A while back my Fizzbin bandmate John purchased a Roland A-300 Pro MIDI Keyboard Controller.
The A-300 Pro is an extremely versatile keyboard controller for either USB connection to a PC for VST Instruments or for hardware devices through its MIDI interface. When John purchased it he had no particular purpose in mind although he does have a Mac full of VSTis as well as an EMU sampler (you may have read about the EMU elsewhere on this site).
I’m not going to write a big technical review of the product as they are readily available on the Net. As you can see it is a 32 key keyboard with 9 sliding faders, 9 control knobs, 8 pads a transport bar, pitch and mod control, a few interface buttons and an LCD with a control knob as the main interface to the computey bits. For all the technical stuff you can visit Roland’s site here.
What I am going to write about is a practical problem which plagued us for months in the hopes that if you’re suffering the same issues you may resolve them more quickly.
Hooking the A-300 up to the EMU with MIDI cables was a snap and worked exactly as expected. Hooking up to our VST Instruments, however, was a different story…
When setting up on a Mac you must add the following ports to the MIDI configuration according to the documentation; A-PRO MIDI OUT, A-PRO, A-PRO MIDI IN, A-PRO 1 and A-PRO 2. Sound confusing? A bit. Once these ports are added you must tell your DAW software about them. Which ports are enabled and which ports are set up to receive control messages. If you’ve been following this site you’ll know that I prefer using Reaper by Cockos. I’ve done a number of MIDI connections to the DAW and haven’t had too much trouble.
To start out in Reaper’s configuration I enabled all the ports with the Control Message option (Enabled + Control in Reaper-speak). Without much problem I was playing my keyboard into Native Instrument’s Monark synthesizer on Track 1, MIDI Channel 1. I found that the A-PRO 1 port was the one that worked while all the other ports didn’t seem to.
I then added a second track containing one of my favourite VSTis, Synth1. I set it for MIDI Channel 2. My intention was to set up John’s computer with these two soft-synthesizers and have him switch between the two via either the MIDI channel selector or the Upper / Lower / Dual / Split buttons on the A-300 Pro. This was all working fine until…
Until I tried to use the MIDI Learn function of the soft-synths. Everything seemed ok with the first synthesizer, Monark, however, I noticed that activating certain knobs and sliders on the A-300 caused unwanted movements of some of Reaper’s controls (pan and volume). The second thing I noticed was I was unable to MIDI Learn any controls on Channel 2.
Futzing around with this problem was an ongoing thing for months but this month I finally decided enough was enough and I was going to figure out what was going on. A member of the Reaper Forum, DarkStar, suggested I put a MIDI monitor into each channel’s Effects Chain and really see what was going on. He suggested a freeware product by IPH Audio Software called MIDIMonitor. This beautiful piece of software showed me exactly what was going on; Although the A-300 was sending data out MIDI Channel 2 it contained messages that were going to Channel 1.
What The Frock?
During the course of my explorations I often visited the A-300 Pro’s MIDI Setup screen. I did not, however, visit the System Setup. Buried in it is a command called OMNI. With OMNI set to Off (as it was) the keyboard will only send CC commands out the Channel that the interface is configured to. With OMNI set to On the keyboard transmit commands on whichever MIDI Channel is selected. RTFM – Page 70.
Now I am able to use the MIDI Learn functions of each VSTi by simply selecting MIDI Channel 1 or 2. I’ve done it with more VSTis at once but 2 is practical, especially with the keyboard splitting options.
Next I removed the + Control option from my Reaper settings on each of the MIDI ports. This stopped the unwanted movement of Reaper’s controls when I turned knobs and moved sliders. I then disabled all the A-PRO ports with the exception of A-PRO 1 and everything works great now.
Incidentally the MIDIMonitor also showed me that my Yamaha Motif XF-6 was vomiting MIDI Clock data down MIDI Channel 1 without mercy. This was causing the unaccounted for timing problems I was sometimes experiencing. The issue is now fixed. I highly recommend this tool for setup and maintenance of your MIDI kit. Definitely worth kicking a few bucks to the author for the time it’ll save you.
So there you have it; a keyboard that was kind of useful due to a bad setting is now a totally awesomely useful musical tool. All from turning Off to On.