All’s well …

… that ends well.

Staying in the literary groove, this is a tale of two batteries. And two manufacturers who stood behind their products.

I was hunting in the deep reaches of my gear closet looking for a TS mono to XLR cable when I came across my old You Rock Guitar (gen 1). I hit the power switch and got an audio burp as the batteries gave out their last. Fortunately, I have a pack of Duracell Quantum AA batteries nearby.

Whoops, what’s this white crud? As most folks know, the Duracell Quantum is sold as a premium alkaline battery. So, I was quite surprised to find a leaker in the pack.

If it was an el-cheapo battery, I might have just tossed the leaking battery and moved on. However, these are Quantums! My first action was to check the state of the Quantum batteries installed in the PSR-E443. Sigh of relief — no leakage. My second action as to note the expiration date (December 2023) and the lot number stamped on the side of the batteries and to call Duracell.

The Duracell rep was quite helpful. In addition to the lot number, I needed to find a number that is printed faintly on the plastic blister pack. The rep recommended discarding the remaining unused batteries. (Seems like good advice.) Duracell is sending a coupon for new batteries. A tip of my hat for their customer service.

The second battery-related incident played out over two weeks (understandably so). I had purchased an IK Multimedia iRig BlueTurn pedal to flip pages in forScore. Although I’m still learning to dance on a new set of buttons — that’s on me — the BlueTurn works like a charm.

One day, I grab the BlueTurn and “Hey, what’s this white crud leaking from the battery compartment?” Yep, at least one of the alkaline AAA batteries is leaking.

I previously had registered the BlueTurn with IK Multimedia and I contacted their customer support via e-mail. I sent a picture of the leaking batteries in the compartment and proof of purchase. IK Multimedia owned up to the problem and sent a return authorization (RA) number. The only down-side is that IK Multimedia does not pay for return shipping. However, I really like the BlueTurn and ship it by UPS.

About one week later, there’s a new BlueTurn on the doorstep. Here’s a special shout-out to Ryan in their customer support department!

The BlueTurn episode shows how a manufacturer (IK Multimedia) is at the mercy of their suppliers. To their credit, IK Multimedia stood up, especially since the leak occurred just six weeks after purchase.

The AAA batteries are marked “Dist by G.I. NY, Made in China.” At this point, I would be all set to bash cheap batteries from China except that the Duracell Quantum AA batteries were “Made in U.S.A.” Beware of knee jerk reactions!

If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s never fully trust battery integrity. If you’re not using a device, then remove the batteries. Finally, be sure to register your products. You never know…

Thanks, again, to Duracell and IK Multimedia.

FreePlay style deconstructed

Yamaha FreePlay styles for PSR and Tyros are terrific for music without rhythm instruments and strong rubato (variation in tempo to achieve a musical or emotional effect).

I’m customizing a few FreePlay styles with the intention of using them for liturgical music. In the first pass, I’m changing the OTS voice settings and I’m making a registration that calls up my go-to voices for traditional and contemporary church music.

Of course, my curiosity took over and I had to take a look inside of a FreePlay style or two using a DAW and Michael B’s StyleDump program. I have attached a text file with my working notes. The notes may be too much detail for most readers, so here is a quick summary of what I found. I’ve looked at only two styles so far: EtherealHymn (taken from the CVP-609) and OrganPlay1 (taken from the Church Organ expansion pack).

First off, how does it sound and feel to play a FreePlay style? The accompaniment is triggered and guided by the left hand as usual. (I haven’t tried FreePlay with AI fingering, etc. yet.) The accompaniment plays a gentle pad-like chord and a simple bass. The simplicity provides a blank canvas on which you can embellish to your heart’s content.

You might guess that the MAIN and FILL IN sections are quite simple and you would be right. The MAIN sections in the OrganPlay1 and EtherealHymn styles hold notes for 8 and 32 measures, respectively. The chord source in each case is CMaj7. The BASS track holds a single note (e.g., C2) through the entire section. The chord or pad tracks hold the rest of the notes that make up the CMaj7 chord: E, G and B. Harmony-wise, that’s it!

The FILL IN sections are similar and hold notes for just one measure because FILL IN sections are only one MIDI bar long.

Without a rhythm track, those looooooooong notes have a timeless quality. A musician would rarily — if ever — hold a chord that long. Thus, MAIN sections typically do not re-trigger.

Yamaha’s genuine contribution lies in the INTRO/ENDING sections and the fun MIDI stuff that happens during the MAIN sections. The INTRO and ENDING sections have more “orchestration” and consist of style appropriate introductory and ending phrases. For my own purposes, I will probably stick to the simple INTRO A and ENDING A sections as it’s generally hard to match up more complicated musical phrases with the main theme itself.

The “MIDI stuff” must have been fun to program. The EtherealHymn style has string and choir tracks. The string track has MIDI expression data (Control Change 11 or “CC11”) that repeatedly ramps up for two measures and down for two measures. The ramp pattern creates alternating string swells up and swells down. Other control change patterns are rather unusual and I’ll leave that for you to explore with a DAW! (All you need to do is to change the “.STY” or “.FPS” extension to “.MID” and import the renamed file into a DAW.)

One could create a basic FreePlay style from scratch. The MIDI notes in the MAIN and FILL IN sections are dirt simple. The fun part would be selecting instrument voices and effects with dynamic elements that give life to the accompaniment. Then there is the creative aspect of driving the voices and effects with MIDI controller data. For INTRO and ENDING sections, a little Bach or Mozart would do.

Hmmm, sounds like a fun wintertime project!

Review: MIDIPLUS miniEngine USB

First, I must apologize to the folks who drop in regularly to see what’s up. Between the holidays, new music, and final preparations for winter, there hasn’t been a a heck of a lot of time to blog.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t new toys around the house!

One of these little gems is the MIDIPLUS miniEngine USB. The miniEngine is a General MIDI engine in a small blue box (approximately 3″ by 4″ by 1″). It has a bright blue three digit LED display, three buttons and a data wheel. Connectivity includes:

  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 3.5mm MIDI IN
  • USB Host (type A) port for MIDI-over-USB communications
  • USB mini-B connector for charging and power

The miniEngine comes with a short 5-pin DIN to 3.5mm adapter, allowing you to connect the miniEngine to a standard 5-pin MIDI OUT jack. The miniEngine has a built-in rechargeable battery (2500 mAh capacity).


The USB Host jack should have raised your eyebrows. Most MIDI modules are USB “devices” with a type-B jack, which is intended to facilitate communication with a USB host computer.

The midiEngine is a USB HOST. That means you can connect a typical MIDI controller (with a USB type-B port) to the miniEngine and jam away. The midiEngine provides power to the MIDI controller, too! For testing, I tried the miniEngine with an M-Audio Keystation mini 32 and everything worked like a charm. I also drove the miniEngine using a Nord Electro 2 with success.

I didn’t have much success driving the miniEngine from a personal computer running Sonar. In this case, I connected the miniEngine to the PC over 5-pin MIDI. The miniEngine received MIDI data (i.e., its MIDI indicator flashes), but I wasn’t able to play back a standard MIDI file (SMF). Somewhere down the line — during the doldrums of February — I’ll try again.

So, how does it sound? Not bad! The audio output is relatively clean (no hums, pops or crackles). Some of the sounds like electric pianos, strings, and horns are quite usable. Don’t throw away your copy of Hans Zimmer Piano (211GBytes), however. As usual, a few of the voices are naff.

The three buttons choose the kind of data to be set by the wheel: VOLUME level, PROGRAM change, REVERB level. The miniEngine responds to the cooresponding MIDI messages when sent by the controller. Thus,

    miniEngine + controller = General MIDI synthesizer

The data wheel is the only downer; it feels and is pretty cheap. Otherwise, everything works as advertised.

But, wait! There’s more. While researching the miniEngine, I came across a customer comment stating that the miniEngine is based on the DREAM 2553. I pulled out a screwdriver and opened the case. Unfortunately, I’m not able to confirm that claim as I chickened out and didn’t remove the circuit board within. The data wheel is just so cheap that I didn’t want to screw up the miniEngine. (At least not yet.)

I did download the data sheet for the DREAM SAM2695 chip and tried many of the MIDI messages supported by the SAM2695. The miniEngine responded to the DREAM-specific CC80 and CC81 messages that change the REVERB and CHORUS type. So, the miniEngine is almost certainly DREAM-based. I verfied the following MIDI continuous controller (CC) messages:

    CC01 Modulation wheel
    CC07 Volume
    CC10 Pan
    CC11 Expression
    CC80 REVERB program (DREAM)
    CC81 CHORUS program (DREAM)
    CC91 Reverb send level
    CC93 Chorus send level

There are also a bunch of DREAM SysEx and NRPN messages. The NRPNs can control synthy parameters like vibrato, filter cutoff/resonance and envelope times. If you get a miniEngine, be sure to download the data sheet and try these messages!

So, hey, who are these DREAM guys? Check out the DREAM web site. DREAM design and sell DSP chips for synthesis and audio processing. They’ve been doing that since 1987. If you’re not a big hitter like Yamaha or Roland, you might turn to DREAM for a synth engine.

I got my miniEngine on an ebay close-out for $40. Prices seem to have risen to about $80 or $90. For a stand-alone MIDI expander, it’s still worth the money.