MATRIXSYNTH: Direct MIDI for the iPad is Here

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Direct MIDI for the iPad is Here

I was recently contacted by a representative of Line 6 asking if I wanted a MIDI Mobilizer for review. I am usually reluctant to do reviews because they take time, and considering the volume of content that comes in for the site, time is something I have very little of. I decided to accept for two reasons. One, the app it comes with, MIDI Memo, interested me as a back-up solution for my patches, and two, I was curious if the hardware could be used as a MIDI device for other software. The one thing missing for the iPad has been a direct MIDI interface. Yes you can use a Mac and OSC, but if you are limited on space, do not have a Mac, or you just want the convenience of using your iPad directly as a MIDI device, then you were sorely out of luck... until now.

Part 1: MIDI Mobilizer and MIDI Memo out of the box

Well sort of out of the box - you do have to download MIDI Memo from iTunes, but it is free and super simple. That said, the primary reason I wanted MIDI Mobilizer was for MIDI Memo. One of the major pain points for me has been backing up patches on my synths. Convenience is a HUGE deal to me as time is short. When I first started backing up my patches, I used a Little Brother MIDI recorder, followed by Sound Diver on the PC, followed by MIDI-OX and other utilities. The problem is it was always a pain setting up the system, moving and connecting synths, and transferring all your patches when upgrading systems. Sometimes things wouldn't work off the bat, for example software not recognizing the MIDI device because other software locked it up. You'd have to reboot and try again. Once you did save a patch, you'd have to create folders, etc. Big pain in the butt.

When MIDI Mobilizer was announced, I thought hmm... this might be super convenient. And it is. You just hook up the cables, hook in the device, launch the app, hit record and send your MIDI dump. When the dump is completed, click the stop button, give it a name and you are done. You can even email the dump to yourself or others. I now send my patches to my gmail account where I have a label for them. They are now backed up in the cloud. I no longer have to worry about transferring files from one computer to another and I know where to find them. This is great, but there is one major omission that may haunt me down the line. Currently you cannot load external MIDI recordings or dumps into the software. They do remain on your device, so as long as you are careful you should be good, but if you want to use the software to load your friend's patches or recordings directly, you can't. If you accidentally delete a recording and want to load it back, you'll have to use software on your PC or Mac to play back the file while you record it into MIDI Memo again. Also, there are no folders. All recordings end up on a long list in the Memos section of the app.

As MIDI Memo is a basic MIDI recorder, you can also record performances. This can be useful in quickly capturing riffs for later, but currently it is limited to just one track. You can't layer recordings like you can with more robust MIDI recorders. With the Little Brother MIDI recorder I could record a MIDI track, hit play and then record a new track on top of it. You can't do that here.

One thing I was a little concerned about was the hardware connection itself. As you can see, you plug the device directly into your iPhone, iPad or iTouch. What if I accidentally sat on it. :) My contact assured me it was durable but it is something that is on my mind when using the device. There is a super simple solution. I can get an extender cable which can be found pretty cheap online. One cool thing about the MIDI cables that come with MIDI Mobilizer is that they are long, I measured them at over 5 feet long - 64 inches to be exact. 1.6256 meters for those on the metric system.

There are also a few usability design quirks with the software, but nothing major. For example, once you have made a recording and are ready for the next, it would be cool if you could click on the name, edit it and then click on a New button for a new recording all on the main page. The way it works now is you can either just start a new recording which will append a number to the name of the current recording, or you click on Memos and click on a "+" button to start a new recording. If you are doing multiple recordings, having to flip through the info and memo pages to name and start new records can be a distraction. Again, this is minor and once you get used to it, it isn't that big of a deal.

Overall, for me, having a super convenient way to back up my synths is worth the entry price alone. Although it does not support multi-track recording, I can see the value in being able to record bits to later import and work with in my DAW.

Part 2: MIDI Mobilizer as a dedicated hardware MIDI device
This is where the true potential of this device comes in.
If you've been following my commentary on the iPad and slate devices in general, the holy grail in my opinion is the ability to use the iPad directly as a MIDI device. The ability to sync native apps with your hardware synths and the ability to use it as a direct MIDI controller would finally close the gap. Software on the iPad would become a robust hardware solution as self sufficiently dedicated as any other hardware device. You could interface it with your synths directly, it would be instantly on, and it would be super portable, even more-so than most other gear.

There are still limitations with the closed nature of the iPad and Apples's software development model, but at as of this moment it is now officially possible. I asked my contact if there would be an SDK for MIDI Mobilizer and not only did he say yes, but it is available now and developers are already working with it. Line 6 also just released MIDI Surface available on iTunes here [details captured at the end of this post below].

The following are a few more shots of MIDI Mobilizer, the cables, box shots and the MIDI Memo app.

Line 6 Releases MIDI Surface
Available on iTunes here
NOTE: MIDI Surface requires the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer accessory.

MIDI Surface is a full-featured MIDI control surface built exclusively for iPhone and iPod touch, brought to you by the minds at Audiofile Engineering. Combining powerful, elegant and uncluttered audio utilities with unparalleled technical support, Audiofile Engineering is one of the most innovative and experienced audio software developers for Mac OS X, iPhone and iPad.

Control Surfaces:
- Channel
- Velocity

- Channel
- Controller (Mod Wheel, Channel Volume, Expression, etc.)
- Low Value
- High Value

Drum Pads
- Channel
- Category (Note On, Controller, Program Change)
- Note
- Note Off (Immediate, Touch Up)
- Velocity

X-Y Control
- Supports up to 4 touches
- Channel
- Controller
- Left Value
- Right Value

Each interface can be configured with great detail and you can save Presets for quick recall."
Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer on Ebay
iPads on Ebay


  1. *anxiously awaiting tenori/monome app that works with this*

  2. Very cool, hope it will support turbo midi and multichannel recording in the future. Will be cool using the control surface with a midi-cv interface for modular use.

    I hope midimemo gets some more features like a viewer, and some options to edit the data.

    A sequencer app would be awesome too!


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