Zynthian + Nektar Keys & Controller + Motu M2?

Hey there - looking to put something together in the next couple weeks for me to play with and also as an Xmas gift for my son.

I see pretty much all the parts are sold out, but here was my plan and I’m about to start tinkering but just wanted to see if I was on track with how this all would work…

I the following:
Raspberry Pi 4 4GB
Nektar Panorama keyboard
Nektar Aura sequencer / pads
Motu M2 Audio Interface

I am ordering:
7" Raspberry Pi touchscreen
A case for the pi and touchscreen

I primarily just want a little DIY piano module for my son to play piano on, which Pianoteq would handle.

With the Motu to handle the audio I/O, and the two MIDI controllers’ knobs and pads and keys assigned to all OS functions, and touchscreen navigation combined with a keyboard for non-touch navigation as needed, I should be able to set up a mostly functioning kit here right? Or are there additional hardware bits that I would need to scrounge up to get some basic functionality?

Sorry if I’m re-treading well worn conversational ground, I have done some digging in the forum but figured I’d ask directly because I hadn’t quite found what I needed yet

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gorgeous looking controller.


You will be hanging a lot of kit on the USB ports of the Pi, so I would look to the Power supply requirements for all this. I suspect you will have more power leads than audio leads in your rig so look to that.
Your audio interface can only be powered ( as far as I can see) from USB so that would be the device to drive from the Pi, everything else should have external power so it’s lots of wall warts and an appropriate mains block to power them all.

You should have everything you need for the simple structure you are describing, And a keyboard and touchscreen do allow you to drive the zynthian reasonably effectively but I would also use a mouse, and a VNC screen set to read only if you do start to investigate the full potential, which hopefully you and your son will.

so you will probably run out of USB connectors and this a hub would be another device to sling into the mix.
Choose carefully which devices are on the hub and which are directly connected to the Pi. A mosuse and keyboard, obviously can interface via a hub effectively, but you want your audio interface plugged directly into the Pi, to keep down latency.

The encoders are well matched to the audio engines interface so you might find them a little cumbersome,but you certainly have a useful rage of control devices on th keyboard to allocate to engines you may use and doing so on the touchscreen and with the new interface since the stable release, is considerably easier than it used to be.

Get an official Pi power supply to drive this all. A Pi 4 running zynthian likes a good soli power supply and skimping on this component is a possible source of problems that is resolved by an official PSU.

Otherwise enjoy.
That’s why we are here.


If you have a tablet kicking around, you might consider going headless and connecting to the VNC interface instead, which saves you cost of the touchscreen as well as some annoying wires.

I’m sure there’s a computing expense involved in running the vnc, but I’ve not had any problems doing several chains at once on a Pi4, with HifiBerry or with my Scarlett devices. I do actually have a touchscreen kicking around that works nicely, but I’ve given up using it until I get around to constructing a good solid box to hold everything in place, at which point I will likely also take the time to wire up the knobs too. Meantime, vnc works great, even just with a mouse.

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@jtode @wyleu

Thanks both of you for your feedback here!

I just learned about Zynthian a couple days ago while trying to find a decent cheap piano module - the kid likes to practice piano and I like fiddling with electronics and linux and staying up late playing with Dexed and guitar effects and things, so I was immediately interested. I had previously used an old iMac converted to linux machine to satisfy both of those needs with Bitwig and some other softwre… but that stopped working, then I started using my MacBook, but I also use it for work and other things so I’d really like to just have a setup that lived with the controllers and was as close as possible to pretending there wasn’t actually a computer involved once it’s all set and running. Don’t think I have any old tablets or anything kicking around.

As far as the VNC - I have a 2nd Rasperry Pi that I could set up specifically for that. I understand that if I wanted to see the engine’s interface, for example Dexed’s default UI, I would do that via the VNC, so that seems worthwhile to do. To start I’ll just plan to use my laptop for that though.

Knowing that it should work as I have planned, before I start ordering a ton of stuff to put it together… I’ve focused mostly on getting Zynthian running because it looks cool… are there other software solutions I should be considering? Or is Zynthian currently the big dawg on the block when it comes to turning midi controllers into a workstation or piano and also having effects / recording / sequencing abilities?

Looking forward to playing with it :smiley:

I’m not aware of anything as full-featured or as well put together as Zynthian in terms of Pi-based stuff. It’s a singularly great project that everyone is very lucky to have access to, even without any extra hardware besides the Pi.

Folks will be around if you run into any problems too.

Oh one other thing, you are aware that Pianoteq is not free? They’ve worked with the devs to make sure it functions well, as I understand it, but you still need a license to use it without pretty unusable limitations.

The good news, there are tons of soundfont files with perfectly fine pianos, which are free.

I have all the necessities on the way and a pi with Zynthian imaged to it. Will get to start messing with it next week. I knew about Pianoteq not being free, I’ll definitely look into the free options though. Was leaning Pianoteq just because the kid is familiar with it and it’s ezpz, but if I can get something set up that he can easily select and just play and sounds better than a Midiplus box then I’ll definitely do that.

No other diy synth comes close to what Zynthian offers. Zynthian hardware and software are open source. It is packed with features and has an active community of friendly users and contributers. Please keep us posted on your new zynthian journey.