All you need to know about MIDI controllers
Piloting your music software can be managed with a mouse and a QWERTY keyboard. However, people who want to stand out with their extensive music creation and arranging skills ought to splurge on a good MIDI controller that enables them to explore their ingenious side and find out where it takes them. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, an industry standard protocol that has changed the way musicians, music arrangers, composers, producers, editors, etc. perform their music-making work. A MIDI Controller gives freedom from the usual, unleashing one’s power to not just cut up, slice and dice someone else’s piece of music but most importantly, create their own. But what is a midi controller really? What differentiates it from a traditional musical instrument?
What to look for when looking to buy a MIDI controller?
Hardware and Software
Unlike a traditional PC and mouse, the work of a MIDI controller goes beyond simply inputting data. Professional musicians use not just one but even more MIDI controllers strung together. A MIDI control device serves as the human interface element of a regular instrument. The keyboard controller typifies this category. The top midi keyboard controller blends a musical keyboard with other actuators such as modulation wheels and pitch bend, but will not produce sound by itself. Intended to drive other MIDI devices, keyboard controllers have been joined by wind controllers, percussion controllers and guitar-like controllers.
Electronic drums, drum machines, samplers, synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments can transmit MIDI data stream into a performance as they perform music in real time. Guitar/synthesizers that do pitch analysis and conversion to MIDI signals are examples of pitch-to-MIDI converters. Sensor-outfitted accordions, drums and acoustic pianos input MIDI data to a computer processor, which is then converted to samples or synthesized sound. Sequencers reproduce a performance. MIDI Machine Control (MMC) devices transmit messages to assist in the synchronization of MIDI-enabled devices. MIDI Show Control (MSC) devices relay messages to enable operation and cueing of live theatrical and themed entertainment presentations. MIDI enables an array of musical instruments to interface with the PC in a digital environment for recording or performance.
Data Stream Use
Devices that alter the state of operation of an instrument and thus alter music performance parameters and sound in real time using MIDI connections are collectively known as modifiers. They include ribbon controllers, switchers, faders, knobs, buttons, pitch sliders, sustain pedals, pitch bend wheels and modulation wheels. The receiving device connects the electronic messages of the components with their intended actions.
Controllers such as pitch bend create the illusion of a constantly sliding pitch instead of a series of zippered steps. The pitch wheel on a MIDI keyboard is able to generate large quantities of data, leading to data throughput delays.
MIDI Machine Control and MIDI Show Control are separate MIDI spec extensions, effectively broadening MIDI protocol to accommodate more than the original target.
Playability, Control, Construction
Passion and expression in your performance become more apparent when you get nothing less than good and reliable support from a premium MIDI controller. The device should feel like an instrument and not a toy.
A good product should also provide a wide variety of precise controls that enable you to twist, tweak and dice sounds while empowering you to control soft synths and DAW. Any transport control, pads, sliders or knobs should be able to fit seamlessly into your workflow.
The MIDI controller should be solidly built for your specific workload. This becomes even more essential when you’re constantly on the road or playing for hours in the studio and at extended jam sessions.
Types of midi controllers:
Making your computer set-up instantly more musical is the MIDI keyboard controller. A MIDI keyboard controller makes even 2-note bass lines sound better with proper playing. Mostly velocity- and pressure-sensitive, MIDI keyboards enhance notes playing regardless of the volume. The device can also be utilized for drum beat programming and sample loop triggering in real time. It can come in different sizes and with different features. While basic units just have keys, others are fitted with sliders for mixing, and knobs for virtual control tweaking displayed in music software. Controlling the features of recording software is carried out on buttons and drum pads. A second MIDI controller can augment the keyboard controller. The Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII Midi Keyboard Controller is a top midi keyboard controller worth checking out.
DJ MIDI controllers range in price from the unbeatably affordable to those that run to the thousands. These devices are USB-to-analog tools employed in controlling PC-based DJ software installed on a tablet, laptop or desktop computer. They are meant to mimic the conventional CD turntable, mixer or regular turntable set-up. Many of them are outfitted with shuttle jog dials that emulate audio file turntable control, though with relatively less accuracy. DJ digital controllers with DJ software simplify transport issues and require no records or CDs, making them a practical choice for mobile deejay work employing computer-based gear. A good example of such a device is the Numark NS6 Professional DJ Controller, which optimizes a computer’s processing power to manipulate sound, for more sampling and effect options.
Variously used to switch amp channels, call up new effect programs in MIDI equipment, or change settings on MIDI gear, the MIDI foot controller lets you connect the MIDI OUT to the receiving device’s MIDI in. The receiving device can either be a pre-amp or an effects processor. The MIDI foot controller needs connection to a power source, typically employing regular “wall warts”, an internal power supply or a battery source. However, a popular foot controller feature called phantom power reduces the clutter of cables on the floor with the use of a unique 7-pin DIN MIDI cable. The cable supplies power along with MIDI data. An example of this type is the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI Foot Controller from Germany.
The MIDI interface is a device built with MIDI IN/OUT to and from your PC or MIDI-equipped hardware channeled through standard 5-pin MIDI jacks. Nearly all Standalone MIDI interfaces use USB connectivity to a computer. They can be integrated with audio interfaces, control surfaces, pad controllers and keyboards, giving you a wide range of options for configuring a live rig or studio. A MIDI interface can be in 2-, 4- or 8-port configuration, with each port transmitting 16 channels of MIDI data. 8-port MIDI interfaces have a total of 128 channels and are heavily used with external sound modules, keyboards and control surfaces for connection. A lot of flexibility can be derived thanks to the use of the channels to control multi-timber synth or DAW transport sections. A typical example is the M-Audio M-Track Plus Portable USB Audio and MIDI Interface.
- Midi Page controller
A MIDI page controller or matrix mixer is most likely what a film director, TV director or producer would give as answer to the question, “What is a midi controller?” This device is used to channel audio signals originating from various sources to different destinations. This piece of equipment may be a standalone device or part of a larger product such as a digital signal processor, digital audio workstation or mixing console. The analog type has a number of non-complex electronic mixer circuits, with each electronic mixer controlling one output’s level going to another output. Level control is via a rotating potentiometer or pot. A linear potentiometer or fader may also be used for output signal level control. A good example of this device is the Denon DJ DN-X1600 Professional Matrix Mixer.
Buying a good MIDI controller is not like bagging the best gaming PC on the market. There’s literature to read, reviews to consult and plenty of features to compare. You can’t simply go out and buy the next device that goes on sale, as you have to consider the existing equipment you have, the current workflow you follow, the features you can employ, and most importantly, possible expansion of your present set-up. The Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII Midi Keyboard Controller is a great device due to its velocity- and pressure-sensitive quality and overall versatility. Another option to check out is the Numark NS6 Professional DJ Controller for its CD-less functionality and USB plug-and-play simplicity.