Invent an instrument and watch it grow

In the first business plans written by Jules and Bruno, the co-founders of the company Dualo SAS, it was explained that for a musical instrument to exist and live, three elements had to brought together:

  • exceptional luthiers (examples for the violin: Nicolas Amati and Antonio Stradivari);
  • genius composers (examples for the violin: Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Bach, etc.);
  • virtuoso performers (examples for the violin: Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Niccolo Paganini, etc.).

Therefore, when designing the first dualo instruments, the Dualo team always had this triptych in mind:

  • for all that concerns stringed instruments, it’s obviously the Dualo team;
  • for the compositions, the objective of the dualo instruments was clear: to be able to replay a large part of the repertoire of current music, particularly urban and electronic music;
  • as for the performers, it was first of all the people who were going to buy a dualo and play with it.

There’s a point on which to place particular emphasis, and that is that the Dualo team has always been convinced that by designing the dualo instruments, they would place themselves as the creators of a proposition. And that it would be the players who, through their use of the instrument, would shape its definitive contours, and make it evolve in this or that direction. The history of the dualo instruments is thus dotted with anecdotes of side effects or bugs that were exploited by players and which subsequently became functionalities in their own right.

Thus, thanks to the few hundred du-touch Pros in circulation, the dualo team was amazed to see the instrument grow and for some functions, not necessarily anticipated, to appear.

One of the surprises was in the way the media treated news of the du-touch Pro, highlighting in particular its educational potential and its rapid learning curve. In the end, more than 50% of music beginners bought a du-touch Pro.

Imagine the guitar of the 21st century

When, still teenagers, Jules and Bruno started to play music, they naturally turned to the guitar. In the 90s, it was the ideal instrument to play the music they listened to, from Brassens to Nirvana, via Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, and all rock, pop, metal and their derivatives, whose main instruments were drums, bass, guitar and vocals.

At that time, all you needed was a guitar to replay popular music with friends, in the evening, around a fire.

Today, as a teenager listening to urban and electronic music, that’s to say the major trends since the 2010s, it’s not possible to reproduce these sounds without a computer and a lot of material. No more evenings with friends simply playing the music you love.

As the design of dualo instruments progressed, and taking into account this lack of portability and simplicity, the desire and mission to create “the guitar of urban and electronic music” appeared.

The du-touch Pro therefore had to be as versatile as a synthesiser, enable the creation of entire songs, like computer software, and as portable as a guitar so that it could be taken anywhere.

On this point the gamble was successful, because some talented players didn’t hesitate to take their dualo into the Parisian metro, between two events, and to compose in just a few minutes a Hip-Hop instrumental that their friends could rap to!

A reduced dualo keyboard for the du-touch S

The du-touch Pro, because of its large number of keys (116) and therefore its large number of LEDs underneath the keys, was sold for 990€. In around 2015, faced with a lot of feedback from people, especially beginners, who were tempted to try the dualo experience but for whom it represented a big investment, particularly in the context of starting music, the Dualo team began to think about a smaller dualo with fewer keys.

This new dualo would be the way to manifest the noble vision of democratising the practice and creation of music that the dualo team had set itself. Fewer keys, less expensive, even more compact and easy to transport, such were the first functional specifications of this new instrument.

It was therefore necessary to reduce the size of the keyboard, whilst retaining the logic and potential of the dualo principle. First impact: a reduced number of octaves, from 5 octaves on the du-touch Pro, we go to 3 octaves on the du-touch S, integrating nevertheless a shortcut to change octave quickly (hold the sound button + stroke the right slider).

On a du-touch Pro, each keyboard is entirely chromatic, i.e. it contains all the notes that exist, and following the dualo principle, is made up of a stack of rows of 3 and 4 keys.

On the du-touch S, after long months of reflection and testing, it was decided that these rows of 4 keys should become rows of 2 keys, by removing the enharmonic notes (i.e. those which make the same sound) that can be found on the other keyboard (eg: F flat = E sharp on the other keyboard, or even B double-flat = A on the other keyboard). On a line of 3 keys, C flat (= B sharp on the other keyboard) has, however, been retained.

Notes of the dualo keyboard on the du-touch S: in grey, the notes removed and presented on the du-touch Pro

Example of a diminished 7 chord (in green). On the du-touch Pro it can be played both on the entire left keyboard or on the right-hand keyboard by moving the last two notes (in red). On the du-touch S we have to play it on the left.

The keyboards of this new model are therefore no longer entirely chromatic, but more complementary: it’s necessary to use both keyboards to play all the notes.

The du-touch S, a more affordable version of the du-touch Pro

Beyond the keyboard, the Dualo team therefore worked to reduce the manufacturing price of the du-touch S as much as possible, in collaboration with the NoDesign.net studio, which was chosen to create the design.

For reasons of cost, it was necessary to limit the number of circuit boards. It was therefore decided that the lateral sliders, initially placed on the outer edges of the du-touch Pro shell, be combined on a board and placed on the front of the du-touch S on either side of the central slider. In addition, it also had a positive impact on gameplay, as it was now possible to easily access these two sliders with both hands.

Then, with the du-touch S being aimed at a less experienced public, it was decided to remove the 5-pin MIDI DIN socket present on the du-touch Pro, to keep only one MIDI port on the USB socket. The line-level stereo output on a 6.35mm jack, useful for connecting to a big sound system, was also removed, to keep only one output on a 3.5mm stereo jack, serving both as a headphone output and a line output.

From the du-touch Pro (on the left), the du-touch S (on the right) would only keep the minijack and USB sockets

Finally, the smoked glass on the top of the du-touch Pro was simplified to reduce the cost of the part and the engraving of the logos.

Tanguy tests the new keyboard of the du-touch S.

The beginnings of a modular design

Already presenting significant ecological challenges, the Dualo team integrated the need to reuse existing components from the design of the du-touch S, and to propose a modular architecture.

So it was decided to design what we called “the spider”, namely a mechanical part on which all the electronic elements could be fixed independently of the shell which surrounds them and which forms the external design of the instrument.

To enable owners of a du-touch Pro to reuse their accessories, the design of the du-belt has not changed, and it’s therefore possible to use the belt for both instruments.

Tanguy at Carest, the mould maker We can see a belt two rear faces, one of the du-touch S and the other of the-touch Pro

Also, it was decided to separate the expensive and complex components into two circuit boards, such as the main processor, the sound synthesis chip, the memory chips for the sound banks; and on the other board the logical elements which enable the power supply, battery charging, acquisition of buttons and force sensors under the keys.

This separation has several advantages:

  • the number of layers on each board can be adjusted according to its complexity: the boards which are easier to design are easier to manufacture;
  • in the event of a breakdown, only the faulty board is replaced and this limits unusable components;
  • if new hardware functionalities must be added, it’s possible to do so by designing a new board, without touching the others.

Equipped with a new synthesis chip

The 256 MB internal memory oif the du-touch Pro was sufficient for the hundred sounds in the official dualo sound bank, relatively light in memory size. But the ability to create and integrate your own sounds, a feature added in 2015, quickly showed the limits of this limited memory space.

An “industrial” anecdote which came at exactly the right time: the manufacturer of the sound synthesis chips was forced to move from its historic factory and, because it would have been too expensive to move the production lines of the chips of the time to another factory, they decided to accelerate the development and manufacture of new chips, which had been expected for several years.

The du-touch S then integrated this new generation of synthesis chip and was thus equipped with a 2GB memory. This memory size now made it possible to embed the official Intuitive Instruments sound bank, as well as several du-games – rather greedy in memory because of the file containing the teacher’s voice. It made it possible to develop richer and more realistic sound banks, especially for acoustic sounds, composed of more samples and velocity layers.

Initially, the number of sound slots corresponded to the number of keys on the two keyboards: 116 on the du-touch Pro, it was initially 52 on the du-touch S. But with the 2GB of memory, it quickly became apparent that this constraint had to be resolved. In 2019, an update increased this number on the du-touch S from 52 to 147, thanks to the addition of pages on the last 3 keys of the left keyboard. Even if it was done for the sound banks, and for the sake of design consistency, this system of pages was also added for the song locations on the left keyboard, which has therefore gone from 26 to 69.

And integrating a more powerful processor built for the future

In reaction to the du-touch Pro processor which quickly showed limits on the amount of features it would be able to support, the Dualo team decided to oversize the du-touch S processor, anticipating all the ideas which would germinate over the following years, in particular the teaching method contained within the du-game.

There’s still so much to say about the du-touch S, that it will be the subject of a future article! We leave you for today with a video of the assembly of the du-touch S.