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Michael McBroom

Are the Days of Daisychaining MIDI Devices Over?

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Way back when, I was a Pro Audio user, and my DAW had two sound cards, one of which was audio only, but the other had MIDI capabilities via its Game port. Back then I had daisychained at least three different MIDI devices together off that game port, and things worked well.

These days, it's all USB. And when you plug the USB port into your system, it responds with the name of the USB host or adapter, not the MIDI instrument that's plugged into the USB adapter (or host). So in Cakewalk, that's where the Instrument Definition files become useful. But I've wondered if I could still daisychain instruments -- although I don't see how I can, since I have to assign a single instrument to that adapter, or at least that's the way it seems to me. So, since I have no MIDI ports in my DAW, I guess that means the days of daisychaining are over, yes?

My DAW has PCI slots and I still have a couple of PCI sound cards that have the MIDI game ports. Only problem is nobody's written drivers for them for Win7 or later. So they're of no use. And I've looked for drivers, with no luck.

Recently, I've been thinking about building an obsolete system from leftover motherboards and RAM and hard drives I have laying around -- one that'll run Win98 or Win XP -- one with an OS for which these cards still have drivers. And then daisychain this system into a MIDI/USB adapter or port on my current DAW. I wonder how that would work out. Probably wouldn't, I guess. It would still show up as a single USB entry, wouldn't it. I have plenty of USB ports in my current DAW to handle the few legacy pieces of gear I have, so daisychaining isn't a real issue. The question is mostly from idle curiosity.

However, I still might build an obsolete system just because of one of my old sound cards -- a Soundblaster Live! card that has a synth chip on board. Some of those instruments on that synth chip really had a cool sound and I wouldn't mind being able to access them again.

 

 

 

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I never daisy-chained anything, I always went out to a USB MIDI interface device (first the tiny ones, then a couple of the MIDISport 8x8's like the one you see below).

I wasn't a fan of how the pass-thru got mangled sometimes.  Maybe something like this would still work for you since it DOES start with USB?

10-Studio2010-02.jpg

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I dunno, maybe. Shoot, I don't even know what most of that stuff is.

I have a couple of MidiSport 2x2s and a Roland UM-One,  plus my audio interface has MIDI ports, so that gives me six MIDI to USB ports. More than enough for my needs. 

 

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Almost no USB MIDI here. I have a MIDI multiplexer, a sort of 5-pin DIN patch bay with presets. Also some standalone splitters and a combiner so I can drive a common MIDI device from two keyboards onstage. 

My only USB connection is to a tiny portable keyboard that fits into my laptop bag. Its only purpose is to give me something to do in airport waiting lounges. No need to chain it to anything.

 

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In the early days of MIDI I daisy chained them, then I found a MIDI interfaces. I currently use a MOTU MIDI Express 128  MIDI interface.

Most of my MIDI devices have the good old 5 pin DIN plugs. I put a USB to MIDI interface into the computer and take the 5 pin DIN out of there to feed the MIDI devices.

I still prefer hardware synths to software synths. Hardware synths with the 5 pin DIN that worked decades ago with both Windows 3.1 and Motorola CPU Macs are still working. There are some great sounds in them that aren't found in more modern synthesis methods. 

Any software synth from 10 years ago might not work today. My first 3 software synths won't work on any modern OS. However more modern synths have their own stellar sounds.

I generally mix 6 to 8 synths on a recording, and unlike software synths, there is virtually no latency and since each unit has its own CPU, there is a minimal load on the computer.

Actually the hardware synths have from 5-6 ms latency so they are all in sync without any further manipulation.

One more thing, in the software synth the computer's CPU has to "do the math" for every note, ever voice, every nuance played, the hardware synths have them stored in ROM. That allows the synth developer to make more complex sounds on the hardware synths since he/she doesn't have to take short cuts to lessen the computer's CPU load.

I guess that makes me a dinosaur.

I'm not a luddite though, some day the software synths will sound as good as the hardware synths, and computers will be fast enough for them to do that. When that happens, and they have 5ms latency, I might mix them with my hardware synths.

Insights and incites by Notes

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3 hours ago, Notes_Norton said:

incites by Notes

Indeed, you make  lot of debateable points. ;^)

The MIDI reposnse time of hardware synths can vary widely, and it will be lower if the synth has a digital out, removing D/A/D conversion time. And a good part of the delay will be MIDI transmission from the contorller, through the DAW and out to the synth- as much as 10ms for a slow interface like my MOTU MIDI Express XT (it's old as the hills, and possibly not as fast as a newer 128). My old E-MU 1820m had a MIDI round trip around to 3ms - I miss that.

Both software and hardware syths can be either simple sample players or implement varying degrees of real-time DSP/modelling to generate sounds. Personally I prefer the latter in most cases for their more natural response  in real-time performance (mainly loudness and timbral response to velocity), even if they might not sound as much like the 'real thing' in the case of a patch that's supposed ot emulate a real, physical instrument - drums being the primary exception.

I don't think it can be claimed that hardware synths consistently sound better than soft synths unless you're talking about true analog synthesis . In the case of digital synthesis, there are good and bad examples of both, and I would say soft synths ultimately have the edge in having access to more processing power and more RAM than most (if not all) hardware synths. If a soft synth doesn't sound as good as digital hardware, it's a shortcoming of the programming, not the hardware it's running on. And any soft synth will beat the crap out of a hardware synth in MIDI response time and noise floor unless the harware synth is connected by a very fast MIDI interface and digital audio I/O.

Getting back to the OP, what you're essentially talking about here is turning soft synths into hardware synths by running them on external hardware. I gather a lot of Orchestral somposers do that to offload the synth processing, using various forms of networking to transmit MIDI and audio between multiple platforms. I've never really had the need, but have also considered doing it just for fun. But the logistics have maintaining two desktop PCs and user interfaces has deterred me from ever making the effort.

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On 3/7/2020 at 12:25 PM, Michael McBroom said:

However, I still might build an obsolete system just because of one of my old sound cards -- a Soundblaster Live! card that has a synth chip on board. Some of those instruments on that synth chip really had a cool sound and I wouldn't mind being able to access them again.

 

 

 

It's been a while but I believe the soundfont files (.SF2) are on the CD that came with the Creative Live! card. You might even be able to find them online.

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10 hours ago, David Baay said:

Getting back to the OP, what you're essentially talking about here is turning soft synths into hardware synths by running them on external hardware.

Actually, no. I was talking about legacy MIDI synths that have the old 5-pin DIN ports only. I own a few -- four, I think. Not including the Soundblaster Live! cards I own that have MIDI/game ports. These old legacy synths I daisychained to my DAW because it had only one MIDI port -- the game/MIDI port of the Soundblaster card.

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I sure hope 5-pin DINs and UARTs don't ever go away. They are superior to USB in almost every regard.

As to whether hardware always beats software, that's another can o' worms. Digital hardware synths will usually have design restrictions that a computer needn't be subject to, such as reduced storage space and slower CPUs.  The supposed superiority of analog synths is a moot point - those pristine waveforms are going to end up as digital data eventually.

I have found balance by using both hardware and software. I play a high-end digital synthesizer on stage, but in the studio it's solely a MIDI controller. I can get any kind of sound I want from it while playing/recording, thus avoiding the need to ever play a software synth in real time. Consequently, latency is never a concern despite keeping my buffers at their highest setting all the time.

 

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I was referring ot this:

On 3/7/2020 at 10:25 AM, Michael McBroom said:

Recently, I've been thinking about building an obsolete system from leftover motherboards and RAM and hard drives I have laying around -- one that'll run Win98 or Win XP -- one with an OS for which these cards still have drivers. And then daisychain this system into a MIDI/USB adapter or port on my current DAW.

That wouldn't technically be "daisy-chaining" since the remote PC would have dedicated I/O into the DAW.  Only if you ran multiple soft synths or a soft synth and a hardware wavetable card and had one or more that were cable of passing MIDI Thru to the next would you be daisy-chaining anything.

On 3/7/2020 at 10:25 AM, Michael McBroom said:

So, since I have no MIDI ports in my DAW, I guess that means the days of daisychaining are over, yes?

If you connected a controller or synth module via USB that has a MIDI Thru port on it, you could daisy-chain other devices off that device. A lot of devices have both USB MIDI and DIN ports.

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I see things getting better with the new midi standard coming out for future gear.

  I have a few dual purpose keyboards that have both a usb and a 5 pin midi connector that also have built in sound engines. What I'm finding in the studio is I seldom use the external sound engines lately. It's just too easy to load VSTi and play with the security of program and template saves. I don't have to come back and remember what I did on a hardware synth. I  sometimes record both an audio and a midi track simultaneous because a certain sound in the keyboard has a feel I liked and I think it helped me play just a little better as a result. If it's in time and clean I might decide to use it.

You could probably get all kinds of dated keyboards cheap online and only use them as your sound sources. It's a lot of work though, rounding up keyboards, getting them all set up. For me that's best if I'm playing keyboards live. Forget the computer unless you need tracks.

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On 3/9/2020 at 10:29 AM, David Baay said:

That wouldn't technically be "daisy-chaining" since the remote PC would have dedicated I/O into the DAW.  Only if you ran multiple soft synths or a soft synth and a hardware wavetable card and had one or more that were cable of passing MIDI Thru to the next would you be daisy-chaining anything.

If you connected a controller or synth module via USB that has a MIDI Thru port on it, you could daisy-chain other devices off that device. A lot of devices have both USB MIDI and DIN ports.

Poor choice of words on my part. I didn't mean "daisychain," in that comment. I just meant basically to port it into my system, which would require the use of a MIDI to USB adapter, I reckon.

I don't think I've ever used MIDI "thru" before, so I  had to check my devices. I have one -- an old Roland JV-1010 synth module. It has a thru port. Currently I don't have it hooked up to my system, but I guess it's worth a shot now, especially since I can daisychain other synths from it.

 

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The definition of daisy-chaining is connecting IN of one synth via the THRU of another. But in some cases a module will have only an OUT that you enable to act as a THRU. In any case if your DAW has no DIN ports, the top of the chain will need to be a device that has both USB and DIN; I don't think the JV-1010 does...?

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Posted (edited)

I remember when you could buy entry level DAWs at places like Best Buy that came with midi to game port cables.  I never got them to work.  I still have all of my old PC hardware.  My Yamaha SW1000XG is a doorstop.   If I have the space I would slap together an old Athlon system and run W2000.  I could run Sonar 2 and Gigastudio 2.5.  Voyetra Digital Orchestra Pro was a cool DAW back then. 

 My Novation mini series can be chained. 

Edited by kitekrazy

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