about why this matters. All that legacy of instrument building has perfected acoustic violins, but electric violins remain crude. As Guy writes: “The challenge is, that while modern instruments have been developing effects and new sounds, acoustic violins have been acoustic for the past 400 years.”

Post about why I set up this community

While exploring new frontiers, then, these hacker-luthiers need a place to discuss their experimental craft. Enter violinmakers:

There’s already some cool stuff there: open source, 3D-printable electric violins and files for Thingiverse, the repository of 3D printing files. (This is way better than 3D printing guns, obviously.)

Post your designs here

Guy has also shared his own spaced-out, trippy first build, logging the whole process. Yeah, you might as well combine your 3D printed electric violin with some airbrush work, no?

Guy’s own first build. 3D printing + custom paint job. (Now you just need a tour van to match… maybe some custom-built electric, not just an old Ford.)

It’s also worth checking out the open synth platform Guy is using, the Raspberry Pi-based Zynthian. That’s suggestive of a new potential sound source to match the new physical instrument:

Open sourcing in this case has important implications: it allows this new generation of builders to do what the acoustic makers did generations before, constantly improving and adjusting features like the chin rest or bridge.

There’s clearly a lot of innovation that could happen in acoustic instruments and derivatives – innovation that has often failed to happen because designs are not only conservative, but stuck in very specific modes, and because markets and technologies haven’t developed to serve potential evolution. But it could be that now is the moment. For a past look at my own instrument of choice, the piano, see the separate stories I’ve done on that (including an interview with David Klavins, who will talk passionately about why he wants to see the grand piano evolve past the Steinway Model D):

These piano breakthroughs changed music forever

Acoustic Revelation: Inside the Una Corda, the 100kg, 21st Century Piano Built for Nils Frahm

I’d love to hear more. Got experience with 3D printing, pickups … on violins or other instruments? Do let us know.

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Learn synth basics live with Novation – and more synth-y resources

Novation are hosting live video to teach you synthesis using their range of gear today. And they’ve got some other useful resources and artist interviews (Orbital!), so let’s have a look.

First up, Novation are broadcasting their Beats and Bytes series to their YouTube channel on a range of topics using their in-house specialists – the folks who make the gear, telling you how to use it. (Not bad: it used to be manufacturers would go to your retail to do trainings, and then you’d go to the retailer and … well, hopefully get something useful, though in lesser stores, people would just sort of stare at you from across the room.)

That starts afternoon time in the Americas, evening in Europe and Africa, and … weird hours elsewhere.

Technology Evangelist Enrique Martinez will be hosting the live stream. Novation tell CDM this will be “very basic sound design techniques” – so beginners (up to intermediate users), feel welcome!

It’s for Novation hardware, but they also say you’ll be able to apply this to other instruments, like your soft synth plug-in you’re trying to learn.

4PM Pacific (9PM NYC / 3AM Berlin) you can tune into the broadcast live, or catch the replay whenever you like. On the menu – this looks like a very useful episode:

(00:00 – 10:00) Making Drum Sounds w/ Circuit Mono Station

(10:00 – 20:00) Making Bass Sounds w/ Bass Station II

(20:00 – 30:00) Making Pad Sounds w/ Peak

(30:00 – 35:00) Putting it all Together

(35:00 – 40:00) Q & A

Wait… drums and bass and pads — I don’t know. It could be too much. Make sure you’re sitting down.

But Novation have been busy with a lot of resources. The timing is good – instruments like Peak have made an impression across the whole synth world. Two written artist interviews worth checking:

Orbital On Peak

The Horrors’ Tom Furse talks Bass Station II

And here’s more in the way of videos.

Circuit users, they’ve crammed another update in the form of version 1.7 – pattern chain being one especially handy feature if Circuit is at the center of your performance:

On Circuit Mono Station, here’s a useful guide to extending parameter changes across multiple steps:

Peak, the flagship, gets really deep. The Mod Matrix is one extensive place to start:

And here’s a complete technical overview of Peak:

Or, in an especially beautiful artist pairing, Hauschka taking Peak into dreamy soundscapes:

That’s a lot of technical information. So where do you start? Let’s look to artist Érica Alves, in the “Start Something” series Novation did a couple years back, with a Novation synth alongside the first Roland AIRA TR-8.

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