MIDI

The Best MIDI Interface

If you are looking to buy a MIDI interface, you will find tons of options on the market. Depending on your budget and how you will be using your interface, you need to make sure you do your research and find the right interface for your needs.

Here are a few tips on what to look for in a MIDI Interface, and a few reviews to help you start shopping.

Credit: RME

Top Pick: ME Fireface 802

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Covers all your bases with its hybrid audio interface, and it comes with USB and FireWire connectivity onboard. Amazing sound and balanced 1/4″ connections with any source. Expand your setup very easily with both the optical and AES/EBU digital I/O.

What Is a MIDI Interface?

This is a mechanism that gives you MIDI In/Out to and from either a computer or an MIDI-equipped hardware with regular 5-pin MIDI jacks. You will find standalone MIDI interfaces, where pretty much all of it will connect to the computer through a USB.

You can also integrate MIDI interfaces into control surfaces, keyboards, pad controllers, and audio interfaces that give you a wide variety of configuration option for your live rig or home studio.

MIDI Ports

The most common MIDI interfaces come in configurations of 2-, 4-, and 8-ports. Each port is able to transmit 16 channels of MIDI data, so an interface with 8-ports can transmit a total of 128 MIDI channels.

Those that have several external sound modules, keyboards, and control surfaces will find an 8-port MIDI interface useful. You can control individual sounds on channels through the multitimbral synth, or on the DAW transport section giving you tons of flexibility.

MIDI In/Out/Thru

A MIDI interface has a communications protocol that is single-direction, so it can either receive or transmit MIDI data.

If you are sending MIDI from your keyboard to your computer, you can connect it to the keyboard’s MIDI output jack through the MIDI Injack in your MIDI interface. When MIDI daisy chains were more common and there was an issue with latency, MIDI Thru was found on keyboards.

The MIDI Out didn’t always reproduce what was coming in the MIDI In jack, and, if you wanted to send MIDI on to another device, you would have to then connect the MIDI Thru from the first module into the MIDI In in the next module.

Anatomy of a MIDI Interface

MIDI interface is built-in digital pianos, keyboards, and controllers, so unless you want to use legacy gear, or you are not planning on a simple setup, a dedicated MIDI interface won’t be necessary.

They are convenient if you are using a DAW to control your MIDI outfitted hardware that won’t connect to your computer.

Ports

The number of ports you need is determined by how much MIDI gear you have. So, if you just have one keyboard controller and a virtual synth setup on your computer, you only need a basic 1 x 1 MIDI interface.

If you are connecting several synth modules, then you will need as many ports as you have modules to lessen latency.

Features

A basic, flexible MIDI interface is needed if you only want to perform or sequence. However, if you want to work on videos or work with a dedicated digital multitrack recorder, you will want an interface that gives you the right sync options.

Another great option is an interface powered by a USB as it doesn’t need an additional AC power cable.

Wireless MIDI

The normal cables that are used to connect the MIDI devices together are slowly starting to become obsolete. Cables like the 5-pin DIN cables are giving way to wireless systems that let you reduce time dramatically, and they are a lot better alternative to the web of cables that can overtake your work area.

Wireless interfaces can also let you link two computers together through a USB RF device that is attached to each of them. This streamlines the process, so one computer can record and the other can play the virtual instruments.

Mac and PC

Having a MIDI interface that can work on either a Mac or PC is very important in today’s market. It is always important to make sure you have a computer compatible MIDI interface, so make sure to double check that the one you are interested in purchasing will work on your existing setup.

Dedicated MIDI Interface

You may think initially that you will never use 128 MIDI channels, but you would be surprised at how addicting MIDI gear can be and how fast you will start to use up your channels.

Depending on the gear, one piece can take up 16 channels like a Mackie Control or a multitimbral keyboard. They used channel will add up quickly, and, before you know it, all your channels are used up.

If you are good at budgeting out your channels, you can actually configure certain gear to only use 2 of the 16 channels instead of all of them at once. But that can be a pain, especially if you are working on a song, you don’t want to have to use program change commands.

If you are maxed out, you may want to consider adding more ports, and you can put together a couple of MIDI interfaces together to achieve more channels. This is called daisy chaining MIDI devices, and it is an effective way to expand your port total.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
ME Fireface 802
Has 60 channel of I/O, active jitter suppression on its digital converters, DSP mixing with effect, and four microphone preamps$1,799.00
Tascam US1641
Has advanced features with clear sound qualityOut of stock
Roland Studio Capture
Comes with 40-bit DSP-driven cue mixing onboard that allows you to set up four separate stereo mixes fast and easy$759.99
iConnectivity mio 1-in 1-out
Conveniently plug and play compatible with either Mac or PCs$35.00
midiplus Tbox2X2
Very useful device where you need to connect several controllers and keyboards to your software program$29.29
AudioBox iTwo 2x2
Comes with two combo mic/line/instrument inputs, plus high-quality Class A mic preamplifiers$149.95
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
Very flexible and compact, plus is has two very natural sounding mic preamps that have very low latency$269.99
Blue Icicle XLR
Has both condenser and dynamic microphones that give hassle-free and high-quality connectivity to either a Mac or PC$59.99
Lexicon Alpha
Has useful features like independent headphone volume control, a front LED light that is the peak indicator, headphone volume that is independently controlled$60.99
Mackie Onyx Blackjack
Has the ability to change line inputs to instrument inputs with just the push of a buttonOut of stock

Our Recommendation: ME Fireface 802

Credit: RME

The ME Fireface 802 is one of the more high-level additions to the Fireface line, and it picks up where it’s very successful forerunner stopped. It has 60 channel of I/O, active jitter suppression on its digital converters, DSP mixing with effect, and four microphone preamps.

The Fireface 802 will cover all your bases with its hybrid audio interface, and it comes with USB and FireWire connectivity onboard. You get amazing sound from the DI, XLR, and balanced 1/4″ connections with any source, plus you can expand your setup very easily with both the optical and AES/EBU digital I/O.

It features very low-latency converters, and the onboard DSP mix engine allows you to lets you route signal before your computer, plus it gives you the least amount of monitoring latency, and it comes complete with EQ, effects, and compression.

It was released by RME to celebrate the Fireface 800’s 10th birthday as an updated version. It includes two headphone outputs that are independent of one another, and it has mic inputs 11/12 that can also be used as line inputs 7/8.

With these two changes from the 802’s predecessor, the total channel count was increased to 30 inputs and 30 outputs. The new design also gives you XLR/jack ‘combi’ inputs on all of the mic channels that comes with an option of switchable high-impedance.

The Fireface 802 also uses improved converter designs and mic preamps, plus it also has a stronger onboard DSP that lets you utilize all of the RME’s TotalMix monitor mixing utility features.

This gives you dynamics and EQ on most of your channels, and a global Reverb/Echo effect, plus a complete built-in monitor controller that works well with an optional ARC remote control.

The Firewire 400 is still supported by the Fireface 802, but a USB2 has replaced the Firewire 800, so the Fireface 802 doesn’t need Firewire cards or adaptors.

But, this also means that you can directly connect several Firefaces to just one computer. However, you can connect as many as three Fireface 802s by using the Firewire 400, just make sure they each have their own Firewire controller.

The Fireface 802 is very transparent and open, and it is not at all limited by A-D converters or preamps. The two added input channels and the extra headphone port is a great improvement, and the low-latency setup is awesome.

The newest version of TotalMix FX is very flexible, and it is more powerful than its predecessor. It doesn’t have a lot of significant hardware metering, but that isn’t a problem unless you are using it in stand-alone mode.

It is a little difficult to see what is going on in the TotalMix window since everything is colored dark gray. It otherwise works flawlessly, and there is never cause to stop recording to make adjustments or fix anything.

It is available for $1,799.00.

Pros

Large amount of latency, worth every penny
Easy to understand, crystal clear audio
Great transparency of sound and roundness of projections

Cons

TotalMix software keeps getting errors

Runner Up: Tascam US1641

The Tascam US1641 is a 16 input audio interface that comes with 8 Ultra-HDDA mic preamps. If you are managing big sessions, the Tascam has advanced features with clear sound quality.

The 8 preamps give you the quietest and cleanest control, and it also delivers up to 57dB of gain. There are also eight more lines that are available with two them switchable to the instrument level, so you will have direct bass or guitar recording.

There are also eight balanced line outputs with two of them come with level control for monitoring on the front panel.

The Tascam US1641 also has a built-in DSP Mixer that gives you low-latency digital mixing. Every channel has four-band EQ, a reverb send, and compression for professional sound monitor mixes.

It can also be used as a standalone mic preamp. It also comes with drivers for both Mac and Windows, and it has USB Audio Compliance 2.0 drivers for iOS compatibility.

MIDI input and output is also available on the rear panel. The US1641 has sufficient I/O for any recording project.

This is a very affordable interface for someone that can’t pay a lot, but wants to send a lot of audio input into their computer at the same time. It is flexible, and easily connects to your computer with a USB. It is housed in a solid rackmount case, and it has its own built-in power supply.

It comes with a USB cable, a standard ‘kettle’ lead, and a CD-ROM that contains both documentation and drivers.

This awesome MIDI interface has been discontinued by the manufacturer, so the price can vary by seller. However you can find the new TASCAM US-16×08  at a very reasonable $299.99 price point.

Pros

Works beautifully, virtually no latency
Can’t beat the price and quality
Easy setup, comes with great software

Cons

Need to have a good working knowledge of computers to get this to work well

Other Products to Consider:

Roland Studio Capture

The Roland Studio Capture is a powerful USB audio interface that has twelve impressive VS Preamps, plus a superb 24-bit/192kHz AD/DA changeover into a rack-mountable USB 2.0 interface.

If you need a lot of channels and want high-quality audio from your multichannel interface, Studio Capture will work well with you Mac or PC, and it is a convenient on the go interface.

It comes with 40-bit DSP-driven cue mixing onboard that allows you to set up four separate stereo mixes fast and easy. It also has a very low-latency driver that lets you use Studio Capture efficiently with pretty much any computer.

The Roland Studio Capture is a compact unit with a high-quality interface that lets you program input levels with just a push of a button. You can make custom monitor mixes with the same preamps that were used in the M-400 and V-Studio 700 digital mixers.

This is a great interface for on the go or for home use that gives you clean and clear audio. You will get a low-cut filter, digital compression, and independent phantom power through each channel.

The Auto Input Level Adjustment allows you to set the perfect input level instantly for each of the analog inputs with just a push of the button. This is useful for both pros and beginners.

You can also create your own mixes, including effects, and each mix can be directed to different outputs, or you can save the mix for later. It also comes with a built-in reverb processor that allows you to add reverb to you mixes.

The AUTO-SENS function intelligently presets the optimum input level for your preamps, and the VS STREAMING driver gives you really stable low-latency.

The 4 x independent software-controlled Direct Mixers are great for making custom monitor mixes, while the internal 40-bit DSP processing is perfect for cue mixing. It is durable and rugged enough for traveling, and it supports most major DAW platforms on Mac or PC.

Studio Capture is pretty much completely digitally controllable, except for the volume knobs and the headphone outs, every other parameter is adjustable from the front panel or from your computer. They can also be saved and recalled later on.

It is two rack units high, so approximately 11 inches wide, and it comes with pretty solid metal brackets that you can bolt onto the side if you decide to rackmount it. It is solidly contrasted and uses an external DC power supply.

The Roland Studio Capture is available in the $759.99 range.

Pros

Great working MIDI with no crashes or conflicts
Works flawlessly with Windows
Hassle free, great sound

Cons

Reverb for monitoring is not very good

iConnectivity Mio 1-in 1-out USB to MIDI Interface for Mac and PC

iConnectivity’s mio is a convenient 1 in 1 out USB 16 channel MIDI interface that you can connect your keyboard, synthesizer, MIDI compatible controller, or drum machine to your computer.

The mio is USB bus powered, and it is conveniently plug and play compatible with either Mac or PCs. This is a great option when you need a single, but reliable USB MIDI connection. It is streamlined and simple to use for a no-nonsense MIDI solution.

It comes with a standard MIDI DIN ports that connect your keyboard, drum machine, or other MIDI gear, plus a 5′ long MIDI to USB cable. Since it is plug and play, there are no drivers required.

This convenient device is available for the very affordable price of $35.00.

Pros

Easiest plug and play to use
No need to install drivers, works without a problem
Plays music instantly without having to do any setup

Cons

Hooking up the cable to the keyboard can be confusing

midiplus Tbox2X2 USB MIDI Interfaces

Credit: Amazon.com

The midiplus Tbox2X2 USB MIDI Interfaces works well with any operating system, and it gives you two MIDI inputs and outputs along with up to 32 channels to send them out.

It is a very useful device where you need to connect several controllers and keyboards to your software program. Every input and output has its own signal LED that can be seen clearly when the port is active.

It comes in a full metal housing with 2 MIDI inputs, 2 MIDI outputs, and USB power supply.

This interface comes at the very affordable price of $29.29.

Pros

Great plug and play MIDI, no problems using Windows 7
Affordable and you don’t need any drivers
Don’t have to install anything, just works right out of the box

Cons

The red light comes on for input no matter what the setting

AudioBox iTwo 2×2 USB/iPad Recording System

The AudioBox iTwo 2×2 USB/iPad Recording System is a great option for sound designers, podcaster, and mobile musicians. It has compatible with Apple iPad, is compact and durably built, is USB powered, and works with pretty much any recording software.

It comes with two combo mic/line/instrument inputs, plus high-quality Class A mic preamplifiers. It also features MIDI I/O and professional-quality, 24-bit/96 kHz converters.

There is a direct wireless transfer of your files to Studio One with the Capture Duo for iPad and the PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist DAW software. This interface makes recordings that sound as good as products that are three times its price.

It is a really nice feature that the interface comes with software, since that isn’t always the case, and the full-featured version of the well-liked Studio One digital audio workstation (DAW) software is worth $100 by itself.

The AudioBox iTwo is available at the very affordable price of $149.95.

Pros

Great for budget effective recording
Great startup system
Can connect to your iPad or iPhone

Cons

Can’t record more than two channels at once

Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools

The Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is perfect for small bands, recording artists, producers, or multi-instrumentalists that are interested in recording guitar, vocals, and keyboards at the same time through a USB connection to their computer.

It is very flexible and compact, plus is has two very natural sounding mic preamps that have very low latency. The Scarlett 616 has superb sound quality and digital conversion that is complemented by the necessary input and outputs.

It also has two additional line inputs, four analog outputs, digital I/O, MIDI I/O and two headphone outputs that let you various monitor settings for two separate artists, or an artist and an engineer. It is the ideal match for Pro Tools, and it works well with other major DAWs.

Scarlett 616 works well with either Mac or PC, and you can download the Focusrite iOS Control app for free, plus it lets you adjust cue mixes remotely from an iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone that are created with the Focusrite Control desktop app.

The Scarlett 6i6 is great when you find that a pair of microphone inputs isn’t quite enough. It features the same high-quality mic preamps as the Scarlett 212, and it has 192/24-capable DAC.

It is an awesome little interface that will capture some great sounding recordings, plus it has the additional iOS device support and the onboard MIDI the 212 lacked.

This great little device is available for an affordable $269.99.

Pros

Having dedicated power is awesome
Very easy to setup and easy to use
Analog headroom is impressive, and the preamps are quiet and clean

Cons

Doesn’t have a lot of inputs

Blue Icicle XLR to USB Mic Converter/Mic Preamp

The Blue Icicle XLR is a great alternative to those bulky interfaces. You can just plug in a single microphone into your computer, and it becomes a straightforward, USB-ready recording device.

You don’t need to haul around a rack and a bunch of gear, you can just throw the Icicle into your bag and go. It will take your studio with you wherever you need it, so you can do guitar overlays, track vocal intakes, sound effects, and on-site interviews. It also comes with a 48V phantom power, so you won’t have battery issues.

The Icicle has both condenser and dynamic microphones that give hassle-free and high-quality connectivity to either a Mac or PC.

Whether you are podcasting, voice messaging, digital recording, or using voice recognition apps, this is a quick and easy to record. You easily plug in the USB cable and your mic is live without special driver installation.

It also has a studio-quality, built-in mic preamp that is completely balanced with a low-noise analog front end that sends a clear signal through USB. It is simple to use, and it has a single analog volume level control.

The Icicle is a no-frills interface that allows you to use a regular microphone and then convert the analog signals to a digital format that transfers easily through a USB connection to your computer.

Despite its size, it still gives you a 48-volt phantom power output that you need to attach a condenser mic.

The Icicle is available at the super affordable $59.99 price point.

Pros

One of the best and simplest ways to interface an XLR mic without spending a lot of money
The preamp is way beyond your expectations
Will work perfectly with your computer

Cons

If you use with a pro setup, there will be a crackle

Lexicon Alpha

Credit: HARMAN

The Lexicon Alpha has a dual-channel interface that features two XLR inputs for preamps on the back, and they have two TRS inputs that allow you to jack in standalone gear if you choose.

If you play bass or guitar, there is a convenient high-impedance instrument input on the front, plus there is a headphone output that will accommodate iPhone earphones or regular sports earphones. You will also find the monitor’s master outputs there as well.

The Lexicon Alpha also has useful features like independent headphone volume control, a front LED light that is the peak indicator, headphone volume that is independently controlled, and the ability to check for phase issues by reducing your monitor mix from stereo to mono.

If you are interested in doing 24 bit / 48 kHz recording, this is perfect for your needs. You may have to get a standalone power supply as it does not come with Phantom Power for condenser mics.

It also comes with Cubase LE4 and LE5 as well as Pantheon VST reverb plug-in.

This is a very affordable option at $50 if you want to start recording right away, but you don’t have the cash.

Pros

Very simple way to hook up to a laptop with balanced cables
USB Cable is very long, which is helpful
There is lots of headroom in signal processing

Cons

You need to disconnect and then reconnect the USB every time you reboot your computer

Mackie Onyx Blackjack

Mackie’s Onyx Blackjack is a great option for desktop usage since it is angled conveniently, and it has an attractive faceplate. Unlike other desktop interfaces, the Onyx Blackjack is made of plastic instead of metal.

There are also mic/instruments combo inputs in the Onyx preamplifiers, unlike the Lexicon. The preamps in the mixers are as good a quality as a lot of the higher-end interface preamps on the market. They also have great Cirrus Logic A/D converters compared to others in their price range.

The Mackie Onyx Blackjack has a lot of extra features like mono and stereo switching, Phantom power, plus it has the ability to change line inputs to instrument inputs with just the push of a button.

You can also start recording immediately when you purchase the Onyx Blackjack by using the included Tracktion 3 software.

This very useful interface that is available for Out of stock.

Pros

Simple and effective
Great design and great price
Very versatile with great sound quality

Cons

Does not have Windows 8 compatible drivers

Sources

The Ultimate Guide to Audio Interfaces for 2017


https://www.presonus.com/community/Learn/The-Truth-About-Digital-Audio-Latency
http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/31308/what-is-the-definition-and-purpose-of-a-pre-amplifier

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