Author Topic: DAW and Midi N00b has no idea what he's doing....  (Read 1295 times)

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Offline James Blonde

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DAW and Midi N00b has no idea what he's doing....
« on: April 20, 2020, 11:19:31 pm »

I dragged my old keyboard out the attic - Casio CTK6200 and plugged it into my PC using an old USB 1 cable which seems to occasionally be a bit flakey.  I installed a DAW (Reaper) and seem to have got them talking to each other, but the latency wasn't great.   I figured out the standard way of improving latency and connecting instruments to a PC was using an audio interface, so bought a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (so I could also hook up a mic and my guitar at some point in the future).  Also downloaded some sample libraries to use using the keyboard alongside all this through Kontakt.

Stupid me assumed and didn't look /  realise that my keyboard doesn't have a midi output - only USB, and my audio interface doesn't have a USB input - only MIDI.  My current mic is also USB (Blue Snowball - suspecting it's not that great and should be replaced).  and then I'm just not figuring out how to properly connect everything through Kontakt / Reaper - it's all confusing me. 

Anyone know of any good websites, videos, tutorials, etc on the basics of hooking up DAWs, interfaces, MIDI, samples and libraries, etc?    Anyone got any suggestions of how I should hook all of this up? 

Online Majik

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Re: DAW and Midi N00b has no idea what he's doing....
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2020, 03:02:30 am »
I don't know of any specific websites, although there's lots of information out there on the Internet. I appreciate finding what you need to answer your specific questions can be tricky.

So, I'll brain-dump some stuff here. Some of this you will know and may be obvious, but some of it may, hopefully, help you.

First of all, fairly obviously (I hope) MIDI and audio are different things.

Audio is analogue sound converted to digital samples so that it can be captured/recorded by the DAW. For instance, if you play a piano, capture it with a microphone and an audio interface, then you are capturing the sound of that piano, in the room at the time you played it as heard by the microphone. The audio interface converts it to a continuous stream of digital samples and sends it to the PC over (usually) the USB interface.

MIDI is "note event" information. If you connect a MIDI keyboard to your computer, when you play a note on the keyboard it sends a message to the PC which describes which key you pressed, and how hard (assuming your keyboard is velocity sensitive). When you release the note, you will get another message sent saying that you released the note. These are short (basically 3 numbers: MIDI channel, note number, velocity) digital messages and no conversion from analogue to digital is involved. The actual sound that the keyboard makes (if any) is not recorded or transmitted, only the note-on and note-off messages.

How these are then interpreted by the PC depends on how you have set up the PC.

For instance, you could be running a "soft synth" on the PC which then plays a sound when it receives the MIDI note on and stops playing it when it receives the note off. Obviously in this case the sound will be played using whatever sound devices you have set up, which could be the internal sound card on the PC or an external audio interface.

Traditional MIDI was on a 5-pin DIN connection with separate connections for input and output. These had to be chained together. Modern systems run MIDI over USB which, basically, does the same thing but is easier and faster. Some audio interfaces will convert between old-school 5-pin DIN MIDI Interfaces and USB, but if you have a keyboard with built in USB MIDI, you don't need an external audio interface, as you have discovered.

So there's no clever tricks as to how to connect this all; what you are doing is entirely correct.

When it comes to external audio interfaces the main benefits, are improved quality of the audio circuits (analogue pre-amps, better analogue to digital conversion), often more inputs and outputs and better audio latency. Even if you had a traditional MIDI DIN ot on your keyboard, an external audio interface will generally not give you better MIDI latency and the latency of MIDI into the PC over USB should already be fairly low.

The primary cause of latency with MIDI in this sort of set up tends to be the PC receiving the note information and playing the synth sound. So an audio interface with better latency should improve the audio playback. If you are using the PC as a soft-synth then directing the audio output to the audio interface should give you better results. If it's a Windows PC then make sure you are using ASIO drivers for lowest latency, and play with the settings.

Note that it is normally possible to configure the keyboard settings so that the keyboard's onboard synth makes the sounds as you press keys, and the MIDI notes are transmitted to the PC so they can be recorded by the DAW. In this way there should be no latency between pressing a key and hearing the sound.

It is possible you have the keyboard configured in such a way that you are transmitting the notes to the PC, and then the PC is sending them back to the keyboard to trigger a sound. You don't want to do this as this will create latency. You either want the keyboard making sounds directly, rather than from MIDI events coming back from the PC, or you want to be using a soft-synth on the PC.

Note that for recording purposes, a soft-synth is usually a better option as this can then be "bounced" directly into an audio track within the DAW. That is usually not an option if you are using the keyboard's onboard sounds, at least not without recording the keyboard by connecting an audio output of the keyboard into the audio input of the sound card and recording the audio into a new track. I would not recommend this approach unless the keyboard has some really specific sounds you want to capture. Normally PC based soft-synths are much better.

It is entirely possible that the latency is due to the keyboard. You won't know this without trying another keyboard. Also make sure that you have the latest USB drivers and that you don't have too many other USB devices connected to the same USB bus.

it may also be that something else is slowing down your system, so it's worth cleaning up your computer and making sure you don't have any unnecessary background applications running.

Note you will always get *some* latency. But it should be possible to tune the system to make this so it's almost unnoticeable.


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Offline DavidP

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Re: DAW and Midi N00b has no idea what he's doing....
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2020, 02:16:17 pm »
Ok Mr Blonde,

One of the real pluses of Reaper for the beginner are the tutorial videos available on their site.  Over and above all that Majik shared, you may find some further help here:

Offline James Blonde

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Re: DAW and Midi N00b has no idea what he's doing....
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2020, 03:44:33 pm »
Fab thanks guys! 

I'll have a look at the vids @DavidP

@Majik - thanks for that - yep, makes sense - not necessarily stuff I necessarily knew but all fairly straight forward when I read and processed :)  Perhaps the biggest problem is I don't know what I'm really asking yet! :P  Too many unknown unknowns. 

At the moment the keyboard is connected to the PC via USB, to the DAW as a midi instrument, using samples in either Reaper or Kontakt and audio output to my headphones - latency is around 12ms.  It now kind of works, I'm just not really convinced I've done it right - it all feels a bit bodged, and the whole concept of channels has passed me by!

Reason I got the audio interface was that I'd read something that said I could expect 5ms with an audio interface, but to be fair I'll need that for the guitar and if I decide to get a half decent mic.  Also thought it would be easier to manage inputs if they all came through one place (the audio interface) rather than 2 or 3 different places (USB keyboard, USB mic, guitar through the interface).  Part of me is currently thinking I could send the interface back, but I suspect I'd regret it and need it at some point in the future. 

I'll see how I get on with the videos, actually recording stuff, and if I get any specific questions, come back here (now I'm registered!)

Thanks! :D


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