Hardware DSP effect? Opinions needed

Hello Lines and liners!
I discovered this beautiful board some months ago, and I decided to subscribe now because I need some suggestions.

I am a 30yo musician, with poor technical knowledge.
I thought with a friend about producing an effect pedal (imagine a very small box like Boss “classic” guitar pedals) capable of loading and running MaxMSP or PD Fx patches standalone (from simple delays and reverbs to crazy audio processing things), and with a great Digital->Analog converter in it, so to give a nice “warmth” to the DSP.
We did some researches on the net and we found some nice existing similar projects, but not so known as they probabily deserve.

So my questions are:

  • would a pedal like this (even with a nice “analog” output in such a small box) be possible to be actually produced?
  • if it existed, would you prefer Max over PD, for patching? (As I think Max is much more common, right?)
  • would you be interested in this hypothetical product? if “hmm”, why?
  • why products like this are hardly developed / why they can’t find so much interest in musicians communities?

Thanks a lot for your answers!


Do you know of the OWL Pedal? It’s pretty much what you describe - small form factor, can load dsp-effects in the form of C++, max, pd and faust (and maybe more? those are all I know about).

Yes, I discovered it within my researches. So the question is why this isn’t a widely used machine, even in more “skilled” and “technical/geek” or “experimental” environments?

I think these sorts of products are less successful because they hit a strange uncanny valley of being fiddly to get your code onto (win for the computer) and not as powerful as a computer (also win for the computer). There are a number of really similar things available, like the Rebel Tech OWL, mentioned above, and Mod Devices also make stuff in the same vein.

Generally speaking, you could run a pd patch on a Raspberry Pi or something similar like a BeagleBone, but if you want to run a Max patch you’d have to export/convert it to lower level code, which is what you have to do on the OWL… I think that’s where it gets fiddly.

Having said all that, the Organelle seems to be doing pretty well, but definitely targeted at a wider audience.

Quick edit to say that a PiSound running pd/supercollider is basically what you’re talking about too.


yeah, id echo all the above

in pedal format you have OWL and ModDuo…
then moving further afield (which you could control via midi/cv pedals) , organelle, axoloti, rPI, Bela,
oh, and of course, nearly forgot Norns :slight_smile:

oh, i think with tech/geeks these are all pretty widely used, but its quite a small market -Ive got most of the above, and love them all :slight_smile:

why does it not spread further?
frankly, because if your not a programmer, these things will take alot of time and effort to learn to program, you also need some dsp skills too , even if your a programmer you still have to learn the platform, and invest time creating patches… this time investment is what ultimately limits their appeal.

( of course the “marketing” for these devices always down play this investment of time, and skills, in an attempt to broaden the market - but I think reading the product forums show the truth :wink: )

this is where C&G with the Organelle have been really clever, whilst they spent time demonstrating how to program it, they have continually released new and novel/interesting patches - this has not only kept musicians happy/interested, but I think inspired musician/programmers to contribute, and helped build a community.
(this process has taken a while, I think the organelle has been out 2.5 years?)

and community is important! I find as a programmer, Im more interested in releasing software on a platform like Organelle, where theres lots of musicians, where there is a buzz about what can be done musically, its fun to involved with musicians, rather than just ‘geeking out’


Thanks for your helpful replies. Now I’m really thinking about a “consumer” / “plug-n-play” device. Imagine a small blank “guitar” pedal with just a few knobs, ready to receive a pre-made and downloadable crazy audio-processing Pd patch (one at time, to focus on music and to mess around with sound and not with presets or thousands of effects) with a simple mouse drag-n-drop and with a nice output which gives the DSP audio a nice analog warmth… and a simple online library with thousands of downloadable free patches. So that you don’t need to be a programmer or to know Pd to use it; and at the same time if you like to code you can do whatever you want with the device.
A sort of organelle, but just as an audio/midi fx (or simple noise generator), as it wouldn’t have keys or a screen, bust just an fx on/off switch and four knobs - like a classic Boss pedal. And made to play instantly… like a, again, boss pedal that you can feed with different type of effects, one at time.
What do you think about it? Useless idea?

that pretty much sounds like the OWL pedal!?
whats different? (they also have an online patch library)

who is going to develop these ‘thousands’ of patches? that’s a lot of dev effort :wink:

the problem with not having a screen on a programmable device/pedal, is the musician will become lost really quickly - how will they know which patch they have loaded? or what the knobs do?

(since its programmable, you tend not to be able to build up muscle memory in the same way, as its continually changing… unlike even a multi function pedal, which still only as predefined set of functions)

I think that’s the issue with the OWL pedal, and why the mod duo is better.

if you haven’t checked it out yet, id recommend going looking at the mod duo and also the plugins they list… what cool is not only do they have lots of plugins, but you actually build a pedalboard (drag n drop) to build up complex fx.
ok, its not pure data, but you can still extend it by writing LV2 plugins.

the other thing mod devices have I think got right, is they have realised that once you start getting into more complex setups you need more controls, and so they have a concept of extending the foot controller.

the mod duo is not cheap…
but if you get a raspberry PI, and buy something like a PiSound (audio interface) and a midi foot controller , you can then install modep, which is the same software as the mod duo uses.

get bored of modep , then you can use puredata instead :wink:


The existing hundreds of organelle patches can get pretty crazy. And Orac permutations indeed may push it to the “thousands”. (Thanks @TheTechnobear).

I’m a lousy technical person but I’ve yet to run out of patches to explore (musically) in a year w this thing. Also often compatible w a cheap foot pedal.

Paired with a Zoom MS 70 for your stomping needs perhaps?

And nascent Norns, of course.


@TheTechnobear @healthylives you are right… there’s no need for something which already exists (especially Organelle, which is already a state-of-the-art thing). But… I still hear this little voice…

Regarding the OWL / mod duo, as I am not a programmer, what prevents me from being attracted from those machines (apart from their ugly design) is the lack of “user-friendly” side. I perceive them as something for geeks, or at least, not for just “musicians” who doesn’t have any programming basis. To me, it’s like those boxes were focused more on “geeking out” than on actually making music.
I’m certainly wrong, but this is how I feel those machines – unlike the Organelle, which I love.

Norns seems to me an extremely beautiful and powerful machine, but it’s “too much” for me, as I’m not into coding.

Maybe the problem to me is just the aesthetics and that lack of “user-friendly” / “ready-to-go” / “plug-n-play” feel. And they all sound very “digital” to me — which of course could be Ok since we are in new territories here, but I personally like the idea of digital processing paired with an analog “warm” output sound.

That’s what prevents me from 100% abandoning the idea of a new pedal.
Sure when the first iPod came out, that was not something new as mp3 players already existed. But the design, the user-friendly side…
I don’t know.
I think that if the pedal that I have in mind actually existed (well designed, like Organelle / OP-1 / Norns, just to mention some beautiful objects, with a simple drag-n-drop system that would “hide” all the Pd/coding side to me as I am not a programmer but ‘simple’ musician, and with a warm output sound), I would be seriously considering the idea of buying it.
The point wouldn’t be having a machine capable of doing thousands of things. But having a DSP/analog pedal ready-to-play and to be integrated in a small setup (connected to, let say, a synth or a drum machine), focusing on just ONE patch at time (like a classic fx pedal), forgetting about the coding side while playing. Something designed to have two very different and separate moments of using it: the programming side, in front of a computer, experimenting things with Pd etc. Once this step is completed and the patch uploaded to the pedal (or, once the patch of choice has been simply downloaded from the internet and uploaded to the pedal), it’s just about making music and sound, forgetting pure data, forgetting the computer, forgetting screens, forgetting that “computer things” are happening.
This is pretty the same case of the Organelle, but for how that machine is designed (maybe for the screen output, and the possibility of selecting different patches on the fly?) with the Organelle I feel like you are always stimulated by the “computer / coding” side of it. And for what it is and for how it is designed, it’s something I’d use more as a standalone powerful machine rather than an effect, let say, for a synth.
Thanks again for your very helpful opinions.

perception/aesthetics are pretty personal… so could be, and I do understand where your coming from, but I suspect each pf the manufactures of the above devices, all thought they were creating something ‘non-geeky’… so perhaps more difficult than it appears.

perhaps your ideas might be more aligned to something like the Zoia Empress?

this is being made by a reputable pedal manufacturer. it allows the user to create custom effects, but the building blocks are made by Zoia - so its a supposed to be simpler than other offerings
(I think its still pre-order, so not available yet to see really how easy it is to use)

ah, thats tricky again.

at the end of the day these things are digital, and how “digital” they sound (*) often depends more on the patch rather than the underlying hardware - frankly a saw oscillator from PD/SC/axoloti on any of these platforms all sound pretty similar :wink:
(btw: patches are important, its unfortunately easy to create simple patches that sound digital, simply because they alias badly… it takes a bit more knowledge/effort to avoid this, rather then better hardware)

but, I will agree because these things are a bit niche and from small manufactures, I think the demos and ‘factory presets’ sometimes don’t do them justice.

also Id point out the the majority of the the above, all use good quality DACs (often Burr Brown).
do you have a particular DAC in mind that you think will be better, and is going to give the you this analog ‘warm’ sound?

also does this “warmth” need to be in the pedal?
perhaps sometimes the digital sound is what you are after!?

with any of these if you want to ‘knock the corners’ off the digital sound, then you could always run them thru an analog FX unit, of your choosing, to colour the sound a bit.

recently, Ive been playing with cassette tape to do just that… not really in the pursuit of ‘analog warmth’ but rather just because I like the colour/texture it adds.

oh, I dont think you should, nor would I try to persuade you (or anyone else) too…
theres always room for improvement, and for sure none of these have ‘taken the market by storm’ (e.g. like say Volcas) , so if you have a vision of how to deliver this ‘better’ - thats really cool Id love to see it.

my comments are merely to illustrate whats there, my experience with them, and perhaps the difficulties they face this influences their design- rather than saying they are the ‘pinnacle’ of achievement :slight_smile:

perhaps, there is another side to this…
If you plan to do this, it might be an idea to prototype your ideas on one of these existing platforms (e.g. Norns I believe was prototyped using a RaspberryPI with PiSound, so thats one option, but Id also recommend looking at Bela), this will help you develop the idea, and ensure it lives us the goals you are setting.

anyway good luck, look forward to seeing what you can come up with.

(*) without getting into the digital vs analog sound debate here, as some will argue regardless how you ‘polish’ digital with analog processing, it still sounds digital - but this is moot for me, Ive no issue with digital or analog, with can sound great to me.

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my lunchtime thoughts…

I think the next thing that comes along in this vein needs to combine analogue and digital. So alongside the DSP stuff ( and I think Automatiomism would be a great platform for this) would be a nice preamp, overdrive and maybe a bucket analogue delay.

The anologue should of course be controlled within the patch and include routing options and preset saving. You wouldn’t want to be forced to have all the analogue after all the digital.

Agree a screen is crucial. Preset saving should also be done in the box.

The other issue is auditioning patches- you would need to plug it in and try it (this is the case with axoloti) or some dummy objects to simulate the anaolgue could be in the platform for getting a quick idea when sketching up patches on the computer.

I suppose an expression pedal and some cv in as well as midi would be expected.

The next issue as this gets pushed up the price scale for build is whether you put it on the floor or a table. Stomp box is one thing with heavy buttons, metal case and some kind of readability when you look down on it.

The thing should look good and not be afraid of having some quirks and character – something that multi effects processors can lack.

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There are two aspects to this: as a business and as a technology

Business wise your question is: “is there a market for a programable device that looks nice/cool/desirable and is easier to use than some of the current programable devices?” - the answer to that almost certainly ‘yes’ the thing you actually want to know is “how big is that market”. There are mass market devices that are kind of what you describe - the Eventide H9 for example - I suspect that they have sold a fair few of those. However that will be helped by the fact that it contains Eventide algorithms. Down the other end of the scale - I suspect most units sell a small number of 100’s of units and even the wildly popular - say Maths Eurorack are still 1000 and not 10s of 1000s

So can you make it commercially viable at that scale?

I’d not get hung up on the “analog” aspect - Organelle can make some lovely warm sounds the basic “analog style” patch is actually very nice.

I think the other aspect is “who is going to make the algorithms”? if you want a community and open source contributions - you will need something very hackable. I’d argue that Norns and Organelle, being linux based, draw a lot of us in simply because it is such an a) familiar and b) flexible environment. If you are going to be the supplier of Algorithms then you are giving your self a whole load of production costs and a big bottle neck…

I say all this not to discourage you - I’m certain there is a market if you pitch it right - but to get you thinking about the right things: who precisely are you selling to? how many of those people are there? do they have disposable income? what are your production costs going to be? how can you manage them? What compromises are you prepared to make?


I also feel like you’d run into competition from stuff that’s DSP-based and purpose built, so gets you a sound palette you want but doesn’t have the overhead of re-learning layouts depending on what’s loaded or of managing what’s loaded on the thing. On a personal note that I think might be illustrative, a lot of what I’d want to do with like what you’re describing for granular delay, and at this point I’m not only choosing between things like norns and pisound and the organelle, but I’ve got the count to five and the red panda stuff and a good few other options that would get me into that territory.

That said, a recent post in the guitar setup thread led me to this pedal, which gets loaded up with your choice of 8 algorithms, if I’m reading the page right. Seems pretty cool.

Thank you so much for all those great inputs. That’s very precious to me; I’m taking some time to re-arrange ideas.

Multi possibility pedals have been around forever, since the do it all boss mega pedals to do the newer - and much cooler - versions like owl, mod etc. Now, the geeky and programmer side of me loves these… but in practice, the last thing I want to think about when I grab my guitar or bass is what programs I last loaded on these and squinting at a screen. I want to play and adjust knobs that are known and second nature to me while I’m playing. And this is key, having discrete pedals with a clear defined behavior.

As far as I love in theory these pedals, I don’t believe they will ever become mainstream since they force you to get out of your musical brain side to the more cognitive and analytical. This is not at all what I am looking for when I pick up my bass or guitar. The h9 is basically at the limit of I want in a pedal.

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Thanks mate, this is exactly what I was thinking = a pedal made to play, instantly, just turning knobs and forgetting everything else! :slight_smile:

why this isn’t a widely used machine,

isn’t it? i’ve seen it in a few setups, someone had one at the gig I played on weds

don’t know how ‘widely used’ anything to do with Max is in the grand scheme of things :slight_smile:

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One thing to improve over the Owl if you do design one is giving it a silent/non-clicky footswitch

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I have a MOD Duo. It could not be easier to use. There is absolutely no programming requirements. You simply visualize a pedalboard/series of effects that you want to use. Then select, drag them into a visual interface to the pedal, drag some on screen wires to connect them, and then make any necessary adjustments to the effects settings. All the same as you would with a physical pedalboard.

Going beyond the physical pedalboard, you can assign whatever parameter(s) you want to the MOD Duo’s rotary knobs and footswitches to further personalize.

There’s several hundred different effects available, both audio and MIDI. Additionally, there are dozens of complete pedalboards available that other users have put together. You can add them with a one-click to your device and try them. Great for getting ideas about what particular effects have to offer.