The ELK Audio OS is capable of running recompiled VST plugins on a Raspberry Pi. Blackboard is a hardware interface that finally makes sense of that awesome potential.
The ELK Audio OS has been around for a couple of years teasing us with the ability to run audio and instrument software plugins on a simple Raspberry Pi (or similar) microcomputer. They’ve shown us a custom Eurorack module running Propellerhead Rack Extensions, a guitar pedal running VST plugins and a hardware synth running Steinberg’s Retrologue. But they were concepts rather than anything you could get your hands on. I’ve commented previously how they really need to give the community some hardware that ties their OS together and gives us something to work with if they expect people to get excited about it. Now they have!
Blackboard is a breakout interface board for a Raspberry Pi running the Elk Audio OS and Elk Pi Hat development board. It provides all of the vital in/out and controls that can tie into the plug-ins you are trying to run on the OS. It has 20 patch sockets covering audio, CV and gate in all directions. Then you’ve got MIDI in/out and audio in/out of proper jacks. There are 4 LED sliders, an analogue knob and an encoder, 9 buttons and a nice-looking display.
Immediately the potential of what’s going on here becomes apparent. This could be the front end for your favourite VST plug-in or instrument. You could be running Rack Extensions (not sure Rack Extensions are still a thing for ELK Audio OS) and have them wired in with the rest of your hardware, treating it as hardware outside the computer. This could be game-changing.
Of course this sort of thing is only successful if you can get the plug-ins you want to use into the box. ELK Audio OS has officially supported VST2/3 support but as far as I can work out the plug-ins would need to be recompiled to include something in order to run. As it stands there are a lot of open-source plug-ins that have made the leap and they have a growing library of around 500 on GitHub. That’s a lot of stuff to play with but I guess we’re waiting on something more commercial to make an impact.
The Blackboard gives developers an opportunity to test the plug-ins out without having to worry about hardware fabrication. It gives us users something to play with and has the opportunity to capture the imagination of the community. Nice one.
It’s still a bit fuzzy around the edges with exactly what it can do, what it runs on, and how you make it work but the fog is starting to clear. For instance in the video (below) they talk about how it actually runs a DAW inside so you can create tracks with chains of plug-ins if you want – why have they not talked about or at least demoed this before?
The ELK Audio Blackboard is available now for €109 but it also needs the ELK Pi Hat to connect to a Pi which is €249. You can get them as a bundle for €319 and then you still need a Pi. Apparently they have something coming soon for people on a smaller budget.