New Product: TBX1 Next Generation Device

May 26, 2017

For well over a year now, visitors to the TBX1 product page have been met with the ominous words SOLD OUT, along with a notice that TBX1 is being replaced by a new product slated for release in 2017. Since posting that notice, I have received on average a few emails per month from musicians interested in having more information about the new product, to which I have always replied something like "I'm sorry I don't have any more information at this point, but I will be posting a blog entry about it soon."

The last few times I've said this, I've started feeling a little delinquent. It's no secret: I've been slow getting around to this (as well as other blog threads). Obviously, maintaining the blog isn't a very high priority for me. The work itself is more important. Because of this disposition, sometimes I have to ask people to just trust me, that work is getting done, even though I don't report it. Or, that when I say I'm too busy to do it just now, that's really true.

Anyway, today I want to share some details about the mystery product which will replace TBX1. First, some pictures. The device is a bit smaller than TBX1. To make the hardware able to be embedded into other projects, my original design was based on a stacked PCB model. Here are my PCB sketches.

This User Interface (UI) board sits on top of an Input/Output (IO) board.

I sent these sketches to my design engineer partner Jordan Petkov (in Bulgaria), who a few weeks later sent me back this image of his PCB design.

We had intended for the first prototype to be finished in 2016, but there were several setbacks, including moves for both of us: I moved to Germany, and Jordan moved his business to a new location in Bulgaria. Jordan also found out midway through the initial firmware design that the chip he had selected would not work for the needs of the device. This meant that a different chip with a completely different architecture had to be used, and the firmware would be need to be entirely rewritten. So, Jordan is still in the process of writing the first version of the firmware for this device.

Here is a basic overview of the new device which will be replacing TBX1.

  1. Unit stores over 8000 tuning tables. (Compare TBX1: 512 tables)
  2. Each tuning table is 128 x 3 bytes per register: (note, bend MSB, bend LSB), and table names are 16 characters. This is the same as TBX1, except that TBX1 grouped 4 tables together into “layers”. The new device offers instead any combination of any tuning table with any of 16 MIDI input channels (much more flexible than TBX1).
  3. All data (including table names and presets) is stored in non-volatile RAM. Tuning names and preset data are not overwritten by firmware updates (which was a problem with TBX1).
  4. Response / processing is up to 10x faster than TBX1.
  5. There are 40 Presets, numbered 0..39, and 10 preset buttons, numbered 0..9, with helper buttons for selection. (Compare to TBX1: 15 presets with 15 buttons).
  6. Has a 1/4" stereo jack for 2 pedals in one plug input for selecting presets forward / back (new, user-requested feature).
  7. Each Preset has a MODE (new, user-requested features):
    • MONO: bend+note, 1 channel only - no dynamic channel allocation. Each input channel is assigned its own tuning table.
    • POLY: bend+note on selected channels, same as TBX1, except that each input channel is assigned its own tuning table.
    • MTS_: 128 note MTS sysex dump is sent when preset is pressed, unit passes MIDI input through unchanged.
    • USER: user-defined sysex dump is sent when preset is pressed, unit passes MIDI input through unchanged.
  8. The 16 latching channel buttons of TBX1 are gone, they are instead assigned in the Preset dialog or via Sysex messages.
  9. DIP switches of TBX1 are gone, parameters are now stored in presets and firmware, changed by preset or sysex messages.
  10. Standard cell-phone L-ion battery allows 8 hours operation, can be recharged using a standard micro-USB cell phone charger (Compare to TBX1: 6 AA batteries or a 2.5mm barrel plug 12V 1A power supply).
  11. Sysex message format is as short as possible = 13 bytes (40% faster to program than TBX1).
  12. Retransmits CC messages (same as TBX1).
  13. Has the same BYPASS latching switch which turns turns off processing, just passes MIDI through (same as TBX1).
  14. Has a BROWSE function for quickly auditioning tunings without having to set a preset (new, user-requested feature).

That is the outline. Because there has been so much interest, and those interested usually want to know the details about features and MIDI implementation, I also decided to make a public version of my design specification. If you'd like to read through it, feel free to download the Public Specification (v5.1).

Once we have a prototype, normally we go through at least another iteration, usually two more versions, before we arrive at a final product. That has to happen before we can determine a price. Too many things are yet to be determined, so I'm sorry I still can't quote a price. We may still be able to do all this within 2017, I hope. If you are interested in buying one of these, please let me know, since production cost can be minimised for orders of larger quantity. For those who contact me early, at some future point I may be able to get you a discount on a pre-order.

Oh, and what's it called? It's called the "Scale Station" *.

Best Regards,
Aaron

* One might have expected "TBX2". For sake of continuity, that is a good alternate name for the device. Scale Station (TBX2).

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