• Alex

Volca FM Midi Out Mod

I love my Volca FM, but I really want to be able to get the patches off it, and maybe even record some automation into Ableton that I can then use. But no MIDI Out 😱


Fortunately it turns out the connections for a MIDI port are right there on the inside, and with a little bit of soldering (and a lot of Googling) you can have yourself a fully MIDI capable Volca. Here's my little box of FM goodness after the surgery...



To get going I suggest you take a look at all of these links. There are good tutorials out there. Below I have noted some of my experiences that might be helpful to read before you get started.


Walkthrough YouTube Video

Volca FM MIDI-out hack - Neurogami

Volca Keys Step by Step instructions

Useful reddit post


Tips and Gotchas


Attaching the Female MIDI connector

  • Use a Female MIDI connector with a cable, rather than trying to house the connector in the box. It’s much easier to punch a small whole in the box and have lots of available cable to play while you are soldering.

  • I just bought a MIDI to 3.5mm cable and cut off the 3.5mm jack. You can then use your multimeter to check which pins are connected to which wires - make a note!

  • Pin mapping is: TX = Pin5, VD = Pin4, GND = Pin2. Use this diagram to make sure you are wiring it correctly.


Your MIDI cable

  • Make sure the MIDI cable and Interface you use to connect to your computer can handle SysEx. Apparently some can’t 🤦‍♂️. If you can, try out your setup on a different bit of gear that has factory support for MIDI Out / SysEx.

  • I used this cable and my Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 which worked fine.


Testing

  • Get MidiMonitor from Snoize

  • Volca sends ActiveSense and Clock continuously. If you don’t see those it didn’t work.

  • Use MidiMonitor to filter our clock and ActiveSense. Now hit Play on the volca. You should see the Note and CC messages from the sequencer.

  • The keyboard does NOT send MIDI Note information, so don’t think your implementation is broken if you don’t see it.

  • Twisting the knobs on the panel should also generate MIDI cc.

  • Hitting EDIT, then EXPORT and EXPORT again, should Generate a 163 byte SysEx message with a Yamaha Manufacturer code (the Volca FM pretends to be a DX7 for SysEx purposes).


MIDI peculiarities


SysEx

  • You can record and send SysEx back and forth for all or just one program using SysEx Librarian from Snoize

  • The SysEx is not quite the same as the DX7 🤦‍♂️. It is missing a Checksum byte immediately before the terminating F7 byte. For me, this meant that Dexed did not import the SysEx data. You can add a junk byte to the Hex using iHex and Dexed will complain, but nonetheless import it.

  • The Volca itself cares not whether the Checksum is there. It’ll accept either.


CC Messages

  • For some totally unknown reason, the MIDI Out is actually implemented as MIDI Thru. This means any CC messages that are sent to the Volca are immediately echoed back.

  • Be careful not to set up MIDI loops in your DAW or your params will go haywire!

  • If you want to turn the knobs on the Volca then play them back after recording them: Disconnect MIDI In while perperforming. Disconnect MIDI Out and reconnect MIDI In when playing back

  • If you want to control it remotely all the time, just disconnect MIDI Out

  • If you want to avoid lots of cable switching and have Max4Live, then download my Volca FM MIDI Performer and put it on your Volca channel


Have fun!