Griffin MIDIConnect for iPad Hands-On Review

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the release at Summer NAMM of the Griffin MIDIConnect, and that the great folks at Griffin sent me one to evaluate. I have had a chance to put it through its paces and found it did the job perfectly, and even offered some other reasons to check it out. Read on and find out!

The Hype:
Now you can plug your MIDI keyboards and other devices into your iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. Use MIDIConnect’s MIDI IN port to play your MIDI-capable instruments and controllers into GarageBand or other MIDI apps. Download MIDI controller apps and use your touchscreen to compose and perform through MIDIConnect’s MIDI OUT port. Both ports are industry-standard 5-pin DIN connectors, compatible with most commonly-available MIDI cables and connectors.

MIDIConnect is the missing link you’ve needed to open up your iPod, iPhone, or iPad to the world of musical possibilities that MIDI makes possible.

The Reality:
Before I dive into my review, a bit of history:

MIDI is a command and control language transmitted over serial communications wires – it is all about sending commands and nothing about music! But it has been a critical part of any studio for more than 30 years. In the early days you might have two keyboard stands with three synths each all tied together via MIDI control from a Mac Plus running Performer, with everything straining under the weight of just bouncing serial communications around. Now, of course, we can easily send full audio back and forth across wires without great difficulty – but the need for simple MIDI communications remains.

One of the great things about the iPad that is totally absent on Android tablets is Core MIDI (and Core Audio, for that matter). It is a set of standard, system-wide protocols that enable low-latency, high quality music production. What this means is that ANY app can simply make a standard operating system call and access the MIDI protocol – so rather than just having GarageBand for music, we have loads of great apps to choose from. It also means that we can hook up external devices to control those apps. Initially that meant using simple USB keyboards through the Apple Camera Connection Kit.

But recently companies have released interfaces that allow any standard MIDI device to connect to the iPad. I have written about the iRig MIDI, and now Griffin has the MIDIConnect. So … let’s talk about the MIDIConnect!

Looking at the images, you see that the MIDIConnect is very simply in design – a 30-pin dock connector with a 12″ long cable on one end, and a port with two 5-pin MIDI connections on the other. The internals simply route connections from the iOS cable to either input or output. And … that is pretty much it.

Well, except for the details. The first thing is the fact that it all just WORKS. Having dealt with flaky MIDI connections for decades, I appreciate something that works as simply as it should. A MIDI interface shouldn’t ever even register in your brain, it should just function all of the time and stay out of your way. And that is exactly what the MIDIConnect does.

The next important detail is build quality. The connection to your iPad is robust and high quality, with a solid cable connection to the interface. This integrated approach is one less thing to lose or go ‘flaky’. This is because the reality in a mobile studio integrating with non-mobile keyboards and modules is that the MIDI and audio cables are 1/4″ and much heavier than the iOS and USB cables we are used to with mobile devices.

This brings me to my second favorite thing about the MIDIConnect (aside from just working) – it is HEAVY. The port connection block has a non-slip base and is heavy and sturdy enough that you can just put it on top of a keyboard without worrying about your MIDI cabled weighing it down and pulling on your iPad. This is a very thoughtful design that makes the MIDIConnect even more useful for me.

One thing that is ‘missing’ is a MIDI Thru connection. This simply mirrors the input, and is generally used for splitting signals for performance. It is also something that in over 30 years of MIDI I have never used. But while I find it superfluous, others might have a need – so it is important to note. If Thru is important, the iRig MIDI does have that.

Overall I was totally impressed with the Griffin MIDIConnect for a bit until I forgot it was there – which is the point! As I said, a good MIDI interface should just work and never require any thought. I don’t have to worry if it is working; don’t have to worry if it is accurately transporting my commands; and don’t have to worry about cables pulling on my iPad. For me, not worrying is the sign of a great interface.

Here is my hands-on video:

Review: Griffin MIDIConnect

Where to Buy: Griffin Technology Store and Sweetwater Sound

Price: $79.99 MSRP (Sweetwater Sound still has it for $69.99)

What I Like: Perfect MIDI IN/OUT functionality; works great with GarageBand and other Core MIDI apps; solid build quality; weighted base holds firm without slipping.

What Needs Improvement: If you need a MIDI Thru connection you are out of luck.

Source: Publisher provided review sample

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