HOOBEN ELEFANT JAGDPANZER SD.KFZ.184
PART 3 - ELMOD SOUNDS IN AN ELEFANT

08/19/13- The ElMod board is sort of a quirky beast. My experience with my first one back in 2009 should have ruled out me ever owning one again on the grounds that it wasn't ready for prime time (Boards shouldn't self-destruct from infrequent use, and mine wasn't the only one, either.). However, my Elefant came with a newer ElMod ECO, so it wasn't really a choice. Actually, this time I've been very happy with it but wish it were the ElMod PRO for its extra capabilities. They appear to have beefed up the current-handling, but stripped some features to make the budget version ECO. It's still quirky-- occasionally, the tank has to be rebooted right after startup because the controls don't do what they're supposed to and using them sometimes triggers a runaway machine gun. That happens rarely, but it still happens... and it shouldn't. But that's another story, and this article's about the sound-- one of the main reasons for choosing an ElMod. If you're a tinkerer like me, you'll find it nearly as much fun as messing with the Turnigy 9x transmitter.

When I was getting familiar with my Hooben Elefant, I searched for videos to see what others had done. The Hooben Elefant is basically a "modded" tank for everyone; I don't know if it was ever released with a full set of Hooben-branded electronics. I've never seen a video that identified the sound board as being from the kit. However, I've seen some with the distinctive Tamiya Tiger/King Tiger board, some with the Clark TK-2n board, and some with an ElMod King Tiger sound set (like mine in my previous videos). There may have been a few with a Benedini or Beier soundcard, but I'm not familiar with them so I couldn't tell. They all sounded good, but left me wondering what the real Elefant sounded like. While it was powered by Maybach gas engines, they drove generators for the electric motors that turned the sprockets. Near as I can tell, there are no good recordings from WWII and neither of the two surviving examples are operational.

I'm satisfied with "stylized" and "cool-sounding" tanks. To an extent, I think they're all stylized: Every time I hear the Tamiya King Tiger turret sounds, I think that it probably never sounded like that to a WWII soldier on the field; similarly, reload sounds, switch clicks, etc., are exaggerated and done that way to make it more fun for us. I want my tanks to sound realistic to the extent that the running sounds are big and throaty, as I imagine a real tank would be. The Heng Long RX-18 doesn't do it for me, and I'm not entirely satisfied with the Clark TK-22's running sounds-- they're okay but sound synthetic/artificial.

Like most ElModded Elefant owners, mine first had the classic ElMod King Tiger sound set-- the one with the long, long, long startup sound and throaty engine rev sound. It's a great showcase sound set but somewhat impractical unless you like waiting a long, long, long time for your tank to be driveable. It wasn't long before I began modifying the sound set, picking sounds from other sound sets to replace those in the original. The startup sound was the first to go. Later, in my original ElMod subdirectory, I found some muted/muffled idle/drive sounds that I liked.

The squalks and squeals are over-the-top and exaggerated, but I like them and think they fit the Elefant's "personality". To me, that's what makes the quirky ElMod so cool: While all my Tamiya German tanks sound the same, the Elefant's got a distinctive personality that reminds me of the "Gonk" droid in Star Wars.

File Management: The current ElMod boards include a program to manage which sound set plays on the microSD card but it's nothing special that you can't do manually. Basically, this means copying files to the active "111" folder on the microSD card. This takes a lot of card-schlepping between tank and computer if you're experimenting or tweaking the sound set (for sound levels, blends, and glitches). A much more useful program to include would let you preview sound set functions on the computer before moving the microSD card to the tank. Also, having jumpers (or DIP switches) on the card (like the old ElMod) would let you select sound sets without shuttling the microSD card.

It's easy to do this sound dickering with ElMod because the sound files are building blocks that are designated for certain functions. For example, the long King Tiger startup sound can be easily replaced with a shorter one from another tank; you can either rename the new file to the same as the old one and replace it, or copy the new file to the "111" directory and change the entry in the "blaster.ini" file (a text configuration file).

The "111" directory can contain a lot of excess unused junk, so it's useful for experimenting with alternative sounds (just change the filename referenced in the blaster.ini file). The main thing is that the files that the blaster.ini file references be in the directory, and that the files be of the proper format (22k mono 8-bit samples, uncompressed .wav). Run the fchecker.exe DOS program (in the directory) to verify that everything's okay.

BLASTER.INI FILE: MOTOR ENTRIES

The blaster.ini file is the configuration file that tells the board what sound files to play and when to play them. It contains entries for engine sounds, turret turning sounds, cannon and machine gun fire sounds, etc. There's a maximum number of entries (80?), so it's probably a good idea to not get too extravagant (as tempting as that may be). This is a snippet of the engine sound entries from my current blaster.ini file:

kalt1b.wav M ON
kalt2b.wav M ON
warm1b.wav M WARM
warm2b.wav M WARM
warm3b.wav M WARM
stopp1b.wav M OFF
stopp2b.wav M OFF
fs00.wav M 0
fs01b.wav M 1
fs02.wav M 2
...

"kalt1b.wav" and "kalt2b.wav" are the cold startup sounds (which are modified variations on another set's startup sounds). In the open-source sound file editior Audacity, I faded out the original sample's trailing idle sound and blended in the idle sound sample I was using (fs00.wav) so that they would transition seamlessly from startup to idle. I did the same for all files that transitioned between idle, like the warm startup sounds and the engine stop sounds. The original files had a much more treble idle sound, so the transition sounded unnatural.

The .ini file entry structure is easy to understand: "M" indicates that they are motor sounds, and the last parameter (event code)indicates function, i.e., when they're called for. Note that I've included variations on sounds: The two "ON" entries are picked randomly by the board, as are the "WARM" and "OFF" sounds.

The "fs...wav" files are idle and running sounds; in my .ini file there are 26 entries corresponding to 26 files (including the 00 idle entry), but you can have many more. The board picks which one to play or loop, depending on the acceleration/voltage it detects from throttle stick input. From the ElMod folks: "We recommend to define at least 10 samples for engine sound. More than 20 samples don't make any significant improvement." Indeed, my set of files have a few consecutively numbered ones that sound identical.

You can also throw in oddball sounds for variety: "fs01b.wav" is a grinding transmission sound that I thought sounded pretty cool. Fortunately, it doesn't play every single time that the tank transitions from idle to movement; that would be really annoying.

Chain sounds mix in randomly with the running sounds, with frequency of triggering determined by speed. Most soundsets have a variety of high-pitched squeaks, but I added some really awful squalks to mine (again, because I thought they sounded cool). You can define up to 20 chain squeak sounds.

BLASTER.INI FILE: GLOBAL CONFIGURATION ENTRIES

There are 2 global configuration lines at the top of the file, the first for configuring motor speed steps and the second for configuring the chain squeaks. In mine, it looks like this (copied from an old file, but I haven't spent any time tweaking it):

CFG M 10
CFG C 60 2000 1000

I don't know why ElMod removed the old "blaster2_intern_english.pdf" documentation from their website (but they did, so I'll respect it), but it contains good stuff to know. From the manual:

Configuration of the speed steps

Syntax: CFG M start

Values range:
start: 0 - 127

Suggestive values:
start: 30 - 60

This entry defines the voltage level of the main engines on which the sample of the idle motor isn't played anymore (because the tank starts to move). The level depends on the condition of the soil, tank type, type and shape of the motors, gearboxes and chains.
Example: CFG M 50

Meaning: the sample of an idle motor will be played up voltage level 50. It is recommended that the value is chosen below the point the tank starts moving. The effect is, that the motor starts to goose before the tank starts moving.

Configuration of chain squeak

Syntax: CF start t1 t2

Values range:
start: 0 - 127
t1: 50-5000
t2: 50-5000

Suggestive values:
start: 30 - 60
t1: 500-1000
t2: 50-200

The first parameter defines the voltage level of the main engines on which the squeak sounds are played (similar to the parameter of the 'CFG M' entry).

The second parameter defines the delay between the squeak samples on slowest speed in mili seconds and the third parameter defines the delay between the squeaks on full speed (also in mili seconds).

Example: CFG C 60 2000 100

Meaning: the chains start to squeak on voltage level 60. The delay between the squeaks are 2000ms (2 seconds) when driving very slow and 100ms (0,1second) when driving with maximum velocity. The delay between both speed levels is interpolated accordingly.

The smallest possible value for the delay is 50 ms (0,05 sec). The first parameter (the voltage level) should be just a little bit above the value on which the tank starts to move.

The other entries are pretty self-evident, less important, or unexplored/unknown to me so I'll leave that up to you to explore: Play the sounds and figure out what they do. My intention is not to re-phrase or reprint their .pdf; if you have questions, you should direct them to the ElMod folks. Perhaps they'll upload or revise the technical .pdf? (or maybe they removed it because they were sick of answering questions about it?)

USING AUDACITY TO MODIFY FILES

If you want to modify the sounds or make your own, you'll need some kind of sound editor/capture program. After spending oodles of cash through many now-obsolete computers, I've ended up with the freebie, Audacity, a great program that has more features than you'll probably ever need.

The most important thing is to save your files in the proper format for ElMod: 22050 Hz sample rate, mono 8-bit samples, uncompressed .wav format. Audacity doesn't save in this format by default (it's a revered format of antiquity), so when you Export the file (not "save"), select "Other uncompressed files", then click the "Options" button and select "WAV Microsoft" and "Unsigned 8-bit PCM".

If you've modified or made new sounds, run the fchecker.exe program to verify that the files are kosher/halal (depending on your tank's religion); it will tell you if they aren't. It beats finding out after you've moved the microSD card to your tank.

hit_1.wav

(I thought the sound ended too abruptly, but with the other sounds mixed in, you wouldn't be able to hear the last part of an extended fade out anyway.)

I grabbed that sound to replace the sound of the Elefant getting hit by an invisible IR beam. It's from the '60s TV series "Combat!", and one of the canned effects that they used regularly for an allied artillery strike. It's not intended to be realistic, but an example of using artistic license to make the experience more fun, like outer space battles with sound effects. The "tank hit" sound effect for most ElMod sound sets is a very understated "tonk", which may be more realistic for armor-piercing rounds, but lacks pizazz and drama (in my opinion). I think Clark Models got it right for the most part (except that annoying "click" sound for the lights).

ElMod Sound File Audacity

This shows how I altered the startup sound to blend with my idle sound. The idle sound "fs00.wav" was doubled (pasted end to end to make it longer) and pasted in a separate track near the end of the startup sound. The idle sound was cross-faded in, and the tail end of the startup sound was faded out to remove the original idle sound. Exporting the file as a .wav merged the two tracks. Simple, huh?

Play around with Audacity. You'll find that there's a bunch of stuff you can do to come up with your own sound effects. There's even a "Loop Play" mode so you can work out the bugs/glitches of your own repeating engine sound files.

PART 1     PART 2


 

RC TANK INDEX