HxC for Ensoniq Mirage

Ever heard of Ensoniq Mirage? In case you haven’t, it’s a 8-bit sampler from mid 1980s and when introduced, it was the first sampling keyboard to break the 2000$ price barrier. Before Mirage, you either bought a car or a sampler ;). Needless to say, the price point made this sampler very popular at the time.

Ensoniq Mirage DSK. Image courtesy of Johnrpenner / Wikimedia Commons.

I’ll switch to story mode for a few paragraphs, as I seem to be in the mood for bla-bla :). If you want to read about the actual build project scroll down until you see photos. Other than that, read on..

My story with Mirage began around the turn of the century. Whilst shopping for a rack compressor, one of the shops I went to had a cheap second-hand Mirage DSK up for sale. It was the plain keyboard only with no disks or no manuals, and the price was somewhat attractive at a glance.

As I had had the chance to play around with Ensoniq EPS+16 for some years at a friend, I was of course curious about this very reasonably priced Ensoniq. In my opinion, EPS+16 is one of the few samplers with character (I just love the wah+dist fx combos & x-pos offset mod). Not that I was at all familiar with Mirage per se, but given my experiences with EPS+16 and knowing both had the Bob Yannes touch made it interesting. If I had been, I would’ve probably considered a while longer.

You see the Mirage, being very much a computer with a piano keyboard, needs a operating system to boot. No OS floppy disk and the only thing you can do with it is to admire the ‘nd’ letters blinking on the segment display. Thus buying one without any disks..

Anyway, since the shopkeeper mentioned vaguely that disks / supplies are available “from official retailers” and offered additional discount alongside the compressor, I thought “ok disks, no problem” and took the Mirage home. And oh boy, was I wrong with my assumption. The shopkeeper was vague for a reason.

Finding the software proved a lot more difficult, partially because yours truly hadn’t yet learned to default into looking stuff up in the net. This was still around the time when internet access wasn’t a daily certainty for me, so at first I simply started mapping local / national options via the traditional routes.

Eventually, I progressed to internet searches and then the situation became clear. The “official retailers” mentioned were actually a single shop in the U.S.! In the end, with all the costs added up, I ended up paying probably twice as much for a handful of floppies and a photocopied manual than what I paid for the Mirage.

But finally, Mirage operational and usable \:D/..

..Too bad that it wasn’t probably more than a year until the floppy drive itself started acting up, gradually drifting towards a more defunct state. Cleanup attempts (common fault, this) didn’t help, the drive was just getting pickier with what it wanted to boot. Eventually, it refused to load disks altogether. And here’s where we start heading towards the topic of this post (finally :)..

After about four years of searching for floppy drive replacements, test modding various DD drives and trying to ask people to help with software for building a CF/SD-card reader (hardware is more my cup of tea, remember?), some two months ago I stumbled across the HxC floppy drive emulator. This comes in two models, the USB and the SD-card ones. The former is read-only whereas the latter can do both read/write.

I couldn’t find any info whether anyone had actually tested HxC on the Mirage, safe to say it was on the official compatibility list. The only problem was that the floppy image converter app which is used with the HxC hardware, understands only Ensoniq Disk Manager (.EDM) disk images. Despite this program is still available from Giebler Enterprises, I felt very reluctant to buy it just for this purpose as I don’t have a huge library of disks.

After a bit of pondering, I decided to bite the bullet and order the HxC for testing anyway. If I wasn’t able to figure out a way to convert the floppy dumps to .EDM (say, editing floppy image headers) then I’d at least have a floppy solution for my Amiga 500.

So the day arrives, HxC in the mail. Installation, no problem. Software, after a bit of testing, no problem! As it turned out, mdisk images (sort of a ‘standard’ program Mirage users use for dumping disks) don’t work but ones created with OmniFlop do after they’re renamed to .edm.

HxC, test setup

My initial HxC test setup. Video of it in action at the end of this post.

All in all, the conversion / usage process for disk images with HxC goes like this:

  1. Dump a Mirage disk using OmniFlop.
  2. Rename image from .img to .edm.
  3. Convert .edm to .hfe using the HxC app.
  4. Copy the .hfe image to SD.
  5. Insert SD to HxC adapter and select the disk image.
  6. Power up Mirage and use it like you would with regular floppies.

So not exactly drag and drop, but it works. As the interface was now tested, I could move on to cleaning up the installation. The power connector on the HxC is not fully mating compatible with what is used in computer power supplies, so I decided to replace that first.

HxC, new power connector

The new power connector.

As for installing HxC inside Mirage, I chose to take the “reversible modding” route once again. With this approach, there’s really only one way of installation without putting it inside a separate floppy drive enclosure. That is, the HxC is mounted upside down under the top side of the floppy drive opening.

This requires that the operating switches are replaced with angled ones. As I didn’t have any of these at hand, I modified the original switches. These are not as rigid as real angled switches would be, but you just need to remember not to use excess force with the modified ones.

I decided to machine a front plate for the HxC as well, and to save myself from re-fitting the LEDs I chose to use clear acrylic.

HxC, front plate

The machined front plate for HxC, button holes still missing.

For affixing the PCB, I hotglued small stand-offs to the case. Their locations were roughly estimated by test installing the PCB with the SD-card inserted..

HxC, test fitting

Test fitting the HxC, display is removed so the modified switches are better visible here.

It’s worthwhile noting that left / right switches need to be swapped. The proper way to do this would be to modify the firmware, but I chose the hardware kludge approach :).

Installing the display proved trickier, the display area is fully visible only if it’s installed at a small angle. As I couldn’t figure out any kind of a solid support for this, I decided to fasten it with a few bits of mylar tape. Seemingly solid enough for home use, but I wouldn’t bet for it to withstand continued gigging use.

HxC, display installed

Display installed with bits of mylar tape.. how professional! :)

HxC, testing

..and this is what the completed installation looks from the outside.

The shafts on the original switches are a bit too short for this type of installation, but by making the surface of each through-hole concave (using a countersunk drill bit) the buttons are somewhat usable.. To wrap up this post, here’s a clip of my HxC modded Mirage in action.

Come to think of it, I sometimes wonder if there are some floppy disk elves stealing the floppies (3. Profit).. After following the Mirage mailing list @ Yahoogroups for several years, someone joining the list asking for floppies (after having bought a plain Mirage) seems a frequently repeating event.. I WANT TO BELIEVE!!1 :D

A detailed in-depth follow-up about the “software end” of HxC and Mirage is most likely to follow some time later.. If anyone is interested in swapping floppy images for the Mirage, do send me a PM :)

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17 responses to “HxC for Ensoniq Mirage”

  1. Ian T. says :

    My old Ensoniq Mirage, that I’ve had since new – the original Australasian model with the flat buttons and the noisy output – has a floppy drive that is finally starting to play up. I can barely get my head around the technicalities of what you’re describing here, but I should try. Maybe it’s time I replaced the battery in the Korg Poly61 as well :)

    • arto says :

      Connecting the HxC is as easy as replacing the floppy drive, it gets a bit tricky only if you want to make a “complete” installation :). I bet something similar to my initial HxC test setup would endure home use quite ok.

  2. Ian T. says :

    Thanks, Arto, I had been thinking about replacing the floppy drive, but maybe this is a better option – not sure yet…

  3. arto says :

    Ok the follow-up post about my experiences with HxC & Mirage is here, check it out!

  4. James C says :

    can’t believe I found your site. I got the same interests, electronics, MAME and old synthesizers. I just got my HxC and know I gotta get a Ensoniq Mirage. Shouldn’t of sold mine because I had the complete Ensoniq sound library.

    • arto says :

      Good luck finding that Mirage! Not that it’s hard to come across one, but like with any gear of this age you better check the condition carefully ;)

  5. magnificentscience says :

    Cool, been thinking about this for my Mirage collection for a while, thanks for taking the time to document the swap!

  6. robbby says :

    Hello, i’m Robby from Venice – italy.
    I’ve installed hxc sd card floppyemulatoron my mirage, all work correctly.
    The problem is omniflop and to create disk images.
    I have a USB floppy reader but omniflop won’t recognize the mirage format.
    If I define ensoniq , the directory with models is blank!
    Arggghh…2 hours of tests and experiment but nothing to do!!
    Please could you help me to understandthis step!
    Thanks
    Rob

    • Arto says :

      The problem is omniflop and to create disk images. I have a USB floppy reader but omniflop won’t recognize the mirage format.

      USB drives don’t support the required low-level access to the floppy drive controller chip. You need a internal drive (34-pin IDC flat cable connector).

      • robbby says :

        Thanks, I’m desperate! :-) It’s very difficult for me to install a old internal floppy.
        I have a portable pc and no idea where to put my hands on a floppied ancient p
        Could anyone to send me a mirage disk image. In .IMG or .emd formatp
        I think I need a os disk image and a common samples disk.
        Thanks

        • Arto says :

          Could anyone to send me a mirage disk image. In .IMG or .emd formatp. I think I need a os disk image and a common samples disk.

          The miragelives list at Yahoogroups has some, check there.

  7. rob says :

    ok ok, i’m not to able with electronic stuffs but this hxc is not so simple!
    Well, the .hfe files are in the sd card, i choose the os3.2 file, i restart the mirage.
    Hxc is on RA , start to load the disk image but stop at 11/80 …RA disappear and all is freezed.
    Could you hel me?

    • Arto says :

      Hxc is on RA , start to load the disk image but stop at 11/80 …RA disappear and all is freezed. Could you hel me?

      Not much I can help you with, try some other disk image and a good Mirage floppy drive (if you have it). If none of the disk images works , it could be there’s something else wrong/broken with your Mirage.

  8. Frank says :

    how would you load an Operating system or say a tuning mod form upward systems with the SD card? After installing the HxC do you have to do anything to format the SD card properly to start sampling and saving to the card?

    • Arto says :

      How HxC works is, you select a disk image file on SD which the HxC will then serve as “floppy” to Mirage. I’m not familiar with the Upward tuning stuff but I assume those are separate OS images per tuning.

      The way loading works is, after powering up the Mirage you first select the OS you want on HxC, wait for Mirage to boot that up, then select a blank disk image and save your samples on that “floppy”. So the workflow is as if you’d be changing physical floppies, but you do that in software instead (SD card & HxC LCD).

      The SD card needs to be FAT formatted. This you need to do on your computer prior to transferring disk image files to the card. You will also need to create blank disk images with the Mirage booted up using FMT-1.

      I blogged some use case experiences about HxC separately. To look that up do a search on my blog using “HxC”. It’s a bit old info by now, but should still apply.

      • Frank says :

        this is probably the way to go. just feels incredibly complicated. i wish more people did this so it could get ironed out. also, syntaur should sell SD cards full of sounds. thanks for the help

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