$199.99 MSRP; $179.99 street
More and more music production is being performed on Apple mobile devices. But because the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone don’t come with a USB port, or any other direct accommodation for standard music gear, a cottage industry for specialized peripherals and interfaces has flourished. Many audio interfaces have already surfaced, but the field for MIDI devices has been relatively unpopulated. Until now, that is. Enter iConnectivity’s iConnectMIDI, which fulfills the mobile musician’s MIDI needs with a small but sturdy and highly routable MIDI interface of commendable versatility.
iConnectMIDI will hook up to both Mac and Windows computers and iOS devices via USB, and can also accommodate 5-pin DIN MIDI components. Because iConnectMIDI is CoreMIDI compliant, you can use it with any Apple mobile product with no special drivers, and it includes a locking mini-USB-to-30-pin iOS cable.
At 2-3/4" x 4-5/16" x 1-5/16", iConnectMIDI is about the size of a pocket camera, and packs a lot of I/O into its compact footprint. On the front panel are three USB jacks—one standard USB-A and two minis. The USB-A jack will support a powered USB hub, allowing up to eight USB MIDI controllers to be connected at once; the mini jacks are used to connect to mobile devices and computers. There are eight status LEDs indicating power and MIDI transmission status. In all, 12 separate MIDI streams per jack are supported.
On the back panel is the power supply jack plus four 5-pin MIDI jacks, MIDI 1 (In and Out) and MIDI 2 (In and Out). There is a recessed reset switch on the side, four rubber feet on the bottom, and the unit is encased in a heavy-duty black metal housing. The industrial design is handsome and professional, with good spacing between the connectors and legible iconography on the port and LED labels. A nice bonus is that the power supply kit includes a variable-voltage transformer and four adapters for U.S. and overseas operation.
iConnectMIDI comes with no printed manual, but a single statement on an insert inside the box directs users to the website for the manual and any updates. The website is straightforward and easy to navigate, with the Downloads section providing a schedule of firmware updates, directions for updating the latest firmware version (if necessary), and a downloadable pdf manual. The manual is well written and well illustrated, but I wish the instructions for software (the PortManager app, described later) were included here too, in addition to being on the iOS device itself.
iConnectMIDI allows legacy MIDI devices (modules, etc.), which have only 5-pin DIN connectors, to be driven by USB-only MIDI controllers (keyboards, drum pads, control surfaces) without the need of an intervening computer. This makes it very handy for the portable setup shown in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1. At the very least, iConnectMIDI obviates the need for a computer when connecting a USB device to a 5-pin DIN device.
Because iConnectMIDI’s USB-A jack is powered (via the unit’s built-in DC power), it can support up to eight USB MIDI controllers whose signals are ganged together via a hub, as Fig. 2 shows.
Fig. 2. Similar routing to Fig. 1, but with more stuff daisy-chained on either side of iConnectMIDI.
iConnectMIDI’s real versatility becomes apparent when you connect together devices that communicate MIDI in three different ways—iOS/mini USB (computers, iOS devices), USB-A (modern controller), and 5-pin DIN (legacy and high-end gear). iConnectMIDI allows all of the connections in Fig. 3 to work simultaneously.
Fig. 3. This shows all three types of connections: iOS, USB MIDI, and DIN-based MIDI.
Remember, you can connect multiple iOS devices, as shown in Fig. 4. In this setup, either the iPad or iPhone, or iPod touch can act as the controller or the slave.
Fig. 4. This shows that you can have different controllers if you like, all working simultaneously.
Of course, a computer is a MIDI capable device, and uses the bidirectional mini USB connection for this. The USB-A jack allows for 8 different MIDI channels (see Fig. 5).
Fig. 5. iConnectMIDI at the center of a system using a computer, an iPad, a USB keyboard, and a MIDI-DIN keyboard.
It should be pretty obvious by now that iConnectMIDI is a very versatile box as far as hookup. But how about managing the data flow from all the various devices you connect to it? That’s accomplished through the free iOS app PortManager (available from the iTunes Store). This is the interface that allows you to configure the box, and whatever changes you make to the device from PortManager can be saved (and reloaded), even when the box is powered down. PortManager allows you to configure the ports with respect to I/O routing and MIDI filtering in an easy, intuitive way. Here’s how it works.
For each input port, there are 12 output ports to which MIDI data can be sent. For example, if you hook, say, your iPhone up to mini USB port 1, you can direct MIDI to the two back-panel DIN Out jacks, the two mini USB out ports (even though you’re connected to one of them), and the 8 output channels on the USB-A jack, like this:
Fig. 5. This shows the outputs available for any input port--in this case the mini USB 1 port, where you'd connect a computer or iOS mobile device.
Each port is separately configurable with respect to ins and outs and filtering. The interface relies on simple touch gestures to toggle functions on and off in a list. Any input, output or filter function cab be activated or deactivated this way, and color-coding helps you distinguish among which ports are active and in which direction MIDI data is flowing (especially handy for the USB connections, which are bidirectional). Figure 6 shows the two screens used for inputs and outputs.
Fig. 6. Two iPod screens showing all inputs (left) and then the specific output selections of the MIDI 1 DIN Input.
It takes just a few seconds to get oriented to PortManager's approach of lists and toggles, and it's a great system for making quick routing assignments via your mobile device.
Filtering is important in any MIDI setup, because data that isn’t used just clogs the stream and could create potential delays. For example, if you’re playing piano and conventional keyboard or percussion sounds, you would filter out pitch bend and after touch data. In all, 14 different filter parameters keep the data streams lean and mean. There are both input and output filters (as the right-hand page in Fig. 6 shows), and the filters themselves are displayed on a third page.
The approach of using three pages—Inputs, Outputs, and Filtering—allows you a quick and easy way to configure any device or devices you connect to iConnectMIDI to control any input, output or filter. Two buttons, Retrieve and Commit, allow you to save to flash memory and load iConnectMIDI with a default or preset configuration. (Momentary changes are immediately implemented.) There’s even a diagnostic page for specifying which port system exclusive data is routed to, and a window for viewing MIDI data coming into the device.
iConnectMIDI at the very least solves a big problem: allowing USB and 5-pin DIN devices to talk to each other without computer intervention. But because of its flexible routing possibilities, generous I/O, and easy-to-use iOS interface, iConnectMIDI becomes a powerful MIDI router and live-performance enabler. Since you can use the physical jacks simultaneously, you could have up to five controllers active at once (the maximum number without resorting to the expandability that a USB hub provides), each with different roles as master controllers and slave sound generators. The mind boggles with the possibilities, and especially for live work because of all the controllers—both in number and type—iConnectMIDI allows. It not only enables MIDI playback through mobile devices, but provides complete and powerful control over all MIDI devices in the ensemble. And that is music to the ears of clever and industrious live performers everywhere.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).