Experience report: Sylphyo with Sample Modeling instruments running on a tablet

  • I am a hobby musician and am using Sylphyo for live performance. I wanted a light weight mobile solution. That's the reason, why I wanted to run the virtual instruments on a tablet. In the end it turned out that this is possible with today's technology and working quite well :-)

    For those interested, here is experience report.

    1. Choosing a tablet computer
      I felt quite unsure, which tablet would be powerful enough for running the virtual instruments, so I chose a high end Windows tablet and ended up with HP Elite X2. It is terribly expensive, but fortunately, there are refurbished devices on the market for half of the new price. (FYI: my alternative solution would have been Windows Surface pro, which is also quite expensive)
      With this tablet, it is no problem to run two virtual instruments in parallel. The buffer size of the ASIO driver is 256 samples. The CPU load is always below 30%. It works well even in battery mode.

    2. MIDI fine tuning
      I bought two different instruments from Sample Modeling: The Flutes and The Trombone 3.
      One of them is coming with Sample Modelings own SWAM engine, the other with Kontakt Player.
      The swam engine needs a host programme for running, the Kontakt player can run as standalone application.
      I ended up with hosting both inside a vst host programme and I am now quite happy with that.
      This allows for a fine tuning of the MIDI controls in order to ensure optimum playability. This is, what I did so far:

    • I tried to control the Vibrato of The Trombone with the roll control of Sylphyo and CC1. This was disappointing at first, vibrato behaviour was very abrupt and the vibrato was much to deep and not usable in this way. I then implemented a simple MIDI filter for mapping the CC1 values coming from the Sylphyo (0 - 127) to the limited range of 0 - 50 for the trombone. Now, the vibrato is exactly behaving as I want it.

    • I tried to control the portamento time for The Trombone with the Slider function of Sylphyo. Basically, this is working will without any tweaking. However, I find it quite difficult to use the whole Slide range on the Sylphyo (i.e. to move the thumb down the slider all the way while playing). So, I implemented a MIDI filter, which is mapping the values coming from the Slider CC via a CC curve in a way, that 80 coming from the Sylphyo is already leading to the maximum input value 127 for the virtual instrument. Now it is easy to use high portamento times on the trombone during playing.

    • The Sample Modeling instruments are strictly limited to the key range of the real physical instruments. While I understand that, for me as hobby musician it is somehow annoying because every now and then, it happens that I play an out of range note and then nothing comes out of the instruments. So I ended up with combining different instruments and assigning a specific key range to each of them in order to extend the overall playable key range. For example, I chose a C Flute as main instrument and extended it with the Piccolo Flute on the higher end and the bass flute at the lower end. I did the same with tenor trombone and bass trombone. Now, every instrument is configured in that way, that the specific main instrument (be it Piccolo, C Flute or Bass flute) is playable over its full key range and then the range is extended by appropriate supporting instruments which I tweaked in a way that they are matching well to the main instrument.

    1. Choosing an appropriate VST host programme
      I didn't make a market survey and in fact have no real overview over available host programmes. I just start to use one of them and am quite satisfied so far and that's what I can report about.
      I started to use the free Cantabile lite.
      When I found out that I need to implement MIDI filters etc., I changed to Canabile solo, which is quite affordable.
      Cantabile solo supports all the MIDI filtering and combining of instruments as I described above and I started to like it.
      Recently, a new (still experimental) build was released, which finally provides something I was thinking about right from the beginning on as a tablet user: Now, I can prepare different sets and assign them to a grid of big buttons on the tablet. During live performance, it is easy to just push one of the buttons on the tablet in order to activate one of these predefined sets. That's something, I really like.

    If anybody here has been going through similar experiences, maybe you want to share them as well.

    Btw: I am still looking for a nice synthesizer VST which is responding well to the Sylphyo. Any hints?

  • Aodyo Instruments

    Thanks for this quite complete report, Christian. Looks like you found a terrific setup! And you came up with a nice solution for the limited range of the Samplemodeling instruments. Reading your post made me look for my cheap Windows Bay Trail tablet and try out some SWAM instruments as well.

    Of course, it's a 100€ 8-inch tablet (Dell Venue 8 Pro 3845, with 1G RAM), and Windows 10 is quite unreliable with it (I regret updating from 8.1), so I didn't expect it to be a trusty rig for live performance, but I found that it works surprisingly well for quick jams when loading only one VSTi.

    First, I installed ASIO4ALL to be able to output low latency audio. Then, I downloaded the last 32-bit version of the SWAM Flutes and could install them without a hitch.

    For the VST host, I didn't install Cantabile yet, but I had a copy of Hermann Seib's SAVIHost floating around (32-bit, VST2, with the embedded keyboard). It's a really bare-bones host with very few functions, but it does its job. So I copied savihost.exe to the same folder as the Alto Flute VSTi, renamed it SWAM Alto Flute 32bit.exe (the same name as the .dll) so that it would automatically open the VSTi at launch, and made a shortcut on my desktop. This way, I can just double-tap on the shortcut, and ten seconds later I can start jamming on the Sylphyo.

    At first, I had some issues with some license dialogs on the SWAM interface that didn't manage touch input at all, so I used TouchMousePointer, an on-screen touchpad which is quite helpful when dealing with desktop and legacy software.
    It was also helpful for precise pointing, so I could configure the virtual instrument with our recommended parameters without any problem. AFAIK SAVIHost doesn't allow to finely adjust MIDI input like you did, but a future Sylphyo update will allow to customize the ranges of CCs directly from the Sylphyo.

    My tablet has only two ports : one micro-USB for charging and external devices, and one 3.5mm jack for audio output. Just enough for a battery-powered Sylphyo jam. So I connected the Sylphyo receiver device on the USB port using a micro USB OTG adapter.

    In SAVIHost I went to the Devices > MIDI… menu, and selected Panda-Audio midiBeam as Input Port 1. Then, I went to Devices > Audio…, and I selected No Wave as Input Port, and ASIO: ASIO4ALL v2 as Output Port. After an intense parameter tweaking session, I settled on 44100 as the Sample Rate, and on 64 samples as the Buffer size.

    To make it work without glitches, I also had to go to the ASIO4ALL control panel (in SAVIHost, there's a Devices > Asio Control Panel… menu), and change some parameters in Advanced options (the wrench icon):

    • set the ASIO Buffer Size to 64 samples
    • in the WDM Device List, select Intel SST Audio Wave for IHF, enable Out: 2x 48KHz, 16Bits and disable In: 2x 48KHz, 16 Bits
    • in the Latency compensation section, set both In and Out to 0 samples
    • and in the Options section, enable Allow Pull Mode, Always Resample, and Force WDM Driver to 16 Bit, and set Buffer Offset to 20 ms

    With these settings, I could play without perceivable latency (there's slightly less when the output jack is used compared to the internal speakers).
    SAVIHost shows my CPU is around 23% at rest, and around 75% when playing. I sometimes encounter brief buffer underruns (there are small audio glitches), but they should be entirely gone with a ≥128-sample buffer.

    Having all the power of Samplemodeling instruments in such a small package is quite exciting! Here is a picture of my cheap mobile setup, and here is how it sounds. Again, for serious live performance I'd rather buy a powerful and reliable tablet like you did, but it's nice to know that even cheap tablets can run a Samplemodeling instrument.
    The only issue I found with this setup is that there are much more glitches when the display is put to sleep, so I may have to create a custom "Sylphyo" power profile so that it never sleeps.

    As for synth VSTs running on Windows, I rarely reach out for synths outside Live or other DAWs, so I couldn't say.