360 Systems MIDI Patcher
A MIDI routing device from keyboard manufacturers 360 Systems. Our American correspondent Rick Davies puts it through its paces.
Talk to anyone who uses more than a couple of MIDI instruments in conjunction with each other, and they'll soon tell you about the problems of constantly needing to change the way their system is configured. Add to this the fact that MIDI sockets almost invariably appear on instruments' back panels, and you soon realise that some form of automatic patching will earn its keep both in time saved and back problems avoided.
The MIDI Patcher is just such a unit, and features a memory capable of storing eight system setups. Each of these configurations routes one of the four MIDI inputs to each of the eight MIDI outputs.
Typically, you might need to drive a sequencer and one or two synths from one keyboard for recording purposes, while for playback, the sequencer may need to be driven by a drum machine. Different routings can easily be set up, and then switched between as required.
The MIDI Patcher manages to make setting-up flexible, without becoming too complex for easy operation. In fact, using the unit is fairly straightforward, and the front panel is uncluttered and clearly labelled. Eight switches, labelled 1-8, double as program selectors and input assignment controls for each output. Four multi-coloured LEDs above each of these indicate which input is assigned to the corresponding output. If no LED lights above a switch, then that output is not 'looking' at any of the inputs.
The remaining controls should be familiar to anyone with experience of programmable synths. To select a program, the Recall LED must be lit. Conversely, to edit the selected program, you have to switch Edit on. Simple enough, and as 360 Systems have chosen to give you individual Recall and Edit switches, there's unlikely to be any confusion in that area.
When the Edit LED is lit, the output switches step through the five possible input sources for the corresponding output. As a result, there's no way to select the disastrous combination of more than one input for any output (two MIDI data streams mixed without intelligent control just produce garbage). Programs are held in double EPROMs, so no battery is required for non-volatile memory.
We've all heard the old adage that the silence between musical notes is as important as the notes themselves. And while this may not be the thought that instantly springs to mind when notes start to drone because a note-off command has been lost, a quick way of ending such nuisances is preferable to having to run across a room to the synth in question, change modes, change programs, play half the keyboard with your forearm, or whatever it takes to silence the thing.
The MIDI Patcher takes no risks in this department, and sends an 'all notes off' command to all eight MIDI outputs each time a program is selected. This feature can be handy when changing the Patcher's programs while data is still being sent by any of the input sources.
The only inconvenience this may cause occurs in the rare instance where a program is selected during performance. In such cases, all sustained notes will shut off abruptly, except on instruments which don't understand the 'all notes off' command (the DX7 is one such machine). Again, the advantages of this feature in most common situations far outweigh the drawbacks you might experience in less commonplace situations.
The Patcher can also recognise program changes, but only if they appear at input 4 on MIDI channel 16. Only programs 0-7 are recognised, of course. Placing such restrictions on program changes is a reasonable way to avoid possible mishaps, but if re-routing your whole MIDI setup via one program-change from your MIDI controller is how you like to do things, then the Patcher can certainly accommodate you.
It's a fact of life that things don't always work out as you expect, and for the modern musician, MIDI is a part of life. For those instances where it's not obvious whether a MIDI problem is being caused by the 'master' or 'slave' instrument, the Patcher can send a note out of a selected output to check that the 'slave' instruments are correctly connected. If all is as it should be, any instrument connected to that output should play a note for a couple of seconds.
Overall, the MIDI Patcher certainly does its job thoroughly and is easy to program. And considering the cost of many non-programmable MIDI accessories, it offers good value, too.
Price £230 including VAT.
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Review by Rick Davies
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