Democracy DEV Is An All-in-one Board For Advanced Audio Processing

Swiss startup BENTI let us know about Democracy – a new  programmable open platform for audio processing.

It is specifically designed for researchers, developers, and system engineers who study, design, implement and test real time audio processing prototyping systems.

Here’s what they told us about the system:

We have been working on Democracy for almost two years now.

The project started with our desire to develop our own audio products, but we couldn’t find any prototyping boards on the market that suited our needs. So we decided to build our own and Democracy was born.

It is specifically designed for developers, researchers and students to help them exploring, designing and implementing audio processing algorithms for real time prototyping systems.

BENTI has launched a crowdfunding campaign for Democracy DEV. Democracy DEV includes several analog inputs and outputs for audio processing. It also includes in/out MIDI ports, footswitch pedal inputs, and a universal control pedal interface for input and output expression control purposes.

It can be programmed in MATLAB/Simulink, Pure Data or plain C and HDL languages.

Democracy DEV is equipped with a Raspberry Pi 3 processor board which provides computational power in a Linux-based environment. An onboard FPGA provides real-time, guaranteed, predictable, and jitter free capabilities which can supplement the Raspberry Pi when processing digital audio with extremely low latency.

This architecture can scale in complexity as required by specific development needs. For example, one could start with basic algorithm development and programming on the onboard Raspberry Pi and then increase system complexity by exploring design partitioning on the FPGA.

Democracy DEV production is being funded via a CrowdSupply, and is available to project backers for US $299.

16 thoughts on “Democracy DEV Is An All-in-one Board For Advanced Audio Processing

    1. Hi Nicholas,

      thanks a lot for your comment. While using Democracy with guitars is pretty obvious, in fact the board does provide a reasonable range of I/O connectivity including MIDI and speech, which makes it pretty generic.
      Anyhow, we’re extremely interested in collecting feedback from potential users as input for improvements, hence if you have anything specific in mind to make it even more general purpose, just let us know!

      Best,
      Tony

      1. Thank you for the swift reply.

        In terms of usage – multi FX for keyboards and studio (via mixer sends), live sampling/looping.
        I would hope for at least two stereo inputs and outputs for instance.
        Glad there is ‘real’ MIDI I/O!
        Is there a likelihood of C-Sound being part of this system – it has a lot of potential.
        Streaming audio via WiFi would be very useful, reducing cable clutter. 🙂

        1. Hi Nicholas,

          Thanks a lot for your additional feedback, it is very much appreciated!

          It’s great to collect all such good feedback in terms of additional capabilities and improvement. We do hope to reach our funding goal on Crowd Supply so that we can plan a 2.0 Democracy release including all such new features.

          Coming back to your comments:
          – multiple effects, sampling and looping are definitely the kind of applications the user can develop on the Democracy DEV board.

          – Though not part of the official Democracy DEV package, in fact C-Sound is available for Raspberry Pi: http://www.csounds.com/journal/issue18/beagle_pi.html
          Therefore, it should be possible (unless there are any specific constraints we’re not currently aware of) to integrate it on Democracy.

          – One key aspect of Democracy is its flexibility in terms of exploring different applications and use cases. In fact, there is no specific aspect that hinders streaming audio via WiFi on Democracy DEV. Still, it is a matter of developing a good application ensuring satisfactory performance.

          Just let us know if you have any additional comments or questions.

          Best,
          Tony

  1. Always interested in dev boards but doing MIDI processing on an rPi is a non-starter for me. It’s also a bit cynical to have a comparison chart listing the Pi’s processor next to bare-metal boards.

    An ideal dev board for me would be an LXR with no buttons, updated to an F7 and a better AVR, with an added pair of ADC’s. Also, I’m not super keen on the Deluge, but if Rohan wanted to do a dev board with the Renesas RZ and a nice chunk of memory on there, I’d be all over that. That processor looks rad, GCC all the way!

    Oh, to dream…

  2. Hi Brendan,

    thanks a lot for your feedback, it is much appreciated.

    Democracy DEV is especially targeting Academia and R&D for rapid prototyping, and the combination of the onboard RPi 3 and FPGA does provide pretty good amount of processing power to implement advanced and innovative audio and sound processing systems, as we’re currently doing in cooperation with a few universities working in such domain.

    That said, we’re genuinely interested in understanding your point of view. I guess your concern about MIDI processing on RPi is in terms of performance, or anything else? I would be definitely interested in getting your inputs for benchmarks, if you have anything specific in mind.

    Why do you think the comparison chart (I think you mean the one on our Crowd Supply page) is cynical? Would you suggest any different way and/or other systems to compare to?

    Look forward to hearing from you soon!

    Best,
    Tony

  3. This platform could be the base of synthesizer projects (VA, modular VA, additive, PM, FM etc.). If there were a GUI similar to the Axoloti or PatchBlocks environment would be great.

    Basically products like the Access – Virus, Clavia – Nord, Nord Modular, and other recent music orientated products like the Roland – Aira are DSP based. However many of them used DSP’s from Analog Devices – SHARC or TI (Texas Instruments).

    1. Does this have a video output for connecting to display monitor?

    2. What are the I/O specifications for this ?
    2.a. Does it have SP/DIF I/O and/or TOSLINK Optical I/O ?

    1. Hi Mick,

      thanks a lot for your comments.

      Democracy provides native support to Pure Data, which can be used as the development environment for synthesizer projects. Quite interestingly, XODULAR ecoSYSTEM is a modular synthesizer system in Pure Data, available as a free download: http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2016/01/19/xodular-ecosystem-a-16-module-modular-synth-for-pure-data/

      Democracy also supports Fluidsynth, as well as MATLAB/Simulink (which has its own GUI) especially suitable for engineering students or researchers in the audio and sound processing field.

      To answer to your questions:
      1. The system is equipped with HDMI interface through the Raspberry Pi. Though not officially supported on Democracy, it could be handled by proper software programming depending on the specific goal. What would you envision the video output for?
      2.a There’s no native S/PDIF interface, however you can use a USB to S/PDIF adapter like this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007V6M0OU/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B007V6M0OU&linkCode=as2&tag=ras05-20

      Just let us know if you need any additional information or details!

      Best,
      Tony

      1. ### IMPORTANT!!! ###

        Hi again Mick,

        please let me rectify my answer to your question on the SPDIF I/O interface.
        In fact we do have a physical SPDIF I/O coaxial interface on Democracy. Though disabled by default, it can be easily enabled via a configuration script, which is available in the software package that comes with the board.

        Hence short answer is yes, it does have SPDIF I/O, no need to get any USB to SPDIF adapter!

        Best,
        Tony

    2. ### IMPORTANT!!! ###

      Democracy Dev does have SPDIF I/O coaxial interface, please disregard my answer mentioning the need for a USB to SPDIF adapter below.

      Best,
      Tony

  4. This reminds me most closely of Bela (http://bela.io), an add-on board (“cape”) for Beaglebone Black that uses the latter’s onboard Programmable Realtime Units for low latency audio, and provides a number of audio, analog, and digital inputs and outputs. Programmable with Pure Data, Faust, or C/C++.

    1. Hi Randy,

      right, Bela and Democracy share the same idea of programmable real time system for low latency audio.
      Here, I would mention the main differences that I can think of (I don’t know Bela into details):
      1. Democracy has an on board FPGA for additional predictable and jitter free co-processing capabilities, which I believe is missing in Bela
      2. Democracy provides MATLAB support (though it might be possible for Bela as well, they don’t mention it as far as I know)
      3. Democracy has several host connectivity capabilities (WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, Ethernet), as well as sockets for switch pedals, universal control pedal in/out (particularly suitable for guitars, though general purpose anyhow), mono/stereo audio in/out, SPDIF support, plus additional GPIO pins for extra control connectivity. Still, I don’t have all the details on Bela’s connectivity

      Best,
      Tony

  5. For programming real-time applications like DSP based vietual analog synthesizers, you’re best to use assembler language native to the CPU. Then you can have optimal control of the CPU’s registers, stack, peripherals, RAM and data I/O.

    Any higher level language eg. C, use a ‘fuzzy’ logic of artificial intelligence to compile the code and determine how best the available CPU.

    1. Hi Mick,

      good point. In fact the idea behind Democracy’s architecture i.e., Raspberry Pi 3 + FPGA, is just to combine software programming flexibility (offered by the R Pi) with real-time, guaranteed, predictable, and jitter free capabilities provided by the FPGA hardware programming for optimal control of your application, like you mentioned.

      This makes Democracy as a particularly suitable development platform to meet a wide range of application requirements.

      Best,
      Tony

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