MIDI Interface Buying Guide

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MIDI Interface Buying Guide


MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a set of rules which can be used by engineers to make a wide range of digital musical instrument systems communicate. Each MIDI channel can carry sixteen channels of information containing data allowing the note played on an input device to be accurately reconstructed by an output device.

About MIDI Interfaces


A MIDI interface is a device designed to allow connection of MIDI input and output devices to a computer and to other MIDI devices. It should be noted that a software synthesiser does not require a MIDI interface, since these machines are designed to make use of ‘virtual channels’ to ensure correct signal transmission. Any application requiring more than one MIDI input and output device may require an interface, though, so doing some thorough research around the subject is a must.

It is important to realise just how many channels a serious MIDI composer will require. Each keyboard or synthesiser connected to a MIDI device network could quite easily gobble up 16 channels each, leaving precious few to experiment with. A good-quality MIDI interface will ensure an ample supply of channels to facilitate the connection of any number of devices and will result in the freedom gained by supplying each MIDI device with its recommended number of channels without resorting to re-programming the devices to claw back some much needed bandwidth.

Choosing a MIDI Interface


Because there is so much versatility and choice available in the field of MIDI interfaces, it is important to be well informed before making a decision regarding exactly which device is the most suitable.

Port Configuration


The available port configurations of a MIDI interface are quite variable and will be different depending on the application for which they are intended. A summary of the most common MIDI interface port configurations is shown in the table below.

2x2
 

This configuration has two input ports and two output ports, giving 32 MIDI channels in total.

 

4x4
 

This configuration has four input ports and four output ports, giving 64 MIDI channels in total.

 

8x8
 

This configuration has eight input ports and eight output ports, giving 128 MIDI channels in total.

 


The more input and output devices required the more channels necessary. Although other, less common port configurations are available, such as 3x3 and 10x10, most opt to stick with the standard setups shown in the table above and to link their interfaces together in order to unlock an even greater number of channels. It’s even possible to link an 8x8 interface to each one of the ports on another 8x8 interface to give a total of 1024 MIDI channels to play with. Any application requiring a number of channels greater than 1025 is extremely difficult and requires an extra suite of computers to coordinate all the channels being fed to and from it. It should be noted, though, that 1024 channels should be more than enough for even the most serious MIDI enthusiast.

In, Out and Thru ports


Three ports, In, Out and Thru, are common on MIDI devices. Although some devices have an Out port only, and some only lack the Thru port, most high-quality devices will house all three. An explanation of the function of each of these ports can be found in the table below.

In
 

The In port is designed to receive data from a computer or other MIDI device, such as that possessed by a keyboard to allow input from a control board or that of an effects device to allow input from a MIDI keyboard etc.

 

Out
 

The Out port is the port from which data is transmitted to the computer from an input device. Some output devices have only this type of port to allow output of MIDI signal, but have no means of receiving control from another computer or MIDI device.

 

Thru
 

The Thru port is incredibly useful in a process known as daisy-chaining of MIDI devices. The Thru port allows the data received at the In port of a device to be replicated exactly and transmitted to another device. In this way, devices can be linked together, or daisy-chained, to create even more complex effects.

 

Wireless MIDI


The cumbersome 5-pin DIN cables traditionally used as the connections between MIDI devices are gradually fading into the annals of history, and the age of wireless MIDI interfaces is dawning. These wireless MIDI interface systems allow for a huge reduction in setup time and are a great way to get rid of the meshwork of cables permeating many workstations and recording studios around the country. These wireless MIDI interfaces also permit linkage of two computers via a USB RF device attached to each, thus providing a streamlined method by which to record on one computer and play a suite of virtual instruments on the other.

Mac or PC?


Most of the MIDI interface devices on the market today have been designed with compatibility in mind, and are able to work equally well on a Mac or a PC. Despite this fact, it is important to investigate whether the MIDI interface device will be compatible with any existing setup before committing to a purchase.

Other MIDI Interface Features


Synchronising MIDI compositions to video requires an interface with a large amount of extra features in addition to those provided by an audio-only MIDI interface. The additions include video sync features, world clock, and ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) sync, among others. Many other configurable options for MIDI interfaces are provided, so thorough research into these options is required before purchasing a MIDI interface device fit for video synchronisation.

Price of a MIDI Interface


While the best-quality MIDI Interfaces can be several thousand pounds to buy new, an interface suitable for most applications involving even serious hobbyists can be obtained for a few hundred pounds. To get the best deals, though, buying second hand is the best option.

Buying MIDI Interfaces on eBay


eBay is a rich source of both retail quality and second-hand goods, but a little experience is required to sift through the irrelevant results and get to only the MIDI interface gems. The eBay category system is key to sorting results properly. Begin by clicking Musical Instruments under All Categories on the homepage. From here, Audio/MIDI Interfaces can be found under Pro Audio Equipment. Within this section, just a few thousand specific results are shown as opposed to the hugely varied hits returned by a broad search on the eBay homepage. The options to the left of the page now allow selection of further specialist filters, such as MIDI interfaces or USB interfaces, and also permit selection by brand, condition, and price range. Searches within these categories now yield a much narrower range of results, such as searches for 8x8 midi interface or 10x10 midi interface, which give only a handful of specific results each.

Conclusion


It is worth noting that some MIDI keyboards now come with an integrated MIDI interface, making it important to read up on the features of each particular model before buying an unnecessary MIDI interface device. For those who do decide that an interface is required, having a look through the listings of some second-hand retailers, such as eBay, is the best way to find the best MIDI interface at just the right price.

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