Music IO launched – first look at Secret Base Design’s new MIDI over USB app for iOS and OSX

Download from iTunes App Storemusic io logoAs I commented a few days ago, while lots of iOS music tech fans work exclusively with their iPhones and iPads, equally, there are many who like to bring together the best of the what iOS has to offer with an existing desktop system. There are a number of different technologies that allow that to happen, whether it is simply running an audio out from your iPad to your desktop audio interface or perhaps running a MIDI hardware connection between the two devices or, perhaps, passing audio and/or MIDI data between the the two via WiFi or Bluetooth.

However, as of the now, that process seems to be about to become a whole lot easier… well, for OSX users at least… as we have seen the arrival of two new apps on the iTunes App Store that allow you to pass bi-directional MIDI data between an iOS device and a Mac/OSX computer via the standard USB cable. This is, apparently, something Apple had not allowed to happen in the past (it was, I think, technically possible, it’s just that Apple didn’t permit apps to do so) but, clearly, a somewhat more enlightened approach is now being applied.

Ooohh...  it glows green and looks lovely in a darkened studio room :-)

Ooohh… it glows green and looks lovely in a darkened studio room :-)

Within two days, two different apps have appeared on the App Store that take advantage of this; Midimux by AppBC (and that I have not yet had a chance to explore – now done) and Music IO from Secret Base Design. Patrick Madden’s Secret Base Design apps will be well known to regular readers here and he has focused his development efforts on utility style apps. In fact, while appearing under the Secret Bass Design banner, Music IO is actually a collaborative effort between Patrick, Nic Grant (Audeonic) and Dan Rosenstark (Confusion Studios) and, as these are the folks behind apps such as MIDI Bridge, MidiBus and MIDI Designer, then I suspect they know a thing or two about dealing with MIDI under iOS.

Music IO basics

Music IO is a tiny 7MB download from the App Store and, priced at UK£2.29, it runs on iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch with iOS6.0 or later. As noted above, at present, communication from your iOS device is only possible to an OSX computer. However, to make this work, you also need to download a small equivalent app for your Mac. This is currently available from the MusicIOapp website but will eventually be available from the Mac App Store.

Music IO appears as a virtual MIDI port on both your Mac (as shown here) and your iOS device.

Music IO appears as a virtual MIDI port on both your Mac (as shown here) and your iOS device.

Having installed both apps, connected your iOS device to your Mac (via a Lightning or 30-pin connected as appropriate for your hardware), you then simply run both apps and they will find, and connect, to each other. A new MIDI port then becomes available at both ends – labelled Music IO – and is ready for selection in software both under iOS and under OSX. At present, this is a single virtual port with 16 channels but, having exchanged email with Patrick, he tells me this might be developed further.

I was able to both send and receive MIDI data into Cubase on my iMac from my iPad.

I was able to both send and receive MIDI data into Cubase on my iMac from my iPad.

And it really is that simple… While there is the usual issues of selecting MIDI ports/channels required at both ends (and that can sometimes be a bit of a pain under iOS as some music apps are not as transparent in terms of MIDI as they perhaps ought to be), you simply select the Music IO port, a suitable MIDI channel number, and off you go. To the user at least, the concept is very straightforward and, the vagaries of MIDI port/channel settings in various other iOS apps aside, there is not a huge amount to get your head around.

I had no problems sending MIDI data from my iMac to various iOS apps running on my iPad, whether that data was generated from my keyboard controller or from (for example) Cubase. Equally, I had no problems sending MIDI data in the other direction so, for example, I was able to run one of the many excellent MIDI performance apps on my iPad (the screenshot shows Chordion but it was also possible with others that I tried).

It was great to have such a simple solution for getting MIDI data out of apps such as Chordion and into Cubase running on my Mac.

It was great to have such a simple solution for getting MIDI data out of apps such as Chordion and into Cubase running on my Mac.

And, rather wonderfully, it also worked in both directions at the same time… with very reliable performance at, effectively, zero latency in the data transfer. No issues over WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity and no need for additional MIDI hardware… very neat!

Music IO for audio?

I can see all sorts of uses for this technology but, for me, the most obvious use will be to (a) send MIDI data out of Cubase on my desktop to drive various of my iOS synths and (b) to send MIDI data to Cubase on my desktop from any of the MIDI performance apps I regularly use for creating MIDI parts. The latter will be a real benefit and so much less hassle via a simple USB connection.

Thor was happy to get MIDI data sent from Cubase via Music IO.

Thor was happy to get MIDI data sent from Cubase via Music IO.

Music IO is, therefore, great to see and I’m sure I’m going to use it extensively…

It would, of course, be even better if I could transmit audio over the same connection. And, that’s exactly what Patrick, Nic and Dan seem to have up their sleeves as audio is promised soon (for iOS7 or later) as an upcoming update. More on that when it arrives…  but the ability to send MIDI data out from my Mac-based DAW/sequencer to my various iOS synths and then get the audio data back from them and into my desktop DAW – all via a simple USB connection – is going to make integration of iOS and OSX music technology a whole lot easier.

In summary

I’ve only had a brief time to explore the MIDI options offered by this first release on Music IO but I’m already impressed and excited about what it makes possible (or, more accurately, how easily it makes it possible as you can do this kind of data transfer in other ways already; it’s just more complex to do and a simple USB connection is a much more elegant solution). I’ll perhaps follow up and expand this post when I’ve had more time to explore…

I’ll also take a look at midimux when I can get my hands on a review copy… That looks to offer similar functionality but it will obviously be interesting to compare to the two apps and any technical differences.

Until then, Music IO is simple to use and, if you use a Mac as your desktop music making platform, easy to make a decision about; Music IO is an inexpensive and absolutely brilliant utility app… and I can’t wait to see how well the audio option might work when that arrives.

Music IO

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    1. I have to be frank – with MIDI LE, Miximux/Audiomux and now MusicIO, times are certainly an interesting! I haven’t dived into MusicIO at all yet, but I do have one question, as if refers to an unfortunate phenomena I see again and again in MIDI for iOS – how many ports (as opposed to channels) does MusicIO actually have? Does it create a bidirectional port per app and device, or does it only have one port, which you then have to reserve channels on to enable communication between apps, devices and OSX? I don’t mean to be negative – its just that so many apps out there seem to try and approach this area by just proffering up one port, inviting configuration distractions…. please tell me it aint so!

      • Hi DF, in 1.0 (already out) and even 1.1 (queued for review) we’re only offering one MIDI port per iOS device. Since we currently allow only one iOS device, that’s one virtual in total. Soon, that will change. We’ve been prototyping with one port per device, and that’s probably the way it’ll go. Thanks!

    2. Bcomnes says:

      Well, FWIW, an iConnectMidi2+ is not VERY expensive and today delivers 4 bidirectional midi ports, 2 physical midis DIN JACKS (2 in 2 out) along with 2 bidirectional audio channels over USB at the same time, all in a box about the size of a pack of cigarettes, it works great with LIVE on PC.

      • @Bcomnes – well said. I have one as it happens, and yep, its been of great use to me since it first launched…. I guess mini-FOMO is just nagging me. I’ve got a 10 port USB hub to hand, and the notion that all of my devices attached could each have their own apps MIDI ports and audio channels available to OS X for integration with Logic Pro X without the need for an audio midi interface…. lets just say, I really want that!

        • I’m one of the 3 authors, and I want that too! I don’t just want it for my own rig: MIDI Designer Pro users are already asking for multiple iOS devices… but we’re on it. It’ll happen pretty fast. It’s not coming out the 1.10 release (queued for review right now) but soon thereafter. Thanks for your patience and interest!

    3. A must have when Windows version is allowed…

    4. midimux creates a MIDI port for each MIDI iOS Apps. On Mac side you can integrate a MIDI iOS App like normal MIDI hardware.

    5. Patrick/Secret Base Design says:

      John — thanks much for the coverage!

      The next version will have multiple virtual ports — we’ll have audio integrated, and it’s an obvious thing to pair up the MIDI port and the audio stream in one chunk. We had talked about putting this in for the initial release, but decided to wait for the audio. A lot of the work that’s going on now is UI tweaking….

      • Hi Patrick…. thanks for your input here – most welcome – and multiple virtual MIDI ports would, of course, be good to see. Even so, it’s kind of cool to see this working so effectively and in such a simple fashion. Best wishes, John

    6. Thanks so much for the article, John. Great depth of coverage as usual.

      The version with audio is queued for review with Apple at this very moment, and we’re delighted with the latency, stability, and ease-of-use.

      Regarding multiple iOS devices: it’s a big priority for the team, and for me personally. It’ll be happening in another release quite soon. I’ve got nearly 10 iOS devices here in the Lab, so I’m anxious to expand my MIDI control to other devices over USB. It’ll be happening soon…

      Thanks for the coverage and the conversation!


      Dan Rosenstark
      Author & CEO
      MIDI Designer
      dream | create | play

      • Hi Dan… thanks for your input here… I’m sure visitors to the site find it really helpful when developers take the time to pop by and provide some background. Really looking forward to the upcoming version of Music IO so keep us posed…. Very best wishes, John

    7. Brandon says:

      hey, quick question:
      the “effects send” setup… music IO only lets you use “instruments” NOT “effects” apps (like stereo designer or crystalline..)
      am i correct in this? most of my “instruments” don’t process audio in real time… so you get the signal from your computer, and the signal from the ipad, just mixed… that is incredibly annoying and if this is the case i hope they are planning on allowing “effects” apps in an update soon.

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