Is this the problem-solver iOS musicians hoped for?
FINDING A MIDI interface for your Apple iOS device isn’t hard. Any class-compliant interface (one that doesn’t require a specific driver) should work if you have the proper connector. Numerous mono or stereo audio interfaces are also available, and a few products combine audio and MIDI functionality. Some work quite well for live performance, but I have been searching for something affordable that could make two iPads an integral part of my music production setup. None of the products I’d tried worked as seamlessly as I’d hoped. That’s why I’ve been looking forward to reviewing the iConnectMIDI4+ (iCM4+).
The iCM4+ links Mac and Windows computers with iOS and MIDI devices to form an interconnected system for playing and recording music. It routes audio and MIDI data between the computers and iOS devices, allowing you to play all your hardware and software instruments from any MIDI controller, even if your controller is an onscreen keyboard in an app running on your iPhone. And that’s only the beginning.
Fig. 1. The powerful iConnectMIDI4+ ties together your computers, iOS devices, and MIDI devices into a single network for music production. It can stream eight channels of audio between three connected devices and handle more than a thousand MIDI channels.Connect the Dots The ICM4+ is a sturdy metal box, approximately the size and weight of a hardbound novel. The front panel has a power button, eight indicator LEDs, two USB B-type jacks, and MIDI In and Out ports (see Figure 1). The back features an Ethernet port, two USB jacks (A and B types), three pairs of MIDI ports, and a connection for the included wall-wart power supply.
My review unit came with two cables— one to connect the iCM4+ to a computer’s USB jack, and another to connect it to an iOS device. The latter is a specialized cable with the 30-pin dock connector used by older iOS devices, but a Lightning cable may come standard by the time you read this. (Additional cables are $40.) In the meantime, if you have a newer device, Apple’s Lightning-to-30-pin adapter works.
The three USB B-type connectors (called Device jacks) are for connecting the iCM4+ to computers or iOS devices, and the A-type connector is a Host jack for connecting a USB hub. Two of the Device jacks provide power for iOS devices.
In total, you can connect as many as 19 separate devices if you use a USB hub and network four additional computers via Ethernet. By combining physical jacks and virtual ports, the iCM4+ supplies 64 addressable ports for MIDI data, with 16 channels for each port. The USB jacks supply most of the ports—16 on each Device jack and 8 on the Host jack—for a previously unheard of 1,024 MIDI channels on one interface.
In addition to handling copious amounts of MIDI data, the three devices connected to the Device jacks can exchange as many as eight channels of audio data using iConnectivity’s proprietary Audio passThru technology. Audio channels can be either inputs or outputs, as long as the total number doesn’t exceed the maximum. For example, when streaming eight audio channels, you could have six inputs and two outputs.
Strictly as audio interfaces, iConnectivity devices are unique. Although the iCM4+ has no audio input or output jacks, my computer recognized it as a class-compliant audio interface. Because the only audio paths are from one connected device to another, you’ll need a separate interface if you want to monitor sound over speakers or headphones. I could, however, monitor iPad audio through my Mac’s built-in speakers.
Fig. 2. iConfig gives you complete control of the iConnectiMIDI4+, allowing you to route and filter MIDI data from any connected device to any other. It also provides an audio patchbay. Using iConnectivity’s free iConfig application (Mac/Windows/iOS), you can specify the iCM4+’s sampling rate and bit depth, which determines the maximum number of audio channels (see Figure 2). In addition, iConfig lets you specify the audio clock source, rename ports to reflect what’s connected to them, reroute MIDI and audio signals among the ports, remap MIDI controllers, filter MIDI events for every port and every channel, and quite a bit more.
Each time you change something in iConfig, you must click its Commit & Reset button to save changes to the iCM4+’s flash memory. You can save setups (called Snapshots) to your computer and then load one at a time into the iCM4+. Although the computer and iOS versions of iConfig look different, they perform all the same functions.
Well Connected With an extra iOS inline cable from iConnectivity, I connected two iPads and a Mac Pro to the Device jacks and a 7-port USB hub to the Host jack. On the Mac, I created an aggregate audio device in Audio MIDI Setup to use the iCM4+ in combination with a PreSonus digital mixing console. (If you’re using Windows OS, you’ll need ASIO4ALL.) I then connected two keyboard synths, a Haken Continuum Fingerboard, and a synth module to the iCM4+’s MIDI jacks, as well as various control devices and effects processors to the USB hub.
With my iPads and Mac connected to the iCM4+, I could do things that would have been difficult or impossible without it: I used my Continuum to control all my instruments, no matter whether they were MIDI devices or soft synths running on my Mac or iPads; I used an iPad-based step sequencer to control several hardware and software instruments simultaneously; I layered soft synths on the iPads with hardware synths; I transferred audio recordings from my Mac to a sampler app on my iPad; I even processed audio from a keyboard synth using an effects app on an iPad and recorded it to a track in the computer’s DAW. Sometimes it took awhile to figure out how I needed to reroute signals in iConfig, but everything that was connected to the iCM4+ functioned beautifully as a cohesive system.
The iCM4+ accomplishes everything I hoped it would and more, and it will probably take months for me to explore all its capabilities. I do wish the user’s manual went into a bit more detail, especially in describing possible applications and setup scenarios. Fortunately, iConnectivity has posted a series of very helpful YouTube videos that explore all the ways you can connect devices and route signals between them.
Nonetheless, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the iConnectMIDI4+ can do. It is one of the most useful and versatile additions to my studio since the iPad itself. It multiplies the iPad’s usefulness by making it an equal partner with my computer and hardware instruments, and it’s well worth the price. If you want to use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to make music with your computer, you should get one.
Former Electronic Musician senior editor Geary Yelton lives in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, home to a surprising number of breweries, bears, and electronic musicians.
STRENGTHS Comprehensive MIDI connectivity. Unprecedented versatility for routing and filtering MIDI data. Streams multichannel audio between computers and iOS devices. A real bargain.
LIMITATIONS Requires a specialized cable for iOS connections. Extra cables cost $40.