history of the programmable logic music synthesizers

Programmable Digital Logic - Music Synthesizers from 1990 to now

This list shows important projects and milestones covering the realisation of music synthesizers based on field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) in the order of appearance AFAIK. The date refers to the point of time, when I first discovered them myself, or they had been officially published as a scientific paper or at least appeared in the internet (prooved). To keep the list short, I mostly list only orjects, which did something for the first time, are somehow unique or do have enough importance and so be considered as a milestone. Since the list is continously updated, it might happen, that people will be listed more than once.

If you want to be listed too, please feel free to send me any information via email. If possible, describe your project and it's meaning / importance and possibly link to the website if existing. I am highly interested to find out, who was the first one, having realized a self standing synthesizer in a programmable digital ciruit at all. Any information is welcomed.


Evolution of the Music Synthesizers in PLDs and FPGAs

1990 to 1999: The early times! First approaches to digital sound creation using PLDs

1 9 9 1

Music with PLDs, university course ETH Zürich, Switzerland

1 9 9 2

A microprocessor-based intelligent music synthesizer capable of generating the musical notes of 256 instruments, IEEE paper without PLD, but nice ideas. Worth reading.


1 9 9 3

XC3000 SoundSynther, 1 Oscillator Audio Synthesizer, no MIDI, just key control, Rolf Sassinger, Switzerland

1 9 9 4

1994 XC 4000 PLD AudioSynth, my first fully working music synth, key controlled, Rolf S., http://fpgasynth.beepworld.de/pldaudio.htm

1 9 9 5

1995 "Programmierbare echtzeitveränderliche Universal Filterbank" FIR-Filters with PLDs modified in real time, platform Xilinx, unknown developers, presentation at UDK Berlin, Germany

1 9 9 6

1996 "PLD-Sinus-Synth", PLD basierter Sound Synthesizer, Jürgen Schumacher, Germany, uses DDS with Keyboard, http://home.arcor.de/jusuihe/pldsynthesizer.html

1 9 9 7

Sound on digital logic, university project, Xilinx 4000 PLD, 32 individual voices, 32 LFOs, yes, Rolf Sassinger, Germany, fully programmable LFOs with routing matrix

pipelined music synthesizer, 64 polyphony, university Project,, Jong-Hyun Na ; Sun-Young, South Korea,, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?reload=true&tp=&arnumber=628683&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fxpls%2Fabs_all.jsp%3Farnumber%3D628683

1 9 9 8

Musik aus programmierbarer Logik, Hochschulprojekt, user "altabadia" in synthforum, Gianluca Nadello Italien / Deutschland

1 9 9 9

1999 PLD-based sound machine, university Project, Lattice ISP, 8 voices with 4 harmonics, unknown inventor, very interesting sounds because of the tricky harmonics

2000 to 2009: Evolution of Complexity! More sounds, more resolution by using larger PLDs and FPGAs

2 0 0 0

want to be listed here? mail me

2 0 0 1

Analog PLD Synthesizer, Project, Xilnx PLD, Jürgen Schuhmacher, Germany, forcing digital circuits to behave the analog way, well not really a full synthesizer, has no MIDI http://www.96khz.org/oldpages/analogpldsynthesizer.htm

A Music Synthesizer on FPGA, Paper, unknown platform, Saito Maruyama Hoshino Hirano Japan, first important scientific documentation of a practical synth, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F3-540-44687-7_39#

Projekte mit FPGAs, Kolja Sulimma, Germany, Interesting ideas, but nothing made real according to the site owner http://www.sulimma.de/prak/ss01/projektvorschlag.html

2 0 0 2

MIDI Synthesizer, Year Project, Berkley University, unknown plaform, J. Wawrzynek, USA, ssems to be the first real MIDI based synth http://www-inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/~cs150/sp02/lectures/spec.pdf

2 0 0 3

MIDI Synthesizer, Universitätsprojekt, Daniel Engeler, Samuel Nobs, ETH, Switzerland, http://www.strellis.com/Download/Additive_Synth.pdf


Virtual Analog Synthesizer in VHDL, Spartan 2/3, Jürgen Schuhmacher, Germany, http://96khz.org/doc/vasynthesisvhdl

2 0 0 4

Digital Wave Machine, Altera Cyclone I FPGA, 16 voices, Michael Geiger, http://cycloneprojct.michael-geiger.de

Digital Audio and Music Workstation, Spartan 3E, 1024 voices, Juergen Schuhmacher, Germany, seems to have the most voices per chip area, has high speed non-standard MIDI control, http://www.96khz.org/htm/musicworkstationspartan3.htm

2 0 0 5

FPGA-Synth, Project, Paul Maddox, a website having much information about fpga based synthesizers in general from one of the greatest synth enthousiasts at all www.fpga.synth.net

FPGA-Synth, complete device with PLD, Theo Verelst, Netherlands, http://www.theover.org/Synth/

MIDI controlled Audio DSP, hobby project, self built platform + Spartan 3E starter kit, Rene Böllhoff, Germany, very versatile and fully programmable audio signal processing machine, can possibly do anything, unknown number of voices

FPGA-Synthesizer, Altera APEX20, Chris Strellis, UK www.strellis.com

Synthesizers on FPGA, makability analysis, Antoine Leclerque, Switzerland, a very precise analysis about the pros and cons of FPGA usage for digital music http://users.codefurum.ch

Audio Plattform, Uwe Beis, www.beis.de , full audio hardware with graphical logic analyzer

String Model in VHDL, Spartan 2, Physical Modelling of Stings for Piano and Harp, obviuosly ported from C-Sources for a DSP http://www.96khz.org/oldpages/fpgapiano.htm

Music box Tutorial at FPGA fun unknown authors, http://www.fpga4fun.com/MusicBox.html

FPGA implementation of 1D wave equation for real-time audio synthesis, Gibbons, Howard , Tyrell - nothing new, mostly the same ideas as described in the the south corean paper from 1997

2 0 0 6

GateMan1, MIDI monosynth written, Scott Gravenhorst, Synth in Verilog with 4 NCOs, 1 NCF, 1 NCA and 2 ADSRs

Audio DSP Workstation, PhD work, Dr. Germany, self built platform, first scientific description / analysis of a combined DSP + FPGA system

Digtal Synth, Digilent Nexys, 4 voices, MIDI, GUI, Lucian Chetan, Romania, http://www.digilentinc.com/events/Common/Presentation%20Sample%20~%20DigitalSynth.ppt pretty small and simple synth but nice GUI with meassures and notes and has full sources online

Phase Distortion Oscillator, a special realization of a synth technology, http://www.fpga.synth.net/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=FPGASynth.PhaseDistortionOscillator

Digital Music Synthesizer, Sample Project for Altera DE-1, Terasic / Altera Corpration, a simple 2 wave synth controlled by PS/2 keyboard http://www.altera.com/events/2006/edatour

2 0 0 7

MIDI-Synthesizer, S3E, CeSYS PCB, Presentation Electronic Exhibition, MIDI-Synthesis in real time, via Microblaze AFAIR, openMIDI lib

GateMan2, MIDI monosynth, Scott Gravenhorst, Synth in Verilog similar to GateMan1 http://www.fpga.synth.net/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=FPGASynth.GateManI

YAS - Yet Another Synthesizer, students project ETH Zürich, Egli / Gutmann, Zürich, simple C-based synthesizer ported to NIOS - first NIOS synth I noticed

Audio DSP Prozessor, Project, updated version from 2005, S3E, Rene Boellhoff, Germany, http://www.mikrocontroller.net/articles/Audio-DSP_mit_Spartan_3-FPGA , very good documentation, open source

Wooster Audio FPGA-Synth, Spartan 3E development kit, which has a Xilinx XC3S500E chip, http://woosteraudio.com/fpga-synth.html

FPGA Music Project, Concept Paper, University of California Santa Cruz, Matthew R. Guthaus, USA http://classes.soe.ucsc.edu/cmpe123a/Fall09/projects/Guthaus_FPGA_musicSynth.pdf

WPC DCS Sound and CPU FPGA Project a video game platform containing also sound synthesis, very huge but with emphasis on video, Edward Cheung, http://www.edcheung.com/album/album07/Pinball/wpc_sound.htm

Virtual Analog Organ Spartan 3E devel KIT with a XC3S500 FPGA, remake project, J. Schuhmacher, Deutschland, http://96khz.org/htm/virtualpldorganspartan3e.htm

2 0 0 8

PolyDaWG/8, 8 voice polyphonic physical model synthesizer, Avnet FPGA Development Board, Scott Gravenhorst, a using Karplus-Strong algorithm, has Verilog Sources http://home1.gte.net/res0658s/FPGA_synth/Avnet_FPGA_board_PolyDaWG.html

wave music player Altera Corp, Presenter C. Schwingenschlögel at Altera Forum, NIOS 2 System plays audio files, first fully integrated wave player from SD based on NIOS, I have seen, seems to be mostly C software, but worth looking

Musik auf dem FPGA, private project, Robert Kuhn, Freiburg, Germany, undokumented project so far with rudemtary sounds, but good MIDI implementation, seen on Hobbytronik Stuttgart, sounds available

Digital Music workstation, Project, Cyclone 3, 4096 voices, self defined MIDI, Juergen Schuhmacher, Germany, setting again the top for the ulimate number of voices http://www.96khz.org/htm/polyphonicsynthesizercyclone3platform.htm

Low cost method to reproduce sound with FPGA IEEE-paper, sound reproduced using digital outputs and RC network, XC3S200 FPGA", Barata, M., Gomes, L. Lisbon, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4677050&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fxpls%2Fabs_all.jsp%3Farnumber%3D4677050
(wow! funny these papers nowadays, nothing new at all)

2 0 0 9

AWM-Synthesis on FPGA, University Project, Stratix 3, 128 voices, Marco Gianetti, Switzerland, good documentation, basic MIDI integration, extraordinary filtering http://www.marco-gianetti.ch/projects/stratixmusic.htm

Music with FPGA-controlled DACs, Virtex 5 industrial, Eduard Meister, a try to (ab)use an industrial SDR-board to produce music by lowering clock frequency by ratio 1000. Incredible precise wave form generation, too much for a musical synth :-)

2010 to now: The Invasion of the FPGA-Synths! Tons of sounds, modifiers, controlles and complex MIDI-Implementation

2 0 1 0

SK-Synth, Subtractive FPGA Synthesizer, user "stekern", http://electro-music.com/forum/topic-43432.html , nice docu and examples

Complex FM Synthesizer, intended project, Olaf Hilgenfeld, FM synthesizer with high demands, mentioned on german internet forum, no docu but interesting discussion http://www.mikrocontroller.net/topic/187913

DroneSynth, Synthesizer, Project, Spartan 3 Developer Board, Scott Gravenhorst, Synth in Verilog, sounds available

Xarp-56, Physical Modelling of a harp instrument, Scott Gravenhorst, very interesting idea, well made

Audiosignalverarbeitung mit FPGA, paper of Oliver Berthold showing some methods, but nothing really new, http://www2.informatik.hu-berlin.de/~oberthol/hw/WS09%20SE%20HWSV%20-%20Project%20Report%20Slides.pdf

HOAX, Hammond Organ on a Spartan PLD, this seems to be a very important and complete project, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOmVIg0raWo


2 0 1 1

FPGA MIDI Synth, Digilent Nexys 2, Michael Duerinckx, UK, http://michd.me/blog/fpga-midi-synth-update-midi-improvements-polyphony-pwm-etc/

SID 6581 Emulator, Altera FPGA, Youtube link

FPGA-Synth, Theo Verelst, Netherlands, basically a remake of Scott G's synth

Improved FPGA Synth, Brian Benchoff, http://hackaday.com/2011/07/10/improved-fpga-synth

Audio Bare-bones FPGA full-duplex soundcard PCB with FPGA with 44.1 kHz, 8-bit, mono, unknown Producer, http://imi.aau.dk/~sd/phd/index.php?title=AudioBareBonesFPGA#Schematics

2 0 1 2

Sexy Digital Synthesizer, Keith Nisamh, Touch Screen Keyboard, unuseable but strange, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgOSa4bLtFY

Synthesizer, University Project, 2 Ladies from Israel, accepts Keyboard input and can generate chords, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o-yhS5mlF0k

Drum Computer in VHDL, Audio Project, Spartan 6, 1024 voices, Spartan 6, internal MIDI, Jürgen Schuhmacher, Germany, www.96khz.org , the first drum computer in VHDL I have seen, sounds available

Polyphoner Klangsynthesizer, Hochschule Augsburg, Thomas Spanrunft http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~tspanrun/fpgasynth_ausarbeitung.pdf

2 0 1 3

FPGA-Synth, Xilinx, myHDL, Microblaze, https://github.com/wware/fpga-synth

Music Synthesizer – Beat Programmable Gate Array, Papillo, Shobhit Kapoor, http://www.gadgetfactory.net/2013/10/music-synthesizer-beat-programmable-gate-array

AudioBox, an FPGA experiment, a complete Audio Workstation on FPGA, Mark Atherton, New Zealand, has DAC, ADC and processing, http://www.idesignz.org/AudioBox/AudioBox.htm

Soundgates – Interactive Music Synthesis on FPGAs development of an interactive music synthesis system on FPGAs, http://www.cs.uni-paderborn.de/fachgebiete/computer-engineering-group/teaching/SS13/soundgates

myRIO FPGA Sine Wave Sound Output, National Instruments Demo of how to make sound with FPGA, https://decibel.ni.com/content/docs/DOC-36045

FPGA Implementation of a Parameterized Fourier Synthesizer 4 guysfrom China and France, http://hal-ensta-bretagne.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/91/70/13/PDF/paper.pdf - not sure what is the meaning behind this paper and why it is presented at IEEE. Things like this existed for long time already :-)

2 0 1 4

Full MIDI open Synth, (planned), self built platform, Altera Cyclone 5 development board, Rolf Sassinger

2 0 1 5


u n s o r t e d

Zhemao, "FPGA Synth, Altera DE1 development board, Howard Mao, Asia, audio synthesis using direct floating point computation of sinusoids.

DE2_70_Synthesizer, unknonwn, Asia, http://sunrise.hk.edu.tw/~kktseng/hdl972/Music_Synthesizer.pdf


MIDI Synthesizer Spartan3, Univerität Kaiserslautern, http://ems.eit.uni-kl.de/index.php?id=113&tx_uniklwehn2_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=273&cHash=838a4296a6a43e68415bef03d91469c2

A new project from ASIA, unfortunetly not downloadable for some reasons http://www.innovateasia.com/download/articles/2013/cn147.pdf


other interesting audio projects


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