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  #1  
Old 02-13-2012, 12:31 AM
wabbitguy wabbitguy is offline
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Default MIDI Interface - The El Cheapos!

If you've ever been surfing for a MIDI interface, I'm positive you've seen the likes of these ones:



They are littered all over the internet from a variety of sources from Amazon to eBay. Commonly called "USB To MIDI Keyboard Interface Converter Cable", or some variation thereof.

Usually selling for the awesome sum of $5. If you're wondering how they can build one of these for $5 and make a profit (when they even off free shipping), I have no idea either.

These things have peaked my curiosity for some time and since I'm not a feline, I took the bait...er plunge and ordered two of them. One from Amazon, one from eBay. After receiving both, it was obvious that they are from the same factory. There are no drivers to install, you just plug them in and..well...pray. Which is exactly what I did...

On my Mac system, they show up as USB MIDI Cable in my MIDI interfaces listing. Probably the most generic name in the world, but what the heck. No drivers.

Any way, I fired up my testing software and ran these through their paces. I expected the worst. I mean, what do you get for $5? A Starbucks latte? Maybe. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when the darn things actually work. Send MIDI, receive MIDI. Send SYSEX, receive SYSEX... they actually work.

Now lets stress them a little...ah ha. Hit them with a high traffic stream and...bingo. We got some issues. Our old evil friend Mr. Latency. Now the latency is not so bad that you could measure it on a calendar, but it's there. Near as I can tell 9-15ms. Kind of varies. Probably not the largest buffer in them nor well written software (I'm guessing a PIC chip in them).

For standard low stream MIDI, you'll probably get away with it and think they work perfect. But for multiple SYSEX messages (like doing a dump from a MIDI CPU where it sends umpteen SYSEX messages one after the other), or some really high traffic MIDI data, ah..nope. Fail.

Of course it "tries", kind of like the little engine that could, but didn't. You need the briefest of pauses between multiple SYSEX messages and it's as happy as a clam though.

The reason for my testing these things out was that I wanted to see if it really needs a driver (no it doesn't), does it actually work with SYSEX (yes it does, as noted), and is it really worth the $5 (yes it is). I wasn't looking to replace my 8x8 MIDI interface that does routing, or even my M-Audio UNO. Just something I could toss in a gig bag or drawer, pull it out, do some SYSEX programming and toss it back in the drawer/bag.

The only thing I haven't done is plug both of them at the same time to see what happens. And I'm not going to. No use tempting fate...

Mel
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  #2  
Old 02-14-2012, 02:58 PM
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Thanks Mel!
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  #3  
Old 02-14-2012, 07:09 PM
wabbitguy wabbitguy is offline
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I've just been advised that while Amazon (and eBay) are still selling these interfaces, the suppliers have found a new source and are changing the packaging (and circuitry inside).

Amazon is NOT updating the photos at this point, so the picture of the item you think you're getting may not be what you're getting.

They will no longer look like the ones in the original post (has a treble clef on it), they now look like this:



BE AWARE...these new versions will NOT WORK WITH SYSEX AT ALL.

They do not require drivers, and last time I checked, they were selling for $2. At that price if you need prewired MIDI cables or a USB prewired cable, you could buy the thing, cut the cables off and use them cheaper than you could source out the parts and make your own...

When you plug in these "new" interfaces, the device shows up as a "Viewcon".

So if you bought one based on the first photo (and that one still works) but they sent you the second one, send it back..or use it for parts. Well, anything but SYSEX.

Here's what the interface looks like on eBay:



So this is the one to avoid.

Last edited by wabbitguy; 02-14-2012 at 08:21 PM. Reason: Updating image
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Old 02-15-2012, 11:34 PM
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Interesting findings. For anyone considering a "name brand" interface, there is this thread:

http://forum.highlyliquid.com/showthread.php?t=500
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  #5  
Old 02-15-2012, 11:44 PM
wabbitguy wabbitguy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John View Post
Interesting findings. For anyone considering a "name brand" interface, there is this thread:

http://forum.highlyliquid.com/showthread.php?t=500
I track the working and non-working interfaces on my own web site forum for the Mac users, but it would be great if we could have a place where there'd be a reference table of MIDI interfaces for Macs and Win where we could see the ones that work with SYSEX and the ones that don't.

I find about 60% of the audio interfaces with add-on MIDI fail. That includes ones from RME to Focusrite... They all work with simple MIDI commands, corrupt SYSEX data beyond a certain size.

Ugh...

Mel
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:06 PM
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yea.. I got duped on ebay with one of the units in the second pic.. the one without the clef.

I bought the FIRST one on ebay w/out the clef for $6. Got it, hooked it up and it did play notes and did some patch changes.. but when I hooked up my Roland JX1 to it and tried to do a pitch bend, it got all wonky and interpreted the pitch bend info as individual notes.. sounded like a zipper effect and caused latched notes to stick.

So I read on Amazon that the one with the clef was a better unit... so like an idiot, I went on ebay and paid $6 for one that was PICTURED in the listing as the clef logo unit.
Well guess what they sent me? The same kind I bought the first time. I was furious! I sent the seller a msg on how they switched out brands on me, that the unit they sent me was not the unit pictured and that the brand they sent me is a DEFECTIVE brand/build. I warned them that me paying shipping to send it back was not acceptable at all. That I wanted a full refund and THEY can pay to ship it back, if they wanted it back at all... or, I'd make a paypal claim and leave them with neg. feedback.

They ended up immediately refunding me my money and didnt want the item shipped back. So I got a free crappy USB midi interface (well, free midi cables and USB cable).


I've got a Roland UM1 usb interface on it's way.. It looks similar to those units, but I'm confident it'll work as it should.. being a Roland. Just need to find a proper driver to use with XP.. since I think the UM1 was originally a W98 era build.
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:47 AM
wabbitguy wabbitguy is offline
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I ordered another 3 of the El Sleezo's off eBay since I was trying to get one of the bad ones to have a look at...and I finally got one. Haven't had a chance to check it but that's on the list of things to "waste" time doing...

I've noticed now with the "treble" clef ones that if you hammer them too fast between sends and receives, they will fall apart. I found about 25ms was all that was needed to make them, and I hesitate to use the expression "reliable", but they've behaved nicely.

As I pull them apart they all seem based around the same central chip. Sort of a "custom" USB serial to MIDI chip. Although when I probe for the device name, I do get some variations in that aspect. Not that it makes any difference but I've found "USB MIDI CABLE", "USB MIDI" and "MIDI CABLE".

I've tested the interfaces with SYSEX as small as 16 bytes and as large as 2.5K. There is latency. For sure.

Mel
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Old 06-17-2012, 02:59 PM
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I got my Roland UM1 yesterday and it works flawlessly so far. No more wonky triggering nonsense whatsoever with my JX1.

I'm very pleased with it.. got it for $15 on ebay. Brand New, unopened box.

It also came with a current drivers CD! Even has Windows 7/Vista support. Thank goodness!!!






I almost made the HUGE mistake to buy a Emagic MT4..




This sucker is terrible to find a proper driver for XP or later OS's since Apple bought Emagic out and chose to delete all support files for it on Apple's site.
It would have been a very nice unit if I felt more assured I could get a proper driver for it. Has support for up to 4 MIDI outs (64 channels total).
But I seriously doubt I'd ever own that much gear in my entire life!
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:23 PM
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On another note...


These el cheapo usb interfaces might be a viable option to use for simple single note triggers to interface the midi servo board and such.

Just program the boards with a good usb interface, then swap in the cheapo one to use to trigger sounds on a PC or sampler.
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  #10  
Old 09-15-2012, 05:27 PM
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More discussion of unreliable "cheapo" interfaces here:

http://forum.highlyliquid.com/showpost.php?p=5441
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  #11  
Old 01-16-2013, 01:32 PM
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Another data point for the unreliability of the "treble clef" USB MIDI interface:

http://forum.highlyliquid.com/showthread.php?t=900
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  #12  
Old 03-07-2013, 02:56 PM
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Another "cheap USB MIDI interface doesn't send sysex" problem report:

http://forum.highlyliquid.com/showthread.php?t=1005
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  #13  
Old 09-22-2014, 09:30 AM
diy692 diy692 is offline
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Default Cheap midi USB/Midi interface fix (?)

I am facing (awaited) difficulties sending sysex messages with my cheap USB/midi interface.

I have already ordered a M-audio midisprot uno interface (hope it will work fine), but looking for some more information I have found this.

http://www.arvydas.co.uk/2013/07/che...y-be-required/

I will for sure open mine. Just curious about what I will see inside

some more experiment here
http://www.frank-buss.de/midi/index.html

It seems that often only the three first bytes are send , which explain why note on/off messages works but not sysex.

Last edited by diy692; 09-22-2014 at 09:34 AM.
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