What is the Difference Between MIDI and USB Connection


When I first started experimenting around with MID controllers, I never thought about the difference between the connections are. A 5-pin MIDI and a USB to MIDI connection are mostly the same when it comes to how they function, but they do have their own defining characteristics. Once you have selected the MIDI controller you want for your recording rig, make sure you know what connections to use.

The difference between a MIDI and a USB connection is the way they connect to the device and the host. The device would be the MIDI controller, and the host would be the phone or computer. A 5-Pin cable will connect a MIDI connection; while a USB, on the other hand, is connected via a USB B connection to a standard USB for the host. Here is a table showing some of the significant differences between each type of connection:

FEATURES: MIDI USB
CONNECTION TYPE 5-PIN CONNECTION TO BOTH HOST AND DEVICE USB B CONNECTION TO DEVICE, STANDARD USB CONNECTION TO HOST
POWER SUPPLY DATA TRANSFER ONLY/ NEEDS POWER SUPPLY DATA AND POWER TRANSFER
DATA TRANSFER CAN RECEIVE SMALL PACKETS OF DATA/ CAN ONLY PLAY NOTES, PROGRAM CHANGE, AND VELOCITY CAN SEND LARGE PACKETS OF DATA AND INFORMATION SUCH AS TRIGGERING SAMPLES CREATED VIA BUILT-IN MICROPHONE
TYPES OF DEVICE USUALLY FOUND IN OLDER DEVICES MOST MODERN MIDI CONTROLLERS USE USB CONNECTION
CONNECTIVITY FEATURES NEEDS TWO SEPARATE CABLES TO SEND AND RECEIVE INFORMATION CAN SEND AND RECEIVE INFORMATION WITH ONE SINGLE CABLE
HOSTING CAN ACT AS HOST AND DEVICE/ CAN ROUTE THROUGH MULTIPLE DEVICES CAN ONLY ACT AS DEVICE/ CANNOT INTERACT WITH OTHER DEVICES

Just because USB connectivity is much easier to connect with the use of only one cable, it does not mean it is much better. A MIDI connection has its own set of features that are not found in a new USB connection. Vintage instruments sometimes sound far better than modern digital devices. To use vintage instruments such as MOOG synthesizers, they will need a MIDI connection to use a host to produce and edit sounds. The USB connectivity is just more convenient in modern times, as almost every new device created to share this type of connection.

HELPFUL TIP: To connect a USB correctly on the first try, the top side would always be the one with two hollow holes. And the other side which should be on the bottom has flushed holes.

MIDI CONNECTION

A MIDI connection features an “old school” 5-pin connection that you would look similar to a vintage mouse and keyboard connection. One of the main advantages of having a MIDI cable is that you can use some of the older instruments that lack a USB connection port. These instruments may be old, but they sometimes sound a lot better than the modern analog synths. You can use a MIDI connection to route multiple devices.

Another advantage is that you can use a vintage device as a host and control it with a modern MIDI controller. If your vintage Moog has dead keys, you can easily transmit the sounds and control it with a new device. You cannot do this with a modern USB controller. Advanced USB controllers can only act as a device and not the other way around.

You can connect MIDI only devices to each other to route and send information between two devices, even without a host or computer. You can use a MIDI keyboard to control beats from a classic drum machine such as the KORG VOLCA FM SYNTH. You can also connect two units together, opening up a new world of possibilities and drum sequences. Do not limit your creativity by using only one device when you have the option to use two.

Here is an example of a MIDI only device:

KORG VOLCA FM SYNTHESIZER

(Price: $160)

The Korg Volca FM is an ultra-compact analog synthesizer that can also act as a MIDI host and controller. It is a device that stays true to the traditional MIDI connection, which allows you to route it with other MIDI only devices or modern devices with the use of a USB MIDI host.

Key Features:

  • Real analog sounds that resemble the classic Roland TR-808
  • 16-step Sequencer with eight memory patches to access user presets quickly
  • Stutter function
  • Six editable analog parts with one-knob per function
  • Built-in speaker
  • Battery operated or Plug option

USB MIDI HOST

A USB MID host is what you need to power up your MIDI connections, as well as to route multiple MIDI devise together. You can also use one of these devices to connect to a host without the 5-pin connection, such as laptops and computers. You can also use this to connect a MIDI connection type to a mobile device or smartphone. Here is an example of a USB MIDI HOST:

MIDIPLUS USB MIDI HOST

(Price: $60)

This product provides a MIDI in and MIDI out jack that works with most MIDI controllable synths. It does not have a power adapter included, so make sure you have a 9v adapter to power up your MIDI device through this USB host. This device may not work with all modern devices with USB connectivity. However, it is tired and tested with MIDI only devices such as the YAMAHA YPG-625 and MOOG MOTHER 32.

USB CONNECTION

Most, if not all, modern MIDI controllers use USB connectivity. It is very convenient because of the one cable that will transfer and receive data. The USB connection also provides power for your device once you connect it to a host such as a computer or mobile device. To connect a USB MIDI controller to your iPhone or iPad, you will need a device that is iOS9 or higher and a camera connection kit. Some mobile devices, especially the older versions, will require a powered USB Hub to supply more power for the device to function. Here is a list of devices that have USB connection only:

  • AKAI MPK MINI MKII

(Price: $89)

If you want a smaller package of the Akai MPK 49, the MPK mini is the right one for you. It has almost all the same features of its big brother, but with fewer keys, pads, and knobs. This controller is great for just going out and creating beats and music. It can fit inside your backpack. You can connect this to a Laptop or mobile device.

Key Features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

At first, I never thought you would be able to play chords on such small keys, but I was mistaken. The micro keys on this device are capable of anything you can do on a real piano. It only takes a little time to get used to tiny keys, especially if you came from playing a full-sized keyboard.

  • 8 assignable pads with two banks

The eight responsive pads are such a pleasure to use when finger drumming or just doing simple piano melodies and chords. It has two banks so you can have 16 pads for each user preset.

  • Arpeggiator

This controller also has a built-in arpeggiator so you can create rhythmic patterns. Your synth lines would not sound monotonous and repetitive with the use of this feature.

  • 8 assignable knobs

The MPK mini also comes with knob control. For its low price, this midi controller surely has it all.

  • Free software included

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, Wobble, and the Akai MPK Mini editor. The editor is used to set the value of the pads. You can use them with any of your favorite DAWs.

  • NOVATION LAUNCHKEY MINI

(Price: $89)

The Novation Launchkey Mini is an excellent choice for more electronic-driven music. It is a combination of a midi keyboard controller and Novation’s Launchpad.  The Akai MPK Mini ant, the Launchkey Mini, are mostly similar in terms of features. The only difference is that the Launchkey has fewer knobs but more pads.

Key Features:

  • 16 fully assignable, LED indicating trigger pads

The LED lights on the pads on this device look fantastic.

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

The feel of the mini keys is similar to most mini keyboard controllers.

  • Eight fully assignable knobs

Assign specific parameters to your knobs for live tweaking and recording automation.

  • Free Software included

Free software included so you can start creating music instantly.

MIDI and USB DEVICES

Some devices feature both a MIDI and USB connection option. This feature ensures that users can choose whichever connection they want. If you have a MIDI cable at home or you have been using a MIDI cable ever since you do not have a switch to USB for adding these devices to your rig. Here are some devices that have both a MIDI and USB connection:

  • KORG MICROKORG ANALOG MODELING SYNTHESIZER WITH VOCODER

(Price: $350)

The MicroKORG is a popular choice among amateur and professional producers alike. It is a modeling synth with a vintage look. The modeling capabilities of the KORG MicroKORG is remarkable.

The MICROKORG XL and MICROKORG XL +, are bigger versions but have less onboard editing. They require a computer connection for easier sound editing.

Key Features:

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Split and dual-mode available
  • Four voices
  • Power supply or battery-powered
  • Arpeggiator
  • Six outputs including, midi, headphones, left, and right for stereo.
  • Onboard editing
  • Windows and Mac compatible
  • Midi connectivity
  • Gooseneck dynamic mic for vocoder
  • Pitch and modulation wheel
  • NOVATION MININOVA ANALOG MODELING SYNTHESIZER

(Price: $400)

The Mininova is a modern style analog modeling synth. It has a powerful sound engine perfect for creating electronic-heavy sounds. The aesthetic of this synthesizer has a futuristic approach to looks and sound-wise.

Key Features:

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Vocoder with VocalTune pitch correcting effects
  • 256 onboard sounds
  • Editable user sound banks
  • Layer up to 5 modulation effects
  • Downloadable sound packs
  • Real-time tweaking and sound warping
  • Midi connectivity
  • Gooseneck dynamic mic for vocoder
  • Editing software included
  • Pitch and modulation wheel

BLUETOOTH MIDI DEVICES

With the creation of Bluetooth technology, comes the introduction of Bluetooth MIDI devices. These devices will work with a laptop or smartphone as long as it has Bluetooth connectivity. These products are best for all of you minimalists who want to get rid of wires. In terms of latency, most of these devices are made with zero to no latency issues. I haven’t had a single issue testing out one of these devices even for using them live. Make sure your laptop or fun is up to date to enjoy these devices to the maximum.

  • ROLI SEABOARD BLOCK WIRELESS KEYBOARD CONTROLLER

(price: $299.99)

The ROLI Seaboard Block is the best choice. Its elegant all-black design is perfect for a minimalist studio setup. The Roli has a block system, which means you can connect it to other Roli devices just like LEGO blocks to build a perfect keyboard rig.

Key Features:

  • Every movement counts

The keys work like any other Midi keyboard, but the 5D touch makes it more expressive, like using vibrato on a string instrument.

  • Mobile compatibility

The Seaboard Block is compatible with most mobile apps and software

  • Expand your sound

This instrument can connect to a series of new devices made by ROLI, such as the Lightpad.

  • Bluetooth connectivity

Connect to your computer or mobile device wirelessly with Bluetooth.

  • PIONEER DDJ-200

(Price: $150)

It is one of Pioneer DJ’s newest products. This Smart DJ controller is one of Pioneer’s first starter DJ controller. It is a beginner DJ controller that has almost all the necessary functions of a pro DJ controller. You can use this controller on an iPhone and laptop. The best thing about this DJ controller is the Bluetooth connectivity. It is an excellent minimalist controller. The response of this device is fantastic. The Bluetooth connectivity has little to no latency.

Key Features:

  • Smartphone Compatible

This DJ controller is designed for use with mobile devices. The WEDJ app has tons of built-in features for creating fantastic transitions. You can also use this controller with apps like DJAY and EDJING. If you use DJAY, you can access Spotify and use it as your sound library. You can also use it with REKORDBOX software.

  • Phrase Sync

The DDJ 200 introduces the phrase sync, which allows you to transition to a new song effortlessly easily. The seamless transition will get more people into DJing.

  • Ultra-Compact Style

The lightweight and ultra-compact style of this DJ controller makes it the ultimate mobile DJ device. The portability of this device complements the minimalistic side of being Bluetooth compatible.

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Can you use a MIDI connection to record a MIDI instrument track on your laptop or computer? Yes. Make sure you use a USB MIDI host, so you can connect a MIDI device to your computer, and load the MIDI device with new sounds from your DAW or virtual instruments. This method is also excellent for recording music using a MIDI controller.
  • How can you connect a MIDI device to a computer without the 5-Pin connection? You can connect a device to a computer without a %-pin female input by purchasing a USB MIDI Host or MIDI to USB cable. Both of the items will function. However, some people prefer the USB host as it can supple better power from a wall plug rather than from the computer itself.
  • How to connect multiple USB devices to one host (computer or phone) To connect multiple devices or MIDI controllers to one single host (computer or laptop), you will need a powered USB Hub. You can control your DAWs and VSTs, using multiple devices. Make sure you adjust the settings to rout your USB MIDI devices the way you want. Most DAWs will have an option whether which MIDI controller you want to use to control a particular instrument or track.

CONCLUSION

Choosing the right MIDI controller is only the first step. When I bought my first MIDI controller, I didn’t know much about connections and connection types. I had to run back to the store and buy the proper cables so that I can use the controller I bought. It is essential to know what kind of controller and connection type you have before trying to purchase a device. If you have a modern computer, laptop, or smartphone, buying a current MIDI controller will work just fine. If you have a vintage device you found at a pawnshop or your grandfather’s house, you will probably need to buy the right cables to connect it and use them successfully.

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