Elk Releases Open Source Audio OS, Open Source Development Kit For Raspberry Pi

Elk, the developer of the Elk Audio OS, has announced that it has released an open source Audio Operating System and Development Kit for the Raspberry Pi.

Elk Audio OS a dedicated audio operating system, designed to make it easy to run existing VSTs and other plugin formats on hardware instruments and audio devices, in real time with ultra-low latency.

By bringing Elk Audio OS to general-purpose ARM and x86 CPUs, the company says that it hopes to open the platform up for ‘a new generation of instruments and remote 5G network experiences’.

In the next few weeks, a beta version of the Elk Audio Operating System will be made available under a Dual licensing model (open-source & commercial). But already today, the Elk Audio OS SDK & documentation is available and is free for anyone to start using.

The company is also making an Elk Audio OS Development Kit for Raspberry Pi that includes a custom Elk Pi Audio Hat. They say that the Elk Pi Hat is one of the most advanced pro Audio Hats in the markets, with down to 1 ms latency, multichannel and support for Raspberry 4 coming up in the very near future.

“The idea behind the Elk Audio OS is to make a whole new generation of connected musical instruments possible,” notes Michele Beninicaso, CEO at Elk (former MIND Music Labs). “Instruments that can connect people around the world and spur new kinds of musical creativity. We believe there are so many potential instrument makers out there who could create fantastic things if they just had the right tools, and it is for them we have created Elk. So today I’m very happy to announce that we have reached a major milestone in our company, when we can make Elk available to everyone through the open source release.”

Elk Audio OS is officially endorsed by Steinberg, creators of the VST format. Elk Audio OS is supported in the VST3 SDK and is fully compatible with plugins written in JUCE, making Elk the a solution for companies and makers interested in developing new digital hardware instruments.

With VST being the defacto standard for software instruments and effects, there is already a vast library of existing plugins that can now be transformed into hardware. An example of this is the Retrologue desktop prototype synth built on the VST synth with the same name, debuted earlier this year at SuperBooth in Berlin.

Here’s out interview with the company’s Matt Ward at Superbooth:

Elk has also announced that developers attending the Elk presentation at the Audio Developer Conference (ADC) will get a hands-on workshop from the core team of developers behind the Elk Audio OS, and also have first access to the Elk Audio OS Development Kit, including the Elk Pi Audio Hat.

See the Elk site for more information.

32 thoughts on “Elk Releases Open Source Audio OS, Open Source Development Kit For Raspberry Pi

  1. This looks pretty great, particularly with the VST integration.

    Not hard to predict tons of cool stuff will be done with this.

    The hat is really nicely spec’d, with 6 analog in 6 analog out, 16 sensor inputs, etc.

  2. very encouraging to see software audio being liberated from the desktop OS environment…

    in many ways this is blurring the lines between hardware and software when it comes to digital synthesis

    1. The line between hardware and software has been blurred for decades. The Synclavier and Fairlight were “just” computers, after all. 🙂

    1. Good info. So he says there and above in the article that the actual SDK will be released next week at the Audio Developer’s Conference in London and this partial release is to “manage preorders”, apparently meaning getting people to buy it before they release the real SDK kit, a pig in a poke so to speak.

      And only £799 for admission and 2 workshop access to the ADC in London. Presumably though the github gets updated with something more at that point.

      I recall KMI promising open source on a crowd funded project and then later claiming that publishing the sysex protocol for the device fulfilled that. Well it didn’t fulfill the promise.

      Promise open source or don’t I don’t care. But if you promise it and get sales from it and then don’t deliver you lied.

    2. Hi,

      Ilias from Elk here.

      The software component of the Elk development kit is extensive, consisting of many large components.

      Both source code and binaries are mature and ready for prime-time functionally, but the packaging and documentation of it to make it ready for public use is still a very significant undertaking.

      Instead of waiting to pull the trigger on the entire package in one instant, our choice is therefore to release the documentation and examples now, and continuously release the remaining development kit component as we are getting each package ready. We can thus focus on a high quality release for each individual package.
      The time frame for this will be short, expect weeks, not months, for everything to be available.

      We very much appreciate your eagerness to use it, and assure you that by the time you’ve read the material currently available, you will get the next set of materials to sink your teeth into!

      Thank you for your interest, and do ask me anything you want on Elk!

  3. Dumb question:
    Is this a thing where you could write code using a Mac or PC and then “compile” the code and load it to the device? Or what is the process for creating software for this?

    1. The devkit seems oriented towards Linux. But you can run Linux on your Windows machine either dual boot or in a virtual machine. Presumably you can also run the devkit on the Raspberry Pi.

    2. Hi,

      Indeed, plugins developed for Mac or PC can be cross-compiled with our development kit tools, so that they can run natively on our Linux-based Elk OS.

      Many plugins will work straight out of the box as soon as they’re compiled, especially if they are JUCE based, which is a large proportion of all plugins.

      For some (usually older) plugins, where the core logic and the graphical user interface are intertwined, some modification is needed to remove the GUI dependency, but this too is a small amount of work.

      As an indicator, we already have approximately 400+ open-source plugins confirmed working, which we are releasing builds of along with the development kit.

      Ilias (from Elk)

  4. I’m not expecting most commercial (and x86) VSTs to be recompiled for ARM anytime soon, but maybe free/open source ones could be ported without too much effort.

    Although a number of audio engines and apps already run on ARM via iOS and Android devices. iOS in particular already has audio units. Which makes me think that maybe running Android on the Pi, or perhaps adding a compatibility API for porting iOS Audio Units and/or running them natively, and trying to lower the audio/midi latency might be a good strategy.

  5. Maybe this could load and run VST.dll’s ?

    Could be a type of SM Pro – V-Machine, in current day/technology format.
    It could load in VST.dll’s and with a small header file, run them in a standalone box.

    1. Hi!

      Existing Windows (dll) and OSX binaries will not run on Elk Audio OS, they will need to be compiled natively for our operating system.

      Earlier hardware plugin hosts did try the approach of running existing dll’s in a ‘virtual machine’ (some of you may remember the Muse Receptor), but the approach has many drawbacks. Running plugins natively is what allows achieving the very low latencies, and very efficient CPU usage of our platform.

      With that said, the code for existing VST plugins can in most cases very straightforwardly be compiled for the Elk Audio OS, as we have shown by porting 400+ open-source plugins already – see also my reply to ‘stub’ above for more.

      Ilias (from Elk)

  6. Llias-
    Threre’s lots of great and classic freeware VST2/VST3 plugins that were produced in the ’90’s ~ 2000’s using Synthedit or C++ etc. eg. Synth1, Green Oak -Crystal, TAL, U-he – Tyrell N6…. etc.
    The source code isn’t available for these is not available.

    How can they be ‘ported’ over to Elk?

    Having said that, the wonderful Surge Synthesizer is now open public !

    Where is the list of ‘400+’ plugins already ported ?

    1. Hi Mike,

      We do not anticipate that we will ever support hosting binaries of legacy plugins. See also my other reply on the topic here – other devices tried to do this with varying success, for example the Muse Receptor. The obstacles are at the time of writing such that this avenue makes little sense to pursue, and we will continue to require that plugins are explicitly built to run natively on the hardware platform.

      To port, you need to build them for the RPi, which we make very straightforward using our cross-compilation toolkit, as documented here: https://github.com/elk-audio/elk-docs

      Binaries for the 400+ plugins will be uploaded to our GitHub page in the coming weeks.
      Part of those are the following:
      – OB-Xd Synthesizer
      – Dexed FM Synthesizer
      – Calf Studio Gear plugin collection
      – Lkjb plugin collection
      – Andes Perlin-Noise Synthesizer
      – Temper Distortion plugin
      – DPF Distrho plugin collection
      – AirWindows plugin collection

      With that said, do note that what we provide is very much a development kit, not an end-user instrument. These binaries are provided by us as a convenience to you so that you can create instrument without also having to make your own plugins. But using them on the board as it stands is not a plug-and-play experience, but a task that still requires some development skills. Exactly what steps are involved are conveyed in the documentation linked above.

      Ilias (from Elk)

    1. Hi,

      While theoretically possible, given that VCV Rack is open-source, we have not currently looked into the details of porting it for the Elk Pi Board. Given that it is stand-alone software, and not a plugin, it is not as straightforward as just re-compiling for the platform. We’d certainly welcome any such development though!

      Ilias (from Elk)

      1. If you could make VCV Rack work on your Elk OS with 2-3ms latency it will become a instant hit! I would focus on that instead of the 5G stuff. Talk to Andrew Belt who makes VCV Rack. There has been some development with this already…but to get it working with low latency realtime Elk OS would be fantastic esp. with all the built in I/O on your board. It is made for VCV Rack.


  7. Will I be able to run an instance of Onnisphere on a Raspberry Pi and leave the laptop at home for gigs?!?! *Steam folder connected by external SSD. Pls say yes 🙂

    1. No, absolutely not. Omnisphere has an extremely complex GUI and there’s no chance it would be ported, or sensible to port under any circumstances, to this platform.

      This is an optimized real-time audio OS that is capable of hosting headless VSTs at absolute minimalist latencies. It doesn’t support the VST GUI interfaces that VST plugins have in Windows or Mac DAW hosts. The purpose of this is so you can easily develop highly responsive synthesizers and effects and etc for hardware devices with knobs etc. It’s not a box that runs arbitrary VSTs compiled for other platforms on a $10 platform.

      To make use of this you need to be of an engineering mindset and able to develop and/or port a hardware instrument on a Raspberry-Pi. It’s not a consumer targeted out of the box does everything miracle gizmo.

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