How to Choose a MIDI Interface
When MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was developed over 30 years ago, it resulted in a flood of music technology. Software DAWs have long replaced the hardware sequencers of the twentieth century, bringing an ever-increasing demand for effective ways to get MIDI in and out of computers. This buying gGuide will help you understand and choose a MIDI interface. If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700.
MIDI is a remote-control language lots of music gear, such as keyboards and virtual instruments, use. By modern standards, MIDI is remarkably simple, yet it allows you to do amazing things. You can play a keyboard and tell a sound module what notes to play, how loud each note should be, and more. It also lets you turn a knob on a control surface and cause a virtual knob to move on your screen.
What Is a MIDI Interface?
A MIDI interface is a device that provides MIDI In/Out to and from a computer or MIDI-equipped hardware via standard 5-pin MIDI jacks. There are standalone MIDI interfaces, virtually all of which connect to a computer via USB. MIDI interfaces can also be integrated into keyboards, pad controllers, control surfaces, and audio interfaces. This provides a wide range of options for configuring your studio or live rig.
MIDI interfaces commonly come in 2-, 4-, and 8-port configurations (e.g. 8 in x 8 out). Since each port can transmit 16 channels of MIDI data, an 8-port interface can handle a total of 128 MIDI channels. An 8-port MIDI interface is useful for those who have a number of external sound modules, control surfaces, and keyboards to connect. Channels can be used to control individual sounds on a multitimbral synth, or the transport section of DAWs, providing a lot of flexibility.
Understanding MIDI In/Out/Thru
MIDI is a single-direction communications protocol. Therefore, a single MIDI jack can either transmit or receive MIDI data. To send MIDI from a keyboard to your computer, connect the keyboard’s MIDI Out jack to your MIDI interface’s MIDI In jack.
MIDI Thru was found on keyboards when extensive MIDI daisy chains were common and latency was an issue. Back then, a device’s MIDI Out would not necessarily reproduce what came in on the MIDI In jack. To send MIDI on to another device in the series, you’d connect the MIDI Thru of the first sound module to the MIDI In of the next.
What to Look For…
Do You Need a MIDI Interface?
Most USB-equipped keyboards, digital pianos, and controllers come with a MIDI interface built-in, so if you plan on a simple setup and aren’t using legacy gear, you probably don’t need a dedicated MIDI interface. MIDI interfaces are convenient if you plan to use your DAW to control MIDI-equipped hardware that doesn’t connect directly to your computer.
The amount of MIDI gear you have determines how many ports you need. If have just one keyboard controller that you’ll be using with a virtual synth setup in a laptop, a simple 1 x 1 MIDI interface will suffice. However, if you’re connecting a rig full of synth modules, then you’ll want as many ports as you have modules in order to minimize latency.
If you only plan on sequencing or performing, then a straightforward, expandable MIDI interface is what you need. If you plan on working with video or dedicated digital multitrack recorders, you’ll need an interface that offers the appropriate sync options. An interface that can be powered via USB (bus-powered) is also a great option for mobile setups, since it doesn’t require an additional AC power cable.
MIDI has a rich history, and 30 years after its creation, is still an important part of both live performance and recording technology. Sweetwater Sales Engineers are highly trained and knowledgeable about MIDI interfaces. Call (800) 222-4700 for assistance!