Newbie gear questions

March 23, 2010 9:52 PM

So, I touched on this in a previous question, but I'm trying to figure out what sort of audio/MIDI interface I actually need. (more ...)

So here's what I have now:

iMac w/ Garageband (including all "jam packs" for sounds, rhythms, loops, etc.)

M-Audio USB MIDI cable interface

Ensoniq ZR-76 synth keyboard

What I want to be able to do:

For one thing, I'm looking to add a mic so I can start to attempt some vocals. While the cheapest option would be a USB mic, I've read from several sources that a "regular" mic run through an actual audio interface box would sound better and be more useful for any future expansion. Ok, I'm aware there are several low cost options, but what complicates it for me is the MIDI...

See, I want to be able to access and record the existing sounds on the ZR-76, but I also want to be able to use the "performance tweaking" abilities of Garageband or other such sequencer program. In one of my previous questions, someone suggested that I could record using the sounds on the ZR-76 by running a cable from the keyboard's line out ports to the iMac's mic input. I haven't tried it, but I imagine it would work - what would be missing for me is the ability to, say, scan through the song in the software and see "oh, I didn't hit this note hard enough, let's up the velocity a tad" or "oh, these two notes are supposed to be a chord and I didn't hit them at quite the same time, lemme just nudge this one equal to the other."

So I need some kind of a loop, basically. I need to play the notes into the computer, tweak bits here and there, then have the software use that MIDI information to make the keyboard play, using the keyboard's sounds (and/or rhythms also - there are some cool pre programmed rhythms on that keyboard) - and then have the resulting sound get recorded back into the computer.

Did I explain that poorly? Lemme go through this again just so I know I'm being clear, because I know I'm not as familiar with correct terminology and so forth... So right now I can play a song using the keyboard as a controller for the sounds in Garageband. So let's say I record a song with the Garageband piano sound. Then I make a couple tweaks to a few notes (because I'm both a perfectionist and I'm aware my playing skills aren't all I'd like them to be). But now I'd like to have that same "performance" using the piano sound from the actual ZR-76 instead of Garageband's piano sound. What set up do I need for that? It seems I need something that sends MIDI data to the keyboard (which I'm not sure but it seems Garageband doesn't) and then audio back to the computer - so would I need an audio cable from the keyboard's "out" into a mic input on an audio interface box?

Help! :)

posted by dnash (3 comments total)

Garageband seems to lack MIDI-out capability, so for that segment of your workflow, you'll have to find a different tool. The MIDI cable you currently have should work fine with any program that does support MIDI out.

Yikes. I just looked up MIDI exporting and Garageband doesn't even support that.

Which means you're probably looking at upgrading to something like Logic.

Hardware-wise, a basic USB or Firewire stereo interface would work fine for capturing the ZR-76 audio. Just run a couple of 1/4" cables from the keyboard to the interface, and make sure the interface is hooked up to your computer and you should have what you need.

I've had good luck with M-Audio in the past, and the Mobile Pre USB looks like a good entry-level interface. Certainly not the only choice; I'd encourage you to look at all your options, thinking about what you'll need going forward before jumping on a basic interface.

It may be worth the extra cash up-front to get an interface that supports more simultaneous inputs.
posted by man vs sun at 6:23 AM on March 24, 2010

Which means you're probably looking at upgrading to something like Logic.

A-ha! So it's the software that's the weak link in the chain?

See, what started my question was, I was looking at this package but the interface box included (Digidesign Mbox2) does not have MIDI capability. And I thought I needed it, because I guess I was thinking that my current MIDI cable was not able to do what I wanted.

So, if it's the software that's the key, then I guess my current MIDI cable will be fine and I don't necessarily need the audio interface box to also have MIDI? (though it might be more convenient I suppose. But if it's not a deal breaker then it gives me more options to choose from.)
posted by dnash at 8:43 AM on March 24, 2010

Right. Your MIDI interface cable will do anything any other MIDI interface cable will do. The protocol is appallingly simple, and there aren't any features that can be stripped away from it to make you buy into a higher-priced product.

Configuring a box that has both audio and MIDI could present some problems, depending on how the interface is built. My RME Fireface 400 technically does both, but the MIDI side of it is more trouble than I want to mess with.

Basically, if you've got a USB/MIDI cable and you're happy with it, don't limit your search to the ones that do both.
posted by man vs sun at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2010

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