Review: Primova MIDX-20 Dual USB Host

A small, versatile utility device for the electronic guitarist
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I love my Boss GP-10 because it’s a versatile guitar-modeling unit and processor. And as a guitar-to-MIDI converter, it is every bit as capable as the GR-55, its Roland cousin, with one significant exception: It only offers USB MIDI output. Consequently, the GP-10 isn’t equipped to address external hardware MIDI devices on its own.

The MIDX-20 packs a lot of functionality into a small device.

The MIDX-20 packs a lot of functionality into a small device.

Of course, your computer’s MIDI interface is up to the task, but for onstage rigs, your computer isn’t always an advisable part of the backline. And although there are standalone devices that can transport the controller’s MIDI output through conventional five-pin MIDI ports, few offer much in the way of expanded expression capabilities or can alter the signal flow in a variety of useful configurations.

That’s where the Primova MIDX-20 comes in. It might not be the flashiest gadget in your rig, but its signal routing and merging capabilities are powerful: Sometimes the least glamorous gadget is the key to new channels of expression and flexibility.

With a surface area that's roughly the size of a small smart phone, the MIDX-20 is built to withstand the rigors of the stage, yet small enough to be unobtrusive in the studio. Its feature set is well thought out, with two USB jacks, MIDI In and Out (which can also serve as a MIDI merger), and a pair of analog ¼-inch TRS jacks for control sources such as footswitches or expression pedals. You can power the unit using a mini-USB cable or an 8-12V adapter.

The main objective of the MIDX-20 is to provide connectivity. For example, I was able to go significantly beyond simple note triggering: Among other things, I was able to connect and configure my Keith McMillen SoftStep 2 to send Program and Control Change (CC) messages through to a Roland MBD-1 Bass and Drum module. In order to send MIDI data from the SoftStep and the GP-10, the MIDX-20 can switch on a MIDI merge function.

The MIDX-20 also worked beautifully with my Fishman TriplePlay USB receiver and the SoftStep unit, expanding its MIDI control several times over. Any Class-compliant USB device (meaning no driver necessary) can connect to the MIDX-20, and the unit has two bidirectional USB ports. The MIDX-20 also has onboard MIDI bridge software to control several amps, including the Fender Mustang and the Boss Katana series, as well as the Boss GT-1 and MS-3.

As you might expect from a device with a multitude of functions stuffed into a small case, the visual feedback is sparse. A pair of green LEDs indicate MIDI I/O activity. All other information is communicated by a trio of multicolor LEDs.

There are two ways you can program the MIDX-20 for use with footswitches, amp control, and the various signal-flow modes. The first is with Primova’s MIDX-20 Setup Assistant software (a free download), which lets you store and edit different settings for all of the unit’s features. For MIDI communication with the computer, you must disconnect any hardware MIDI devices in order for the MIDX-20 to handshake with your MIDI interface.

The software only runs on Windows operating systems. At Primova’s suggestion, I also tried running it under several Windows emulation wrappers, including Crossover, Wineskin, and NES Software WINONX 2, with varying degrees of success: Wineskin, a freeware program, seemed to be the most reliable emulation software in this case.

The second alternative to programming the MIDX-20 requires no computer but uses a single push-button situated alongside the MIDI ports (see Fig. 1). The button is recessed and requires a small object, such as a toothpick or small screwdriver, to press the button.

Fig. 1. The little hole to the left of the MIDI ports holds the Set button, which you use to program the device without using a computer.

Fig. 1. The little hole to the left of the MIDI ports holds the Set button, which you use to program the device without using a computer.

The manual offers a menu of short and long clicks for prog ramming. For instance, five fast clicks puts the MIDX-20 in Edit mode, one click increments a value, and two clicks moves on to the next parameter. CCs are entered with values of ten first, then the ones. Between counting clicks and consulting the PDF, this felt like programming through a keyhole while picking a lock and reading a manual.

Nonetheless, the MIDX-20 worked with the McMillen Softstep 2, the Boss GP-10 and the Roland GR-55 without anything more than a brief consultation with the manual, and the unit immediately recognized the input of footswitches and expression pedals. But there is no question that a Mac OS version of the MIDX Setup Assistant would be useful to many guitarists.

Operating-system limitations aside, the MIDX-20 already does way more than the average USB-to-MIDI pass-through device, right out of the box. And at $185, it’s a steal for the control options it offers.

Coordinates and maps MIDI signal flow between USB and 5-pin MIDI devices, as well as expression and control pedals. Solid build.

Windows-only programming software. Programming without a computer is awkward and tedious.


Marty Cutler is the author of The New Electronic Guitarist, available from Hal Leonard.