I got the Pisound through the Indiegogo campaign, so that was some time ago. Since first getting it I have been using it intermittently, with long periods of time in between. I’m quite busy with work, so making music is mostly something I do at night (late) and on weekends. This is just to say that my memories of the experience might not be 100% accurate and that I’m certainly forgetting many details. But still… it might be useful as a feedback to the devs, so here we go.
Also it might be good to know that – while not being a developer, nor a computer expert – I did always mess a bit with linux and coding. This probably makes me a medium-type user.
Getting started was easy. Connecting the Pisound to the Rpi was quick and straightforward, and the case was really simple to assemble as well.
Downloading Raspbian, burning it on an SD with Etcher and booting the thing was spent 90% downloading and then 10% for the rest. So, again, pretty quick and easy.
I first got the version before Stretch (can’t remember the name) and I remember struggling to install Pd 0.47 (at the time the official repository only had 0.45 or something like that). But once Stetch came out that (and some other issues I can’t remember) were sorted out.
When I got the Pisound I did have a couple of ideas of what I wanted to do with it (having a headless Pd system being my main goal), but these weren’t overly specific. So I spent quite a bit of time just trying out random stuff. Installing some software and seeing what I could do with it.
Getting deeper into it
This is where things started to get a bit rough. Nothing major, just many little frustrations. Linux does have the tendency to be a bit like that, especially for people like me, who are not really experts, and just wrestle their way through somehow. Some of it was definitely just part of the learning process (to learn something new, you have to fail, and then fail again, until you start getting it right). I should note that most of this is not related to the Pisound board itself , but to Linux/Raspbian/Pd in general.
I can’t remember all of it, but the major aspects probably were:
The whole “Push a button” to run a patch is nice, albeit a bit limiting. You quickly hit a wall with that, so I’m really glad I have the app now. Having to carry around 10 USB sticks just to be able to have different patches ready is not really an option.
The actual issues were mostly these:
- It took me a bit to realize that most externals compiled for rpi/Arm are not available in Deken, but can be easily installed via apt-get (though I also found that some of them are buggy and/or lack some bits and pieces, for eg. the version of Zexy in the repo does lack multiplex~)
- when you run Pd from the desktop you run it as “pi”, when you run it through the button or app you run it as “root”. This has been discussed previously (several times, I know) so I won’t get into the details, but this keeps being annoying to me mainly because I can’t get Pd to read my settings file (despite trying the recommended fix, which for some reason just won’t work for me). The consequence of it being that Pd won’t look into the search paths I have specified for the externals, forcing me to add them directly to the patch.
- I do have some weird performance issues which I wan’t able to troubleshoot yet. It seems to happen with certain patches (some of Patrick Pagano’s recent ones also do this). The symptoms are that the audio quality degrades, Pd spits out some error messages (snd_pcm_delay failed). I Need to properly troubleshoot this. It’s a bit annoying because once this happens I have to reboot the rpi, or Pd will just crash badly all the time or refuse to load patches.
- when running Pd from the desktop, using ALSA for MIDI is a major pain. Unlike OSS MIDI where you can just select which MIDI devices to use, ALSA relies on aconnect, which – at least as far as I could find out – needs to be set up from scratch every time. Fortunately OSS MIDI does work fine though.
- In the beginning I had Raspbian set to automatically boot into X. Later I found out that this would crash Pd when run over SSH -X. Solved it by setting the boot option to CLI and manually starting X when I need it.
Setting up Samba didn’t work. Don’t ask me why, but I just couldn’t get it to work. The shared folders just wouldn’t show up on any computer.
I did try SCP, which in theory seems nice, but there’s a couple of caveats:
- You can only access files or folders that belong to the “pi” user, anything that belongs to root (like for eg. the “puredata-patches” folder) won’t work. There goes that “root” issue again. this means hat copying anything needs two steps: copy to some accessible folder on the rpi using SCP (usually one in the user’s home directory), then doing a sudo cp via SSH to copy that to the actual destination folder.
- Using the CLI to copy files around is a major pain. Need to look into some other solution. Maybe Filezilla will work.
Setting up bluetooth with the Pisound app was really quick and easy when I did it the second time (after re-burning and tweaking the image according to mzero’s guide). The first time it drove me mad. I had disabled bluetooth from the desktop since I wasn’t using it, then when I did want to enable it again it didn’t seem to work properly. Took me several attempts until it then worked (but don’t ask me what I did, it’s a mystery to me).
Swapping SD cards
As a minor note… I wish the SD compartment was a bit easier to access with the official plexy case. Having to unscrew it every time is not 100% ideal.
Other things worth mentioning
Ardour seems to be a bit buggy on rpi. There’s a couple of showstopper bugs like for eg. when you create a new stereo track it will crash.
while it makes the board very small (which is a great thing) having stereo 1/4" jacks instead of two mono ones means you need special cables and/or adapters.