Roland Varios Open System Module

Roland Varios Open System Module

Roland Varios Open System Module

Last weekend I picked up a used Roland Varios Open System Module from a used music store way out in the countryside in Nagano-city, Japan. I bought it for $180 which included the Roland VC-1 D-50 expansion card. I already have the Roland V-Synth 2.0 along with the VC-2 Vocal Designer Card, so I was pretty excited about scoring a mint condition Roland Varios. I have heard that the Varios is no longer supported by Roland and it’s not as popular as the V-Synth, but I was eager to get it due to the VC-1 card being included.

Roland Varios Sample Editor

Roland Varios Sample Editor

Inside the Roland Varios can house 20MB worth of samples that you can import either via USB or PC Card Slot. This might not seem like much space for samples, but actually I found it to be plenty when creating instruments. There is a rather nice Sampling Editor which installed and loaded just fine under Windows 7. If you use Mac OSX, I believe you’ll run into driver troubles. I’ve tested quite a bit with Windows 7 and thus far have experienced zero issues, so I basically use my Windows 7 desktop or a Macbook pro running Bootcamp. Both work great.

Roland Varios Sequencer

Roland Varios Sequencer

You can also slice the samples and sequence them or arrange them differently on a time line. It works rather well and found that you could really come up with some interesting results from mangling your samples. You can vary the speed at different times or pitch. You can also copy segments and repeat them to create excellent stutter or glitch results. It’s really quite powerful and fun to experiment with. It has the Varisynth technology aboard which is the same as the VP-9000 and what you find on the V-Synth. If correct, the Varios is the same as the V-Synth 1 version.

Roland VariOS-8

Roland VariOS-8

In addition, you get a full blown synth inside called the Roland VariOS-8 which apparently is an emulation of the Roland Jupiter 8. In all actuality this is totally false and probably shouldn’t be advertised as such. However, the synth is very powerful and quite frankly worth the price of a used Roland Varios alone. Yes, you have to boot into the Varios-8, but you do get a nice editor and the sounds are only 30 patches in total. However, you can of course create your own and hold up to 128 sounds. The Varios-8 synth simply rocks and it really sounds great for an Analog emulation. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Roland Varios 303

Roland Varios 303

You also get an emulation of the Roland TB-303, but I honestly haven’t tested this feature yet. If it’s anything like the Jupiter 8 / Varios-8 emulation then it’s NOT a TB-303 rather just another synth that should be treated on it’s own merits and not a TB-303 emulation. I’ll add some additional comments once I get a chance to play around with it. Like the Varios-8 you get a rather nice software editor to tweak and create patches with.

Roland D-50 V-Card

Roland D-50 V-Card

The Roland D-50 VC-1 card is a HUGE score with finding this particular Roland Varios in Japan. It can also be used with the Roland V-Synth 2.0 and it simply sounds fantastic. I already have a couple of D-50 synths and the D-550. I can honestly say it’s the real deal. What I like best is that it contains all of the Roland released preset cards on it plus several additional banks for your own patches. You can import or export D-50 patches and swap them with your original D-50 with ease. It’s simply a fantastic card although I would never spend $500 on Ebay for one. Be patient and they will turn up for around $200 which is much more reasonable. Yes, you can buy an original D-550, but I like the extra patch banks with the VC-1. Plus a PC card is much smaller than a D-550 and much more reliable.

UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50

UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50

Along with the Roland VC-1 card there is the Uniquest VC-1 Editor which is pretty cool. This is very hard to find supposedly. It uses the Soundquest MidiQuest technology for the editor and is supposedly custom made for the VC-1 card. It works well and covers pretty much all of the parameters on the VC-1 D-50 card.

All in all, the Roland Varios was an excellent find. Once you get it loaded and set, you can easily disconnect it from the computer and use it in your live rig. I have a Roland A-800 Pro connected to it and have created a preset that works great for the Varios. There’s just so much you can do with the Roland Varios. With how cheap they are going for I highly recommend grabbing one if you can. Enjoy!

Akai S-900 Midi Digital Sampler

Akai S900 Sampler

Akai S900 Sampler

Last week I bought an Akai S900 along with an Akai S3000XL for $50 bucks at the second hand music shop in Nagano, Japan. I didn’t need the S3000XL as I already had one, but since it came with the S900 I thought I might find some use for it. Sometimes if I find a double, I put one in a rack next to my office computer and run the other in my studio room. That way I can just shuttle a floppy disk back and forth, rather than moving the entire deck.

The Akai S900 is new to me and although I’ve heard great things about the S950 version, I thought the S900 might be fun to use with some waveform samples that I have from synths like the Waldorf PPG, Fairlight, and Synclavier. The S900 did not come with a system disk, but I did find out that it had the 1.2 OS chip inside. I have an old windows 98 laptop that I use for creating OS disks and found it relatively easy to find the OS 4.0 disk image on the web. The main problem was getting Teledisk to play nice and copy the image to a 720KB DD disk. I found that only Teledisk v2.16 worked. So after wasting an hour with 2.11 and 2.12, I found a 2.16 version and all copied well. The S900 loaded up the V4.0 just fine.

I also used Akaidisk v2.2 in order to transfer the waveform files over to a floppy disk formatted by the S900. It all worked flawlessly. I then loaded up the floppy and with using the Roland A-800 Pro as a controller, I had fun playing some nice PPG 2 sounds on it. I was able to squeeze about 28 sounds onto the floppy which all sounded fantastic. I now have to find a fix for the LCD screen as it’s rather hard to see. Or I might try to find an editor to work with the sampler if possible. I haven’t found out if MESA works with the S900 yet. I know in Japan you can buy an LCD so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The Akai S3000XL also works great and whoever brought these samplers in probably used both of them together. Unfortunately neither came with any effects on board, but that’s ok as I usually use external effects.

I strongly recommend thought having a good working Windows 98 machine around for use with the old Akai samplers. Yes, you can use Windows XP, but I have found Windows 98 to be much more useful in my experience thus far, especially when working with floppy disk transfers and conversions. Teledisk for example only works when rebooted in DOS mode, so win98 seems to be the only machine to do that.

In any event, the 1986 Akai S900 has been a nice addition to the studio.

Give it 100 Update – Synthesizer Programming

Give it 100 - Jim Atwood in Japan

Give it 100 – Jim Atwood in Japan

I’ve hit Day 42 now on the site Give It 100. It’s pretty amazing at how fast the time goes by and soon enough you have all of these videos up and running. The Give It 100 project has helped enormously with getting me up and running and working with material I like to play each day. Interestingly enough it’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve enjoyed each and every moment of doing my best to accomplish something in synth programming.

You can check out my Give It 100 page here: https://giveit100.com/@JimAtwood/7tsanx

If you need some inspiration or a place to start, I can highly recommend Give It 100. Enjoy!

Loading MSX DX7 Editor using MicroWaver WAV File

Recently I acquired a used MSX Yamaha YIS503II Home Personal Computer with several cartridges and a YK-20 keyboard. I posted an earlier article about the find. One thing that was missing with the package was the Yamaha DX7 MSX Editor, specifically the YRM-103 DX7 Voicing Program. My system also did not come with the MSX Floppy Drive system, however it did have the ability to transfer data using cassette tape. I did some research and discovered that it was possible to acquire the Yamaha cartridges in ROM format. I then found out it was possible to convert those ROM files to WAV format using a program called MicroWaver. I also used another that worked called Caslink2, however MicroWaver was the only program I could successfully convert to a higher bps rate that actually worked. A higher bps rate means a faster rate of transfer.

In the video you’ll see that on my MacBook Air I have a YRM-103 DX7 WAV file opened in Audacity. On my MSX computer I typed the command BLOAD”CAS:”,R and hit enter. I then played back the WAV file. You’ll notice that the MSX responds with LOADING and after about 15 seconds it loads up the YRM-103 DX7 Voicing Program beautifully. My MSX YAMAHA YIS50II has both the SFG-05 FM Sound Synthesizer Unit II module installed which includes both audio and MIDI in/out ports. I successfully was able to connect my Yamaha DX-7 and both edit and transfer data. Cool!

I now have one last potentially major problem to solve. I desperately want to use the DMS1 Mk2 MIDI Recorder for SFG-05 and do have the ROM file for it. However, when I convert it to WAV format it will get recognized and transfer appropriately with my setup, BUT my MSX then reboots at the end of the process. This reboot effectively clears the RAM memory and leaves me with an OK prompt. There is no start command for the DMS1 mk2 program so something either in the original ROM file or something I’m doing incorrect is causing it to not load. I’ve doing a couple of days of intensive testing and research and have come to the following conclusion. The ROM files were intended for Emulator use primarily and not for the use of REAL MSX machines. What I’m doing is out of the ordinary and perhaps not possible. I would love to have the DMS1 mk2 sequencer program working to create some of those old school 80′s tracks. I’m just not sure why the MSX is rebooting on it’s own. I used the blueMSX Emulator and the DMS1 ROM file worked great.

I also noticed that ROM files that contain a “Part 1″ and “Part 2″, which is what I presume are two disks, don’t transfer well if at all via WAV format. The MSX Computer recognizes both parts, will load them, however the MSX computer YIS503II will ALWAYS reset or reboot after transfer completion. Again this results in memory being cleared and thus the program is gone. There is something about transferring multiple disks or parts that does not work via the PC WAV method so far. If I have a file with only one disk or part, it works great as with the YRM-103 DX7 ROM file above. It’s only one part and thus loads fine. If I can get the DMS1 to load than I would be set being able to work with the built in 4-OP SFG-05 and the Yamaha DX-7. That would be pretty cool and quite retro considering all of this is 1983-1986 stuff.

I’ll update this article in the comments section as I do more testing and discover more info.

DMS1 Mk2 MIDI RECORDER

DMS1 Mk2 MIDI RECORDER

Yamaha YIS503II MSX1 with SFG-05

Yamaha YIS503II MSX1 with SFG-05

Fender Japan 57 Reissue Precision Bass Disco Music

Fender Japan 57R Precision Bass

Fender Japan 57R Precision Bass

I was looking for a good bass to lay down some decent disco grooves with. This is perfect. A 1962 reissue would have been fine too, but I didn’t see one I liked used. This PB57 sounds EXACTLY what I was looking for with that finger “pop” sound when playing octaves. I’m old school and this thing takes me back to 78. I’m so excited to mix this with my synth sounds. I think it should sound nice in the mix.

Here is a quick video where I recorded the Bass into the Boss RC-300 over a drum groove. I need to work on the bass sound recording a bit perhaps, but it at least give you the idea of what I’m aiming for. I also used a pick with this particular bass line, but often use my fingers or slap. I used to play bass a while back in the late 90′s. Sometimes it’s just easier to come up with a groove on the bass rather than the bass synth. It’s also fun to mix the too of course.

Note that I’m not claiming that a Fender 57 reissue P-Bass is the choice for Disco bass lines, rather it gets me awfully close to the sound I grew up listening to in the late 70′s and early 80′s. I think most will agree that some sort of Precision Bass is good for that old school Disco octave vibe. Although, I know other basses will get you that sound too, plus the fact that DI/Amps, compression, and other things are important too.

Yamaha YIS503II MSX FM Synthesizer Home Computer

This thing is amazing. Only in JAPAN! I bought this used with three cartridges, the YK-20 keyboard, the SFG-05 FM Sound Synthesizer Module, plus all of the original boxes, cabling, and manuals. Everything was in MINT shape too. It works great with my PC monitor and I have a Roland MSX mouse that I use with my Roland S-50. The only thing missing is the Floppy Drive and I’m currently researching ways around that. Sounds GREAT too! It’s kind of fun and nostalgic from 1984.

I’ll add more info once I start working with it. Here is the list of items I acquired for $60 bucks!

Yamaha YIS503II Home Personal Computer
1 FM Voicing Program II YRM-52 Cartridge with Box and Manual
1 FM Music Composer II YRM-55 Cartridge with Box and Manual
1 FM Music Macro II YRM-51 Cartridge with Box and Manual
1 FM Sound Synthesizer Unit II SFG-05 Module with Manual
1 MSX Basic Manual
1 Yamaha Music Keyboard YK-20 with Box.
Plus all cabling.

Everything was in mint shape. I started it up today with my PC monitor via an composite cabling and it worked fantastic. I also checked the sound it was very good. I’m excited about learning more about this old 1984 music making system.

Here’s a photo from my Instagram: http://instagram.com/jimatwood

Yamaha YIS503 II FM MSX Synth Home Computer

Yamaha YIS503 II FM MSX Synth Home Computer

Korg Polysix Synthesizer Madness!

I’ve really come to enjoy the Korg Polysix Synthesizer. It’s such a joy to use each day and the attention it requires is amazing. I’m not sure why, but if I let the Polysix sit without playing it for more than a couple of days, strange things seem to happen inside the machine. It’s funny, I don’t even keep the cover screwed down anymore because I’m constantly lifting up the hood and cleaning something. The Polysix kind of reminds me of the daily repairs on my old VW Bug during my University days. That actually was a very trusty vehicle probably because I knew it inside and out. I feel the same with the Korg Polysix. I sometimes see double with the LEDS on the front panel. Occasionally a key triggers a few times too many, but sometimes it sounds kind of cool. Everyone so often, I also get a glitch or two which seems to be triggered by what I don’t know…laugh.

What’s interesting is that if I lift the hood and rub some alcohol cleaner around the circuits ( With the Polysix unplugged of course ), it then fires up on all cylinders just fine. It’s probably the cleanest Polysix I know of. I have another Polysix to the right which actually works perfectly yet, I keep migrating to this particular one which is older in serial number. For some reason it just seems to have quite a bit of character. I know a lot of people who get those KIWI mods, but I’m not quite ready to spend more than what I paid for this Polysix for the upgrade. The Korg Polysix sends me into madness sometimes but it can also transport me into another realm of sweet music and fun. I just love the modulation you can get out of the Polysix. I think the video posted above illustrates pretty well the effort in trying to tame the mighty machine and keep it running.

I feel extremely fortunate to not just have one, but two Korg Polysix synthesizers. However, the one in this video is special to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever sell it primarily because I have this strange feeling it won’t ever work again the minute somebody else turns it on. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of cars in my life and they’ve gotten nicer since my VW bug days. Yet, it’s that VW bug that I remember the most. The bond we had working together to get back home safely in the wee hours of the morning after a night at the club was amazing. The bug always came through for me just like this trusty, but mad, old Korg Polysix. Cherish those struggles in life I say, as they are the very things that define us.

Have a great weekend and happy jamming!

Note about the video: All tracks were looped with the Boss RC-300. I toggle between several patches on the Korg Polysix itself. I use a drum machine for the drum midi’d to the Boss RC-300.

Korg Polysix Synthesizer

Korg Polysix Synthesizer