Synths (HW or phone/tablet) for nomadic use

I’ve been having great fun using the Pyramid in conjunction with the Caustic synth app (on Android phone) which supports MIDI over USB.
It’s a very cool nomadic setup, as Caustic allows you to have one different synth/sampler on each channel plus some effects, and the app is very cheap. The sole problem with it is recording the final audio: Caustic cannot live record the audio it produces (it records only live midi inputs and it fails at that, because it want to constraint the midi notes it receives to its own sequencer patterns, and that results in a mess), and my Android version doesn’t allow me to record internal audio produced by the app (only supported by Android>=10.*, or you need to root your phone and I had trouble with my phone with that in the past, and of course no constructor upgrades). Plus assigning MIDI CCs to synth knobs in the app is really not convenient (separate menus etc), and it’s AFAIK not possible to assign CCs to effects.

So I’m looking for complementary solutions (be they other apps or external portable hardware synths. I already have a programmable Axoloti board but I use it for different purposes, as it requires some computer to re-patch it everytime, so it’s a much less fluid workflow).

Have you looked at Zynthian? A little bit of assembly required to get going but you’ll get multi-engine, multi-timbral synth with effects and various other extra benefits in a sturdy little metal box.

“All the parts are pre-soldered and you only need to plug the wires and tighten the screws. You still learn what is inside and how to replace any faulty part, but you don’t need to solder anything.”

Yes, seems like minimal assembly :slight_smile: Thanks for the link! I’ll look deeper.

Have you considered a Korg Volca? I have a few and a Korg NTS-1 (even smaller and more hackable), which is how I ended up “needing” a Pyramid.

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perhaps check out this thread for some ideas.

these days there are a plethora of synths, many small and portable.
really depends what you want, and (of course) budget.

1010blackbox, teenage engineering op1 or opz , sonicware elz_1, volcas, organelle, ipad (!)

more on the diy front : monome norns variant (e.g. diy shield/fates) , rPI (e.g zynthian)

I’ll say, though, Im not ‘into’ the whole iOS/iPad music scene, honestly for portability/flexibility/choice - its almost impossible to beat iOS . (iOS audio/midi handling is excellent).
(and you can find iPad’s at various budget levels - both new/used)

so much choice these days, for all different budgets, we are living in good times for this stuff.

when you say you want to use for ‘nomadic’ use, what criteria does this entail

I guess for me it would be:

  • small
  • battery / usb battery powered
  • multi timbral (so you have multi track from one device)
  • multi ‘engine’ , so synth, percussion, sample
  • usb host (for pyramid, less things to carry)

that said, Im not sure how ‘portable’ a pyramid plus synth plus cables really is…
and many of the things with the above features, will also feature a sequencer that is ‘good enough’ for on-the-road.

also you mention recording… whats your requirements there? just an audio output?

if you really need to record audio on the fly/mobile, id look very seriously at something like an iPad, with things like audiobus its excellent for this.

but hey, we all have different needs / requirements.

@sirshannon So yes I’ve been considering the Volcas or the NTS-1 :slight_smile: but they are monotimbral (unless I’m mistaken?), and buying several defeats portability. Also the 9V input means they can’t be powered from just a USB power bank (the Volcas, not the NTS-1).

@thetechnobear I guess you’re right in that you cannot defeat an iPad… I should maybe get up to speed in terms of what apps exist, to see if I should take a leap I’ve been avoiding to take for years…

In the meantime, I ordered myself a little Zynthian :wink: because in any case it looks like something I definitely could have fun with. Also the DAW I use (Tracktion Waveform) officially support the Pi 3 and 4, and the idea of having one box that does it all appeals to me.

To me, portable = fits in a regular backpack and can be battery-powered (be that via external power-bank, or phone’s/tablet’s battery). And yep ideally multi-engine so I can just have several synths on the same device listening on various channels (so no analog synths, of course).


FWIW, Zynthian raport has some experiences from myself and another Zynthian + Pyramid user. Probably not mentioned in that thread and maybe not so obvious from upstream website either but it can record itself, seems to be a favorite passtime on the Zynthian forum :smile:

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The Volca synths are monotimbral, as far as I know. I only “know” the FM so I could be wrong. You can do some things to change how each modulator is applied based on how high/low a note is but that’s not the same as what you’re looking for.
Carrying multiple also means you have to add a mixer unless you want to imagine the notes the tiny volca speakers can’t reproduce.
They do all run on batteries, though. My current travel setup (to be tested in rl this weekend) is a hard case with 3 volcas, an NTS-1, a Pyramid, and a mixer. The mixer uses three 9volt batteries, the other 5 machines each have their own 5volt battery pack. The volcas are connected via cables that transform the 5 volts to 9 volts. It’s not the size of any backpack I want to carry.

It sounds like an iPad might be the way to go. Moog has some good apps, GarageBand is pretty great by itself. There are several $20 apps that’ll do most if not all of what you need, especially in conjunction with GarageBand. You’ll need a Midi-to-USB cable and Apple’s “camera connection kit” (a USB-to-lightning adapter) but that will give you a practically infinite amount of flexibility in a ridiculously small package.

I guess you don’t need the MIDI cable or camera connector if the iPad (or iPhone) will power the Pyramid via the usb cable. I don’t know if that will work? If so, that would be the deal: Pyramid, 1 cable, iPad/iPhone, and headphones. Seems too good to be true.

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Let’s us know how you find the Zynthian,
I think they are doing a great job, and have been making some nice improvements over time.

On the iPhone, I’ve always used the CCK, because it also allows power input. Not sure if this is needed, but handy since I suspect the pyramid pulls quite a bit of power.

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Hi! I’m just a zynthianeer that has also a pyramid and uses it in my setup, and I have some feedback on the zynthian.

Last year there have been a ton of improvements, and have brought the zynthian into a really really useable and nice machine, an RPI4 makes it able to run OB-XD, dexed and some sampled instrument at the same time without issues. This is not to mean this is not a more DIY oriented device, but it’s a tiny box capable of running pianoteq, so it’s good enough to many.

Also you can use sampled instruments easily, it has a web configurator that’s fairly straightforward and a devoted community. The worst part (or least polished i’d say) is the wiki, and some of the user guides.

I would say to anyone with a rpi and a usb audio interface to try it out with HDMI screen and usb keyboard, and if you’re willing to spend 30 bucks buy a touchscreen to test it more “properly”.

It’s a usb host to din midi converter, midi router, midi FX unit, audio fx unit, softsynth box, MOD-UI (basically a mod duo x or any mod device) device and can run puredata patches and maybe VCV rack (it’s a wip on that front). I sold my volcas and a deepmind 12 after building the zynthian because i found that i could get the deepmind’s and volca’s (fm and sample) sounds easily with zynthian.