Empress Zoia


On the H9, virtually all presets map wet/dry mix to the Z button - press Z, and you can adjust the wet/dry quickly… Some presets have decay mapped to X or Y. Press X to adjust decay, press Z to go back to wet/dry, press X to tweak decay again… in writing it sounds like it could be frustrating, but in practice it’s pretty fast. I do admit I’d rather have the iPad app running if I want to get into deeper tweaking, because the mutlitouch interface… but without the iPad I’m talking about quick onstage adjustments, when you don’t really have the time to screw around with your patch.

Anyway, I’m just saying for me the single knob is not an instant deal killer based on my H9 experience. I was not trying to convince you that you are wrong because you don’t like single knob pedals - I am guessing that was your motivation to respond to my post


Ah ok! I’m kinda hoping this goes beyond ‘pedal’ into full featured ‘everything’ territory like Organelle - seems like it could in a step sequencer-y way :slight_smile:


Organelle got more interesting when the Mutable Instruments code started getting ported over - from modules like Braids and Clouds. It uses a well-established, mature platform in Pure Data - so there’s that.

Zoia’s is unknown - maybe it’s just a Nord modular-like environment in which you can play with some software objects but can’t write any yourself.

Axolotl seems to be more technically powerful than Organelle, but you have to build your own case and UI. I’m pretty bad at building stuff myself. Also, I don’t know if anyone has done FX patches for it on the level of Empress or Mutable - not saying that they don’t exist - but it’s an unknown for me.

Monome Aleph had some promise on paper but peeps said the dev. toolkit was too hard to use. ER301 looks headed towards a similar fate.


There’s been some sterling work done using the Mutable Instruments code, Braids in particular being lots of generative fun on the Axoloti.


The coding is much more intimidating for Axoloti and the others you mention, something that puts me off - what’s more aside from 24bit vs 16bit audio, I’m not aware of any technical advantage of Axoloti? Organelle has 1Ghz and 500MB RAM vs Axolotis 168Mhz and 8MB.

The Mutables Stuff getting ported over is really cool for sure, love those but the strength of the Organelle in my opinion is in C&G’s own patches and the many Shreeswifty has put together over time. Lots of stuff that you just couldn’t find on any other hardware else with a physical interface. It’s the mixture of effects and techniques usually associated with laptops (granular effects and synths, dynamic spectral stuff), being inside something with keys and knobs - that’s exciting. Critter and Guitari actually employed the kind of modular idea in the Zoia into a patch of theirs recently - called 1008. It’s name comes from the 1008 different combinations available in the patch. You choose from one of 5 or so sequencer/arpeggiator types, same number of synths/samplers (which you can change samples and parameters for), choose from 13 different effects to apply to the end of the chain. It’s great, which is why the Zoia should be great too.


Axoloti seems great, and I love tweaking/building stuff inside software modular environments, but sometimes I just want to get on with it and make some music, instead of spending hours/days/weeks/months adjusting a patch until the user interface/sound is at a level I’m satisfied with. Devices like this seem like a happy medium between the two, and I’m very interested in getting more information about the workflow (I’ve emailed empress asking for a demo unit so I can make a video, even though I’m a relative nobody, but hey, 60k views on a TE-commissioned pocket operator video must count for something, right…?)


This was what somebody at TipTop Audio said on the MW forum:

Axoloti runs at 16 sample buffers so the I/O latency is under 3ms and the code is efficient enough that it can do a fair amount on the Cortex M4. DSP is fixed not floating point on the Axoloti, which has up and down sides. Sync and control via the MIDI DIN is pretty responsive, with only the audio latency as a factor.

The Axoloti software is a Java app which looks a whole lot like the Nord editor, but it lacks some of the higher level stuff of the Nord (not that the Nord app was polished though!). You have to build the patch in the software, down load it to the board and then tweak parameters. Changing any of the patch modules requires building and downloading it again. Loading patches and audio off the SD card is possible and playing audio clips works quite well.

Axoloti is made for hardware hackers to attach their own controls, sensors and output to the board. You can set up MIDI CC controls as shown with the Push. One of those methods has to be done to control the Axoloti without a PC though.

I’ve used the Cortex A9 CPU used in the the Organelle for about 3 years. When I first received the early eval board audio interfacing was completely busted on the chip! After working with a CPU engineer for a few months applying firmware and kernel changes, the A9 could handle duplex stereo 16/44.1 audio. Unfortunately, that is the limit of the CPUs audio interfaces so higher bit and sample rate multi-channel TDM is impossible.

The single A9 is pretty much like running Pd on Linux with an old Pentium 3 laptop. I was not impressed with the Single core A9 for audio: latency was never below about 15ms and even 50% CPU load could cause dropouts. The Organelle manual mentions keeping the load under 75%, but that is best case in my experience. Switching to the Dual core A9 and applying some kernel and Pd massaging got latency under 8ms with an entire 100% of a core running DSP. If the C+G has a CPU card (which it very likely does), swapping a Dual in and changing the kernel would halve latency and double DSP performance.

Source: https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2116564&highlight=#2116564

But you know what, with all due respect for the TipTop guy, in the time that has passed since that post, people have been doing stuff with Organelles and seem to be enjoying them anyway.


Didn’t know that the Mutable code made it to the Axoloti. The more the merrier!


is anyone else still really confused as to what this actually is…? Because I am, looked at the video 3 times, and still have no idea what this thing does? is it a synthesizer? is it an fx box? like, what would be ONE good musical purpose of this? Don’t get me wrong, i really like other Empress products, but this seems like a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-nothing thing to me, and the SIZE…!?


from the little i read about it, it’s a sound processor/fx unit and sound maker/synth.

the size is pretty tiny…still looks really interesting tho and pretty darn affordable for what it looks to be.


All these things have different purposes, markets, users they are aimed at:

Axoloti has pretty limited hardware but makes very good use of it due to using a RTOS (Chibios) which is why the latency is so low. its ideal for building your own stuff… but yeah, if you just want to plug n play thats hard for some. (axoloti control may change this :wink: ) … what you get for 65 euro, is great value.

Organelle is nice for a grab and go device, whilst PD makes it accessible to lots - frankly, its also damaging its performance reputation - native FX/synths would yield better results.
its a compromise though. I think it does a good job… one thing, swapping out the SoC ( = cpu) is trivial (undo 6 screws!) and cheap - I changed mine to a quad core with 4 times the ram.

Bela is somewhere between the two , proper RTOS and decent IO , but mainly its being used by techies, so no patches for musicians to use … aimed more at instrument builders - this might change when the eurorack option is added !

then we have Zythian/Mod Duo/PiSound/Owl … all other options, all with their own benefits
( I recently starting using the PiSound running Modep, and its fantastic , I run my Organelle into it)

Its a great time, we have so many choices, and looks like we are set for a lot more…

back to Zoia ,

I dont think is comparable, there is zero indications that the modules are going to be replaceable by the user.
(we dont even know if the firmware is going to be open source either , do we?)

see this screenshot from Empress

notice how its a fixed list of modules and its C++ code. no indication of dynamic loading…
i.e. it looks like the firmware is contains the modules , so a bit like the H9

so basically its a bunch of modules that can be connected ‘easily’ via the grid (which represent the input/output/parameters of the module) … if its really easy to use, it’ll be great.
(I do think that LCD is too small though :wink: )

having been playing with Axoloti/Bela/Pi/Organelle, its made me appreciate a good hardware UI, and its really nice to have a few boxes I dont have to write code for… I can just pick them up and play them :wink:


Nothing! I checked youtube again, I hope some videos of it surface so we can hear more


Here’s a walk through doesn’t look too bad! cant see how this works as a foot pedal thou!


Very informative video.

New info for me:

  • First, the way you push two buttons to connect control between building blocks.
  • Second, the way you can page up and down, so your modules can be very large, much larger than the button screen.
  • Third, the specific meaning of the supermodule, and the fact that you can create a supermodule and then fold it back into another module that you are building, and thereby hide some complexity. This is very object oriented in the software sense.

Looks like this little box can be pretty much the complete stand alone box, like if it was the only thing you had on a desert island, or just out for a walk. How about a battery pack?

Looking forward to more detail on the base modules they include with this in the box. Being able to share created modules will be good, and perhaps Empress can foster a marketplace for $5 - $20 user created modules.

A full screen computer graphical editor (perhaps something like Max) would be really useful too, especially with that tiny screen on the Zoia, with four lines of text.

I don’t want to wait 'til summer for this.


It’ll work perfect for me, I’m a guitar player with eyes on my feet and fingers for toes… :joy:

This thing looks cool though…

I imagine it’s intended to be optionally used by guitar players or other instrumentalists that would set everything up beforehand and just use the foot toggles for preset selection and maybe some other stuff…


Plus you can control the Zoia with a midi pedal, in addition to the toggle switches.


Whoa! That’s like a hardware Reaktor/Audulus, eh?


I also play sax. Yeah i could feed the Zoia with that! A pedal board in a box is such a pain, it’s bulky and heavy, and expensive, and always requiring attention and maintenance and changing of the plug connections. The Zoia and an expression pedal, and perhaps a Digitakt for backing, and that’s it, and you change it with the push of you toe.

I also then play the Roland Aerophone (it fingers just like a sax). Again i can plug the Aerophone into the Zoia, for everything from A to Z. The Aerophone has midi (USB) out, with lots of ways to control the midi out in performance, and play the Zoia as a synth. And the Aerophone has a Roland SuperNATURAL poly-synth built-in that could be feed into the Zoia used as a effects processor.

Empress if you're reading

I’m hoping the Zoia can be connected straight to a USB midi controller like the Aerophone.

Thinking the Zoia could be close to a do it all box.


I seems to me an incredibly clever device. I had always been interested in modular as fx processor - but exhausted by the idea of eurorack - so this might be a good compromise.

I’ll wait to see it in the wild. But for me it’ll come down to a. quality of fx (but it’s empress we’re talking about) and b. health of the ecosystem visavis users and/or updates. @thetechnobear I appreciate your post on this matter. I would presume that if they don’t make it opensource, the updates would then all depend on Empress? While I could have faith someone like NI would continue to offer modules, I’m not sure about Empress.

Any good resource(s) for looking into the units you mentioned?


Sonic State has a very similar video, but theirs includes a section on connectivity - there are audio stereo I/O jacks, and a “control port” that can be configured for MIDI, external tap tempo, or CV. I tried to cue it up to where they start talking about the connectivity.