1990's sysx data from a cassette

OK, so a bit of a long shot - Back in the late 80’s/ early 90’s I had an Alesis HR-16 drum machine. That went a long time ago to be replaced by a Boss DR660 (sold some time back). I’ve found original HR-16 samples on line and in the back of an old cupboard - hey presto a TDK cassette with what looks like sysx data dumps of my old HR-16 patches. I’d love to reproduce these again using Cubase 12 LE AI Elements.

I don’t even know if this is possible. Bizarely, I have the original JVC cassette deck that I recorded the sysx data with, so it’s no problem playing the cassette, but how do I get it into Cubase in a readable format without owning the HR-16 hardware? Could any of you kind people help? I’m a bit of a newbie with all this new fangled DAW stuff, so please bear with me if I ask stoopid questions! :joy:

Hi there and welcome to the forums!

Although there were several drum machines and synths (and computers of course) that could store data onto magnetic tape, there wasn’t a universal standard for this. As far as I understand it, each manufacturer had their own proprietary way of doing it.
Unfortunately Cubase can’t, nor could it ever, translate the analog information on your tape into digital MIDI SysEx data. And that’s if the information on your tape is even formatted as MIDI SysEx, which is not clear either.

If I were you, I would poke around over at gearspace.com and ask the question there instead.
Good luck!

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… I’m clutching at straws I know. I’ll post on gearspace too, there might be a solution somewhere on this big wide interweb place! Many thanks for the swift responce, and thanks for the welcome!

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First, regardless of what else you do, digitize that cassette! Just record the audio signal (you can use Cubase) and render it to a .WAV for safekeeping. The cassette will at some stage no longer be playable.

The audio signal will be an encoded data signal and is unlikely to be in sysex format, but if you post an MP3 version here (or a link to download it), perhaps someone with an HR-16 can try loading it and and dumping it back out as a sysex via MIDI.

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Top man @MrSoundman - that’s a very good idea. Lost for eternity wouldn’t be a very good thing! I’ve found a company that might be able to do the deed for me.


I’ve messaged them and waiting for the time difference between the states and UK to catchup. I don’t know how much they would charge. I’ve found a guy who has a rather battered HR-16 for sale. It might be a case that it would be cheaper to buy the battered machine and load the data up myself.

Not a bad idea if someone on here would kindly convert the wav file for me.

I was thinking if you plug your cassette deck into your audio interface, then the audio will get digitized and then could be read as a SYSEX dump by MIDI-Ox. I’m not sure if this will work because I’m not sure if the digitization will be correct, but it’s worth a shot.

I found this on Sweetwater that makes me think it’s possible.

How Do I Send and Receive SysEx on PC or Mac?

Also, here is MIDI-Ox. It’s a free MIDI utility that is extremely useful when handling MIDI data. If you can get your interface to do the A/D conversion correctly, then you can record that as a SYSEX dump in MIDI-Ox.

From MIDI-Ox help:

Hope that helps some. Good luck!

I can’t find where it would say that MIDI-Ox can transform audio into MIDI. It would be cool if it could though.

It can’t, or at least I don’t think it can. That has to happen in the A/D converter in the audio interface, I would assume.
You might be able to do something like that in Cubase, Wavelab or Audacity using a macro to interpret the audio signal. If a Sysex is stored as audio, I would assume it would just be a quick audio pulse for a 1 and no audio for the 0. So a square wave would just get converted to 1010101010101010101010. Not 100% sure, but think that’s the way it works.

The A/D converter converts analog audio to digital audio. MIDI messages has a specific format.
Here is an article that explains the format.

Your example assumes a bit rate of 1 bit. Digital audio today is recorded with at least a 16bit depth.
So the result of the digital audio you recorded will be different depending on sample rate and bit depth. Recording the same analog audio to 44.1kHz/16bit yields a much different result than if you record in 96kHz/24bit for example. On top of that you will have header information at the beginning of the resulting wave file. And to complicate things even further, there will be a noise floor from the analog recording chain.

You would need a tool that can translate the digital audio, given the sample rate and bit depth of the file, into a properly formatted MIDI message.

The signal sent to tape uses Manchester code and will be a completely undocumented, proprietary format. There is unlikely to be anything other than an actual HR-16 that could decode it. However, if the OP can digitize the tape signal, and send the audio file to someone who can then play it back into an HR-16, the content could then be played out from the HR-16 as MIDI and captured into a MIDI file. In addition, the content could then also be dumped via MIDI sysex for safekeeping.

To hear what these tape signals from a similar device actually sound like, see this article on CDM but turn down your monitors first. You have been warned!

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Some great info, many thanks to you all. To do a proper job on this, I’m limited to 2 options. Either see if I can borrow the services of a kind soul on the interweb who owns an HR-16 to try loading the info and saving to a format that I can load into Cubase, or find a 2nd hand HR-16 and do it myself.

I heard back from the guys on line at deep signal and I think to get this transferred commercially it would cost too much.

I’ve been in contact with a guy who has a really grubby looking HR-16 going cheap so I might buy that, get my patches retrieved then move it on.

Not knowing too much about it, if I can get the patches onto the HR-16 I might need a bit of assistance getting the midi data into Cubase. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it though!

Cheers guys!


You might edit the title of your topic to “1990’s HR-16 data from a cassette” in order to better attract the attention of said kind soul :slight_smile:

You can do that with the “pen” tool at the end of the title at the top of the page.

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I’ve managed to get a good deal on a 2nd hand HR-16, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to access my old patches and songs. Thanks everyone for all the suggestions and assistance! :+1: