The Missing Links
Wave goodbye to constant repatching of MIDI cables and problems with the delay-inducing Thru socket using these useful MIDI routing boxes from Quark. Paul Wiffen enlightens us.
Why waste time changing MIDI cables to reconfigure your set-up when you can solve all your MIDI routing headaches with a Quark MIDI-Link? Paul Wiffen tells how.
When you bought your first piece of MIDI equipment, be it synthesizer, drum machine or effects unit, it was probably because the salesman told you that you needed it. You weren't sure exactly what MIDI was for, just that it was "what everyone's using these days, sir". Then you returned to the store and enquired about another synth or a sequencer and suddenly you saw the light: 'Now I can connect my synth up to any other MIDI device just using one (or two) 5 pin DIN cables and something good will happen.' It was like a dream.
But then, as you went overboard and got the MIDI drum machine, expander, rack sampler, DDL, bass pedals and master keyboard, the dream turned into a nightmare. What should I plug into where? Why hasn't this CZ101 got a Thru socket? Where's the delay coming from? Why can't I record and playback on my sequencer without reconfiguring each time? And do I have to keep on leaning over the back to replug cables into sockets which I can't see (ending up with Outs plugged to Thrus and so on)?
It's all a drag, isn't it? Well, it needn't be! What you need is a MIDI routing box such as the MIDI-Link from Quark. Plug all your Ins and Outs into one box, switch 'em around instantly as required and kiss goodbye to the unprintable delay-inducing Thru socket forever.
Now these quick-thinking Quark people, who've been sorting out guitarist's and sound engineer's routing problems for years with their effects racks and stage boxes (for the likes of The Fixx, the Thompson Twins, ELP and most recently The Police), saw what a terrible mess some of their keyboard player chums were getting into with MIDI and came up with two MIDI routing units, one for the keyboard-laden superstar (MIDI-Link 999) and one for the chap on a more modest budget (MIDI-Link 448). Both are designed to allow expansion in the number of devices used and so whilst the numbers involved may strike you as excessive to begin with, you are not faced with the problem of outgrowing your routing capability just because you acquire another keyboard. Both units operate on exactly the same principle, the only difference being the number of MIDI Ins, Outs and busses available.
The MIDI-Link 999 can handle 9 master devices (keyboards, sequencers, drum machine clocks, etc) and 9 slaves (expanders, signal processors or any of the above) and these can be the same 9 devices if you wish (allowing a master one moment to become a slave the next - ideal for a sequencer or touch-sensitive keyboard) or 18 different ones. Only Geoff Downes of Asia seems to be able to defeat the flexibility of this system with his legendary keyboard set-up, to the point where he has expressed interest in a programmable 151515!
There are 9 busses available so each In can be 'talking' to a different Out, or any number of Outs can look at each In. Switching is achieved by pushbutton rotary switches and you simply step round until the input number required is shown on the switch associated with the output which you want to hear. In other words, the system works by making the slave you want to hear 'look' at the master of your choice. This is the most flexible system as it allows all 9 slaves to listen to the same master or each one to be independently linked to a master of its own.
The 448 version uses exactly the same system to allow 8 outputs to look at 4 inputs, and is ideal for the chap who only has a few master devices (master keyboard, sequencer, drum machine clock, perhaps) but has (or plans to get) more slaves, such as expanders, rack modules, signal processors and so forth. This time more standard four-way switches are used to decide which input the 8 outputs are assigned to.
Several uses spring instantly to mind. In live performance, the MIDI-Links are a godsend, for not only does it look uncool to replug gear in front of an audience, but keyboard chains can be changed fast enough for midsong amendments and not just while the singer is introducing the next number.
Keyboards that don't have Poly Mode (they try to play all notes sent to them on whatever channel) can be kept on a separate buss so they don't try to cope with every note being sent at each moment in time, whilst MIDI Clock signals and Parameter Data can be kept away from devices that don't understand them.
But where the MIDI-Links really earn their keep is when you are writing and replaying sequences on a dedicated MIDI sequencer or drum machine. You can switch between the Out and Thru of the sequencer (for replay and recording respectively) simply and quickly, and send Keyboard Data or MIDI Clock signals to its In socket as required. It speeds up the process so much that your creativity benefits 500%! Instead of thinking, 'now, which cable goes where?', you can be concentrating on more crucial decisions like 'which chord goes with that riff?': away from technical consideration and back to music, which is what it was all supposed to be about, remember?
'But', I hear you cry, 'how do I know what is plugged into which Ins and Outs?' Well, besides being extremely pretty, the colour scheme of the MIDI-Link provides panels on which you can mark the name of the connected instrument with a Chinagraph pencil, just like on a mixing desk channel. So you can relocate channels at leisure or keep them exactly the same (in which case the naming serves to tell your roadie, if you're a 999 owner, or yourself, if you're more a 448 person, how you had everything plugged together last time).
Both MIDI-Link units have IEC mains sockets (like most gear these days), switchable 240-120 volts (handy for those American tours) and even carry a spare fuse. All sockets accept ordinary plastic DIN plugs but can also work with the locking metal roadworthy type which Quark also supply in a wide variety of cable lengths.
For those interested in such matters, some current users of the 999, I am told, include Geoff Downes, Keith Emerson and The Police, not to mention several influential studios, whilst China Crisis have recently completed a tour using the 448.
The 448 model comes in at £155.65 plus VAT whilst the 999 is still very reasonably-priced at £260 plus VAT.
Review by Paul Wiffen
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