Music Production Blog

OpenDeck Makes It Easy To Make Your Own MIDI Controller For Any OS

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Posted on: March 7, 2017
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This DIY MIDI controller platform does all the heard work for you. You just choose your own encoders, buttons, pads, LEDs, etc and the design and case, and you can ignore the heavy lifting and coding!

If you thought that making your own MIDI controller would require tons of time learning to code as well as the means to build your own hardware from scratch, think again. OpenDeck from Shantea Controls is a platform designed to make the process of building a MIDI controller simpler and more streamlined. 

OpenDeck has been an ongoing project for a few years. Sometimes, it seemed like nothing was happening with it due to the infrequent updates on the website… but, rest assured, work was underway in the OpenDeck labs behind the scenes! The latest update and release of Opendeck includes a physical board which you can insert a number of different modules on to and make your own MIDI controller. These components include:

  • Buttons
  • Encoders
  • LEDs (single color or RGB)
  • Potentiometers
  • FSRs (force-sensitive resistors)
More Opendeck boards.

As well as the board, you also get access to the browser-based configuration utility which allows you to quickly map your controllers on any OS. Now that board, firmware and configuration utility are ready, you can pre-order Opendeck. They are selling the board for 111€ and the package contains:

  • Board
  • USB cable
  • MIDI cable
  • Access to online web utility
  • One year guarantee

And OpenDeck includes plenty of info on Github and is open-source so you can hack and mod it to your heart’s content. GitHub contains the complete schematics and full documentation on SysEx protocol.

Igor Petrovi, the brains behind Shantea Controls OpenDeck, reached out to AskAudio to explain his motivation behind this cost effective MIDI controller platform. He told us that he started building MIDI controllers 6 years ago. But it was when he was building his third controller, he noticed “they all shared similar code, that is, the same base, but each controller had its small differences – small enough to annoy me, though”.

Igor created the Ceylon controller using OpenDeck.

“As a programmer, I really like modularity, so I started thinking – how could I design a system modular enough to allow me to build any controller I like, without rewriting code and designing boards each time? The answer to those questions was a modular MIDI platform. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve built exactly that. Since I gathered lots of really useful information on Internet forums and through reading other peoples code, it only made sense that I open-source the project and maybe help someone else as well. Therefore, OpenDeck is open-sourced on GitHub.”

The Configuration Utility for OpenDeck (LED page).

The Configuration Utility for OpenDeck (LED page).

With this in mind we were curious who OpenDeck is aimed at and what makes it different from Teensy or Arduino platforms. Igor was on hand to throw light on this too. “Well, OpenDeck was at first aimed only for me, that is, my controllers. After a while I figured that it would actually make sense to transform OpenDeck into a commercial project. There are a lot of people on the internet trying to build MIDI controllers with platforms such as Teensy or Arduino. While those are really great platforms – they have no specific purpose. Anything you want, you need to program it and build the circuits around the platform to make it actually do something. Because of that, you can see a lot of people asking for help with programming and circuits of their MIDI controllers. Many projects are unfortunately never finished due to the frustration with various issues that happen constantly in the build process, especially for beginners not acquinated with programming or electronics.”

The Tannin controller powered by OpenDeck.

Enter OpenDeck! Igor explained that OpenDeck was designed “to remove all the obstacles of programming and circuit board designing”. Basically, Opendeck is the two main parts of the platform: a board with exposed headers for components such as LEDs, buttons, potentiometers, encoders etc. and the configuration utilily.”

One of the most impressive aspects in the recent update is that “thanks to WebMIDI, the OpenDeck configuration utility can run in Google Chrome on any OS. So, you really can build a MIDI controller with OpenDeck in minutes.”

Here’s some of Igor’s past projects using OpenDeck to create MIDI controllers. One of our favorites is Ceylon where he transformed a hard drive into a turntable-style MIDI controller. The Tannin is also incredibly cool too.

You can find all info and Github links for OpenDeck on Igor’s site. 

Additionally, word from some current users of OpenDeck across the web has been very positive. Some have spoen highly about it having stable and reliable hardware with good quality support to back it up. Could OpenDeck be the future of DIY MIDI controllers? We’re going to find out. Stay tuned to AskAudio for a review in the coming weeks.



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