Mark Of The Unicorn MIDI Express
interface for the Macintosh
This new interface could be just the ticket for Mac users.
In his search for the ultimate MIDI interface for the Mac, Ian Masterson gets onboard the MIDI Express...
MIDI interfaces for the Apple Mac are many and varied. You can buy almost any configuration of socketry to suit your needs - from the humble one-in, one-out affair, through multiple-ins-and-outs, to the all-singing, all-dancing intelligent MIDI processor that acts as a brain for all your studio gear. MIDI Express from US company Mark Of The Unicorn is decidedly one of the latter. Packaged in a 19" 1U rackmounting box, and finished in MOTU's distinctive orange house graphics, this unit is designed to offer you the ultimate in MIDI control. The majority of software sequencing packages now cater for MIDI setups with multiple channel configurations; with 16-part multitimbrality a feature of even the cheapest sound modules these days, the average computer-based musician finds his basic 16 lines sorely stretched. And with effects processors, tape machines and all manner of MIDI-controlled gadgetry boosting the demand still further, extra MIDI Ins and Outs become essential.
The MIDI Express offers no less than four MIDI Ins and six Outs, along with sockets for SMPTE In/Out, Footswitch and Macintosh In and Thru. A single mini-DIN cable is supplied to hook the interface up to the modem socket of your Mac; the Thru socket allows you to connect your modem (should you have one) to the MIDI Express, instead of having to re-patch the whole setup every time you send or receive data. The SMPTE sockets, as you might expect, can be linked to your multitrack tape machine, eliminating the need for an extra interface.
The package includes a software driver program - Console - which effectively allows you to edit all the internal functions of the interface from your computer. Using this program is actually optional; if you simply wish to use the interface as a means of equipping your sequencing software with 96 MIDI channels, then no further tweaking is necessary. You simply press 'Sequencer 96Ch' on the front panel of the Express, and the sequencer takes control of everything else. MOTU naturally recommend Performer as the ideal sequencing package, but I tested Express with Steinberg's Cubase and it worked perfectly.
If, however, if you want to delve deeper into the MIDI patchbay, SMPTE and click generation functions of the Express, then Console comes into its own. The patchbay side of things is taken care of by a window labelled 'Cable Routing', which literally shows all the MIDI input cables connected to the Express on one side of the screen, and all the output cables on the other. You can label the inputs and outputs according to your setup - eg, 'Korg M1 In' and 'Akai S3000 Out' - and proceed to hook them together by drawing lines between the cables and the computer interface icon. All extremely practical and very simple to use.
Beyond this lies a window charged with 'Event Muting'. This is similar to the MIDI Definitions and Filtering pages found on most sequencers; simply put, you can tell the Express to filter out certain MIDI events on certain channels in your system. If you want to disable patch change data on channel 12 from your MIDI source, then this is the window to use. Associated with it is the Channel Remapping function; here you can take the MIDI data entering the Express on one channel and route it to any of the others instead.
The SMPTE functions of the MIDI Express are similar to those found on nearly every SMPTE-equipped sequencer. The unit can read incoming SMPTE at any frame rate and translate it into MIDI Time Code, which is dispatched to the Macintosh (and your sequencer) via the modem cable. Striping a fresh reel of tape is also possible from the SMPTE Controls window, and you can even slave a second Mac to timecode via the Computer B port on the rear of the interface - making it possible to control a graphics or animation-handling machine and your sequencer simultaneously.
MIDI Express offers several other ancillary functions designed to make your MIDI jungle that bit easier to live with - these are mostly the sort of things you only use once in a blue moon, but which are valuable simply because they are there should you need them. One of these is the facility to generate MIDI Time Code from a click track input. The scenario might be something like this: you have a multitrack with no SMPTE code, but which does have a drummer's click or kick drum track. To lock your sequencer to the multitrack, all you have to do is hook the click track into the footswitch socket on the rear of the Express and set the Click-To-MIDI parameter to On on the Footswitch page of Console. Express will decode tempo information from the click and translate it into MTC, driving your sequencer directly. Nifty or what?
There is little doubt that MIDI Express is one of those products whose true benefits to your studio system only become obvious over time. It incorporates the demand for extra MIDI channels and SMPTE facilities into an intelligent interface which really does sort out those irritating cable headaches associated with contemporary music production. I found it faultless in operation - the unit simply refused to jam, even under a barrage of MIDI information - and the software is cleverly, yet simply, designed. It is true that the Express costs substantially more than your average MIDI interface - but then, it isn't your average MIDI interface. If you're serious about solving your MIDI headaches, then this is the black box for you.
|Ease of use||The software needs some exploring|
|Originality||A new perspective on an age-old problem|
|Value for money||Not bad, but could be better|
|Star Quality||Deep Space Nine|
|Price||£399 RRP inc. VAT|
|More from||Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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