[music-dsp] diy dsp synth - where to start?

David Olofson david at olofson.net
Tue Jan 20 01:07:00 EST 2004

On Tuesday 20 January 2004 08.13, alternative at home.nl wrote:
> hi folks...
> doing my final school project and having a job in an office
> (slightly boring over time) i figured it'd be good to start a diy
> synth project. but hell.. dsps.. there are so many, and you can
> make it sooo expensive. where should i start? are there prebuilt
> boxes which can be plugged to a pc and be programmed? or do you
> need to solder the chip on a circuit board yourself, what brands
> are good as sound sources etc.

There are all sorts of solutions, all the way from chips through 
evaluation and prototyping boards with converters and everything on 
them. Cost is anywhere from almost free to insanely expensive, 
depending on whether you can get a student discount, what kind of 
power you need, how much hacking and soldering you're willing to do 

Or just do what I did; wire a bunch of SIDs, some memory and an MCU 
together. ;-)

More seriously, you could just grab an ITX board with integrated 
audio, video, NICs etc, install RT-Linux, RTAI or Linux/lowlatency on 
it and hack away using the standard GNU tools. Work locally or via 
LAN - whatever works for you. There's no way to get started quicker 
than that, and you have endless porting options if you need more CPU 
power, better audio I/O, lower power consumption, or whatever. 
Anything from 486 PC-104 boards through high end SMP 
server/workstation boards, as well as PPC, Alpha and other archs, 
will run Linux with RTAI, RT-Linux and/or the lowlatency patches.

Granted, this class of processors are not DSPs, but most of them have 
rather powerful floating point SIMD extensions these days (requires 
asm or macro/intrinsic coding, but you're still in an environment 
with a real OS...) and they are available with insane clock 
frequencies at reasonable prices.

//David Olofson - Programmer, Composer, Open Source Advocate

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