Someone needs to invent a modelling unit that runs VST plugins

Will Chen

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
7,804
For what its worth I have accomplished something similar to this. I got the idea because I owned a Helix Floor, but had to sell it but I really liked it and once I found out about Helix Native I knew there had to be a way to use that live. This is what I have done.


Lenovo Tiny Form Factor PC with 4 gigs ram, 120gb SSD and an Intel 4th gen Celeron.
M-Audio Fast Track C400 interface.
Originally Used a Behringer FCB1010 foot pedal but have since switched to a custom controller I have designed that includes switches and pots so that I can change various effect parameters like delay time and distortion gain etc. in real time just like I would an actual stomp box.
I also originally had a 10 inch capacitive touch screen LCD display with HDMI.

The PC runs Windows 7 with basically all services and everything disabled except for what is required to make the audio interface and the VST host software work.

I have modified the registry to hide the windows boot logo as well as change the shell to the VST host software so that it is the only thing that loads when windows loads. no desktop at all.

Once you map your buttons on your controller to whatever you need in your VST whether it be Helix or Amplitube or Guitar Rig, you can save the whole setup as the default. In my case I have Helix running into Amplitube as if they were 2 stomp boxes on my pedal board.

After a while I found that the screen was really un necessary as I didn't use it very often and for the odd time i did use it was only to tweak some parameters which can now be done from my custom midi controller. And if I need a screen to make new presets etc. I can do it from my phone using remote desktop or something similar.

I also modified the windows registry and Bios so that it will never try to go to safe mode from an unclean shut down. It auto boots on restoration of AC power. and a few other tweaks.

I stuffed all this in a custom pedal board I made with an internal compartment to keep it out of the way.

The result is a pedal board that functions and sounds just like my old Helix does with some extra functions like chaining VST's. And when powered on it loads strait to the last preset that was loaded when it lost power and it does it in about 6 seconds. WAAAY faster than the actual Helix Floor.
I have been running literally like all day every day for about 7 months now and it only gets turned off to be moved. It's been used for gigs and the setup itself is Rock solid, I have never had a crash or a hiccup. it just works. and the latency is non detectable. Around 3 - 6 ms.

Total cost was about $250 vs $2500 for an actual Helix.

Hope this helps.

If this is a process that's fairly easy to source parts for, you might be able to make some decent money custom building these on the side...
 
Messages
2,893
I remember the Muse Receptor being a huge deal in this space for a while. I'm guessing that the laptop is what killed those.
I have one.

It had several benefits:
Built in I/O, optical, ethernet, midi ports.
Knobs, panel presets, and an LCD menu such that you didn't have to bring along the screen menu to use it at a show.
A stripped down Linux OS with just the one VST host integrated, designed for running without risk of corruption, updated drivers, background processes, etc.
...and what I got it for, automatic assignment of every VST parameter to 16,000 MIDI NRPNs.

They killed themselves basically. It was a combo of poor marketing, and high maintenance, being unable to respond to an evolving scene with things like iLok appearing on the market. It was unable to run windows apps, just the VSTs. Even an install it could handle required downloading to another computer then accessing a shared folder over its peer to peer ethernet. If your VST came with a windows install app and any security at all, it likely wouldn't work. They ended up having to work with vendors to create Muse versions of VSTs, and I'm sure this got tedious.

They were going after high-end seasoned professionals, but the money in VSTs was with younger people who already had a laptop anyhow, and were hoping to get by piecemeal with freeware - not invest in a nice piece of platform package gear. The people who understood the tech and those who could afford it and make the most appropriate use of it were not the same crowd.
 

kylevaughan

Member
Messages
3
If this is a process that's fairly easy to source parts for, you might be able to make some decent money custom building these on the side...
Super easy to source the parts. I am near Toronto and I see like hundreds of these little machines for sale for under $100. I have also been able to get the helix software to run on an old netbook using an intel atom cpu at 1.2 ghz. Really basically and computer that can run windows XP can handle guitar effects with ease. Even the crappy little Atom CPU blows away any DSP chips they are using in multi fx pedals now a days as far as processing power goes. Hell my Digitech 2120 was running on I think an 8 bit ZILOG MCU at 16 mhz, Basically an Arduino, So really you could salvage an old laptop motherboard or really anything. Really for the most part its going to be the audio interface and its drivers that have the biggest impact on latency. And windows 7 can be stripped right down to basically nothing, you could even set it all up in a pre boot environment so there is zero chance of the OS messing anything up. So long as you can load the VST host and the audio interface, then you're good to go.

The most expensive part to source I think would be the foot switch, but any midi device will work. Heck you could even just modify a qwerty keyboard and map those buttons instead of midi.
 

Elric

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,646
<hoops jumped through to build portable PC rig deleted>

Total cost was about $250 vs $2500 for an actual Helix.
$250; if your time is not worth anything.

I would just use an old laptop, personally. A PC rig is different than what OP was talking about, IMHO. Could throw one together with my old MBPro and Meloaduio TS Mega in under an hour with Mainstage. Maybe I will mess with it this weekend. LOL.
 

msquared

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
1,144
They were going after high-end seasoned professionals, but the money in VSTs was with younger people who already had a laptop anyhow, and were hoping to get by piecemeal with freeware - not invest in a nice piece of platform package gear. The people who understood the tech and those who could afford it and make the most appropriate use of it were not the same crowd.
Wow, very interesting, thanks for writing all of that up!

I had messed with building something like this in Linux for a while but the hardware input options weren't great back then (early 2000s - touch screen availability wasn't much) and I never figured out how to make it work without having a laptop along. I was hopeful about the Muse gear but never saw any in the wild to mess with and didn't want to just spend the money sight unseen. I'm glad I didn't bother, it sounds like it would have been a mess for the kind of electronic percussion work I was doing at the time.
 

Will Chen

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
7,804
Super easy to source the parts. I am near Toronto and I see like hundreds of these little machines for sale for under $100. I have also been able to get the helix software to run on an old netbook using an intel atom cpu at 1.2 ghz. Really basically and computer that can run windows XP can handle guitar effects with ease. Even the crappy little Atom CPU blows away any DSP chips they are using in multi fx pedals now a days as far as processing power goes. Hell my Digitech 2120 was running on I think an 8 bit ZILOG MCU at 16 mhz, Basically an Arduino, So really you could salvage an old laptop motherboard or really anything. Really for the most part its going to be the audio interface and its drivers that have the biggest impact on latency. And windows 7 can be stripped right down to basically nothing, you could even set it all up in a pre boot environment so there is zero chance of the OS messing anything up. So long as you can load the VST host and the audio interface, then you're good to go.

The most expensive part to source I think would be the foot switch, but any midi device will work. Heck you could even just modify a qwerty keyboard and map those buttons instead of midi.

Great! What I'm saying is even on this board a great many guitar players aren't technically inclined and have trouble even programing their modeler. I personally use an FM3 so am not in the market, but I bet you could make some money custom building these given the budgets of some guys on this and other boards. If you can build it for $250 I bet you could sell them (depending on features) for near triple the price.
 

John Mark Painter

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
14,642
For what its worth I have accomplished something similar to this. I got the idea because I owned a Helix Floor, but had to sell it but I really liked it and once I found out about Helix Native I knew there had to be a way to use that live. This is what I have done.


Lenovo Tiny Form Factor PC with 4 gigs ram, 120gb SSD and an Intel 4th gen Celeron.
M-Audio Fast Track C400 interface.
Originally Used a Behringer FCB1010 foot pedal but have since switched to a custom controller I have designed that includes switches and pots so that I can change various effect parameters like delay time and distortion gain etc. in real time just like I would an actual stomp box.
I also originally had a 10 inch capacitive touch screen LCD display with HDMI.

The PC runs Windows 7 with basically all services and everything disabled except for what is required to make the audio interface and the VST host software work.

I have modified the registry to hide the windows boot logo as well as change the shell to the VST host software so that it is the only thing that loads when windows loads. no desktop at all.

Once you map your buttons on your controller to whatever you need in your VST whether it be Helix or Amplitube or Guitar Rig, you can save the whole setup as the default. In my case I have Helix running into Amplitube as if they were 2 stomp boxes on my pedal board.

After a while I found that the screen was really un necessary as I didn't use it very often and for the odd time i did use it was only to tweak some parameters which can now be done from my custom midi controller. And if I need a screen to make new presets etc. I can do it from my phone using remote desktop or something similar.

I also modified the windows registry and Bios so that it will never try to go to safe mode from an unclean shut down. It auto boots on restoration of AC power. and a few other tweaks.

I stuffed all this in a custom pedal board I made with an internal compartment to keep it out of the way.

The result is a pedal board that functions and sounds just like my old Helix does with some extra functions like chaining VST's. And when powered on it loads strait to the last preset that was loaded when it lost power and it does it in about 6 seconds. WAAAY faster than the actual Helix Floor.
I have been running literally like all day every day for about 7 months now and it only gets turned off to be moved. It's been used for gigs and the setup itself is Rock solid, I have never had a crash or a hiccup. it just works. and the latency is non detectable. Around 3 - 6 ms.

Total cost was about $250 vs $2500 for an actual Helix.

Hope this helps.
“The Floortop”
 

edgarallan

Member
Messages
135
Hmm... When I was using a laptop rig, I carried the whole rig in a messenger bag, all of it was extremely durable (I played hundreds of shows with it and never had an issue) and setup was as simple as opening up the laptop and plugging the MIDI controller into a USB port.

I mean, I'll give you that a hardware unit designed to withstand the rigors of the road could be more durable, but it's not like laptops are too fragile to handle gigs
What MIDI controller did you use?
 

MKB

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
9,381
On the small PC side of things, there's also the very capable line of Intel NUCs. I'm using one as my main music computer and a UAD Apollo Firewire audio interface, works great. Put one of those in a case with a display and footswitches, and a capable USB interface, and you'd be ready to go. I'd like to add the Intel NUCs are very well engineered products, very high quality and rugged.

There are manufacturers that have released boards similar to a Raspberry Pi but can run Windows. The iPi might be a good place to start; at work we ran one of these with a more capable Adlink SMARC with onboard flash drive, and it kicks all sorts of butt. And FWIW, from looking at an inside pic of one of the Fender Tonemaster amps, they use SMARCs as the processor in those (along with an ICEPower power amp).

 

pipelineaudio

Member
Messages
1,890
You need a full computer to run VSTs. No way to have a VST modified MacOS or Windows. This is absurd. You can have Linux do that as of course it’s open source, but who cares?

What you wait for is these guys porting their wares to pedals and iPads, just like Eventide and UAD is doing now. Digital pedals. They are kinda cool also, but it‘s pedals, and $$$
Elk OS is already doing this. We've been developing during time off with it. I wan't my VST's in a pedal and thanks to Elk, its all doable
 

Los-D

Member
Messages
863
For what its worth I have accomplished something similar to this. I got the idea because I owned a Helix Floor, but had to sell it but I really liked it and once I found out about Helix Native I knew there had to be a way to use that live. This is what I have done.


Lenovo Tiny Form Factor PC with 4 gigs ram, 120gb SSD and an Intel 4th gen Celeron.
M-Audio Fast Track C400 interface.
Originally Used a Behringer FCB1010 foot pedal but have since switched to a custom controller I have designed that includes switches and pots so that I can change various effect parameters like delay time and distortion gain etc. in real time just like I would an actual stomp box.
I also originally had a 10 inch capacitive touch screen LCD display with HDMI.

The PC runs Windows 7 with basically all services and everything disabled except for what is required to make the audio interface and the VST host software work.

I have modified the registry to hide the windows boot logo as well as change the shell to the VST host software so that it is the only thing that loads when windows loads. no desktop at all.

Once you map your buttons on your controller to whatever you need in your VST whether it be Helix or Amplitube or Guitar Rig, you can save the whole setup as the default. In my case I have Helix running into Amplitube as if they were 2 stomp boxes on my pedal board.

After a while I found that the screen was really un necessary as I didn't use it very often and for the odd time i did use it was only to tweak some parameters which can now be done from my custom midi controller. And if I need a screen to make new presets etc. I can do it from my phone using remote desktop or something similar.

I also modified the windows registry and Bios so that it will never try to go to safe mode from an unclean shut down. It auto boots on restoration of AC power. and a few other tweaks.

I stuffed all this in a custom pedal board I made with an internal compartment to keep it out of the way.

The result is a pedal board that functions and sounds just like my old Helix does with some extra functions like chaining VST's. And when powered on it loads strait to the last preset that was loaded when it lost power and it does it in about 6 seconds. WAAAY faster than the actual Helix Floor.
I have been running literally like all day every day for about 7 months now and it only gets turned off to be moved. It's been used for gigs and the setup itself is Rock solid, I have never had a crash or a hiccup. it just works. and the latency is non detectable. Around 3 - 6 ms.

Total cost was about $250 vs $2500 for an actual Helix.

Hope this helps.
Man this is really encouraging. Is there a list of recommended registry modifications to better fine tune a PC for vst usage?
 

the swede

Member
Messages
4,591
In my opinion and experience the easiest and most viable way (considering time and setup) was to use the Xsonic Xtone Pro with my M1 MacBook. Just load THU, Amplitube, Neural… stand-alone apps and rock. The Xtone is a brilliant piece of gear.

What I don’t understand about Mod devices is…. Why isn’t it gaining traction? It should be a success on paper…
 

Elric

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,646
In my opinion and experience the easiest and most viable way (considering time and setup) was to use the Xsonic Xtone Pro with my M1 MacBook. Just load THU, Amplitube, Neural… stand-alone apps and rock. The Xtone is a brilliant piece of gear.
Yeah, the TS-Mega is similar, one stop shop; audio interface + MIDI control. If you combine it with Mainstage you can multiple plugs live and switch between them seamlessly.
 

barber76

Member
Messages
89
It's been on this forum:
exactly what OP described. VST plugins unit.
 

jimdasher

Member
Messages
8
Lenovo Tiny Form Factor PC with 4 gigs ram, 120gb SSD and an Intel 4th gen Celeron.
M-Audio Fast Track C400 interface.
Originally Used a Behringer FCB1010 foot pedal but have since switched to a custom controller I have designed that includes switches and pots so that I can change various effect parameters like delay time and distortion gain etc. in real time just like I would an actual stomp box.
I also originally had a 10 inch capacitive touch screen LCD display with HDMI.
Total cost was about $250 vs $2500 for an actual Helix.

That seems low for a small PC, interface, foot pedal, and display ... of course you may already have some of those. If you're buying plugins or other software, that costs as well.
 

m0b1liz3

Member
Messages
898
In my opinion and experience the easiest and most viable way (considering time and setup) was to use the Xsonic Xtone Pro with my M1 MacBook. Just load THU, Amplitube, Neural… stand-alone apps and rock. The Xtone is a brilliant piece of gear.

What I don’t understand about Mod devices is…. Why isn’t it gaining traction? It should be a success on paper…
If you already have a USB audio interface, then you could also just add one of those cheap midi pedals like one recently mentioned here:

TGP post about Cuvave Chocolate


Lots of people have either Ipads or Android tablets (or even smartphones). If they could figure out a way to run VSTs on them then that would be ideal. (Maybe a virtual system type app that could run windows within Android?) I guess the alternative would be a more expensive device that runs windows but that would kind of defeat the idea of saving money by using stuff already on hand.
 




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