Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

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Razmo
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Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Yes... I've had it now! :|

Fast drumrolls, tight basslines etc. always seem to be a pain in the neck, never sounding fully tight. One of the things I have envied softsynth users for a long time.

But the MIDI specs are old... made in 1982, so what do you expect anyways :roll:

After a bit of study on the net, I've been quite enlightened actually. It seems that USB MIDI interfaces have an enormously high jitter ratio... many seem to jitter at least 3-4 ms because of USB's way of transmitting in packages... some say this might have bettereed with new USB 2.0 interfaces.. I cannot tell, cause I've got two older Emagic AMT8's using USB version 1.1

It seems that this jitter is the problem with MIDI on PC... the latency is not the problem, as long as the delay is always the same, but jitter "wobbles" the timing from note to note. and 4ms is a lot actually... enough for me to get annoyed really...

Some say that PCI MIDI interfaces are the best, since they have a direct link between drivers and the hardware... I've also got an EMU 1212M with PCI MIDI... it's better, but still I get jitter... when I make at "click sound" very rapidly with equal delay in between clicks, the recorded outcome has a note that drop out slightly once in a while... and frantically this makes superfast dancy snarerolls impossible, sounding like the snare is tripping over itself.

Heard that some newer Ediroll MIDI interfaces should be better using USB, but still, I doubt they will supersede the EMU PCI ones...

I've had it! ... I want to use my trusty old MIDI gear, but also want 100% rock solid timing... so I've decided, and bought a hardware sequencer and is right now getting used to working this way... it's primitive compared to SONAR which I've used for ages, but already now I feel addicted... and the timing? ... SUPERRRRRB!!! :P

What about you other MIDI geeks on C64 remix? ... any of you who use hardwre MIDI sequencers? Which ones do you use, and why?

Actually I wanted the Yamaha RS7000, but it's hard to find used, and are hefty in price... so I settled with a Yamaha QY700 from 1996... and I love it! ... a bit tricky to attach all those synths I've got, but using my AMT8's as MIDI splitters has made it posible to attach 32 devices to it's two MIDI ports...

All in all... MIDI still rocks, and I'm amazed at how much more tight a drumbeat gets without a few 3-4ms of jitter.

Here is a piccy of the beast:

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Oh yes... and I've found a used gem lately as well, the Roland JD-990 which is the rack version of the mighty Roland JD-800... Jarre used it if I recall right... anyways it just have the most lush and beautiful pad sounds you can imagine... probably one of the best sounding digital machines ever made in my opinion:

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Looking forward to making some remixes for you on this baby for sure :)
Regards, Jess D. Skov-Nielsen (Razmo).
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Analog-X64 »

Looking forward to hearing what you've got in the store.

My Roland W-30 has a Sequencer, Linear tracks.. and 8 Separate Outputs, but it cant handle too much load or complicated Drum Patters it would get lag.. probably more suitable for single instrument play like Piano etc.. but trying to record an entire song forget it.

My Atari 1040STE on the Other hand was pretty solid and didnt ever notice any kind of lag.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Analog-X64 wrote:Looking forward to hearing what you've got in the store.

My Roland W-30 has a Sequencer, Linear tracks.. and 8 Separate Outputs, but it cant handle too much load or complicated Drum Patters it would get lag.. probably more suitable for single instrument play like Piano etc.. but trying to record an entire song forget it.

My Atari 1040STE on the Other hand was pretty solid and didnt ever notice any kind of lag.
Yeah!... it's pretty amazing, that the old Atari's was rock solid compared to today's super PC's! ... Most of the explanation is to be found in the way Windows takes control of everything. When the MIDI program has send the MIDI data off, windows take over, and this makes it impossible for the sequencer manufacturer to asure when the data will actually arrive at the device to have the data. Another reason is the USB's hardwired resolution of 1ms which correspond almost to the time it needs to send one MIDI message (3 MIDI bytes), which further quantise MIDI input performances.

The Atari made it possible for the software to go directly to the hardware registers... this is again one good reason why I still prefer the good old C64 way of programming; TOTAL CONTROL!!!

A hardware sequencer is build with timing in mind, which is why I've decided on taking that step.

I don't know that Roland sequencer you've had Analog-X... is it old since you got lags perhaps?

The QY700 is sometimes refered to as the worlds best sequencer ever made, and I have to admid that it's darn rock hard in it's timing, no matter how many tracks or MIDI continuos data you throw at it. It seems as if the data is well send out... one thing I know is, that track one allways goes out first, then track two etc. This ensures that drumbeats on track one get first priority, which make it really tight.

Even when sending loads of controller or aftertouch data... I cannot hear any lag at all, even though I'm sending both notes and other data on way more than 5 channels at a time (havent made anything larger than this yet).

Other neat features is it's MIDI effects... a way to manipulate MIDI data in realtime as it is playing... gate times, groove timings, transposing etc. Even the ability to shift notes in clock-cycles back or forth (for those pads that needs time to swell up to level etc. or devices with huge latencies).

Anyways, it's fun to work this way now... no mouse at all, just good old C64 style keyboard ways of working... makes you kind of nostalgic, and when first you learn to use the interface it's not at all that bad really... and you no longer have to worry about computer setting, software updates etc. etc... you get "locked in time" with this thing, and that suits me well.

It makes you think differently in how you program music. The QY700 has 48 tracks. In Pattern based mode, it works much like a regular clip oriented sequencer, but you simply make up to eight patterns comprising of Intro, Melody 1, Break, Melody 2, ending etc.... actually you could make your whole piece in this pattern mode, but this is not what it's meant for.

When you have all these building blocks, much like the patterns in an AMIGA tracker style fashion, you then make an Accompagnement track in Song mode... you decide the sequence of the patterns you have made, just like on old trackers... when your backing track is finished, you use 32 tracks for making melody lines in linear form, like vocals tracks, effects, leads etc. These 32 tracks will play along to the pattern track (which by the way have 16 tracks, making it 48 tracks in al). All the clips in Patterns mode (called phrases) can hold 99 clips, and it has more than 3.000 build in ROM clips with various styles you can use if you wish... these can further be changed by some clever Chord manipulations. I never use these though, prefering to make my own.

In addition the QY700 has a build in 32 part multitimbral synth module with general midi/XG format ability... but I don't really use it... would wish it had been two extra MIDI ports to the outside world, but well... cannot have it all obviously, as very few MIDI sequencers have more than two ports.

I've even speculated about getting a travellers version of the QY700; the QY70:

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Regards, Jess D. Skov-Nielsen (Razmo).
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Romeo Knight »

Regarding your MIDI timing issues, you should not forget that some old hardware synths (especially some Rolands) produce a horrible latency and awful timing by themselves. It's virtually not possible to hit the note at the right time using them via MIDI .
That general timing sloppiness is the reason why I record everything - even softsynths - to audio, this way I can do tiny edits using visual help for the perfect timing and even 150 tracks run in sync with sample accuracy.

Btw.: My DAW PCs are rock solid. It's all a matter of configuration. :-)
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Instant Remedy »

Congrats on the JD990 :)
I had a JD800 with all those sliders, it was sweet! Only downside was the annoying sysex implementation which can normally be done via CC. I had to use translators and sending too much sysex info created lag and slowed things down.
I don't remember having too much issues with the timing but I might not be that picky either. I had a USB 1.1 MIDI interface.

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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by LMan »

Since moving to softsynths, I have not followed the timing problem issue. I remember there used to be expensive timing clocks you could build into the PC and tell Cubase to sync to that, or something. Part of the timing problems used to come from working in a multitasking environment, like Windoze, too. But that is all old knowledge, don't know if it is of any use today.

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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Tonka »

Romeo Knight wrote:Regarding your MIDI timing issues, you should not forget that some old hardware synths (especially some Rolands) produce a horrible latency and awful timing by themselves. It's virtually not possible to hit the note at the right time using them via MIDI .
That general timing sloppiness is the reason why I record everything - even softsynths - to audio, this way I can do tiny edits using visual help for the perfect timing and even 150 tracks run in sync with sample accuracy.
+1. Roland drum machines were fecking awful unless you used the built in sequencers and synced - triggering from a computer sequencer was just a complete mess. If I ever decided to go back to MIDI (which is highly unlikely, as MIDI was complete shit even in it's heyday) I would not use a PC. I'd probably use a dedicated hardware sequencer or possibly even dust off an Atari!
Razmo wrote: this is again one good reason why I still prefer the good old C64 way of programming; TOTAL CONTROL!!!
:cheers:

Oh BTW Razzi - don't get a QY70. They have no filter capabilities and sound like arse.

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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Romeo Knight »

LMan wrote:Since moving to softsynths, I have not followed the timing problem issue. I remember there used to be expensive timing clocks you could build into the PC and tell Cubase to sync to that, or something. Part of the timing problems used to come from working in a multitasking environment, like Windoze, too. But that is all old knowledge, don't know if it is of any use today.
No, it's not old knowledge, it's just not needed in a recent home- or semi-professional recording environment.
Using dedicated wordclock synchronizers is still common if you have a larger amount of devices that have to be in sync all the time, especially when it comes to including video machines.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Romeo Knight wrote:Regarding your MIDI timing issues, you should not forget that some old hardware synths (especially some Rolands) produce a horrible latency and awful timing by themselves. It's virtually not possible to hit the note at the right time using them via MIDI .
That general timing sloppiness is the reason why I record everything - even softsynths - to audio, this way I can do tiny edits using visual help for the perfect timing and even 150 tracks run in sync with sample accuracy.

Btw.: My DAW PCs are rock solid. It's all a matter of configuration. :-)
Well, I tried about everything I could to get tight fast rhythms, and groovy basslines, but no matter WHAT I do, I cannot get the same feel as of my QY700 on a PC using SONAR.

I know about DAW's, but unfortunately I will not use softsynths and digital mixing... I'm 100% analog on the mixing part, and use only external MIDI gear... Only final mastering I'll perform on a DAW... stubborn old me :lol:

There is many reasons for me to choose this way of making music...

About the Rolands, I did not know this... I've never used any other hardware sequencer in my life than the QY700, and there is definitely not any issues with this machine (thank god).

I know I'm helplessly oldfashioned regarding this MIDI concept, but this works best for me, as I just love messing about with these old synths and stuff, seing what I can get out of them. I like working under restrictions, pushing the envelope on things... just like when optimising code :mrgreen:
Regards, Jess D. Skov-Nielsen (Razmo).
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Instant Remedy wrote:Congrats on the JD990 :)
I had a JD800 with all those sliders, it was sweet! Only downside was the annoying sysex implementation which can normally be done via CC. I had to use translators and sending too much sysex info created lag and slowed things down.
I don't remember having too much issues with the timing but I might not be that picky either. I had a USB 1.1 MIDI interface.
Yeah! the sound of the JD-800 IS sweet indeed! ... and those knobs are a marvel to look at and, not the least tweak :P

But the JD-990 is more than just a JD-800... it has several more options, and a great deal more features... so it's compatible with JD-800, but not the other way around. One big advantage is the JV80 card option "Vintage Synth Expansion"... this comes along with the one I'll get, and should make it sound even better (more waveforms).

But the thing about the machine is not it's architecture as such, it's a matter of it's SOUND! ... and it just sound awesome to my ears. Definitely looking forward to recieving it next week and play with it.
Last edited by Razmo on 26/02/2009 - 15:56, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

LMan wrote:Since moving to softsynths, I have not followed the timing problem issue. I remember there used to be expensive timing clocks you could build into the PC and tell Cubase to sync to that, or something. Part of the timing problems used to come from working in a multitasking environment, like Windoze, too. But that is all old knowledge, don't know if it is of any use today.
I think you're right on that one... there are many ways to overcome the problems of MIDI timing on PC, but unfortunately none will work with SONAR... I cannot accept Cubase or Logic Audio as I have a hard time accepting changes.

My AMT8's from Emagic actually support time stamping of MIDI messages, that would make it rock solid using Logic Audio, and Steinbergs Midex interfaces work the same way with Cubase... but SONAR has no dedicated timestamping devices...

With softsynths everything is of course rock solid down to sample accuracy... nice thing... but it's unfortunately not for me.

But who cares anyways, I found a solution :) ... Hardware sequencers, and I'm happy with this now... it all boils down to the question if you get something DONE with what you have.
Last edited by Razmo on 26/02/2009 - 15:59, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Tonka wrote:
Romeo Knight wrote:Regarding your MIDI timing issues, you should not forget that some old hardware synths (especially some Rolands) produce a horrible latency and awful timing by themselves. It's virtually not possible to hit the note at the right time using them via MIDI .
That general timing sloppiness is the reason why I record everything - even softsynths - to audio, this way I can do tiny edits using visual help for the perfect timing and even 150 tracks run in sync with sample accuracy.
+1. Roland drum machines were fecking awful unless you used the built in sequencers and synced - triggering from a computer sequencer was just a complete mess. If I ever decided to go back to MIDI (which is highly unlikely, as MIDI was complete shit even in it's heyday) I would not use a PC. I'd probably use a dedicated hardware sequencer or possibly even dust off an Atari!
Razmo wrote: this is again one good reason why I still prefer the good old C64 way of programming; TOTAL CONTROL!!!
:cheers:

Oh BTW Razzi - don't get a QY70. They have no filter capabilities and sound like arse.
I know Tonka! ... but I do not use the internal sounds at all, I only use the MIDI ports :wink:
I can't stand the idear of general MIDI and hardwired ROMplers... I want dynamic synthesizers..... yes I'm lost I know :lol:

For some reason, the old synths of yesterdecades seem to have a remarkable sound... even the digital ones from then sound much different than todays softsynths, and even the newer digital hardware synths... I don't know why really, but I have an idear:

Softsynths and new digisynths all work by using digital DSP chips... they are hardwired to a certain sample frequency.. to my ear many of them sound "thin" or very "polished"...

Older digital synths had dedicated chips for different tasks as oscillators, filters etc. etc... some ran much faster than just 44.1 or 48khz... I believe this has something to say, plus the older and "worse" D/A converters.

This is not to asume that softsynths or new digital hardware synths sound bad at all, they just sound "different" top my ear... The Waldorf Blofeld which I recently ordered took me by surprise... it sounds really good... but still... polished, crystal clear etc. They have not got that "real grittyness" of older digital synths.

Another example is the good old Yamaha FM chips... I've yet to hear a softsynth capable of producing the same punch and oomph of a simple TX81Z synth... would not touch anything but the real thing regarding FM bass that's for sure.

And then there is all the analog stuff... no digi will ever touch that sound :mrgreen:

But again.... it all comes down to what you want, and what you like... the end listener don't give a damn about what it was made on, as long as it grooves :mrgreen:
Regards, Jess D. Skov-Nielsen (Razmo).
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Razmo »

Romeo Knight wrote:
LMan wrote:Since moving to softsynths, I have not followed the timing problem issue. I remember there used to be expensive timing clocks you could build into the PC and tell Cubase to sync to that, or something. Part of the timing problems used to come from working in a multitasking environment, like Windoze, too. But that is all old knowledge, don't know if it is of any use today.
No, it's not old knowledge, it's just not needed in a recent home- or semi-professional recording environment.
Using dedicated wordclock synchronizers is still common if you have a larger amount of devices that have to be in sync all the time, especially when it comes to including video machines.
Yeah... recall the word clock inputs on my former E-mu 1820m interface... never used them, and they are not applicable to their new interfaces these days anymore... most get along fine with either S/PDIF or ADAT syncing I guess...

Funnily enough I use absolutely no S/PDIF equipment in my studio... it's analog outs all the way.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Analog-X64 »

Razmo wrote:
Analog-X64 wrote: I don't know that Roland sequencer you've had Analog-X... is it old since you got lags perhaps?
The Roland W-30 Workstation is basically a Keyboard+Sampler+Sequencer. There were a lot of ways to work around the Sequencer to get things done, but it just couldnt handle doing what the manual said it could do.
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Re: Darn MIDI timing on PCs!

Post by Pex `Mahoney` Tufvesson »

My synchronization trick in 1994 using Cubase on a laptop mac (PowerBook 100 if I remember correctly - black&white screen, 6MB RAM, 68k based processor - loved it!) was to make sure that the "important" midi events always came "first" on the beat. All pitch-bends, chords, etc which didn't require as good timing as the rest of the stuff I put just a single step later. Also, edit your pitch bends and MIDI control messages to make sure that you don't overload the MIDI-queue with almost identical messages. And, don't quantize everything so that it occurs on exactly the same time - then you'll actually randomize the order of when the MIDI notes are sent, as they are competing to "rush to the exits" all at the same time, never knowing who comes first. And, if you have to "change program" or "sound" with a MIDI message, then please give your poor synth some extra time to fetch the new data - send that program change well before it's needed - a couple of steps ahead, please.

This made the editing environment (all instruments hooked up, playing at the same time) ok when it came to timing. And then, in the studio - (16 track analogue master tape) - record a proper timecode onto the tape and then make sure that EVERYTHING is muted that shouldn't go onto the tape. This way, the sequencer's MIDI queue will only have to transmit the control messages that plays right now - making timing as good as possible. Then, record one instrument at a time to the analogue tape. Voila! As good as it gets - 15 years ago.

Nowadays, nothing beats Romeo Knight's advice. Dump everything to a 24-bit wav file in your DAW and mute the original soft-synth or external synth. And go ahead and waste your life on nudging wav-files a sample to the left or right. Not very funny, but the results are definitely rock solid timing. :cheers:

Good luck, Razmo!

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