by Craig Anderton
I've noticed a disturbing trend lately in computer interfaces: No MIDI ports, or at best, one MIDI port (or something on the end of a bizarro world breakout cable). Granted, a lot of what MIDI used to do outside of the computer now occurs inside the computer, thanks to virtual instruments and other plug-ins. Yet there are still a lot of great MIDI hardware synthesizers, pedals, effects, footswitches, fader controllers, and other goodies that aren't happy unless they see that little 5-pin DIN connector. So what are you gonna do if you need more MIDI?
Well, you know I wouldn't pose a question like that without an answer, and the answer is Tapco's LINK.midi 4X4 interface. It's been out for a while, but during that time it has become a workhorse in my studio, providing MIDI for Mac (PPC and Intel) and Windows computers. In fact, the main reason I'm reviewing this is for any other readers who suffer from lack-of-MIDIitis, because this little box has proven itself over and over again - and its four ports let it handle up to 64 channels of MIDI data.
As usual, we won't dwell on the specs because you can get that from the web. So, let's just dive in to explaining why the LINK.midi 4X4 has filled a need in my studio, and why it might in yours as well.
MIDI data uses a fraction of the bandwidth of digital audio, so it has no problem running 4 discrete ports with a USB 1.1 (or USB 2.0, for that matter) connection. Because it's not card-based, it's transportable among computers - any Mac with a native USB port and runs OS X 10.3 or better (except Macs with G3 or G4 accelerator cards), and any Windows XP machine running SP1 or better, will work with the LINK.midi 4X4. It also works with Vista if you update to the latest firmware; the Tapco site has the full story on updating.
What's more, the LINK.midi 4X4 doesn't need a wall wart, because it's bus-powered. And, it's nowhere near as picky as a FireWire peripheral: It has worked with anything I've thrown at it.
That's pretty much it, except for two little handles. Given that the thing doesn't weigh much, these aren't for picking the unit up but provide protection from anything that might want to smash into its front - although the front panel is slightly recessed, so it already has a bit of an advantage in that respect.
The rear panel is an equally simple affair, with the aforementioned MIDI outs and MIDI in, as well as the USB connector and a Kensington lock. It doesn't get much simpler than that.
At less than 2 inches high and 7 inches square, the LINK.midi 4X4 isn't exactly Lilliputian but it's not going to get in the way, either. However, there are a couple other cool aspects to the packaging. First, the top and bottom have a rubbery, slight raised surface that makes it virtually impossible for this box to scratch your desktop. Second, it can lie horizontally, or you can pull out and swivel a little crossbrace that makes a "leg," allowing for space-saving vertical mounting.
Indeed, it is. With Windows, LINK.midi 4X4 is USB class-compliant so it doesn't need any special drivers. I just ran the wizard and clicked mindlessly on "Next" until it was installed, whereupon it showed up in any program I had that dealt with MIDI. On the Mac, I just plugged it in and it worked (one of those times where the Mac's "It just works" slogan is actually 100\% true). I think the only way the installation process could be easier is if the LINK.midi 4X4 walked up to your computer and plugged itself in.
If you don't do MIDI, you don't need this. But if you use MIDI hardware, and your interface thinks you don't, LINK.midi 4X4 is a simple, relatively inexpensive solution that adds that extra MIDI you've been craving to pretty much any modern computer. It has never burped, acted anti-social, crashed, complained, or lost its mind. If only everything I used had the same qualities, life would be much, much simpler.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.