In this review we will cover:
- What is the history of the LM-1 and why would we want to emulate it in 2014?
- Why we need more than samples to accurately emulate the LM-1
- The vLinn plug-in GUI and features
- Directly comparing the vintage vLinn detuning algorithm to different types of sample-rate conversion
- Directly comparing samples from the original LM-1 to the vLinn
What is the history of the LM-1 and why would we want to emulate it in 2014?
The LM-1 was the world’s first programmable drum machine to use digital samples instead of analog synthesis. It was produced between 1980-1983 by Linn Electronics and caused a revolution in the music industry at the time.
Never before had such realistic drum sounds been available without hiring a drummer and a studio. It changed the face of 80’s music and featured in countless hits. You will be familiar with songs using the LM-1 by artists like Prince, ABC and The Human League.
A couple of years later the creator Roger Linn made the sequel, the LM-2. This is commonly referred to as the LinnDrum. After that he made the Linn 9000, and eventually under the Akai name the original MPC-60 back in 1988.
The LM-1’s characteristic sound is crunchy, fat and lo-fi. This is largely due to the original drum samples being recorded at 28 kHz using only 8 bits. They are played back from the machine’s programmable EPROM at various rates to create different pitches. Here is a video of it in action:
LM-1 LinnDrum Samples vs Emulation
There are some samples online that claim to be from the LM-1, but most of them actually turn out to be from the machines successor, the LinnDrum.
Using samples alone can’t fully emulate the machine. You will be unable to accurately emulate two main features of the original:
- You can’t change the sample’s pitch and retain the correct sound.
The original hardware does not work like a modern software or hardware sampler. Unless you are using a special SRC (sample-rate conversion) algorithm or DAC emulation, sounds that are pitched down will loose their high frequencies compared to how they would sound on the original. They will also loose the special crunchy character the original is famous for.
Regardless of the DAC or SRC used, they will not have the same envelope or specialised high pass filtering of the bass sounds either.
- The Hi-hat of the original is played back from a constantly looping sample. It is slightly different each time, this can’t be emulated properly in a sampler.
So it’s 2014 and we are still in need of an accurate LM-1 emulation, so here is Aly James Lab’s vLinn 1.0, the world’s first virtual LM-1!
The vLinn plug-in GUI and features
The vLinn is available in 32bit VST format for the PC. It is created using SynthEdit as its main framework with custom coding for everything else. This is a similar set-up to that used by the well known freeware author Bootsy from the Variety Of Sound website. There are plans to make the vLinn 64bit and Mac compatible in the future.
If you are running a 64bit DAW you can use it’s built in 32bit > 64bit bridging or a 3rd party solution like jBridge. It has been working perfectly on my 64 bit copy of Reaper using Reaper’s own built in bridging.
The vLinn works like a virtual drum machine containing all the sounds with all the associated controls of the original. It does not have its own sequencer. You are expected to use your host DAW to do the drum programming. This is the best solution, Aly explains on his website about the myth of the LM-1 sequencer groove, you are much better off using your own midi sequencer inside your DAW. You can emulate the original sequencer by setting your MIDI sequencer resolution to 48 PPQN, this is most likely labeled as Ticks Per Quarter Note in your sequencer. In Reaper you can find this setting in Preferences/Midi:
It has some fantastic extra features, the best one being it can load compatible external EPROM files. If you visit Electrongate Drum Machine Resources you can download EPROMS for the following machines:
- The Oberheim DMX (Classic Hip-Hop machine)
- The LinnDrum (The not so different sequel to the LM-1, AKA the LM-2)
- The Sequential Circuits Drumtracks
You can even create your own EPROM images using the free Promenade software!
The vLinn can store it’s built in LM-1 sounds and your custom EPROMs at the same time. You can flick between the two with the press of a button. The interface is very well designed and easy to use. This is the main menu selection where you control which screen to view. Let’s look at each:
This brings up the volume sliders for the different instruments.
This brings up the Low Pass filter controls. These are only relevant for the Bass, Conga and Tom sounds.
The purpose of these filters are to cut out the high frequency aliasing and background noise for the bass instruments. The clever thing about them is that you can delay the onset of the filtering to allow the high frequency transients of the drum sound to cut through.
If you pitch down a downloaded sampled Bass, Conga or Tom sample that has the delayed onset filter recorded onto the sample you will make the length of the onset longer the further you go down. This is a vital element of the emulation and is one area that can’t be emulated using a normal sampler.
The delay is controlled by the pulse offset control.
This screen enables you to load external EPROMs into the sampler.
Here we can set how the vLinn responds to velocity, like the original with two velocities, or fully responsive like a modern sampler.
A bit of useful information about the software
Other than the menus there are other elements of the GUI that are always on screen.
Drum Trigger Pads
Drum Trigger LED’s and Pitch Tune dials
Here we can type in the playback frequency of each individual drum sound if we wish, or adjust it using the dial.
Hi-hat Decay Slider
Here we can adjust the decay of the hi-hat sound and see the drums in a scope.
Now we have seen the plug-in interface lets get down to hearing how good it is at emulating the original.
Directly comparing LM-1 LinnDrum samples from the original to the vLinn
NOTE: The video review has a lot more examples than this written section!
One of the plug-in’s main features is to emulate the LM-1’s trademark crunchy sound. This sound is largely due to the way it plays back the digital samples stored in the EPROMS. We are going to look at alternative ways we could try to achieve this same effect, and then see if the vLinn is the best solution to get crunchy lo-fi LM-1 sounds.
In the DAC emulation of this plug-in there are many technical elements that may have been included, but I would argue the main thing is the SRC. The original EPROMs are samples at 24 kHz. To just play them back at the rate they were recorded at requires conversion from 24 kHz to 44.1 kHz (assuming your DAW is running at 44.1 kHz).
The vLinn DAC emulates the AM6070 DAC. Aly’s website says:
Following the exact datasheet decode table for 8bit companded incoming DATA. The real LM-1 nasty griddy sound at every pitch, like the real thing, forget resampling or tuning crappy samples packs which will always sound dull at lower pitches!
The only other emulation of the AM6070 I know of is Plogue’s Chipcrusher. I have not heard it myself, the website says the following about it’s emulation of the AM6070:
Inside Reaper we have real-time access to many different SRC algorithms. If you were playing back the WAV file in your sampler you would probably have some thing like the 64pt Sinc algorithm.
The vLinn has a little extra high-end, this suggests that the vLinn does not attempt to totally model the original hardware’s output circuits. I think this is a good thing as we can do it our-self with some of the most amazing quality freeware tools available.
I have created this preset for TDR VOS’s free SlickEQ, regardless of your DAW you can paste this in to load my preset:
<TDRVOSSlickEQ lowBandGainParam=”3.0″ lowBandFreqParam=”30″ lowBandShapeParam=”Off” midBandGainParam=”0.0″ midBandFreqParam=”1000″ highBandGainParam=”-18.0″ highBandFreqParam=”29986″ highBandShapeParam=”Off” eqModelParam=”German” eqSatParam=”Off” hpFreqParam=”Off” outSatModelParam=”Linear” outSatDriveParam=”6.0″ outGainParam=”0.0″ bypassParam=”Off” modeParam=”Stereo” lowBandBypassParam=”On” midBandBypassParam=”On” highBandBypassParam=”Off” autoGainParam=”Off”/>
Here are a few drum patterns made using the vLinn, and also some recorded from the original machine and kindly supplied for this review by Aly James. You can also download them all as FLAC lossless files for your listening pleasure.
The vLinn is a very close emulation of the original hardware. If you are after a 100% perfect copy of the original you will need to add a little extra processing, but this is only for total perfectionists. If you want to copy the original 80’s sounds you will want some kind of console and tape emulation anyway.
It is an amazing bargain for the suggested minimum donation of 15 Euro. I understand it took Aly over a year to make and is obviously a labour of love. If you can afford to I suggest you donate more, I understand he is considering emulating another popular old digital drum machine that should make a lot of people very happy.
The vLinn is available from: http://www.alyjameslab.com/alyjameslabvlinn.html
If you want to learn more about the LM-1’s creator Roger Linn, check out his web site: http://www.rogerlinndesign.com
What do you think about the vLinn VST, the original LM-1, or this review? Please discuss in the comments below.
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