MIDI of the roadie

Introduction

All right – so you have a new iMac, you’ve seen your mate’s Cubase set-up, and you fancy doing a bit of music yourself. You realize that you’re going to need a way to play notes into your MIDI sequencer; something to plug your sound module, guitar, or microphone into the computer; and some reasonable speakers to play sounds back. And moreover, you don’t want to spend too much money – after all, it’s just a hobby. So – Midiman to the rescue. Oxygen 8 is a little keyboard controller with just one octave of full-size keys that sits comfortably next to your computer, and connects either via USB or a MIDI interface. The keyboard also has a pair of pitch and modulation wheels, a data-slider, eight assignable rotary controllers, and a socket on the back for a sustain pedal. There are two MIDI Out sockets, one of which carries MIDI data from the keyboard to any connected MIDI modules, allowing Oxygen 8 to be used as a stand-alone MIDI controller. The other can be used to carry MIDI data from your computer to any MIDI modules you want to hook-up, acting as a USB MIDI interface for your computer. An OMS MIDI driver is supplied, so the keyboard will work with most Mac MIDI software. Oxygen 8 takes its power directly from the USB connection, or you can use a 9-Volt mains adaptor or regular AA batteries. Neither batteries nor a mains adaptor are supplied with the unit, though. Oxygen 8 comes with a CD-ROM packed with software demos from Antares, Propellerheads and other manufacturers. Lurking among these, you’ll find some excellent freebie software, including Cakewalk Metro – a full-featured MIDI sequencer that’s easier to use, and is much less cluttered than market leaders Cubase VST and Logic Audio. Quattro in/out box
To get audio into a Mac, the USB M-Audio Quattro provides four line-level audio input and output pairs, and a pair of MIDI In and Out sockets. The A/D (analogue-to-digital) and D/A (digital-to-analogue) converters offer 24bit/96KHz performance, and the input and output levels can be switched between +4dB and -10dB operation to suit either pro or semi-pro operation. A pair of Direct monitoring buttons connect inputs 1 and 2 directly to outputs 1 and 2; and inputs 3 and 4 to outputs 3 and 4. One disadvantage is that the Quattro uses all the bandwidth available from a single USB port – so you can’t plug any other USB devices into the same port. And although there are two stereo pairs of ins and outs, you can’t always use them all. To get all the inputs and outputs working, you need to use ASIO (audio stream input/output) drivers at 16-bit resolution, and a 44.1KHz or 48KHz sampling rate. If you go 24-bit, you lose the use of one of the input or output pairs – leaving just three pairs working. And if you go 96 kHz, you can only use one input and one output pair. Latency using ASIO drivers is a just-acceptable 32 milliseconds, comparing favourably with the much greater latency you’ll get using the built-in audio on your Mac – but not so well with the new low-latency PCI cards like the RME Hammerfall, which has imperceptible latency. You can use the Direct monitoring mode on the Audio Quattro to avoid the latency completely, although this requires that you use an external mixer to monitor the computer’s audio output as well as the input – somewhat defeating the purpose (as you can always monitor directly if you’ve an external mixer anyway). If you want to plug a microphone and a guitar in, these need to be boosted to line-level by suitable preamplifiers. M-Audio makes a small preamp especially for this purpose – the DMP3, costing £199 including VAT. This has two inputs that will accept microphones or guitars. It plugs into two of the Quattro line inputs, leaving two free to connect the line-level outputs from a MIDI sound-module or synthesizer. Studiophile speakers
The small multimedia speakers typically used with personal computers aren’t really suitable for making music. They’re OK for playing a CD or playing computer games, but if you’ve a decent sound module and want to record real instruments and voices, then something a bit better is called for. Again, Midiman has a solution in the form of a pair of compact, self-powered studio-type monitors: the M-Audio Studiophile SP-5B models. These are only about twice the size of Yamaha’s YSTM15 multimedia speakers, which are very compact – so the Studiophile units will still fit comfortably on most desktops. They also have shielded magnets, so they won’t distort your computer monitor – unlike standard studio speakers. The 51/4-inch low-frequency speakers produce a full, satisfying bass sound, supported by the resonant port at the rear, with well-balanced mid frequencies, while the 1-inch silk dome tweeter produces smooth high frequencies. Both XLR and 1/4-inch TRS jack inputs are provided on the rear panel, along with a rotary volume control.
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