7 - Getting Your Computer “MIDI Ready” Part 2
Your Computer “MIDI Ready”
I explained the typical sound card/MIDI setup in Part 1 of the “Getting Your Computer MIDI Ready” article. Both articles are designed to help you as you set up your computer for MIDI music applications. Try to read the articles in order, as I tend to write each article building upon what I assume you learned in the previous one!
Dedicated MIDI Interfaces - What Are They?
Before we go on, I want to clarify the term “dedicated MIDI interface.” It simply refers to a MIDI hardware component dedicated to the primary purpose of communicating MIDI data (i.e., to and from a computer). A dedicated MIDI interface is not and does not function like a sound card (surprising how many folks think so). There are no sounds contained in a dedicated MIDI interface -- any sound produced is generated by the MIDI instrument the interface is connected to (like a MIDI keyboard or MIDI sound module, for instance).
Why Use A
Dedicated MIDI Interface Instead
There are situations where a sound card gameport-MIDI connection just won’t do the job. Many desktop computers used to include a soundcard equipped with a 15-pin gameport. This enabled the use of a gameport adapter cable for connecting a MIDI instrument. Today, most computers no longer come equipped with such a gameport connection. The most common way to connect a MIDI keyboard to a computer nowadays, is with a USB interface. Also, laptop users need to purchase an external interface for connecting a MIDI instrument. Again, the use of a USB interface is the most common way to accomplish this.
There are single-port MIDI interfaces and multiple-port MIDI interfaces available. A common situation is when the musician who has two (or more) MIDI instruments he or she wants to connect to the computer. A special “dual” or “multi” port MIDI interface is required to connect more than one MIDI instrument. Note: Although you can “daisy-chain” 3 or 4 MIDI instruments via “MIDI THRU” ports when using a single-port MIDI interface, you will not have independent control over individual instruments connected in this way. The other problem with a daisy-chain hookup is the invitation for “MIDI log-jam” - -a condition where noticeable timing delays occur in the instruments near the end of the chain. The use of a dual, or multi-port interface will give the user total control over each instrument and virtually eliminate MIDI timing errors in a multiple instrument setup.
The Types of Dedicated MIDI Interfaces
EXTERNAL MIDI INTERFACES - First introduced primarily for laptop computer users, the external types are now just as popular with desktop users. This is mainly because of their ease of installation and portability. Many musicians, for example, work with two computer systems between home and studio. They need only purchase one external interface for the two systems, because they can easily disconnect and connect the interface to either system. Initial installation is a breeze. You just install the MIDI driver for the interface and plug the interface cable into the computer’s USB port, and you are ready to go. The illustration below is an example of an external MIDI interface that connects to your computer via a USB port.
External interfaces come as single, dual, and multi port configurations. Advanced features such as SMPTE Time Code synchronization and MIDI routing are available on top-of-the-line models. See below...
INTERNAL MIDI INTERFACES - Most of today’s internal MIDI interfaces are integrated as a feature in the circuitry of certain digital audio cards and consumer soundcards. An internal “MIDI interface-only” device for desktop computer systems is not as common as it once was. For the most part, internal interfaces have been discontinued in favor of external USB interfaces.
Hookup Diagrams for MIDI Interface Connection
EXTERNAL - The following diagram illustrates how an external USB interface makes the connection between a computer’s USB port to a MIDI keyboard controller.
Photo of a typical USB MIDI interface Setup
Tips for installing an internal MIDI interface - avoiding hardware conflicts:
In case you do plan to install an internal MIDI interface, there are some steps you can take to help you avoid problems. Before installation, write down all of the hardware IRQ (interrupt) and Address settings that are being used for the existing hardware already in your system. Find out the settings for your mouse, modem, sound card, printer, scanner, etc. and write them down! Keep this list with you as you begin installation of your MIDI interface. I keep a list of all my hardware settings on a 3" X 5" card and tape it to the side of each one of my computers. That way I can glance at my list and know what resources (IRQ’s, DMA channels, and Addresses) are already in use, so I’m not as likely to cause a conflict for new hardware I may install later.
Do you have
only one MIDI instrument you will need to connect?
Do you want
your interface to be portable between two or more computers, or are you
using a laptop computer?
Do you have two
MIDI instruments you want to connect to the computer?
Deciding which MIDI interface to purchase for your system is an important step, so you’ll want to make the right decision. Don’t let the number of choices cloud the issue, however. You can easily zero-in on the interface that is just right for you, simply by considering your personal requirements.