Implementing a minimal asynchronous multitrack looper in hardware

last week, i got into one of those moods where i felt the urge to unplug every piece of gear in my setup and rethink the entire signal flow. conclusion: i own a whole bunch of looping gear that isn’t working as elegantly as it should.

through the years, i’ve gone through a whole bunch different off-the-shelf loop pedals, each one excelling at something different, but none really nailing what it is that i’d like to see. i’ve spoken with a bunch of friends working in various ambient/sound art genres and it seems i’m not alone in this.

after a bunch of thought, and some basic prototpying in max/msp, i’ve landed on two simple designs. i’m wondering what the options are for implementing either one the following in hardware.

DESIGN A :: 4-track asynchronous looper

  • 1 input / 1 output
  • four buttons, each of which controls record/play/overdub/stop for an independent asynchronous loop channel. functionality similar to tc ditto looper, where first tap records, second tap plays, third tap overdubs, double tap to stop, etc.
  • four pots/faders, each of which control loop playback level for its channel.
  • as small as possible standalone enclosure.
  • analog dry-through signal path, high-resolution digital loop recording.

DESIGN B :: 8-track asynchronous looper with mappable i/o and basic mixer functionality

  • 4 inputs / stereo out
  • eight buttons for record/play/overdub on 8 independent loop channels.
  • eight pots/faders for loop levels.
  • matrix section/patchbay/preset options for mapping inputs to loop channels. (1x8, 2x4, 4x2, etc.)
  • per channel panning.
  • per channel aux send.
  • stereo aux return.
  • as small as possible standalone enclosure.
  • analog dry-through signal path, high-resolution digital loop recording.

i know there are some off-the-shelf units that come close (boomerang, ehx 22500), and i know that i can buy multiple loopers. i really don’t want to. this seems like it really shouldn’t be that hard to implement and i’m willing to get creative to make it happen.

i’ve looked into the rebel tech owl modular and owl pedal, which are attractive (as one could run custom max patches using gen) but the UI is not quite what i’m looking for. i’m also generally aware that a raspberry pi running pd might be an option, though i’m not sure where to begin as far as fabricating an enclosure or UI. are there any other options worth knowing about that would allow max/msp or pd to run on a customizable hardware interface?

i’ve also heard that the octatrack could be an option, but i don’t love the idea of all that extra functionality for something that should be so simple to achieve.

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Have you considered the organelle? I imagine it would probably pretty easy to bang together a patch like this.

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Watching this closely!
I have similar desires. The closest setup I have assembled was Mobius hosted inside of Bidule, controlled by an Akai Midimix. a complete mess.

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An Organelle or RaspberryPi + PiSound should be able to do this easily. For all your controls, I’d just add a LaunchControl XL: ( Fader + 3 pots + 2 buttons + led feedback ) x 8. If you really wanted to go minimal, FaderFox UC4 (8 faders, 8 buttons, 8 bankable encoders - much smaller, but double the price of the LCXL).

The only real downside is that either of these have only one stereo pair in and one out.

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give a look at axoloti.
Axoloti provides a microcontroller board, stereo audio in/out & midi in/out and a custom programming/patching environment similar to maxmsp/pd. It costs €65.00.
@thetechnobear is involved in the project and if around, should give you more insight details…

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Also worth looking is bela dedicated low-lattency audio proccessor that provides stereo audio, (x8) analoge I/O and (x16) digital I/O
Coding is in C/C++ but there is some pd & maxmsp/gen integration.

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Pd integration in Bela works really well, at least it seemed very good when I did the Bela workshop last year.
The only downside I can can see to going with a Rpi + Pisound – apart from the limited audio in/out channels – is the fact that you’ll need to DIY yourself some way of getting visual feedback for what is going on in the loops, and at that point you might as well just go with something more DIY-oriented like the Bela.

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a teensy with its audio shield, maybe ?

i’ve gone down this road a few times. the complexity seems to be overdubbing. msp, reaktor, pd all seem have issues with a well-wrought, glitch and pop-free overdubbing capability. this was addressed by the ~karma external, but it is a compiled external.

i am very interested in ansync looping becoming a solved problem. it is the center of my processes and right now even in software things are not right. abletons looper has a 90 sec max, augustus loop is unreliable and mobius doesn’t work properly on 64bit systems.

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Here is a 4 track looper on the Organelle.
https://patchstorage.com/donnieloops/

Here is spoitras port of pdf alfaloop also on Organelle
https://patchstorage.com/looper/

Have not explored either of these in depth but both look promising!

I can also contest that the best way to pull off asynchronous looping right now is with a max setup running karma~(s). I used to use a launch control for triggering and control but I didn’t like being blind about where my different loops are so I’m currently working on a patch that uses the pushbutton Arc and shows your loop points moving in circles.

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those organelle patches don’t seem to support sound on sound overdub. the second one has an overdub function but that seems to be a punch-in rather than sound on sound.

has anyone seen a karma based looper running in max4live?

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Just dug this up – http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/3004/push-chop-ver-1-0

Push chop doesn’t seem to fully implement overdubbing either.

I am very interested in the original focus of this post, though… a dream device would be a small hardware looper that is low cost. So many things could be built on a relatively simple device it existed.

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agreed! it seems so simple and there are already a lot of options out there, but none quite like this. even personally & locally I can think of a handful of people, including myself, that would be into this.

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Honestly, I think this is the best option barring completely building something from scratch. You can buy 4 Dittos and a mixer for close to what you’d spend on an Organelle or a Max/MSP setup with hardware for the I/o and control. Why not just rehouse them in a larger box? I know this doesn’t seem that elegant, but I don’t see any reason to reinvent the software wheel here - especially if things like the Organelle don’t appeal to you (this would be the next best, or perhaps even the best option).

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To me the only reason for not just taking 4 dittos – as @bradfromraleigh suggests above – and putting them into a small pedalboard case is to have sync, which you’re not interested in, so I’d also suggest to do that.
This said, if I had a lot of time on my hands, and somebody to help me with the coding I’d develop a looper device that takes all of the features of the Boss RC-505, makes it 4-track, removes some pointless effects and the built-in rhythms, adds loop decay and pitch shifting, makes it much more compact, houses it into a proper metal enclosure and redesigns the interface a bit to expose often used features like reverse, which are a bit buried in the menu.
The lack of the things listed above made me sell the Boss in the end… and that was the closest I could find so far to what I imagine being the perfect looper. :frowning:

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ok, so reasons why four dittos won’t work for me (and I am really looking for corrections here, so… if you know better) Ableton’s looper covers these issues pretty well (Ableton’s looper will only loop 90 seconds, though, which is another problem.)

  1. a ditto, like most other looper pedals, always plays the input through to the output. this is generally not what I would prefer – you can’t really use them as sends if they work this way as you’ll be doubling your outputs. an option to mute the input would be very nice. if you can mute the input you can have a nice solid sound going, start a loop recording, fade the signal into the looper and then when you switch to play/overdub the loop just emerges in the mix.

  2. four dittos means you need a mixer with four sends that’s a lot of mixer and a lot of sends.

  3. to get a loop to route to a looper, you need to plug unplug audio cables, which is loud and glitchy.

  4. dittos don’t have a feedback insert, which, while not strictly required, is pretty freaking great to have and allows for a lot of good things.

  5. dittos are mono.

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Stereo and feedback loop don’t really translate to minimal. I think something like the Organelle could be made to do everything you want, especially with a midi footswitch.

I haven’t delved too deep into mine, but I think ram would get problematic pretty fast with Axoloti.

I haven’t checked the forum in a long while though so maybe there are efficient solutions now.

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