Buyers Guide: Floppy Drive Emulator for Samplers, Synths, and Sequencers

Buyers Guide: Floppy Drive Emulator for Samplers, Synths, and Sequencers

A lot of vintage synth, sampler, drum machine, and sequencer owners are discovering that it is possible to replace floppy drives with floppy drive emulators. They come in a few different version, being HxC and Gotek. HxC came along first and had developed a more commercial business model and Gotek is the cheaper alternative that is supported by a few open source projects for the DIYer. These are new devices that connect to the floppy drive ribbon cable and host a USB flash drive or SD card which can contain hundreds of disk image files. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about how easy it is to make them work. They must be “flashed” which can require some soldering, creating special USB cables, and running lines of code on the command line of a computer. It is probably a matter of time before all vintage gear owners that have floppy drives figure it all out. However, there are sellers that are selling floppy emulators for specific models. Some know their stuff, others maybe make some bad assumptions.

The worst offenders, in my opinion, are the ones that are selling samplers on eBay with floppy emulators installed but they have not flashed them or configured them! What’s worse, they are including them in samplers that have SCSI. These should use SCSI2SD or SCSI CF card readers since they can load multiple floppy disks worth of data in just a few seconds whereas floppy emulators are not that much faster the the original floppy drives.

Note that Deep Signal Studios has Floppy drive and SCSI drive emulators available.

Here are 6 questions you need to as any seller of floppy emulators or gear they comes with floppy emulators.

If it is a Gotek did you flash it with FlashFloppy?

If the seller does not know what this means, avoid them. It means you might get a floppy emulator that does not work with the gear right away, and you’ll need to do a lot of research to make it work. If you are going to pay a premium why not buy it from a seller who knows how to flash it and knows that is it flashed and ready to work?

What version of FlashFloppy is on it? Is there a reason you don't use the latest?

FlashFloppy is the firmware that runs on Gotek emulators. There are only a few reasons to run older versions, such as bugs discovered in newer versions that do not allow for an important feature. Otherwise you should be running the latest and the seller should be able to tell you what version they have installed before they sell it to you.

Will the CFG file be provided?

On Gotek floppy emulators, besides flashing the firmware, the drive needs to be configured. This tells it how to behave and it can be slightly different for one piece of gear over another. It also has user preferences in it. Once they Gotek is powered up with a new config file it is written to memory and can be removed from the USB drive. However, if it is removed the user will have no way to see how the Gotek was configured. Some sellers might doe this so they can help obscure the “magic” that helps the Gotek work with a specific model, thinking that it may extend their place in the market just a little longer. But sharing is caring and and it’s just rude to do this. The user may want to go in and set some of their own preferences. You should tell the seller that you will only buy if the config file is included.

Will the drive be a Sandisk Cruzer Fit or similar size?

Sandisk Cruzer Fit is one of the only USB drives that is not going to stick out like a sore thumb. Demand that the seller include this as the USB drive and not something longer.

Will it have the OLED display?

At this point is is so easy for the seller to buy the OLED display for $9, open the Gotek, connect the wire, and have so much more information for the user to read instead of the 3 digit LED display. Don’t buy one without the OLED mod.

Has the seller personally tested it with this exact model that I have?

Do not buy from a seller that has not tested the Gotek config with your exact model sampler, synth, drum machine, or sequencer. You might get it and it will not work because they thought they had it set right but could not test it since they do not own that exact piece of gear. You will find sellers on eBay selling for specific models. They seller have usually tested the exact model.

Floppy emulator or SCSI2SD?

Use this flow chart to figure what which one you should get. Note that you also can use both which would help you move volumes around much more easily.