I’m fairly new to Zynthian, having played with a custom build (3B+ with a $10 soundcard) before deciding to dive in and buy the official V4.1 kit.
The Zynthian team were amazing, responding to my pesky emails, and going above and beyond to make sure that my kit arrived in one peace. (Where I live, even with couriers, it’s a miracle when any parcel arrives when or as expected, if it arrives at all!)
The kit came together easily, with the instructions on the wiki being clear and easy to follow. I tripped myself up by inadvertently using a nightly build on first boot and ran into some issues, but the stable from September 2020 fixed most issues as soon as I’d realised my error.
I’ve already had a bit of a play, and using the official Zynthian kit is an absolute joy compared to the caseless, hacked together, touch-screen only version I was using previously. The official unit is nice and solid when fully assembled, and the rotary controllers quicky became second nature, with lots of convenient shortcuts to help move around the system.
If I had one niggle, it would just be my preference for hard MPC style clicky buttons for S1-4 over the gel buttons in the kit, but having these buttons at all is a huge improvement over what I’ve seen of previous generations, and my guess is that hard buttons would either add significantly to the cost, or the delicacy of the LCD screen prevents this style of button. This is a preference anyway, and is at most a minor detail.
There’s so much to love about Zynthian! But most of you here probably already know that. I just wanted to share these thoughts on the off chance anyone was sitting on the fence about ordering the kit. Not only is it an amazing piece of gear, but the Zynthian team are friendly, helpful, and responsive. No regrets on splashing out, even tho it was for me quite a lot a money.
I do have some feedback tho. Apologies if putting this here isn’t correct etiquite. I haven’t looked at editing the wiki pages etc, but wouldn’t want to dive in without consulting here even if I could.
First up just a few updates / changes to the installation wiki that might help new people:
- It might save people some tired finger frustration to insert the SD card (with a fresh STABLE version of the Zynthian OS image on it) before securing the pi to the chassis. Although you can use the little window at the bottom of the unit to change it later, it can be a little fiddly. (I somehow managed to send an SD card flying across the loungeroom last night, I still can’t find it hahaha)
- With the 4.1 kit there’s no need to remove the pi again after seating the passive cooler. The sound card that comes with the new kit doesn’t have any outputs, so it slots in vertically. Unless I’m mistaken, this step can be removed in the 4.1 version? Doing things this way would have the added advantage of being able to visually inspect that the passive cooler is flush with the case after removing the protective tape and before mounting the DAC.
- You’re nearly finished? Don’t get too excited and screw the case together too tightly! I wanted everything nice and solid, but noticed I had buckled the top of the case slightly. Luckily unscrewing things slightly righted everything and there was no permanent damage, but this maybe worth making note of.
- Another very minor thing. The DAC came with it’s own white plastic mounting stands, but the pictures in the wiki alternate between black plastic and copper. I wondered if I should use the plastic ones provided by the sound card, or the copper ones. I decided on the copper ones. This probably has little to no effect one way or the other, but noting either can be used depending on your preference, or that there may be an extra set left over may after your build help save people some head scratching.
While I’m at it, here’s a couple of tips for beginners like myself:
- I found it really useful to print the manual. I know I might have saved some trees by using a phone or a tablet, but I found myself referring to it to double check build instructions, and continue to refer to the user manual as I get to know the Zynthian. And anyway, I printed two to a page, and purchased this little box to spend less time on a ‘computer’ - I don’t want to get distracted by messages and notifications.
- If you’re not using an external sequencer and you want to use ZynSeq, you’ll need to turn on the internal midi clock. This is obvious when you think about it, but it had me scratching my head for a bit. It might be worth mentioning in the ZynSeq wiki, if only to help out slow thinkers like myself haha.
I’ve also encountered a few bugs or curiosities. I’m still learning about the Zynthian, so feel free to correct any incorrect assumptions I’ve made. It’s highly likely that I’m doing something very wrong:
- It says in the UI Users Guide wiki that a long press on the back button will PANIC! All Notes Off. This doesn’t happen for me, instead I am sent to the admin screen, regardless of context. I also can’t find anywhere to change this in the web control panel.
- The S1-4 buttons appear to respond inconsistently, if at all. I understand that if they are bound to short / bold / long clicks of the rotary buttons then they would be contextual, but for instance, due to the above issue I am trying to bind S4 using Hardware / Wiring to UI Action -> All Off (assuming it was the PANIC! function) but this only seems to work in layer or instrument contexts. The Stop / Start Step Seq buttons don’t appear to work in any context. The ‘Screen Control’ option only works in the layer context, but I find myself wanting to quickly flick between the sequencer and the instrument controls. I’ll continue to experiment, but I’m not having much luck.
- Back to needing the PANIC/Note off function handy, when using ZenSeq, some instruments end up with ghost notes left on, even with zero effects. I haven’t had a lot of time to experiment, but I have noticed it happen with both calf monosynth and noisemaker. It is possible there is some sustain setting on the synth as this doesn’t happen with Fluid when sequencing piano, but turning reverb, sustain etc off hasn’t helped so far. I will continue to experiment.
- In the web configuration, there’s no way to add a hidden wifi SSID. I ended up inspecting the page with the browser’s developer tools and modifying an existing select option value. Having an SSID text field would simplify things, and adding a button or checkbox to scan for existing networks means there wouldn’t be a delay after clicking to add a network.
- Changing between Stage and Multi-timbral modes seems to completely bork MIDI. It’s like all the instruments are being pitch shifted or something. I don’t yet understand Stage mode, the only reason I was playing with it was was to try to fix midi when things went awry. Turning it back to multi-timbral mode doesn’t fix it tho. Once things go funny, the only way I’ve found to fix it is to turn it back to Multi-timbral, remove all instruments, and restart. I have tried numerous cables and power supplies, including a quality battery/power pack, and numerous SD cards. Now I’ve got MIDI working it’s not a huge problem as I don’t think I have a need for stage mode right now, but it did trip me up for a while.
- Finally, although the version I am using is the latest stable build - updated via the GUI, having got things up and running, I figured I’d try the unstable builds again on separate cards to see if they might address any of the above issues. I’m still waiting on yesterday’s image to finish downloading, but both of the two others I’ve tried have given me persistent x-runs, and one build wouldn’t talk to my USB keyboard (MPK Mini MK 2). I understand these builds are unstable so I’m not too worried, but are they generally tested and expected to work on official hardware, or are they purely for developers?
Details from the web configuration:
Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Rev 1.4
Soundcard: HifiBerry DAC+ ADC PRO
Display: ZynScreen 3.5 (v1)
GPIO Expander: MCP23017
Raspbian GNU/Linux 10 (buster)
Build Date: 2020-09-05
Memory: 2% (184M/7966M)
SD Card: 67% (9.1G/15G)
Temperature: 58.0ºC ----------
^ we have 36c ambient temperatures, I don’t think I have reason to be terribly concerned about this?
Fine Tuning: 440 Hz
Master Channel: 16
Single Active Channel: off
ZS3 SubSnapShots: on
zyncoder: master (aa91afe)
zynthian-ui: master (0dfc368)
zynthian-sys: master (4ee88ca)
zynthian-data: master (336eadc)
zynthian-webconf: master (0587018)
Apologies for the essay! And I don’t mean to be critical with any of the above. I am absolutely in love with my Zynthian! I purchased this unit with my eyes wide open and only want to contribute and help make it better. I’m new to Zynthian, and no-one would ever call me a musician, but I’ve got a bit of experience with the rest of the ecosystem. I’ll help in whatever way I’m able.
Thank you again to the Zynthian team! And to all of you who contribute to the wiki, this forum, and elsewhere. I did a lot of reading and searching and hashtag lurking before buying, so if you’ve been outspoken about Zynthian I’ve probably laid eyes on it. Hopefully my praise helps convince others, because for me, this little device has made music fun again!
Looking forward to contributing more as I learn, but for now, back to my Zynthian!