MIDI Controllers and Microtonality

Hello, sorry if this is really obvious but can all MIDI controllers, for instance the Novation SL MK III deal well with microtonality?
I am on the verge of getting the Hydrasynth instead of a regular master midi controller only for its microtonality capabilities but I wonder if there other options that I’m missing. And I guess a subsequent question if I do get the Hydrasynth and connect it to my TG-33/Blofeld/Evolver would the MIDI out send the microtonal paramters or is that dependent on the sound engine of each synth?
Lastly what are some of your favorite microtonal friendly polyphonic synths?

Except for a few devices, the selection of microtunings in a synth—including the Hydrasynth, which I have—means selecting a tuning program that is mapped to the 128 MIDI notes. That means you get about 10 octaves of our standard 12-EDO, about 6 octaves of 19-EDO, and a paltry 4 octaves of 31-EDO. Any ordinary controller has access to those 128 choices of notes via its regular MIDI notes.

My favorite microtonal friendly polysynths are Waldorf Kyra, Black Corporation Deckard’s Dream, and Black Corporation Xerxes. I own these because along with allowing the loading of tuning programs that map 128 microtuned notes to MIDI like the ones described above, these three devices support real-time tuning so that you can access the full 10+ octaves of any microtuning at any time. The catch is that you have to employ the proper sysex commands at the right time. Moog Matriarch also supports this, but it’s not a poly. I don’t have a Matriarch, but it’s high on my list.

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Super helpful thanks! Just to make sure I understand the flow correctly though.
First scenario: Say I have the Hydra running a tuning program of 31-EDO, and I send it MIDI out to the Blofeld/TG-33 their audio output will also reflect the 31-EDO?
And second question: if I just use a regular midi controller I would only be able to do microtuning via soft synth right?
Thank you for the help with figuring it out.

this might be of interest as think it would allow you to use a standard midi controller to play microtonal scales and output them to MIDI… does need a computer though… (as long as I understand what you’re asking )



No. Hydrasynth (like all devices mentioned above) will only output MIDI notes. The receiving device will play whatever it has mapped to those MIDI notes. Its mapping is unrelated to the sending device’s.

If I understand you correctly, the answer is no. Any external controller will play the Hydraynth’s microtuning when that’s selected on the Hydrasynth. A soft synth doesn’t matter here. It’s also the same situation for a soft synth like Omnisphere, which I have: when a microtuning is selected, Omnisphere will still only respond to 128 MIDI notes so that Omnisphere’s microtunings have a limited range, sometimes limited to less than 128 notes.

If you’re talking about using a plugin to employ the pitch bend trick to achieve full-range microtuning while limiting each channel to monophonic, then that’s another way. It’s not polyphonic, though, but rather 16 channels of monophonic.

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Thank you, I think I need to do some more reading about it because I feel like I am missing something. The Black Co synths look amazing! I’ve been doing microtonal stuff for a while but either acoustically or digitally in the most laborious time consuming way possible like sometimes actually re-processing individual notes with pitch shift after I recorded them but there’s a certain microtonal composition I have to complete that I really need a much better work flow for.
So if I understand what you’re saying correctly there’s just no way to internally map my current polly hardware synths (TG-33, Blofeld) to 31-EDO because their engine isn’t built this way?
And if I don’t get the Hydra or another microtonal accommodating synth the only way to achieve microtonality, if limited is via a soft synth such as the Omni?

I feel for you. I’m writing my own sequencer, ELLIOTT, to give me a customized work flow.

Aside from Hydrasynth, there are others that support 128 notes of selectable microtunings. Sequential’s stuff, for example. Omni, yes, but it’s limited in range. I expect there are other perfectly good softsynths that offer the same limited support. I’ve been using Sonic Pi’s environment, which lets you specify frequencies and ratios rather easily and naturally, but then you’re limited to its synths. Maybe that will be OK for you. I’m using Sonic Pi primarily to sequence my external boxes microtonally because it makes it easy to manage the necessary sysex messages.

I watched the Leimma video @the_duckchild links to. When he outputs those notes to the hardware synth, he doesn’t explain how the synth gets the microtonal part, but I assume it’s by sending a pitch bend amount along with each MIDI note (the pitch bend trick mentioned above). That will work, but limits you to one note per channel because different notes in a microtuning require different pitch bend amounts, but there can only be one pitch bend amount per channel. In other words, you can only be as polyphonic as you are multitimbral, and then the technique takes up all your multitimbrality.



I downloaded this plugin but I had no time yet to explore its possibilities. Looks promising though…

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as you suggest, it uses pitch bend, so that may be an issue…

MTS-ESP promises to do real-time retuning, so that’s a thing as long as you have a synth that supports the full MTS standard (currently Kyra, DDRM, Xerxes, and Matriarch). Otherwise, oddsound uses the pitch bend trick, which only retunes one note per channel. I don’t need it as I roll my own real-time retuner. I’ve never bothered with the pitch bend trick because I’ve got the MTS-capable polysynths, but that’s a rather expensive way to go.

By the way, Dhalang is a rather nifty microtonal composition package for iOS, Windows, and previous versions of MacOS.


will look at Dhalang, looks interesting…

(not related to hardware synths, but MTS-ESP seems also to work with MPE which is a bit better than the simple pitchbend trick).

Yeah. Also, that’s where an MPE-capable MIDI controller comes in (I use LinnStrument, but soon others). Black Corporation’s stuff and Hydrasynth all support MPE. Kyra does, too, but without a dedicated “clone part 1” button like Omnisphere has, it’s not practical to me. Matriarch’s monophony/paraphony isn’t relevant to MPE, which is one reason I don’t spring for one. Still, its great sound would complement my current setup very nicely.

There are always things like the Blokas Midihub, as long as your synth supports MIDI pitch bend. The Midihub is pretty inexpensive. Here’s a video showing it playing microtonally the Nord Lead polyphonically.


@trickyflemming of Unfiltered Audio was the very first softsynth developer to announce support for Oddsound’s MTS-ESP. That’s the reason I bought Lion.

So Lion might be a good synth to try with MTS-ESP, at least when you’re ready to move past trying out the MTS-ESP Mini adapter to playing with a synth that has native MTS-ESP support.


so much to look into, thank you :slight_smile: i’ll check out Sonic Pi. and exciting about the sequencer. do you like the hydra btw?
@the_duckchild it’s a nice software ! for some reason it’s running very buggy on my computer so i can only trigger the notes by clicking on the screen rather than with the qwerty keyboard or a MIDI input but i’ll keep fiddling with it!

I’m sorry I really very rarely use any MIDI functionality so I’m very new at thinking about its parameters and capabilities, but in the video they achieve polyphony by choosing all the midi channels the Nord can simultaneously listen to. How do I find out how many MIDI channels the desktop Blofeld can listen to at the same time? I read through the manual again just now pretty quickly so probably missed it.

Elektron machines do not record pitch bend. It would work for performance but not for composing.

Do you know if, In order to create microtonal sequences is it possible to use CC for the ‘tune’ parameter instead of pitch bend?

I don’t know what you are trying to do, but if all that is captured are the MIDI Notes, you can still run that playback through the Midihub, which will generate the same pitch bends. Or capture the whole thing on a DAW, or whatever way you want to capture the whole MIDI stream.

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I don’t own or really know the Blofeld myself, but the spec says: up to 25 Voices, 16 part multi timbral. So i’d suspect that means it uses the full 16 channels.

Maybe Blipson has something more to say on this.


I expect Blofeld listens to all 16 MIDI channels, but that’s probably not relevant to your concern here. Polyphony when using the pitch bend trick depends on the synth’s degree of multitimbrality, that is, how many different voices it has that can listen to all 16 channels. Then you assign one voice per channel and use each assigned voice monophonically to achieve your polyphony. I would guess that Blofeld, like most synths, is monotimbral.

ADDED: Thanks, @Jukka: looking it up at Waldorf, I see Blofeld is 16-part multitimbral, so you get 16-polyphonic microtonal using the pitch bend trick. If they fully supported MTS onboard, I’d get one for sure.

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