Aug 022011

(originally posted 2003)

The year 2003 marked the 20th anniversary of the MIDI protocol that has become ubiquitous in the world of synthesizers, sequencers, and the like. As a corollary, it also marks the twenty year anniversary of the MIDI cable. The standard five pin din MIDI cable has served many a musician connecting simple MIDI controllers to entire racks of gear. They are inexpensive, reliable (most are anyway), and easily obtainable.

Well, I’d like to see them go away. Far away.

I mean, this is 2003 already. We have cellular telephones, wireless internet connections (802.11), satellite radio and TV, wireless keyboards and mice, and GPS. We are surrounded by wireless technology(!), but where is our wireless MIDI connectivity? I could be wrong but bluetooth wireless technology is just SCREAMING, PLEADING to be used with MIDI.

A few years ago, at the Summer 2001 NAMM Show, Midiman (now M-Audio), prototyped a bluetooth MIDI interface. While I haven’t seen or heard anything about this product since then, I’ve been hopefully optimistic that devices like this will start to surface. M-Audio is on the right track tinkering with Bluetooth to carry MIDI data, but the MIDI interface they demo’d seems to fall short of the perfect-MIDI-utopia that I’m envisioning. In an all ideal world, any newly-released device (be it a synth module, keyboard, sequencer, etc) that finds it necessary to have a MIDI port should also have a bluetooth implementation built into the device. For all the gear already released into the wild, M-Audio (or some other company) can create a little device that will retrofit our existing MIDI devices to be bluetooth enabled. This would be quite similar to D-Link’s bluetooth USB adapter but with a five-pin-din for MIDI instead of USB.

At present, we’ve got MIDI traveling over USB, Firewire (1394), we’ve even got MIDI over TCP/IP. MIDI over Bluetooth is the next logical progression.

If I can expand on this idea a bit, I can imagine that at some point in the future, all of our sequencers (Cubase, Logic, DP, ProTools, Sonar, etc) would be Bluetooth aware. By example, my fresh-off-the-product-line "Oxygen Blue" MIDI controller keyboard would sit on my desk just waiting to be discovered as I fire up Cubase. Within a config menu somewhere in Cubase, it would auto-detect the presence of my Oxygen Blue. In a similar way that DHCP distributes IP address, Cubase would auto-configure the Oxygen Blue, assigning it a unique MIDI channel(s) and bluetooth ID. From this point on, Cubase treats this device like any other MIDI device, RX’ing and TX’ing on specific MIDI channels in a way that does not break the MIDI protocol. Naturally, there would be some details to sort out. What if I fired up both Cubase and Logic? Who would be the "master" in this case?
Perhaps each MIDI device is multi-client and can be a slave to two masters. Who knows?

Think of how nice this could make live performances. You might have an 8U rack of your synth modules, samplers, etc, off in the corner of the stage and be able to quickly and easily access them from anywhere on stage via a small controller. MIDI trigger pads could become bluetooth enabled and placed just about anywhere on stage.
The new opportunity list goes on and on…

My foremost point is that someone needs to start movement in this direction. I can’t fathom that most musicians (using even a few MIDI intruments) wouldn’t welcome this with arms wide open. My hope is that someone within the major companies (M-Audio, Roland, Akai, Novation, Korg, etc) will really think deeply about this.
There would exist a HUGE market for people who would need to "retrofit" their existing MIDI devices with Bluetooth MIDI adapters. This marriage of technology would make the lives of musicians much nicer and, if implemented correctly, helps remove the obstacle of always fiddling with your studio setup. To many musicians, "feeling creative" is often a finite window of time. There is nothing worse than having a musical idea that you’d like to record only to find that you need to spend precious time patching cables here and there. Technology should help you realize your ideas, not get in the way.

While MIDI over five-pin-din cables have proven their worth many times over, I think its time to move to the next step: MIDI over Bluetooth.

-Jim Vanaria
jim (AT)

 Posted by at 8:50 pm

  10 Responses to “An Open Letter to MIDI Device Manufacturers Regarding Bluetooth Support”

  1. And here we are in the year 2011. We are yet to see anything of the sort. How is it even possible?

  2. I’m guessing that the manufactures either think that there isn’t a market for it, OR its too cost prohibitive to make such a device and still expect to make a profit.

  3. Bluetooth MIDI would be such a useful way to avoid the cable tripping, short circuiting mess on stage and in studios. Not to mention signal integrity while in range without noise interference due to shielding issues.

    Why has this been such a challenge? Given the amount of money in cable markets, if this is turned into a standard, the decline in cable uptake would be more than enough to drive price of such devices down very quickly. Case in point – VHS to DVD transition.

  4. Isnt OSC the logical replacement for Midi?

    β€œAll of these apps use a method of transmitting information over the WiFi network – this method is commonly called the Open Sound Control protocol, or simply OSC.”

    • Yes, I believe OSC would be a great replacement for MIDI, but really, this is about the medium by which MIDI gets to and fro. MIDI is the language, bluetooth is the transportation means. I realize that new devices could implement OSC (language) and utilize wirelessness over 802.11(transportation) but that still requires a wireless router (extra step), not to mention it says nothing of the thousands of synths already built without OSC. I suppose there is a good argument for implementing a MIDI to OSC dongle that then transports over 802.11, I’d be all for that too… πŸ™‚

      • Yes, I also was intrigued by using bluetooth as a midi transport in the past, but with distance limitations etc, it just seems 802.11 is a better transport. You do not always need a router either, you could make ad-hoc 802.11 connections as well, but this has its own limitations. What is wrong with the M-Audio midair product? I believe it is Midi over 802.11?

        I might shoot you an email to discuss this some more…

        • The MidAir is quite cool but very pricey. You simply can’t replace an $8 MIDI cable with a $99 device, IMHO. I’m not against an 802.11 solution, I’d just like to see SOMETHING come out that’s the size of a typical dongle and “just work” within my DAW. Know what I mean? Even building in 802.11 within the synth would be cool… πŸ™‚

          • I am not suprised that to do something wirelessly could be 10X the cost of the wired solution, but you may be correct bluetooth may be cheaper than 802.11. I agree that for synths going forward, it makes sense to add OSC client and a wireless adapter (bluetooth or 802.11).

            It sounds like for older audio equipment you just looking for a smaller self powered solution that is smaller than the midair.

            As far as midi controllers are concerned for the future, it seems to make sense to start making midi controllers than can output OSC or midi over bluetooth or 802.11.

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