Instant fun, portable'ish hardware MPE sound sources to go with a Linnstrument?

I fell in love again with my Linnstrument I’ve owned for years. Never really practised regularly enough to be good at, but I thought now might be a good idea to try that. I’d just need a sound source to go with it - something with actual MPE support (no endless mapping of patches in multitimbral synths or “just” poly AT) and either a good selection of patches that are made with expressive playing in mind, or super easy to roll your own.

The problem is, I’d prefer not to use a computer, which rules out a lot of interesting sound sources I was familiar with back when I bought the Linnstrument… nor buy any very flashy and large 1000 EUR+ new things right now, which rules out eg. the Sequential synths, Hydrasynth, and so on.

So what’s left? I’d like to hear your suggestions here. Some options I’ve considered:

  • Axoloti. I have some familiarity of the patcher (owned one years ago, made some self-playing things, sold it to someone who needed and loved it more) and was enamoured of TheSlowGrowth’s MPE patch demo. The availability of both the original and Akso are nonexistent though. Might be able to score one from an old friend, but not counting on it yet, plus would need to improvise a travel enclosure for the PCB. This would be a cheap and easy option to start with otherwise.
  • Organelle M. I love the form factor and idea and could see this as a perfect travel device. I’m familiar with PD already, and can eg. tinker with voice assignments if needed for MPE support. I’m just not entirely sure if I’ve heard any spectacular examples from the Organelle (or PD in general) on the poly synth front yet - no matter which synthesis method - and both unsure if there are any, or whether I’d have the skills or patience to make anything better from scratch. Otherwise I’d jump at it, I’m just not sure if I could get it to sound like I want to even though it seems it could be very interesting for FX, sample manipulation, et cetera.
  • Norns. I have one of the DIY ones which I use with Linnstrument right now & could imagine learning a bit more SuperCollider to build a tailor-made synth engine for myself. But I’d also like to be able to tie the one I built for use with the modular + Crow, and I’m not sure if I want two of the same, or something else to complement while the Norns is in other use instead. Plus if I did buy another, I’m lusting for the official version that has a built-in battery and other niceties for both travel and studio use, so I’m afraid I’d just end up waiting a couple of months until they’re available again and spending more money than I’d want to…
  • iPad - possibly used, previous generation, for the second time. It seems there are a lot of iOS synths that support MPE these days, and having a couple of those installed could be potentially be the best possible way to have instant access to a lot of playable patches. Plus I could see some other uses for one (unfortunately some of them involving being online and getting distracted). I saw an older thread discussing iOS MPE apps here, and it seemed there weren’t many that people both had tried and could share good experiences about, though. I wonder how the situation is now - are there enough interesting MPE synths on iOS that it makes sense to buy a device for that?
  • Continuumini. The engine looks more and more fantastic every year - I have a soft spot for FM, physical modeling, additive, etc. that the Eaganmatrix seems to implement really nicely, with a lot of presets too. Plus it’d be another interesting expressive controller as well. However, it’s a bit on the expensive side for what I thought I’d be able to spend right now, needs some “glue hardware” to be able to hook up directly to Linnstrument, and I’d have to get a Mac / Windows computer just for the editor (no Linux support), which makes it more expensive and a bit inconvenient.

Does anyone have any personal thoughts on any of these, or alternatives to suggest? I suppose key things are that I’m able to tinker, configure and learn things but would still prefer minimum hassle and instant fun instead of having to do a lot of programming and MIDI mapping before being able to do anything (no Bela or Pisound this time). Portability and battery powering option are a huge plus but not mandatory. And cost should preferably be in hundreds of euros rather than a thousand or more (I’m willing to save up more and stretch my budget if I end up figuring out something more expensive could be just perfect for this).

Sorry for the wordy first post, and grateful for any opinions and suggestions :slight_smile:

All good choices.

To use something you already have: try Molly the Poly on norns

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Audiothingies Micromonsta (out of production) and Micromonsta 2 (out of stock, new batch coming) should be on the list.

Very compact, affordable ditigal polysynths with proper MPE support.

I’ve had the Micromonsta since the firmware that added MPE support and I like it. I plan on upgrading to the Micromonsta 2 when the second batch is available to order. My live rig was a Linnstrument with a Micromonsta and a DSI Tetra, but as you mentioned above, faking MPE on a multi-timbral polysynth is a PITA. The Micromonsta 2 just recently got a firmware upgrade that gives it MPE support, and it already had bitimbral support, so now it has bitimbral MPE support: so, you can use the split on the Linnstrument to control two independent patches on the Micromonsta 2, or you can stack patches on the Micromonsta 2 to do cool things like using the Y axis to modulate between patch 1 and 2.

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The Modal Argon8M and Cobalt8M are worth a look. Both support MPE, have DIN and USB MIDI, are relatively compact (about 38 x 13 x 8 cm), reportedly have solid build quality, and seem to have a very easy-to-use knobby interface. The Argon is a wavetable synth, the Cobalt an “extended” VA. To my taste the Argon is the better choice for an MPE synth. I’ve thought about getting one, but in the US the price is about 80% of a Hydrasynth Desktop, which seems much more flexible and powerful, The ratio looks to be a lot more favorable in Europe, judging by Thomann.

I have an Organelle M: I pretty much agree with your take. The ORAC framework is a real boon for development (thanks thetechnobear!), but it’s still a lot of work to come up with something flexible and fun to use, and to date I haven’t been happy with what I’ve built; and (though it’s been a while since I’ve looked around) haven’t seen much MPE in the community patch library. But man, do I wish there were more options with a built-in USB Host port, to be able to plug in a controller directly and not have to deal with DIN-MIDI and with an extra power supply?

I also have a ContinuuMini; so far I basically use one patch on this, controlled from LinnStrument, but it is glorious.

The MicroMonsta 2, now that it has (dual-zone!) MPE support, is intriguing. I’m not sure how happy I’ll be with what’s basically a VA synth, but for the price I’ll probably give it a shot once it becomes available again.

Honestly I think the current best MPE synth investment is an Apple M1 MacBook, with MainStage as a plug-in host, and a select few MPE softsynths starting with outstanding freebies like Vital and Surge.

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The iPad could be a source of instant fun for your use case. At least for a while. I would go for Animoog and Model 15 by Moog.

Continua by Audio Damage, ThumbJam and Space craft granular have also MPE.

Now the glass surface is not the best in terms of haptic feedback and there’s always the feeling of “half baked”, unstable in both synths and hardware: will the next update break things? And where is the headphones jack in the newer models… how many dongles, audio interfaces, usb hubs… are you willing to get? With iOS apps being so cheap, will you be able to stop in time?

In terms of instant fun I have to admit my MacBook + Linnstrument has been the best combo. Many synths are stand alone.

I’ve also considered hardware but I have no experience with it and would like to avoid to many cables. I thought on the organelle but the last thing I want is building synths and I can’t seem to find the variety i see on iOS.

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Thank you everyone, for all your suggestions and insight so far.

That’s a good suggestion - it’s actually what I’m using right now. I was suprised how nice it sounds and feels to play for something as simple as that.

I’ve been thinking of looking into modifying FM7 for some kind of MPE’ish use and moving on to building a simple engine + MPE control script from scratch to learn the ropes. The problem still is, though, that eventually I’ll either need two Nornses or another MPE sound source as soon as I want to use the tiny modular controlled by Norns+Crow and the Linnstrument in ensemble. Another DIY / used Norns wouldn’t be very expensive and I like mine a lot, but was thinking of other options as well.

Oh yes, thank you - I forgot that one even though it was listed in the hardware synth list here as well. My friend has one and likes it, but he is using it with a sequencer-based setup, and seeing the current situation, we aren’t able to meet so that I could try it out.

Like @Rimwolf I’m a bit uncertain if that would be a bit too “bread and butter VA” for me even though I know there’s a modulation matrix, FMable oscs etc. involved - but then again it’s very inexpensive and compact, and if there’s one thing I’ve found out, it’s that a lot of things are suddenly more fun to play with per-note glides and Y+Z modulation (see Norns & Molly the Poly above).

I haven’t really been a fan of Modal’s VA engine which is why I’ve skipped Cobalt altogether, but … I didn’t remember Argon8M being so inexpensive around here, and I remember listening to demos and liking what I heard. So that’s definitely one option - not a very portable or battery powered one, but would definitely fit on the current desk. The Hydrasynth certainly looks more complex and fully featured, but at double the price.

Thanks for confirming my thoughts. I’ve built some things with PD (including an “interactive soundtrack” for a little game prototype I did) and have gotten a lot of cool, quirky “monophonic sequenced” type material out of it, but I’m still not sure if I could pull off an expressively (?) playable polyphonic synth I liked. It’s still something I’d like to own eventually - as it’s sort of like OP-1 for tinkerers like me - but probably not the first choice for this use unless I can find some examples of things that would work for me out of the box.

And agree regarding the USB Host functionality - that’s another reason why Organelle M seemed so promising, and why the Linnstrument is so effortless to use with Norns. Less cable clutter and easier to power things.

Based on the countless demos I’ve listened to, a lot of the current factory patches seem to lean towards a more classical / traditional avant garde composition type taste - which isn’t a bad thing, but I’ve heard several examples of people making beautiful, more “synthetic” patches with the Eaganmatrix, and that’s the side I’m currently more interested in.

I hear you. It’s just that I sold my good old Macbook Pro during the beginning of the year, and moved to a Thinkpad + Linux setup due to not being very keen on where Apple is going with their OS and not needing a computer for making songs anymore. I do have Bitwig installed on this machine just in case, and Surge is available for Linux as well, I just try to keep the computer out of the music setup due to being a bit too hooked on all things internet these days, and losing my concentration a bit too easily.

(I still have a lot of software licenses from Logic to soft synths that are only working on the Mac side though, so who knows, one day…)

Having owned an iPad a couple of years ago, I agree with a lot of what you say. It was fun for playing games and loading up a music app and then using something else to play it (Animoog was a good one, I don’t think I had the Linnstrument then though), but there’s always the unpleasant feeling of disconnection due to the glass surface, and the I/O ports are at best a compromise, at worst a dealbreaker.

Then again, as the use case is basically “load up a synth, tweak a few parameters / load a preset, and play”, I suppose buying one of the iPads that still has the headphone output and Lightning would do the trick well enough.

Yep, I’m painfully aware that a laptop and a bunch of software would be the best choice as that’s where most of the MPE development is at. Plus as I mentioned just now in the previous post, I already have licenses for some nice things as well.

So, I wonder if I should just consider spending a couple of hundred euros for one of the older generation Macbook Pros / Airs, and dedicate that as a “synth module” with minimal internet access and so on. Even knowing that the new M1 ones are at best an order of magnitude faster and seem quite superb in every way, it’s still quite difficult to justify purchasing one for someone who has a perfectly serviceable laptop and isn’t keen on spending even more time in front of the computer.

I get what you say about the computer being a source of distraction. I also think using the mouse to twist knobs is a pain.

But as the amateur I am I want te be really sure before expending money on a hardware synth. I may do it one day though.

At the moment I’m selling my Mac mini 2018 (36 GB RAM) just to get a new laptop with the new silicon chip. Less clutter, promising features (iPad apps on Mac)

I wonder why there isn’t a market for Organelle “apps” like on iOS. Being more community oriented devs could bypass the cut that goes to Apple. If there were a good offer I would pay for a few synths as I’ve done on iOS.

Now I didnt know about Norns. I am going to investigate.

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It’s fun - I mentioned this discussion to an old friend, and turns out he had a 2012 Macbook Pro sitting basically unused - so we agreed that I’ll pick it up from him for a very modest price. At least I’ll have the option of using some of the U-He and Madrona synths and free ones, plus ones built in to Logic, and maybe I’ll try disabling everything related to internet after installing, as I already have this other used laptop I use for that.

Norns is great fun, and the DIY shield version isn’t very pricey (the official factory built version more so). It’s not maybe the #1 thing to get solely for MPE though, as there aren’t many MPE compatible patches for it yet - the one I’ve been using is fun but it’s “just” a subtractive polysynth. It’s really flexible “sound computer” though, with all kinds of stuff, and an active community… Sort of an alternative to Organelle M, with less built in controls, and different kinds of patches available from granular synthesis / effects to poly synths and sequencers.

An old Mac focused only on music seems like a good solution. Despite my quirks with iOS I have the iPad in that way: only for music.

I wouldn’t mind buying a Norns (not DIY, I’m too lazy for that) if I found a good sound source with MPE in mind.

My interest right now is in “instruments” rather than synths (?), although not based on samples, kind of what Respiro does for Midi wind players, or the physical modeled strings made by the Expressive-E people, or Aalto’s complex oscillator, or Mononoke by Bram Bos ( if only it wasn’t hardwired to 4 notes!!!)

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Try Gig Performer www.gigperformer.com - not a “DAW” and much more then just a plugin host.

Namely: norns includes a middle-layer lua framework that allows folks to write open source scripts that talk to controllers and route audio and control sound engine parameters. The sound engines are written in Supercollider. The lua API is intended to be easier to learn and use than raw Supercollider code. Community creations, which can be a combination of lua and supercollider code, can be downloaded straight into the device from the internet thanks to a piece of web software known as ‘maiden’ you can get to over a WiFi network. Maiden is a code editor but it’s also a library of community contributions that you can install on your norns.

This combination of tools has caused folks to write dozens of different sequencers, audio effects, synthesizers, etc. which you can download and use at the click of a button.

It wouldn’t be a crazy difficult thing to do, to read the Molly the Poly source code (very brief lua code) to see how you can connect MPE MIDI coming from a controller (such as Linnstrument) with the parameters of a sound engine. You could then apply this knowledge to any synth design Supercollider is capable of (which is nearly equal to anything DSP is capable of).

Another idea is to simply use Supercollider. It will run on a Raspberry Pi, or really any modestly powerful computer.

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Agreed, I also use an old MacBook from ebay as “soundmodule” mainly these days. It has Gigperformer and a number of synths installed, I mainly switch it on, play and switch it off again. Just works.

I also have both a ContinuuMini and an Organelle M which I mainly bought as synth engines initially for my Morphs and Eigenharp. But perhaps surprisingly, I had to spend much more fiddling time with that setup than with the Mac (which is connected to my stage piano, Linnstrument and Onde now). You need a MIDI host between ContinuuMini and any MIDI class compliant controllers as the ContinuuMini is only a USB client. Have a setup where everything is pre-wired now. But it’s kind of bulky and “slightly” less portable than I initially hoped for. (Main weight comes from the matrix mixer (so I don’t have to rewire stuff constantly), the guitar effect board and the Eigenharp Basestation - it all adds up). And I still haven’t gotten it completely stable yet. For Eigenharp and ContinuuMini it is working now as expected, but for Morphs I sometimes get latency that adds up over time - until I get no sound anymore at all and have to restart the system. The Mac setup on the other hand is turn on and forget since I use it exclusively as “don’t touch” synth module.
So in the end all these things are still computers, that are great if they work in a plug and play manner - which is mainly tested by the manufacturers for the intended use case.

That said, ContinuuMini works really great as a standalone instrument and is a lot of fun to play for hours! Same for Organelle M, it works quite well when used as intended as a little self contained sound tinkering universe - and isn’t additionally burdened with having to act as a MIDI router from four different sources.

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So… I picked up the “practically free” 2012 MacBook Pro yesterday, installed Catalina and then Logic (which I’ve had a license for since version 4.5 and am very familiar with) and some plugins. I think this’ll be as good “sound module” for the Linnstrument as I can get.

So this ended up being one of those “ask for advice, get good advice, try turning it down because you’ve already thought about it and decided not to, and end up following that advice anyway” type questions. Thank you everyone!

Still thinking about Organelle M, another Norns or ContinuuMini, but as a longer term idea, and on their own as super-portable self-contained instruments, rather than an extension to the LinnStrument.

@jason Thanks for the more thorough explanation regarding Norns. What I find personally heartwarming compared to a lot of other “embedded music computer” DIY projects and finished products is, that you actually have a sane preconfigured platform with a shared minimal usable user interface you can expand on, and both a super easy scripting language for high level event handling and UI, and a bit lower level language for time-critical events and signal processing. And a lot of people have already developed cool things for it. It just makes sense for me architecture- and design-wise.

I think Pure Data is still a great tool (regarding Organelle etc.), but for general purpose DSP, abstracting things in code instead of boxes and wires is easier for me, and SC seems to have a lot of things implemented natively already. Eg. something like MPE voice allocation looks dead easy based on Molly the Poly code, as you say. Probably time to install SC on the laptop too, and start learning it more thoroughly in the near future.

@tiantong For “instruments” in the software realm, try the Rhizomatic Plasmonic plugin. It’s basically exciter & noise + resonator type physical modeling combined with some subtractive synthesis aspects - two “complex oscillators”, a multimode filter - and interesting “fx” section with sympathetic resonance, formant-shaped FDN, tunable delays and so on. I can’t post a video here right now, but I tried the demo based on recommendation, and this is pretty much the closest I’ve felt to playing a “real instrument” with the LinnStrument so far. A lot of pure physical modeling instruments feel like they’re missing something in timbre and sometimes expressiveness too, but the exciter-resonator combo sounds really good in this one, and the subtractive side is able to give a lot of body and warmth to otherwise “plucky”, “ploinky” or “hissy” timbres.

@NothanUmber Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve kind of come to the same conclusion regarding the hassle, after reminding myself of these things once again. I don’t really mind looking at the screen while using the trackpad to load up patches, tweak synth controls a bit, etc… but I do mind having to use the same computer for other things than music. Or having to set up (and often pack & carry around) a configuration with several boxes and a bunch of different cables, especially if they don’t work perfectly out of the box - instead of just a laptop / Norns / whatever, single USB cable, the LinnStrument and a pair of headphones.

The whole odyssey actually started with me thinking I’ll sell the LinnStrument as it hadn’t seen much use for the past couple of years - thought about getting a ContinuuMini or saving up for a half size Continuum as those are self-contained without setup and wire mess. And then, after finally trying out the LinnStrument with one of the Norns patched mentioned above, realizing that the real issue is exactly that: the LinnStrument layout still feels super logical and I love the touch despite there not being much “give”, but the reason I stopped playing was really due to lack of good, easily usable MPE sound sources and the amount of setup required to play it expressively with other things.

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I’ve been thinking about this very same question for a while so this threat has turned very useful for me too.

I have Plasmonic and I love it. Besides the sound, the MPE implementation is great. But I still have to get it. The sounds are a bit too ethereal for me. In any case I am a slow learner so I know I will eventually find a way through it.

The MacBook can be a really good way of that “instant fun” you’re looking for. Just the synths in Logic are a lot of fun (with patience with MPE!!) and then there’s Aalto.

And then again it can also be a middleman for the continuumini. If only they released the little box that makes the Eagan matrix.

I’m going to investigate the Norns thing a little bit more. I don’t know if it makes sense for a non programmer like me. For the moment, the iPad with Animoog and Continua is doing a good job for instant fun for me.

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my experience is standalone instruments, sound computers and laptop/ipads all have thier place.
there is little overlap between them in practice.

the one thing that concerns me is often sound computers can be a bit over sold by some. (*)
the mantra goes ‘you can build any instrument’, so its does everything.
in any practical sense this is simply not true - even if you are a developer.
rather I personally, I find their strength is to build quirky/different instruments - things that would never be built as a commercial product (hardware/software) since there is no market for it.

( I think norns vs organelle-m difference is primarily form-factor, you can achieve similar results with either)

anyway, I love’m all …

I can’t wait for the Osmose to turn up, so I get access to the Matrix :wink:


(*) I don’t blame anyone for this… these sound computers require an investment of time, and so communities form around them, and so understandably form a fan base. just means advice can be a bit biased.

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I agree, the “limitless possibilities, you can program it to be anything” type spiel can be a bit tiresome at times, but understandable in any case. (The laptop I’m writing this message on is arguably even more limitless than a “sound computer”, but many people seem to want to get rid of these and purchase other things instead.)

For that reason, even though being a developer by trade and occasionally by hobby as well, it’s usually the user base and grand total of their pre-existing apps that draws me into some “ecosystem”, and what I think is a comfortable and sane environment for development is important only after that (unless I get something for developing a certain specific idea). Plus all of those things are usually a matter of preference, of course.

(Side note, I didn’t realize the official Organelle distribution and menu UI also run SC patches without extra installations and configuration as well - that’s very interesting…)

What’s new with the osmose. don’t you get access to the matrix already with the continuumini?

yes, but I dont have a continuummini :slight_smile:

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Has anybody mentioned the Modal SKULPT yet? Does MPE very nicely and is super portable, affordable, and fun to mess with.

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