Contents of the SBMIDI.DOC file
SOUND BLASTER AND MIDI
Tom Wiens, Vienna, VA
One of the features of the Sound Blaster is its (potential, with optional
accessory) support for the MIDI musical interface protocol. This opens a
window into a more active involvement with electronic music, one more
likely to satisfy the cravings of serious musicians or music appreciators.
The accessory required is a MIDI connector box, which comes bundled with an
entry-level music sequencer, Voyetra's Sequencer Plus, Jr. (SpJr). The
package can be found discounted to around US$90, about the same price as a
clone of the MPU-401 (the "standard" PC MIDI interface board) without any
sequencer software. The connector box provides one MIDI input and five
MIDI Thru Outputs (though only one short cable is included), allowing input
from an external keyboard or synthesizers ($250 and up) and playback
through up to five external MIDI devices (aside from SB itself). The SB
MIDI interface is not MPU-401 compatible, however. It will not support (or
is not supported by) the great majority of commercial, shareware, or
"freeware" products, the last downloadable from MIDI BBSs. Also unlike the
MPU-401 clones, the SB MIDI interface does not support simultaneous input
and output. This means one cannot record one channel while simultaneously
playing back other channels on external synths (but one can play back the
other channels on SB itself).
Since SB FM sythesis, however much it improves over the PC speaker, is no
tonal match for all but the cheapest of external keyboards/synths, one
could well lose interest in music synthesized by the SB once a means of
connecting a keyboard/synth to the computer is available. In fact, since
SpJr supports Adlib (.ROL), MIDI, and Seq. Plus 4.0 (.SNG) file formats
(READ ONLY for .ROL), it is possible to arrange all of the hundreds of song
files available from BBSs to take advantage of whatever instruments are
available on your particular external keyboard/synth; or you can mix SB
instruments with external voices (e.g., if your keyboard can play only one
voice at a time).
SpJr is entry-level software, with certain built-in limitations designed to
induce you to upgrade to Sequencer Plus "Classic" (at an additional list
cost of $170) or "Gold" ($230). These limitations include: (a) SpJr
neither provides nor recognizes a (time) synch signal and only records one
channel/voice at a time, meaning that it is all but impossible to record a
multi-voice (mult-channel) song from an external synth except channel by
channel, with timing by ear; (b) SpJr includes no sound patch Librarian
and/or Editor, meaning that software manipulation of voice patches (instru
ments) is unavailable; (c) SpJr limits you to 127 built-in and often unsat
isfactory SB instruments and 5 crude percussion tones (compared to some 700
SB instrument patches downloadable from bulletin boards); (d) SpJr lacks
Punch In/Punch Out features (one can re-record from any point in the song,
but not selected bars). Upgrading to the "Classic" adds (a); to "Gold"
adds (b)-(d). These limitations are of no concern if you only want to
edit/play existing song files; but may be significant to one who wants to
really "make music."
In other respects, SpJr is very full-featured, powerful, and easy to use
(the Sp Series appears to rank among the top two sequencing programs,
judging from the numbers of song files found on BBSs; Cakewalk files can be
converted to MIDI with a downloaded utility and played through SpJr). It
really requires a mouse and benefits greatly from HiRes color.
No technical information is provided on the MIDI interface or the driver
included with SpJr, so there is no obvious way to write software drivers
allowing use with other programs -- it is indeed a "black box"!
In short, SB + MIDI box + SpJr gets you into music sequencing as cheaply as
possible, but you may then want to add an external synth/keyboard which
supports MIDI to get really appealing sound (doubling or tripling the cost)
and keyboard input. If you have a good synth/keyboard to begin with and
can do without SB's other advantages (sound support for commercial games;
support for digitized sound/music), you might bypass this entry route, and
add an MPU-401 type interface board (not a sound board) and full-featured
sequencer software at about the same cost as SB + MIDI box + SpJr.