By Phil O'Keefe |
Wifi-based wireless MIDI interface for iOS devices
By Phil O'Keefe
Crowd funding has resulted in some very useful things. Zivix's products are a good example. First they funded their JamStik MIDI guitar controller, and now they've also used IndieGoGo to fund their second product, the PUC wireless MIDI interface, which is now available for sale to the public at large. What exactly is a PUC, and what can it do for you? Read on for the details.
What You Need To Know
- The Zivix PUC is a small (roughly 3" in diameter and 1.25" thick and weighing about 3 ounces) hockey puck shaped device that is designed to transmit MIDI messages and data from your controller to your iOS device (or computer via RTPMIDI; proprietary Z-Fi MIDI drivers for Mac and PC are in development) wirelessly.
- It requires iOS 6 or later, and is compatible with iPhone (4S or later), any iPad mini, iPad (3rd Gen or later), iPod Touch (5th Gen or later) and any MIDI controller with a 5-pin MIDI output.
- While the PUC uses WiFi to transmit signals, it doesn't require an existing WiFi host for operation. It acts as a WiFi transmitter itself, and can be selected in your iOS device's settings just as you would select any other WiFi network.
- The USA-built hardware itself is quite simple, with a single power button and multi-color, multi-segment LED WiFi / status indicator on the top of the PUC, and a 5-pin DIN MIDI port on one side, a micro USB port on the other side, and a battery compartment on the bottom. The bottom and sides also have a rubberized feel to them, which helps prevent the PUC from sliding off your desk or controller.
- Two AA batteries power the PUC for 10 to 15 hours of use. Alternatively, you can use a USB cable to power the PUC and forgo the batteries. Zivix includes a pair of Panasonic alkaline batteries with the unit, and they even throw in a three foot MIDI cable - all you need to provide is a suitable app for your iOS device, and the MIDI controller of your choice.
- For use with your iOS device, you'll need to download the free PUC Connect app from the Apple App store. This app runs in the background as you use the PUC to send MIDI to your iOS music app. It also provides connection status information, battery status, a basic overview of the hardware, and setup instructions.
- When you fire up the app, you'll find a onscreen button that presents you with a very easy to follow and simply worded tutorial on how to hook everything up and select the correct WiFi in your iOS settings. It makes the process very easy to understand, and it only takes a few minutes to get up and running.
- When I first fired up the PUC and made the WiFi connection, the software app gave me a firmware update notice. All I had to do was unplug the MIDI cable from the PUC's hardware, and click okay on the iPad, and the firmware was updated wirelessly. Current firmware version as of this writing is version 2.008. After the firmware update, I had to power the PUC back up (it auto-shuts off after the firmware update) and re-select the PUC WiFi in my iOS settings after the update and then relaunch my music app, but outside of that, it was a simple and painless process.
- The PUC WiFi will be listed in your wifi network options as "MiPUCxxxx" - each PUC is unique, and has a unique four character alphanumeric serial number (represented by the four x's), so it's possible to have multiple PUCs connected to different iOS devices in the same general area, or to quickly switch your iOS device from one PUC transmitter / network to another.
- Any CoreMIDI compatible app on an iOS device or Mac should work fine with the PUC, and it doesn't care of you're feeding it MIDI from a drum controller or a keyboard. I tried it with a variety of different apps including GarageBand, Cakewalk's Z3TA+, Korg's iPolysix, Arturia's iMini and Akai's iMPC, and it worked great with all of them, transmitting not only note data, but controller data such as data sliders and mod and pitch bend too.
- It doesn't just work with instrument type "controllers" - one of my favorite uses for the PUC is connecting one of the outputs from my computer's MIDI interface to the PUC, and using that to send pre-recorded MIDI data to my iPad mini wirelessly - now I can use my iPad's synth apps with my main DAW as the sequencer, without the hassles of wires and adapters.
- Range, while much better than I was expecting, is still a limitation for some applications. I was able to move my iPad about 60-70 feet away from the PUC with several walls in between the two before the connection was lost. For most purposes, the range should be fine.
- The micro USB port on the PUC is strictly there as an optional means of powering the hardware unit, and no data is transferred over it whatsoever, so you can't use a external controller's USB MIDI out to directly feed the PUC. All MIDI input to the PUC must come through its 5-pin MIDI port.
- Since I have an iPhone and two iPads, I was hoping to connect more than one device to the PUC simultaneously, but as soon as I connected the second iOS device, the first would disconnect. It would be cool if you could use one controller to send MIDI information to two different iPads and synth apps simultaneously, but it appears that the PUC doesn't support this at this time.
- Since your iOS device has to be set to the PUC's WiFi signal to use it, you won't be able to surf the 'net or check your email while using the PUC unless you use a cellular connection to access the Internet instead of WiFi. Of course, it's quite easy to go to your Settings menu and change the WiFi you want to connect to, but once you disconnect the PUC you'll need to exit out of any app you were using with it, re-connect to the PUC, then relaunch the app.
- Playing hockey with this PUC is definitely not recommended, but outside of bashing it with a hockey stick, the hardware seems rugged enough for its intended purpose.
This is a really clever and useful device. It keeps your iOS device unencumbered by MIDI connection cables, and completely mobile. Are you tired of using adapters and cables to connect a MIDI controller to your device's Lightning or 30 pin port? Want to get rid of all that clutter and set your iOS device free? Well, the PUC lets you do exactly that. It frees you from the need to use a series of cables and adapters to connect your MIDI controller and iOS device together. Latency is more than reasonable, the transmission range is actually pretty good, and the connection seems to be relatively robust, and it handled any MIDI data I threw at it. The hardware and software seem to be well made, and setup is a breeze. I do wish that you could feed MIDI from one controller to two iOS devices simultaneously and "stack" sounds, but outside of that, I have no significant complaints. It's inexpensive, works as advertised, and allows you to quickly and easily use a variety of MIDI controllers wirelessly with your iOS device.
Zivix PUC Wireless MIDI Interface ($129.99 MSRP / $129.99 "street")
PUC demo video
PUC Latency test video:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.