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  1. Bruno Gaeta
  2. MIDI Connections
  3. Sunday, 13 March 2016
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I'd like to hear people's experiences in managing very large MIDI setups. As a bit of a collector who can never manage to sell gear, I have something like 40 MIDI synths, controllers and processors that I want connected so I can easily play any synth from any controller as well as playing them from my DAW running on a Windows PC.

At the moment I am relying on antique technology to do that as nothing else seems to have the capabilities: everything is connected to 3 networked Opcode Studio 5LX interfaces/patchbays, which are themselves hooked into an antique Power Mac G3 running OMS on MacOS 8.6. For those unfamiliar with these beasts, the Studio 5's each have 15 pairs of MIDI ins/outs but only antique Mac serial ports for connection with a computer. The Opcode software running on the PowerMac gives me total flexibility with regard to connecting anything with anything as well as allowing some quite complex MIDI processing (channel filtering, velocity tweaking, controller re-mapping etc). I am unaware of any modern hardware that offers these capabilities and number of MIDI ports. What's really nice is that the Studio 5's still work as standalone patchbays/processors without the Power Mac. I need to turn the Power Mac on only when I want to reconfigure the connections

In order to connect this rig to my modern DAW/PC I am using an iConnectMIDI4+ with its 4 DIN outputs plugged into the Studio 5's. That works but it's quite cumbersome to do any kind of recording: I have to turn both the PC and the Power Mac on, use the Power Mac to patch the synth I want to use to one of the iConnectMIDI4+ MIDI ports, then choose that port in my DAW etc. Not a good setup for spontaneous recording of impromtu synth jams, especially when I compare it to what was available back in the days of classic Macs and Studio Vision etc where the DAW could interface directly with the synths through OMS.

I am very aware that both the Studio 5's and the Power Mac are already way past their expected lifetime and are likely to expire any day, and am trying to think of something to replace them with that will work both with a computer but also as a standalone patchbay so that I can play the synths without having to turn the computer on. What are other maniac synth collectors using these days for something like this?
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Sean Leland Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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It seems like you have quite the collection! I have a couple of eMacs that are sitting in my studio running OSX 10.3.9 currently and I have not even begun to get these to connect with anything else as of yet. I know they have potential even if they have small hard drives. If you manage to get all of your gear connected, that will be quite an accomplishment. You are not the only one with more gear than you know what to do with. Good luck.
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  1. more than a month ago
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  3. # 1
Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Sounds like a lot of fun! I haven't built a system with that many nodes yet, so I may not know all the details or intricacies involved and/or sought after. Although, I have found this MIDI router that is expandable to suit the number of connections needed, specifically the MIDIX-HD (although the article is based around the MIDIX) Hinton Instruments MIDIX/MIDIX-HD. I didn't see any prices on their site, I think you would need to contact Hinton Instruments for more info, although there is a "view cart" button on the page in that link. Motu also makes a MIDI router, though it is an 8inx8out 1u unit MIDI Router. One would want to find a Rack to mount those units in, I think audio gear is typically has a form factor of 19" wide (there are other form-factors, one is 23", and the other is smaller, with the audio units mounting vertical instead of horizontal - I just didn't find it again). The MIDIX/MIDIX-HD uses an RS232 port to connect to a computer, where the MIDI Express XT uses USB. You could probably find a RS232 PCI-X/PCI card for your computer if you don't have one on your Motherboard/Logic-board (although I would definitely make sure to talk to Hinton Instruments about that.;) )
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I was thinking, the Hinton Instruments MIDIX/MIDIX-HD is a 6u unit: the MIDI Express XT is a 1u. Seems like you would need 5 MIDI Express XT to between 5u - 10u needed depending on how you mount them. I wouldn't want to use all those USB ports on my computer, so I'd imagine that something kinda like this would help - USB to Thunderbolt2 dock. The reason why I would want thunderbolt is because it is much faster than USB 2, so the competition for bandwidth wouldn't restrict performance (bottleneck). I am not sure though, because I don't know how much MIDI data you will be sending, so I suppose it may be possible to get away with a USB to USB hub. I just did a quick google search, and there are pcie/pci-x thunderbolt 2 cards out there.

A quick read and comparison between these two showed me that they are "different" in what they do (or at least in what their product pages are showing about themselves). I suppose it may possible that they are the same or very similar for what you need/may-need.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I just thought that I'd add that Hinton Instruments web-site shows that they build custom MIDI solutions. Sometimes I think if I'd ever want to have something custom built, I'd try to find others who would buy the same thing I would, and order a few at the "same" time, perhaps creating the chance for a volume-discount (I don't know though, most likely depends on how many units or how many features of the custom build are needed, who knows, might be worth a shot).
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Steve Cooper Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I still use an old JL Cooper "SYNAPSE" with my MIDI gear, but I'm afraid it isn't a better solution for you. It is a stand alone device that has 16 MIDI ins and 20 MIDI outs with the ability to merge any 3 inputs at one time. It has some other MIDI processing capabilities as well. I also used to have an Anatek MIDI Studio Merge- it merges 8 inputs to one output- came in very handy when I wanted to do data dumps from certain units into my computer, I just plugged it into my SYNAPSE and used up only one input for 8 devices (the merge device would strip MIDI clock, so don't plug workstations into the merge box). There is now a company called MIDI Solutions that has a very similar device available.

I hope this helps.
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Bruno Gaeta Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Thank you Garrett and Steve. I was not aware of Hinton Instruments. Interesting design. It looks to me like it would work as a patchbay but I'm not sure it would work as an interface. It sounds like the RS232 connection is for configuring the routing not for actually passing MIDI from a DAW. Plus it would be quite expensive: they have an old MIDIX16 for sale on the website which they say is on special and is an ex-demo unit but they still want 1250 pounds for it! They may be interesting to talk to for a custom design as a last resort though but they wouldn't be cheap.
The MOTU MIDI Express XT would work nicely as an interface. As you pointed out I'd need several. I'd need to find out how a DAW handles multiple identical interfaces plugged into the computer. The downside there is that they wouldn't work that well as standalone patchbays when the computer is turned off. Each can be configured as a patchbay however I'm not sure they would be able to communicate with each other - for example to have a controller plugged into one XT play a module plugged into another XT. I guess sacrificing one pair of MIDI input/outputs on each XT for communication between patchbays could work, together with clever patching to minimize inter-patchbay connections.
The SYNAPSE also looks good as a patchbay but not as an interface. And it has the same problem as the Studio 5's: old and impossible to find replacements!

One solution I'm thinking about at the moment is using multiple iConnectMIDI4+ interfaces together with an old iDevice for processing and controlling. I have one iConnectMIDI4+ and it works nicely as an interface. In my DAW I can have up to 16 MIDI ports that can be routed in the iCM4+ to 4 MIDI DIN ports plus 8 ports off the USB Host socket plus 4 ports on the Ethernet/rtpMIDI link. So in principle it could work as a 16 in/out interface plus configurable standalone patchbay (with full MIDI merging capabilities) but I'd need to have 8 devices connected through USB MIDI. I do have a number of synths that accept USB MIDI, and a cheap class-compliant USB-MIDI converter could work to increase the number of DIN ports: I have tested something like this and it worked - although not sure of latency. It would also need 4 devices connected through the rtpMIDI/Ethernet port, and that's harder to do as the only rtpMIDI to DIN converters I could find are the Kissbox ones and they are rather expensive.

But it's still not enough ports so I'd need to get at least a second iConnectMIDI4+ plugged into the computer as well. Then I could use the Ethernet/rtpMIDI port to connect the two iConnectMIDI4+ together to allow cross-interface communication when the computer is off, and it would still give me 8 MIDI DIN ports plus 16 USB MIDI ports that could be addressed directly from the DAW as well as routed internally in standalone mode. That's 24 ports to play with, and some of these ports can be shared between multiple monotimbral synth modules that only require one MIDI channel (so for example I can have 8 synths on one port using an 8 output MIDI thru box). The iConnectMIDI4+ iConfig app is pretty involved and allows lots of routing and MIDI processing (filtering and channel remapping) but the interface can be arcane, it doesn't allow saving and switching configurations internally, and changing configurations on the fly is difficult. The iCM4+ can also be plugged into one or more iPhones/iPads which can provide some processing. I have experimented with plugging an ancient iPhone 4 into mine, running the Midibridge app, and that worked quite well for simple MIDI processing.

But I haven't been able to get an answer from iConnectivity yet as to whether multiple iCM4+ plugged into one PC are recognised properly and the type of latency I would get. I'm also not clear as to whether I'd be able to use the rtpMIDI ports for communication, or if there are better alternatives to the Kissbox converters (a third iCM4+ could actually work for that but it's getting a bit expensive for an extra 4 ports).

Another MIDI patchbay option I have come across is the MIDIbox MIDI matrix. Rather impressive specs - up to 56 ins and 56 outs. But it's only for patching/routing as far as I can tell - the 56 ports are not directly accessible from a DAW. And there's no MIDI processing or merging available. And it sounds like you need to build it yourself!
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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"I'd need to find out how a DAW handles multiple identical interfaces plugged into the computer" ASIO4ALL. that program make a bunch of stuff possible. I don't know if everything talks to it, but they should be able to
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Just an addition, I haven't plugged on those MIDI routers in and see how ASIO4ALL handles it. My context for interfaces was transparent.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I meant, I haven't plugged in, not plugged on
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Bruno Gaeta Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Does ASIO4ALL do something special for MIDI? I thought it was only for audio interfaces
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I don't know if ASIO4ALL is supposed to do that. I am thinking that the way ASIO4ALL works (what little I know of it) would be beneficial "in analogy" in this application for MIDI routers. I guess ASIO4ALL is just a clue or hint.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I am used to the automation of TCP/IP packet switching routers. I'd have to look into whether those MIDI routers have something similar.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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With that amount of namespace (40 MIDI talking electronics), understanding how the central "switchboard" keeps track of each instance/entity ... just thinking aloud.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I don't know if this helps, but after reading through your post, I was reminded of a fact I experienced in my gear/rig: Nonnoticable audio output didn't sound good when attempting to output 8 channels of audio between two usb audio computer interfaces. When I used an interface that had 8 output channels, it sounded good. This is pretty much after MIDI in the process-chain, but could be indicative of something.
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Garrett Christopherson Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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so everything needs to talk to everything, and how much do they have to say each time?
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Bruno Gaeta Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I should try to get some screen captures of my current setup in OMS/Studio Patches to show how powerful it is. That tech is dead now but I suspect that what it could do 20 years ago cannot be done by any modern gear, certainly not with the same ease of use of the interface. I'd love to be proven wrong though

The way my setup is configured is I have 6 main controllers spread around the studio (so wherever I stand I can access at least 2 of them, one per hand). Each controller has an easy way to select its output MIDI channel (using templates or an old iPhone set up with MIDIBridge). The Studio 5LX routers route the MIDI signal to different synths/modules depending on the MIDI channel. Some of the controllers (Novation X-station and Remote 61) have 2 MIDI DIN outs and one USB out so I can control up to 32 synths from them in addition to controlling the DAW through USB. I use a range of controllers because I want to have access both to weighted and unweighted keys depending on the sound I'm playing. I can sit at any controller and dial any synth to play on it.

The routing matrix I set up also has a separate section for MIDI clock so that everything in the studio that can respond to MIDI clock (sequencers and drum machines) can get its MIDI clock from one source. I set this up in OMS Studio Patch editor by filtering everything but MIDI clock from the MIDI out of the clock source and routing it to every device in the setup that requires MIDI clock. So several modules in the setup will get their MIDI clock from one source but their notes from another source and the Studio 5LX merges these MIDI streams seamlessly.

My routing matrix has a third section that allows the synths to respond to the DAW on the PC as well. So the MIDI signal comes from the DAW and the PC's USB port. The iConnectMIDI 4+ passes the MIDI signal to one of its 4 DIN MIDI ports which are all plugged into the Studio 5LX network. These ports are then routed to the various synths and modules. There are only 4 DIN ports out of the iCM4+ so at the moment I have to do a bit of channel remapping in the Studio 5LX. In the DAW I pick an output port (iCM4+ output 1, 2, 3 or 4) as well as a MIDI channel and depending on which combination of port and channel I use the Studio 5lx's route the MIDI signal to the right synth. That's a bit of a pain. When I use the DAW I also need to change the MIDI clock source in the routing so that the synths and modules get their clock from the DAW. That's also annoying.

I also have a few MIDI processors connected to the Studio 5LX network (arpeggiators, MIDI clock generators etc). I can route any synth through any processor in a matter of seconds using the Studio 5 control software on the Mac G3. The Studio 5LX itself can take care of MIDI processing such as splitting keyboards (sending each half to a different synth), adjusting the velocity curves of the controllers for each synth, velocity mapping (sending different velocities to different synths), control change message remapping etc.

The OMS Studio Patch editor running on the G3 allows me to set up all the MIDI routing and processing using drag and drop. Absolutely genius stuff that nothing else does these days. If my DAW was running on the G3, I would be able to address every synth directly by name from it by just selecting it from a drop-down menu in the DAW rather than go through the hassle of picking iCM4+ ports and channels.

So in answer to "how much do they have to say?" - half of the modules need to be able to "hear" MIDI clock. The controllers and the DAW will also send some "normal playing" MIDI data - note ON and OFF info as well as controller info (pitch bend, mod wheel, sustain pedal) for up to 20 tracks of MIDI (but usually only about 5) including chords etc. Nothing huge - I've never noticed significant latency with the music I make with that setup.
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  1. more than a month ago
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Carl Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Hey Bruno. This won't help you today, but maybe in a couple of months. I am working on an application that will allow you to configure as many MIDI ins and outs as you want, and then create scenes that tell the program how to route the MIDI data from any of your input devices (keyboard controllers, DAW controllers, etc.) to any MIDI output. It also has the ability to transpose keys, scale velocities, block, scale, invert or translate control messages (for example change 07-Volume to 11-Swell). It also has MIDI processors to translate single notes to chords, pick out the top or bottom note, put chords from one hand or another player to create harmonies based on the chord for a melody on another MIDI track. More of these toys to come...

You can create massive layers of sounds, keyboard splits at multiple points, and do things like route data from a controller with sliders (for drawbars) to a B3 emulator like a VST that does not have physical controls.

The scenes can then be assigned to Songs, and the Songs can be assigned to Sets. So if you do live gigs, you can change your whole sound from song to song (or song section to section) at the click or tap of a button.

I used the original version of this program when I was playing in a live band and did not want the sound of every song to be the same boring sound. Every song had its own sound, and I could configure my sets for the night before the gig (or during breaks) and have all the songs lined up with their own sounds ready to go in sequence. I even had our guitar and bass players going through Guitar Rig 4, and their sound changed dramatically and automatically from song to song. One song the guitar sounded like a jazz player, another like a clear and twangy rhythm guitar and the next like a heavy metal shredder. And he did not have to do anything; not even tap a single pedal, unless he wanted to, which of course could be done with any MIDI-enabled switch.

The original program was great to use, but difficult to configure and manage because I did it quickly for my own use. Now I am working on the Beta version that resolves all the issues with the first version (which was really a proof of concept) and allows you to configure scenes on the fly and does a much better job in the transition from one scene to the next where the sounds change seamlessly. You can hold a chord from the previous scene even after switching to the next scene, and it will properly release the notes once you let go of the keys or release your sustain. It is really doing great.

I tried to attach a pic of what the scene construction screen looks like so you could get an idea, but not sure if it will work. Hopefully you will be able to see it. Otherwise, I will have a website for the product soon. Before it is released, I will be looking for people to do beta testing on it and you might want to participate. I anticipate that it will be 2 months before the program is ready, and 3 months before it is properly packaged and actually put on sale, but my beta testers and supporters of the project will get Version 1 free.

By the way. I have been involved with MIDI and creating incredible sounds on a live stage for many, many years. In addition to being a musician, my formal profession is software development engineer. So now I am finally combining my two passions to create this MIDI router program for all musicians to be able to master their MIDI instruments on stage like never before. If you are in a studio, this will also give you important capabilities, especially with all the gear you have.

Please contact me via this site if you want to know more about it. I would love to see what you can do with it.

Carl
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Philip M Lodge Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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This can be done easily and with out any fancy, expensive equipment. If I lived near you, you'd not get rid of me helping to set this up, I'd stay for days.

First of all, don't add up total amount of synths. Add up total amount of parts. Even a standard 4x4 usb midi device will get you 64 channels/parts and you only ever really need 2 midi ins, the rest is done via a home made switch. If every synth was 1 channel only, we could end there.

1 midi in is for the 'Keyboards' another is for purely 'Knob Twister' synths. Every midi out of a 'Keyboard' synth is connected to a HM switch, every midi out of a 'Knob Twister' is connected to another HM switch. Connect all the 'Menu Divers', no realtime controls to another HM switch on the 4th input, for the sake of dumping to the PC. Save the 1st midi in for your 'Master Keyboard'. Now you can select which keyboard you want to play via your lil switch and this, through the usb, through the PC, will control the midi device (coming later) of any synth, 'Keyboard, Knob Twister, Menu Diver'. You'll also be able to record the data from the 'Knob Twister' you're playing with by selecting it on your 2nd HM switch at the same time as playing on a 'Keyboard'. Jump to another synth, flick the switch.

One could also split the Knob Twisters over 2 switches and have the Master Keyboard simply on the Keyboards.

Now for the midi device... Any 1 layer synth that is 16 part count this as 4 part, as this can be mapped as a 4 layer, 4 part synths. Most the synths I have are 4 parts with 4 layers. The ones that are 16 part with multiple osc/layers, like the Virus TI, soon run out of polyphony, no need to give them all 16 midi. For example, the Yamaha CS2x with its performance channel set as midi 1, this keyboard uses part, 2,3,4 to make up the other layers of that channel. The other 12 midi channels are single layer. If we make midi 5,6,7,8 be midi ch 5; 9,10,11,12 be midi ch 6; 13,14,15,16 be midi ch 7, turns this synth into a 4 performance level synth instead of 1, simply set the layers voices with init. Midi 2,3,4 can also be reutilised via the through, as well as 8-16 you've now freed up.

With other synths it's a lot simpler. If you have a lot of JV1080/2080's, Emu 1u rack style romplayers, you'll run out of channels quickly but if it's more, Virus A,B,C, Novation Stations, KS rack, Nord Racks, 101's, Junos, Waldorf, Moog, it can easily be done, with each only taking 4 channels max. Many of the older synths being only 1.

i'll just add... It's very likely that i spend more time setting things up than making music, lol.
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Philip M Lodge Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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Cubase midi handling is amazing, the way it sets up external instruments etc.
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Bruno Gaeta Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
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I finally set myself up with 2 iConnectMIDI4+, each connected to a 8 port USB hub, and 2 of the Studio 5LX. The iCM4+'s are both connected to the computer by USB but it turns out they cannot be networked together through rtpMIDI. Each iCM4+ therefore gives me 12 MIDI ports (4 DIN 8 USB, 16 channels each) for a total of 24 ports. I use the Studio 5's as glorified MIDI THRU/MERGE boxes and re-channelers. As you suggest I don't use all the parts available for each multi-timbral synth. 4 parts max per synth is plenty. I then set up External Instruments in Ableton Live which allow me to automatically set the MIDI port and channel for each of the synths.

It works well. The only downer is that the USB MIDI connections on the iCM4+'s hang sometimes. I think it's because I'm using cheapo USB hubs. I'm going to change the hubs and see. Having multiple iConnectMIDI4+'s on one computer is also a pain. Whenever I want to edit the routing through the iConfig app it can take a couple of minutes for the computer to detect the iCM4+'s, and if there is any MIDI traffic at the same time it will fail to recognise one or both of them.

However the new iConnectivity mio 10 looks very promising. 10 ports of DIN MIDI plus 10 USB MIDI ports, and 16 channels each! So a total of 320 channels, would allow up to 8 parts per synth if they were all multitimbral (which they are not). Coupled with the Studio 5's which make excellent MIDI THRU/MERGE boxes so I can feed 14 different channels to 14 different synths, I think it could run my entire rig with no hassle.
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