Using The ZynAddSubFX Synthesizer (Zyn)

ZynAddSubFX is a software synthesizer, with the capability of inserting various effects into the sound produced. It is a low-latency synthesizer, and has hundreds of sounds. I refer to it in my documentation as “Zyn”, since “ZynAddSubFX” is awkward to think, and say.

It works on Linux, and also has versions available for Windows and Mac OS X.

Before considering obtaining Zyn, you probably should first hear it in action, and see if you like it.

Here's a short piece (one of the KeyMusician audio demos), which is a short excerpt from Debussy's “Clair De Lune”. It's played using the “Dream of the Saw” sound:

Clair De Lune Theme

Here is a piece I improvised using Zyn, called “The Zen Of Zyn”. You can listen to it by clicking on the link below, or right-click on the link below and choose “Save Link As” (or whatever similar your Internet browser uses) in the pop-up menu that appears, to download it.

The Zen Of Zyn

Its window looks something like the screen-shot below (which is the Windows version), with the “beginner” interface selected. The non-beginner interface was confusing to me, so perhaps the beginner interface is best:


There are a number of audio demos you can listen to on the Zyn developers web-site, as well. See what you think.

If you like the sound from the links above enough to want to obtain Zyn, and use it, read the sections below (depending on the system you use on your machine).

The Linux Version

The main (and latest) version is for Linux. If you get that version from the web-site, you will install the source-code, and re-compile the application from that source-code.

That probably sounds intimidating to most people, and reasonably so. Fortunately, in Debian distributions of Linux (such as Ubuntu), there is a version of it in the repository that can be easily installed, without any need to compile it from the source-code.

If you install the normal dependencies package, the current version will be installed for you.

Starting with the version distributed with Ubuntu 14.04, Zyn responds to MIDI bank-select and program-change messages, and a configuration file is included with the KeyMusician Keyboard for using it (ZynAddSubFX.kmk). The Zyn version distributed with Ubuntu 14.04 is “2.4.3-4”.

Unfortunately, the versions of Zyn included in the repository for all of the Ubuntu versions later than 14.04 (including Ubuntu 16.04 Long-Term-Support), will not successfully change instrument sounds via MIDI bank-select and program-change messages. The problem is actually with the MIDI bank-select message, and it ends up that you can use that version, but all the sounds used must come from the same bank, and you must select that bank manually in Zyn.

The problem is fixed by the developers, and normally the only way of getting it is to download it from the Zyn developers web-site, and compile it from the source-code (which is a bit challenging for most users).

Fortunately, there is an easier way.

The latest version of ZynAddSubFX is in the Debian Unstable (meaning it hasn't been released for long enough to vouch for its stability) Repository, which you can get to, by clicking the link several lines below.

When you click on it, scroll down to the bottom of that web-page to where the downloads are, and click on the link corresponding to the type of hardware and OS you use (if you use a 32-bit version of Linux, even though it's running on 64-bit hardware, it's 32-bit).

Some common types are names containing “i386”, meaning 32-bit Intel, or containing “amd64”, meaning 64-bit.

Download the Debian package you need for your hardware and OS.

Here is the link mentioned above:

Debian Unstable Repository for ZynAddSubFX

In your file browser, go to where you downloaded it (such as your Downloads folder), right-click on it, and choose to install it using the Gdebi package installer.

Parameter-Files for ZynAddSubFX

If you're using Zyn version 2.4.3-4, you can download the Zyn-parameters file below (putting it in your home directory), and then load it into Zyn each time you run it (using the “File” menu of the Zyn window, and choosing “Open Parameters” from the menu).

zyn-config-16.xmz

If you're using Zyn version 2.5.4-2, you can download the Zyn-parameters file below (putting it in your home directory), and then load it into Zyn each time you run it (using the “File” menu of the Zyn window, and choosing “Open Parameters” from the menu).

zyn-config-2-5-4-2.xmz

Alternatively (for either version), you could (in the Zyn window) enable each “Part” (1 through 12) by clicking its “Enabled” check-box, and then use the Zyn window's “File” menu to save all parameters.

Desktop-Launcher Files for ZynAddSubFX

You can download the desktop launcher file for Zyn below (copying it in your Desktop directory). When you double-click on it (in your desktop), it will automatically load the Zyn parameters file (you may have to give it 'execute' permission). The first launcher link is for use with Ubuntu 14.04, and the second one is for use with newer Ubuntu versions.

Download the launcher you need by right-clicking on it, and choosing “Save Link As” (or whatever similar option your Internet browser presents).

ZynAddSubFX JACK 14.04

ZynAddSubFX JACK

Using the desktop launcher is not just a convenience when using Zyn version 2.5.4-2, but is a necessity. There is no other way to add the use of the un-documented “-a” option, which makes Zyn visible among the other ALSA devices. Without the use of this option, ZynAddSubFX will not appear in the “MIDI Output To” drop-box of the KMK F1 pane!

KMK Configuration Files for the Zyn 2.5.4-2 Version

If you're using ZynAddSubFX version 2.5.4-2 (downloaded above from the Debian Unstable Repository), you will need a new configuration (.kmk) and bank definition (.sid) file in your KeyMusician-Keyboard directory to use it, because they have re-organized the banks and patches.

Download the following links' files, and copy them to your KeyMusician-Keyboard folder:

zynaddsubfx2.sid

ZynAddSubFX2.kmk

ZynAddSubFX-2-5-4-2.kmk

(The last '.kmk' link above is a better configuration than the first '.kmk' file. Both of them use the “zynaddsubfx2.sid” file.)

When you want to play Zyn using the KeyMusician Keyboard, select one of the above configuration (.kmk) files from the “Configuration” drop-box of the F1 pane.

The first time you use it, you may need to modify the “MIDI Output To” drop-box to specify the MIDI interface you use to connect to Zyn, and then save the configuration.

The “Improving Your Linux Systempages give you more information on using Zyn on Linux, and can also provide useful insights for using it on Windows and Mac.

The Windows Version

The version of ZynAddSubFX for Windows is actually an older version of the software, and will not respond to MIDI bank-select and Program-change (instrument change) control messages. But you can manually set up a different sound for each of the 16 MIDI channels, each of which can be used by a performance pane, allowing you to change instruments by hitting a function-key.

You can download the Zyn-parameters file below (putting it in your Documents folder), and then load it into Zyn each time you run Zyn (using the “File” menu of the Zyn window, and choosing “Open Parameters” from the menu).

Zyn-Win.xmz

This parameters-file has some interesting sounds set up for each “Part” (and corresponding MIDI channel). But you can easily change it however you see fit, using any sounds you want for each MIDI channel.

Alternatively, you can (in the Zyn window) enable each “Part” (1 through 12) by clicking its “Enabled” check-box, and selecting an instrument sound for it. Then use the Zyn window's “File” menu to save all parameters.

Also, you need to download the following link's configuration file, and copy it to your KeyMusician-Keyboard folder:

ZynAddSubFX-win.kmk

When you want to play Zyn using the KeyMusician Keyboard, select the above configuration (.kmk) file from the “Configuration” drop-box of the F1 pane.

The first time you use Zyn on windows, you may need to specify the MIDI interface used to connect to Zyn. You do that by clicking on the “File” menu of the Zyn window, and selecting “Settings”. The MIDI interface used (LoopBe) is shown at the lower right of the settings screen-shot below:


After changing any settings, be sure to save all parameters (using the “File” menu of the Zyn window).

The Mac OS X Version

This version should have the problem with MIDI bank-select and program-change messages fixed.

Unfortunately, on my MacBook running Mac OS X 'El Capitan', I could not successfully install it (you have to install JACK as well), so I can't recommend it currently.

If you do install it successfully (along with JACK), you will need a new configuration (.kmk) and bank definition (.sid) file in your KeyMusician-Keyboard directory to use it, because they have re-organized the banks and patches.

Download the following links' files, and copy them to your KeyMusician-Keyboard folder:

zynaddsubfx2.sid

ZynAddSubFX2.kmk

ZynAddSubFX-2-5-4-2.kmk

(The last '.kmk' link above is a better configuration than the first '.kmk' file. Both of them use the “zynaddsubfx2.sid” file.)

When you want to play Zyn using the KeyMusician Keyboard, select one of the above configuration (.kmk) files from the “Configuration” drop-box of the F1 pane.

The first time you use it, you may need to modify the “MIDI Output To” drop-box to specify the MIDI interface you use, and then save the configuration.

Using ZynAddSubFX With The KeyMusician Keyboard

A configuration file (for using the 2.4.3-4 version of Zyn (ZynAddSubFX.kmk) is provided with the KeyMusician Keyboard. Also, you can download (using links above) and use (by copying them to the KeyMusician-Keyboard directory), ZynAddSubFX2.kmk (for use with later versions of Zyn), and ZynAddSubFX-win.kmk (for use with the Windows version of Zyn).

Here is a screen-shot of the F12 performance pane, when using one of the Zyn configurations:


Notice that the “MIDI Channel” spin-control (near the upper-left) for this pane is set to “12”. The KeyMusician Keyboard selects the different instrument sounds configured for each “Part” number (in the Zyn window), using the corresponding MIDI channel. This works even on versions of Zyn that don't respond to the MIDI control messages resulting from the “Bank” and “Instrument” drop-boxes (near the bottom of the screen-shot).

The bank definitions are selected in the “Instrument Definitions Used” drop-box of the F1 pane. File “zynaddsubfx.sid” specifies the bank definitions for Zyn version 2.4.3-4, and “zynaddsubfx2.sid” specifies the bank definitions for later versions of Zyn.

The values you select in the “Bank” drop-box depends on the version of Zyn you are using, as follows:

The 2.4.3-4 version of Zyn uses the following banks:

Bank Name

0 arpeggios

128 bass

256 brass

384 Choir and Voice

512 Collection

640 Drums

768 Dual

896 Fantasy

1024 Guitar

1152 Misc

1280 Noises

1408 Organ

1536 Pads

1664 Plucked

1792 Reed and Wind

1920 Rhodes

2048 Splitted

2176 Strings

2304 Synth

2432 Synth Piano

Later versions of Zyn use the following banks:

Bank Name

0 arpeggios

128 bass

256 brass

384 Choir and Voice

512 Collection

640 companion

768 cormi_noise

896 cormi_sound

1024 Drums

1152 Dual

1280 Fantasy

1408 Guitar

1664 Misc

1792 Noises

1920 Organ

2048 Pads

2176 Plucked

2304 Reed and Wind

2432 Rhodes

2560 Splitted

2688 Strings

2816 Synth

2944 Synth Piano

3072 net_wisdom

3200 olivers 100

3328 the mysterious bank

3456 the mysterious bank 2

3584 the mysterious bank 3

3712 the mysterious bank 4

Using version 2.4.3-4 of Zyn, there is a lot of overhead when switching sounds, causing the audio to play static (random sounds) while switching sounds. So you probably don't want to switch instruments within a piece. The newer version doesn't have that problem, so there is a good reason to use the new version.

The ZynAddSubFX synthesizer has some amazing sounds, with which you can make beautiful music. It can be used on Windows and Linux, and potentially on Mac OS X.

Hopefully this article can help you to give it a try, and expand the sounds with which you can make music.



You can return to the index of newsletter articles by clicking below:

Index Of All Newsletter Articles