Darrin Williamson takes a look at the Phillip Rees range of hardware designed to help the flow of your MIDI data
Once you have more than a couple of MIDI units within your rig you'll start to find the need for some additional hardware to help the flow of MIDI data - Darrin Williamson takes a look at the Philip Rees range.
The concept of MIDI composition is brilliant in theory but in practice can be a nightmare of messing about behind you equipment swapping leads around which wastes time that could be spent making music.
Furthermore you can run into problems with the MIDI spec itself by creating timing difficulties and data loops due to the way MIDI devices are hooked together.
Fear not! Help is at hand courtesy of Philip Rees Technology who have come up with a stonking range of inexpensive units that set out to solve such problems.
Lets take a look at each product in detail...
A small, unassuming little unit not much bigger than a box of matches which provides the user with one MIDI IN and three MIDI THRUs.
This unit avoids the problem of signal delay across MIDI when you're daisy chaining devices using IN and OUT. MIDI THRU was designed to help solve this problem but not all products are equipped with a THRU socket, which is where problems can occur. With a V-3 you can create a small Star Network where a single input can send MIDI signals to three things at the same time rather than wait for one unit to finish with the data before the next can have a listen. This is where timing delays happen. So if you have a system with a synth/master keyboard and a couple of expanders you can run the keyboard into your sequencer, hook the MIDI out of your micro to the MIDI IN on the V-3 then link the MIDI THRUs to the INs on your MIDI devices. Normal playing can be achieved using the MIDI Echo facility that appears on any sequencer worth its salt.
The V-3 takes a nine volt PP3 of a optional AC power supply (Rees suggest their own but there's nothing in the manual to suggest that you can't just buy a cheapo one from the Argos catalogue.
If the V-3 doesn't offer enough expandability for you then the W-5 may be what you're looking for. It features two MIDI INs and five THRUs. Each of the THRUs can be switched from either IN put one, two or switched out altogether. With this configuration you not in the star network but you are also no longer reliant on your sequencer doing the MIDI routing from the keyboard you can have your computer and your keyboard connected to the W-5 at the same time and select which of the two inputs goes to which thruput so you could have your sequencer playing a multi-timbral expander whilst you play over the top on a separate MIDI channel going to a different expander. What you can't do is have both INs playing one of the THRUs at the same time as this will just cause a clog of MIDI data which, in turn will give your expander a bit of a headache. To do that you'll need another little box which I shall expand upon later.
For those of you with racks and racks of expanders, samplers, effect units and the like who are going to need more THRUputs than the V-5 has, then the V-10 may well be what you're after.
Curiously only one IN has been included but ten THRUs. I would have thought that if you're the sort of person who has ten MIDI devices then the chances are that you have at least two inputs (Sequencer and Keyboard/Guitar/Wind controller) to warrant all that tackle. Maybe it's designed more with live use in mind.
The flagship of Philip Rees's MIDI routing hardware range offers a very professional level of expandability. It's a manual switching device rather like the 5-S but this has five input which can be routed to any of the five output. Furthermore several INs can go to different OUTs at the same time. Pretty damn useful in it's own right but wait! There's more.
The 5-X-5 is also highly expandable using additional unit such as this or its sister unit the X-5-X which provides another five OUTs but no more INs. Most combinations of these two will work so long as there are no more than three units in a chain and at least one of them is a 5X5. So you can quite happily expand your patching system as your number of MIDI devices grows and have a Five IN, 15 OUT configuration. And for just that reason that would be my choice as the one to go for if you're serious about your hobby although with so many Multi-Timbral units around people may find less and less need for racks of kit - all of which requires sensible cabling.
In case some of you out there thought the MCV was the car Captain Scarlett drove let me put things straight.
The MCV is the latest addition to the range and is not a patching device for a change. This one does something much more fun. This allows you to control non-MIDI synths with a CV/Gate input like the ever popular Roland SH-101.
It responds pitch, pitch bend and velocity, and carries two sets of outputs for controlling two such devices. Any of the 16 MIDI channels can be selected using those ever present rotary knobs and polyphonic operation is possible by chaining several units together. Not a product you could convince yourself you need but damn useful if you do.
All in all a mighty fine range of products which is a particularly nice thing to be able to say when it's a British company your talking about. Full marks for great products, concise informative manuals and for putting plugs on all the mains powered products. Keep 'em coming.
Occasions arise when it would be handy if you could merge two MIDI datastreams. Examples of this would be the confluence of simultaneous performances into a sequencer or running an Editor/Librarian package whereby you're sending system exclusive to an expander whilst playing it from a keyboard or even incorporating time codes into a sequence.
Obviously an area that requires a fair deal of explanation (more than we have space for here) but the manual does a commendable job in explaining the whole process, come to think of it all the manuals in the range come up to a high standard.
Now get into the world of selective switching with the 5-S MIDI Selector. This has five sockets one one side and one on the other with a rotary switch. This unit can be used in either direction so the switch can select which of five INs goes to the OUT or which of the five OUTs are permitted the pleasure of the MIDI INs company. Useful if you have more than two input devices, say a keyboard, a Drum Machine, a Guitar controller and a MIDI Horn all of which will be used to lay down tracks onto the sequencer at different times. Doesn't offer anything you can't already do but does save a lot of wear and tear on your MIDI leads.
Gear in this article:
Review by Darrin Williamson