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back to article MIDI: 30 years old... almost

Despite rumours to the contrary, MIDI is not 30 years old today. The concept is older and its actual adoption as an industry standard gets its birthday next summer. Yet as industry standards go, it’s certainly been a robust one. As with a lot of technology standards – remember draft-n Wi-Fi? – manufacturers don't want to hang …

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MIDI controllers

are something for which I'll be eternally grateful. So, so much quicker than transcribing music in to a step sequencer!

Happy unbirthday MIDI!

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"unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

One DIN plug connecting four signals (stereo in and out) between a tape deck and an amplifier is smalelr and far more friendly than four phono plugs!

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Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

That's all good if you have the connectors, otherwise cable clamps are more universally bodgable! I think the article author was referring to the hifi that used DIN for speakers.

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MJI
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Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

Phono are better quality though!

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Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

Agreed. I always liked DIN.

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Boffin

Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

The DIN connector is the poor man's XLR.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

No, DIN41524 connectors or any other DIN plug are not a poor man's XLR. What are you on about?

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Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

The DIN is a cheap, domestic quality audio connector. The XLR is a solid, professional audio connector. If you have any more questions please refer to a qualified sound engineer. Oh wait, you already did...

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Re: "unfriendly" European hi-fi gear?

The DIN connector is the poor man's crappy chinese counterfeit Neutrik XLR.

Fixed it for you.

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@Dave 126

"I think the article author was referring to the hifi that used DIN for speakers."

No, the author specifically referred to 5-pin DIN plugs, as used for MIDI. These are not used for speaker connections.

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Re: @Dave 126

I remember my mother having a record player in the 70's that had a 5 pin DIN plug that connected to the speakers.

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Happy

I love MIDI!

I use MIDI on a daily basis to sequence synthesizers from my Apple Mac. Whilst it is a bit suprising there has been no new standard for time/tempo syncing etc for 30 odd years, I guess it's just because MIDI works so effectively - if it ain't broke don't fix it as they say.

Long live MIDI!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I love MIDI!

"Whilst it is a bit suprising there has been no new standard for time/tempo syncing etc for 30 odd years, I guess it's just because MIDI works so effectively - if it ain't broke don't fix it as they say."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Sound_Control

Hardware and software that supports this has been in the wild for some time. Nerdier musician types tend to be aware of it.

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Anonymous Coward

It's still limping on

OSC hasn't managed to supplant it yet, sadly- and poor old MIDI is showing its age. My main beef is that it only supports eight bit values, i.e. 256 levels of "waggliness". People have bodged extensions, I have some devices that generate MIDI with 14-bit values, which is pretty nice, but it's still a kludge. DJ controllers in particular benefit from this- eight bit pitch sliders are bound to start trainwrecking after 16 bars or so, unless you're in league with Santa.

The Other funny thing, while I am wittering on, is how many MIDI devices out there now present over USB, rather than the tangle of DIN plugs. I suppose this makes sense given the ludicrous power of modern software sound sources like Ableton, though, where you essentially just want to throw some controller front-endc gear on there, most of the time..

That said, tempted to dig out my USB-MIDI interface and plug up my Juno 106 now, with all this talk of nonsense, and do something pointlessly post-modern like waggle the filters from TouchOSC on my iPad :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

I dread the day that anything supplants MIDI - the gradual switch to MIDI over USB is bad enough - as it means I'll have to quit using my hardware sequencer. Compared to the control and immediacy of something like a Roland MC, software sequencers suck, particularly since most of them are disk based audio recorders with sequencing tacked on as an afterthought (Ableton Live, I'm looking at you).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

I dunno, I used to think that, but I suspect that your POV might be a little outdated. Used with low latency sound drivers, software instruments are excellent.

Also, as the owner of a couple of MC class boxes, I have to say, they do run out of CPU time remarkably quickly at high tempos with a lot of control data. On one of the boxes, years ago, a call to Roland in Wales got me a free ROM upgrade (they stuck the chip in the post, as I promised to do the upgrade myself, and send back the old one <3)- that helped a bit, but it still ran out of steam.

Yes, back when your argument was valid, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you, as an enthusiastic user of QY and MC sequencers. However, that particular ship has sailed, long ago. I do still have a couple of MC boxes packed away in the spare room, but they don't see use except for nostalgia. My fully upgraded A3000 sampler was also given away, too, as someone with a shred of nouse can do better on a smaller, cheaper, lighter and more power-efficient laptop these days.

Admittedly, if you use a skanky old Dell or HP full of manufacturer crapware, and WDM drivers, you're always going to have a ton of latency and buffer underruns. However, today as it ever was- a bit of technical knowledge lets you select the right tool for the job. It's just that the skillsets need to change, to adapt and grow over time too- otherwise you have to make do with the best of yesterday and the worst of today.

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Re: It's still limping on

Worry not. Have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI#Alternative_hardware_transports- I get the impression that past efforts to supplant MIDI have mostly failed, and the current work in progress, 'MIDI HD Protocol'. is fully backwards-compatible. There are too many musicians and enthusiasts with esoteric MIDI hardware out there for it to be rendered obsolete.

MIDI seems to bring out the bodger and tinkerer in us... I saw my mate the other day, soldering MIDI ports into a circa-1990 toy Yamaha keyboard... Instructables.com has a lot to answer for.

I blame MIDI for getting me into IT... my friend's dad had an Atari ST, Roland GM module and a Casio MIDI guitar, and and I took my piano lessons with their next-door neighbour on a Yamaha DX-7 keyboard.

I did have a play with MIDI again about a year ago, trying to get a cheap Wacom Bamboo tablet to act as Kaoscilator, by using some virtual patch cables and a softsynth... one way to waste an afternoon. Low and bloody behold Windows 7 doesn't like you changing the default MIDI playback device away from the integrated audio hardware, some poking of the registry is required. Add to that Windows Sound Mapper trying to prise control back from ASIO, and I now know why musicians use Macs. At least Android is moving in the right direction:

http://createdigitalmusic.com/2012/07/android-high-performance-audio-in-4-1-and-what-it-means-plus-libpd-goodness-today/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

I dunno, I used to think that, but I suspect that your POV might be a little outdated.

Nope, my view's based on using Ableton as well as watching other use Pro Tools and Logic. What takes an excruciating amount of time in those software packages is a few button presses on a decent hardware sequencer. As for running out of oomph, I filter out stuff I don't need like aftertouch and have never had a problem with memory or processing limits.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

" Add to that Windows Sound Mapper trying to prise control back from ASIO, and I now know why musicians use Macs"

Yeah, sad but true, CoreAudio is still markedly more sane (though it still gets device order and assignment a bit randomised on startup sometimes, a minor pain). My Win 7 box has three sound devices (for various reasons), and Windows doesn't cope brilliantly with them, screwing up just about everything, and having a horrid interface to it. Audio is bad and unreliable, and MIDI feels like a vestigial afterthought.

As much as it would pain me to buy another Apple machine when my current MBP dies, for MIDI and Audio, it's the only real way to preserve sanity when tinkering with this stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

It only takes an excruciating amount of time if you're not very good at using them. A poor workman, etc.

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the gradual switch to MIDI over USB

shouldn't be a a problem, midi<->usb adapters are only a few quid.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

It only takes an excruciating amount of time if you're not very good at using them. A poor workman, etc.

Bollocks. Try normalising velocities for a range of notes in Ableton.

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Re: It's still limping on

>It only takes an excruciating amount of time if you're not very good at using them. A poor workman, etc.

Double bollocks. Even using some Logitech USB speakers on my Win7 laptop to make iPlayer less tinny is unreliable, often killing the laptop's integrated sound card, usually requiring some faffing about in 'playback devices'- enabling, disabling, setting as default, swearing at it before turning off and on again whilst crossing fingers? Once connected and on, it's fine, but but makes switching to headphones a PITA. I'm blaming Microsoft, not Logitech.

And do you really think its right to blame 'the workman' that FireWire audio on a PC isn't a standard, but a lucky dip as to whether you have a VIA or a Texas Instruments chipset?

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Re: It's still limping on

"Nope, my view's based on using Ableton as well as watching other use Pro Tools and Logic."

Without version numbers that means very little. Development on these environments (and many others) has seen some tremendous changes over the past years.

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Re: It's still limping on

Real men use MIDI.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still limping on

Get a decent sound interface, dude. A *good* PCI express interface can have lower latency than a hardware synth. Yes, tested it myself. Hint: RME...

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Go

There's more to it than the protocol...

...the electrical interface itself is very well thought-out and more subtle than first appears.

For example: all MIDI devices are optoisolated from each other, so there is no actual electrical connection. An LED in the receiver is driven by current supplied from the transmitter (via a pair of wires). This means no voltage spikes, no ground loops, no floating potentials that make your expensive electronics lose its magic smoke. In other words, it actually works in the ghastly electrical environment you tend to find on stage.

Otherwise I wouldn't dare try to connect two computers to each other on stage unless I was damn sure that they were plugged into the same power strip... and even then I'd be nervous.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it than the protocol...

Given the dodgy wiring in most small to medium sized venues in the UK, I'm surprised I've not seen more bands suffering from fried Macbooks (and it always seems to be Apple computer kit on stage). Even with a surge protector I've had my bass amp blow up twice in the last couple of years, as well as overheating thanks to inadequate ventilation and blisteringly hot stage lighting.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it than the protocol...

"it always seems to be Apple computer kit on stage"

There always seems to be new Apple computer kit on stage.

Maybe you've inadvertently answered your own question ;-)

Anyway, a stage isn't set properly without an Emulator II taking up half the space.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it than the protocol...

Simple, you run it on battery power. A gig is rarely over 2 hours and any band likely to be doing a longer set will be rich enough to have a few spare.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it than the protocol...

>In other words, it actually works in the ghastly electrical environment you tend to find on stage.

Sound Engineering 101: Blame it on the lighting engineer. ; D

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it than the protocol...

Anyway, a stage isn't set properly without an Emulator II taking up half the space.

About twelve years ago I found an Emulator II in a second hand music shop at the end of Cowley Road in Oxford. Snapped it up as a £200 bargain, got it home and then discovered both floppy drives were bust :-( This was before the fantastic HxC floppy emulator was available, and the place in the States that claims to stock replacement drives *never* has them in stock. Ended up giving it away to a fellow computer nerd.

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MIDI's a great example of the big guys in an industry seeing how a standard needs to be set, and coming together to make an open standard before either the whole industry falls apart amongst a mess of incompatibilities, or one company rises up and borgs everything.

Now if only Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Kawai, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, Moog et al, were interested in PC OS interoperability as well, eh?

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Happy

I think that what's partly responsible for the fact it is well designed - both protocol and hardware - is that when it was developed there were relatively few professionals involved in what was at that time very much a niche market, so some serious design and co-operation was possible before the business interests realised there was money to be made.

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Game port

I still have a home made MIDI breakout board (basically the Opto-isolators and DIN sockets wired to a 15 pin D connector). But nothing with a PC Game port. Well I have ISA cards and maybe one PCI SB card with a "game port". May try it on my Media PC and the Yamaha PSR-600 keyboard.

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TRT
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Re: Game port

I've still got one for the Amiga in a box somewhere, and another for the Vic-20 / C64. Ah, those were the days!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Game port

You could try searching for a "USB gameport MIDI adaptor', yours for around a tenner... I think I've even seen one in Maplins for around that price- they must have forgotten their usual markup!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Game port

Amiga, Golden Hawk MIDI, Bars and Pipes, FTW. Before that my Commodore 64, the Dr. MIDI (I think) interface and Stereo SID Editor (which could output to MIDI, IIRC.) I feel the need to set up the latter again just as a show of my geeky-manhood.

I set up the digital TV and IT infrastructure at a local bar this summer and the lighting guys use a USB lighting control panel which is actually MIDI, and the lights are controlled by MIDI. Neat stuff.

Paris, MIDI-compatible.

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Re: Game port

Yeh, I'm sure Maplin used to be cheap a few years ago -- what happened?

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TRT
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Re: Game port

Tandy closed down.

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Re: Game port

I doubt if MIDI was actually being used to drive the lighting - the MIDI was probably being used to drive a DMX controller, which then ran the lighting. MIDI is fast enough to switch lighting patches, but nothing like adequate for the fine detail of lighting control such as setting dimmer levels, or positioning a moving mirror - that needs the 250kbaud DMX signal - and forget 16 channels, DMX has 512...

DMX is another serial data control protocol that unified manufacturers and revolutionised an industry - in fact, DMX is sometimes referred to as 'the MIDI of the lighting industry' - but it is around 4 years younger!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Game port

That would be it, then. DMX definitely sounds familiar. I am going to double-check this over the weekend when I have access to the equipment, but I recall seeing MIDI triggers available in the control program, and the controller board does seem to communicate via MIDI over USB (per something which popped up at one point or another.)

None of this withstanding, the system likes to lock up and crash. Frequently. Its poor behavior has earned it its own machine to hopefully quell its fiendish and cruel appetite for watching liquored-up patrons stop dancing and stare around in dismay when the lighting system suddenly conks out. What really sucks is it also controls the lighting for the stage shows.

Paris, another staged show.

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Re: MIDI controlling DMX

It would be intertesting to know exactly which combination of hardware and software is being used for this; if some of the control system is running on a PC, then EVERYTHING else on the PC must be disabled, or it'll keep running off at random to do virus scans, check for software updates, etc...not conducive to a stable lighting control system!

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Midi Maze!

I first used midi for multi-player gaming on the Atari 520STFM. It was called midi-maze and actually worked rather well! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI_Maze

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TouchOSC

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bJsxIeg5iQ&feature=relmfu

I've chatted with this man after a Bristol pub gig... though about electric vehicle drivetrains (he is from San Francisco) rather than his MIDI clarinet and MIDI iPhone (for it's accelerometers) combo. He's a smarter lad than comes across in this video! He seems to have evolved since then, since in this video he had made his own MIDI controllers- one for for each hand, plus mouth piece, and wrist-strapped iPhone.

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We're still on Atari's here

Still no other computer can beat the Atari ST/TT/Facon for basic MIDI timing.

www.atarimusic.net

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We're still on Atari's here

Amiga, C64 or any of the early machines that had a efficient OS.

ST wasn't that special, it just had a MIDI port built in from day one.

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WTF?

Nice picture on the BBC article of a device using USB instead of MIDI.

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The picture they currently show does indeed have a USB connector shown, but right next to a pair of standard 5 pin DIN midi ports.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and spare you a down vote. Several haven't been so generous!

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Yes. I was just observing that the USB interface was the one in use and the MIDI ports were being left redundant. Geez you're a hard crowd sometimes.

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