MIDI Management

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by Reveirg, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. Reveirg

    Reveirg Active Member

    Nov 27, 2010
    Ok, I've recently purchased a few extra synths for my studio, bringing my total of synths from 4 to 7.

    I'm now getting a bit overwhelmed at how to manage my MIDI wiring.

    I only have an Audiofire 12 with 1 MIDI in / 1 MIDI out
    Ideally, I would like:

    1. To be able to play every of my non-keyboard synths without having to go through a DAW. This means depending on MIDI cable connections instead of USB connections.

    2. Have access to a PC Librarian/Editor for each of my synths. This is easily doable through USB for some of my synths (Nord Stage, Minitaur, Virus Indigo II). For others, it can only be done through MIDI/SysEx.

    Here's my list of synth for reference:
    -Nord Stage
    -Prophet 08
    -Yamaha TX81Z
    -Kurzweil K2000R
    -Moog Minitaur
    -OTO Biscuit
    -Virus Indigo II

    So how do you all manage your MIDI connections?

    I know synths can be "chained" with MIDI cables serially, but have no experience in the matter. Would I have to set specific channels? How would that work?

    It gets especially confusing for librarians use as I have no experience whatsoever with Sysex. Let's say my MIDI connection setup goes like this:

    Audiofire -> Nord Stage -> Prophet 08 -> Yamaha TX81Z -> Kurzweil K2000R -> Audiofire

    -If I want to use a PC Librarian for the TX81Z, how would I set it up so that it doesn't screw up the patches on my other synths?

    Any insight in the matter would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
  2. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2008
    Rainy Roads WA USA
    If you want complete control over all your MIDI devices then you should look at getting a MIDI mixer interface.

    MOTU MIDI Express XT USB | Sweetwater.com
  3. Reveirg

    Reveirg Active Member

    Nov 27, 2010
    But I would always have to go through my PC to get anything done, right?
  4. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2008
    Rainy Roads WA USA
    I guess I don't fully understand what your use of the MIDI connections will be exactly or how you wanted to configure them all?
    Aren't you recording or playing back MIDI data between your computer and your synth's now? Or are you just using a particular synth to trigger the other MIDI synth's or some combination of that?
    Or are you wanting to just play each of your synth's together using there audio outputs??...and then using an analog line mixer?
    Also if you have different librarian's/editor software won't those be in your computer and need to be connected via MIDI to make changes?
    The Motu allows you to connect up to 8 MIDI synth's (In and Out) and give you 8 separate MIDI ports in your computer which you can then assign and setup to transmit and receive MIDI data for recording or playback tracks. Each of the 8 ports can use 16 channels of MIDI, hence the 128 channels available.
    It also allows you to configure routing configurations internally between any of those 8 different MIDI devices, so pretty flexible...not to mention it has MIDI sync control which could be used to lock different synth's tempo's together.
  5. Reveirg

    Reveirg Active Member

    Nov 27, 2010
    Yeah that sounds like a really interesting option and I will certainly look into it, thanks!!

    There are 2 downsides I can see though:

    -I'd rather not have to shell out 350$ ^^ (though I will if this ends up being the best option)

    -You are correct in saying: "are you wanting to just play each of your synth's together using there audio outputs??"

    I'd prefer having both
    -the flexibility to have every device routed to my PC via MIDI (to record, track and use librarians)
    -the possibility to play every of my rack synth without having to go through my PC

    I realize it might not be possible to have the best of both worlds... but by plugging everything through MIDI serially, I'm guessing it is possible, I just don't know how to proceed for the librarians and SysEx stuff.
  6. gdoubleyou

    gdoubleyou Well-Known Member

    Mar 19, 2003
    Kirkland WA
    Home Page:
    Back in the olden days when I used MIDI synths, modules, and drum machines, I used a midi patchbay for midi connections and routing.

    Worked with program change messages, or manually from the front panel.
  7. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2008
    Rainy Roads WA USA
    I guess it all depends on what your doing with the MIDI data and what your budget is.
    Whats your setup and connections now?
    I would assume you use the Nord as your master keyboard and trigger the other modules from that or maybe have MIDI files playing from the computer to some of the other units. Looks like most of those already have ports into the computer via USB MIDI. Maybe get some standard DIN MIDI to USB MIDI adapters for the ones that don't have USB interfaces or even get a smaller DIN MIDI/USB interface (2in/out, 4in/out) for those...
  8. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    Nov 21, 2005
    Running "serially" is a bad way to do things in MIDI. It introduces a lot of MIDI delay, and can choke way more easily. Each device takes an input, runs through some circuitry, uses what it wants and passes the rest...introducing a slight delay from in to out. Added up through more than a couple of devices, the delay can get pretty noticeable.

    Even if you use "MIDI Thru" on whatever devices may have it, it still introduces timing delay, and the further down the chain it gets, the more chance of errors.

    Using a MIDI box with multiple inputs and outputs is much more efficient and stable. Assigning each input and your choice of output(s) a channel, you can simultaneously send, say, Channel 1 of a keyboard controller (or synth) to any output connected to the input of any or all the other modules. The MIDI is read once at the input, and simultaneously sent, split, to the assigned outputs. Less delay.

    If you have a sequencing multitimbral keyboard that is capable of outputting a sequence on, say, 16 channels, you can send Channel 1 to that module, channel 2 to that one, etc., Channel 10 to the drum machine. Of course, you'd have to have the ability to set those routings in the MIDI router, or through software.

    You have to be very careful about sending MIDI messages such as Sysex, channel assignments, program changes, etc. With Sysex, devices will usually ignore a message not meant specifically for that model, but if you want it to send a model-specific sysex message, and you insert something like a GM/GS/XG message later, on the same channel, then the device may reset to undo your previous message.

    If you send a patch change on one channel, and another device is sharing that channel...it's going to receive a patch change, also. So, you may think you are going to change JUST the certain patch for the certain module, but once you insert that message and play, you'll be wondering why a trumpet turned into a bouzouki on that other device. Each device is also going to respond to any controller messages (that it recognizes) on the same channel. That could be pretty cool, or it could be a disaster. If you have one set to pitch bend one octave up max, and another is set to some other range...it could get pretty weird. Of course, some folks have made it do that on purpose.

    Having their own channels, through their own ports, seems like it would be complicated...and it is...but it actually makes it much easier to manage.

    Until you change your setup by adding something, or re-patching things, etc. If all this in a computer sequence (or keyboard sequencer) changing the order of outputs, or changing equipment, will cause major confusion. If you have it all logged, though, you can easily go in and reassign things on the tracks that have changed.

    Anyway, serially...for more than one or two devices at most...is rarely good. ALL of the devices in the chain are forced to deal with ALL of the data for ALL of the devices. Even though each won't use most of it, it still has to deal with it. The further down the chain, the more it's been flipped and flopped through devices, and the more cable degradation it's going to endure. Too much cable for a low level signal like MIDI is bad. The shorter, the better. The fewer, the better.

    If, however, one device (like a computer sequence) is sending channel 1 through one cable, channel 2 through another...and so on, the data from channel one isn't mixed in with data from channel 2, etc., forcing devices to deal with more data than they need. It'll be faster, and less error-prone. And, on something that may be sending all 16 channels at once through one cable, that all depends on the sending unit's multitimbral quality, and the ability of the MIDI router box to efficiently read, sort and route the data. But, once it's sorted and redirected, each device is ran more efficiently because there is nothing else coming down that particular cable but what it needs.

    If I was you...I'd get a good quality box. Your recording setup, connected to a computer sequencing program/librarian/etc., will be different than your live setup. You'll have to decide what, exactly, you want from each.

    It'll be a confusing learning curve, and you'll likely be encountering all kinds of "MIDI feedback" stuck notes, program lock-ups, wrong patch changes, etc., until you figure out all the routing, and DOCUMENT the setup (Hint: Get a decent-sized dry-erase board to keep track of things as you go, until you're sure you have it right. It's easier to erase and correct. You can draw a diagram of all the devices, and use different colored dry-erase markers for cables, etc.)

    You COULD get by with something less than an 8x8 box, by using a few MIDI thrus, but I wouldn't pass it more than once. And you COULD run one MIDI out to another MIDI in...if you are sure you want both to respond the same. (A MIDI Thru will pass everything MIDI In sees. MIDI Out passes only what you have it set to send from the unit itself, or sent along from a previous unit that is the exact same data used in the particular unit).

    Just be careful that whatever you get, if it's got USB connectivity...that it's not powered ONLY by USB...or you may find yourself scratching your head wondering how to use it without a computer (or, possibly) a keyboard or other device with USB that can supply power?

    Personally...OK...go ahead and put a USB port on a MIDI device...but DON'T LEAVE OFF THE MIDI I/O SOCKETS!!! Some of us want to use our old stuff...WITHOUT having to buy yet another device to use a new device!

    Good luck,

  9. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2008
    Rainy Roads WA USA
    Good info from Kapt Krunch there....
    I agree with the serial/chain method being a hindrance. Latency is one of the killers for sure!
    I was also going to mention that without "Thru" ports it does get pretty messy and limited.
    Again a MIDI box like the Motu (or one similar to that) is really the best method for older synth's with DIN style MIDI connectors only.

    I just recently wanted to connect an older Roland GR9 guitar synth which only had DIN MIDI In/Out.
    We have a Yamaha Motif in the studio which has a MIDI USB "host" built in and connected to the computer. It supports multiple MIDI ports.
    I was going to go get a DIN MIDI to USB adapter for the older Roland but after reading the manual on the Motif I found I could connect the Roland's DIN MIDI In/Out to the Motif's DIN MIDI In/Out and the Motif re-transmitted the Roland MIDI data onto Port 3 via the USB host into the computer! Very cool feature.
    This opened up the entire guitar player to be able to play both the Roland sound samples, the Motif samples and any VST sound sample within Cubase.
    Perhaps your Nord or one of the other USB equipped devices have a similar USB host you could try...

    The point is that with multiple MIDI devices nowadays the latest best method of routing and managing MIDI data is from your DAW and a computer. There is no reason to create a MIDI chain or cables directly. I can assign any MIDI device I have on any MIDI channel to trigger 100 different sound samples at the same time within my DAW and record that either as MIDI or audio or both!
    It is just seems like an archaic method to do that with cables.
    Of course you may have some other "live" setup requirement that you want with your statement that "you don't want to use the PC".
    But I would think a laptop could easily be used as a MIDI controller or use something like the Motu in a rack as a standalone configuration.
    Having some idea of what your actually trying to accomplish with the MIDI interconnections might help realize a better solution...i.e. drum machine triggering Prophet, Nord triggering Biscuit/Moog, Kurzweil triggering Moog/Virus.
    Then it's just a matter of routing and mixing the analog audio outputs...
  10. Reveirg

    Reveirg Active Member

    Nov 27, 2010
    Alright, you all pretty much convinced me to go ahead and purchase a 8x8 box.

    Would a MOTU Express 128 do the job? I found a deal for a used one... I'm wondering what's the difference between that one and the XT.

    "Using a MIDI box with multiple inputs and outputs is much more efficient and stable. Assigning each input and your choice of output(s) a channel, you can simultaneously send, say, Channel 1 of a keyboard controller (or synth) to any output connected to the input of any or all the other modules. The MIDI is read once at the input, and simultaneously sent, split, to the assigned outputs."
    Is that true of the Express 128?

    Weirdly enough, it's pretty hard to find info about those boxes.

    Thanks a lot for all your help.
  11. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2008
    Rainy Roads WA USA
    I think the only difference with the Express XT and the 128 is the XT has an AC cord for power and the 128 uses the USB for power. Just a heads up with the 128 make sure you plug it into a solid powered USB port.
    Also the 128 doesn't have the SMPTE time code feature or remote footswitch jack.

    Here's a link to the manual for the Motu units...that should tell you everything you need to know...

  12. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    Nov 21, 2005
    Ummm....mmmm...the manual IS kind of lacking on using it as a "stand-alone live" device (with no computer). Not even sure if it's possible. May want to ask someone who has one, or contact MOTU, and ask. I seem to remember you mentioning something about "no computer"?

    Apparently, it has some "User Programmable Presets". What I think MAY be possible is to plan out how you want to use it live (sans computer), set up any routing scheme, save it as a preset...and IF it can be used with no computer, after you've properly connected all your devices, power everything up and choose a preset (if it's accessible from the front panel)...it MAY be ready to use everything as mapped?

    What, exactly, is it you want to do with all those, live?

    What's connected to what? Which is the send unit(s), and which are the receive units? Will the scheme change during a night? I don't have time to go through the list of your equipment at the moment to see what, exactly, is what, but do you have, say, one main sequencing keyboard (with 16 or (A & B) 32 channels out?) , or two, maybe that you want sync'ed together, and triggering all the other stuff...AND while playing on one...two...or more?

    Having everything run from a computer will be confusing at first, but it should become fairly easy once you get the hang of it.

    Study the manual. CAN you route one output device to more than one other input, choose the channels...and save all that as preset?

    Say you have a multitimbral sequencing keyboard that provides the backing on 16 MIDI tracks.

    You only want that device to play certain sounds, so you mute those to the internal sound generator, but route those tracks to different devices (or even use the internal sounds, with external devices ALSO playing a sound).

    I'd probably plug that into MIDI Port 1 of the MOTU. If you had, say, a dedicated drum machine...I'd probably put that in the last input (in the case of the MOTU, number 8 port). The rest of the stuff could be placed anywhere in between, perhaps even organized with any together that are kind of similar in function. In that way, I'd know that Port 1 was the main sending device. If I also PLAYED the keys on that, it would be good at Port 1. If you had another keyboard that you play, but has no sequencer...Port 2 might be a good choice.

    Anyway, once you have all that down, it'll eventually be easier to remember where to route things in your setup, and even in any compositions on the computer. If you take it out live (if it's capable with no computer) the setup will be familiar and you'll get it done more quickly. Basically, all you'll be missing is the computer.

    This IS going to get complicated. There is no real shortcut. You'll just have to decide if the unit you get will do what you want, and spend a bunch of time getting familiar with everything. Remember, you have to set up all the proper parameters in EVERY device to match its intended connected device, and to control or respond with the desired data. You say...what...7 devices?

    Some of them may not need MIDI out connected, if they are only responding to something else. (Some may just need MIDI out connected or activated to do things like Sysex).

    7 devices. Each can respond to at LEAST one MIDI channel, some may respond to more, up to 16. You'll probably want to decide on choosing certain channels for particular devices, and always making sure that they stay the same, unless you have a particular reason to change a channel midway.

    If you have, say, two playable keyboards, and a different responding module connected to each through something like the MOTU, using, say, Channel 1 on both sets won't matter. That's because the first keyboard (say Port 1 In MOTU) is sent to a port that is routed out to something else (say, Port 6 Out MOTU). So, the module on Port 6 will respond to what Port 1 is passing, on Channel 1.

    Another keyboard on Port 2 MOTU In can happily pass Channel 1 data to, say, Port 5 Out MOTU, without conflicting with Channel one on the other ports. That's because neither sees the other. They are on different ports.

    Those are the kinds of things you'll have to keep in mind.

    Find out if that will do what you want, or maybe even, email MOTU, Sweetwater or someone and explain EXACTLY what you are trying to do. It may be that you don't really NEED an 8x8, or it could be that some other unit will be a much better fit for your needs. Maybe...even at a lower price?

    Good luck,

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