I love wires. You might even say I dream of them. But it’s time to stop thinking of MIDI as being a wire. MIDI has always been transport independent; that is, it’s a protocol that can run over anything.

Apple has been doing more than anyone lately to exploit that potential, building wireless MIDI capabilities into iOS and (with the upcoming Yosemite) OS X. Now, here’s where wireless starts to look appealing – when you go mobile. Bluetooth is now capable of more reliable, low-latency, easy-to-configure setup than before, which means you might want to wipe your brain of your previous impressions of what going wireless means. We’ll do a full test as this stuff comes out (I’ve just received a PUC, and need to do some proper performance testing). But here are some previews of some of the tricks this setup can pull off. And they all work today – well, in some form, though not always on released software.

“Wej,” at top (pronounced “wedge”), is the most ambitious Bluetooth MIDI-based solution of those here. Cable lovers, it’s blasphemy. All MIDI and even all audio communication from the iPad is wireless, using bluetooth MIDI and AirPlay, respectively. Instead, you use the connector on your iPad exclusively for power. The Wej base station performs other functions, instead:

1. It powers and connects wired USB MIDI devices – acting as a hub for controllers, connecting them to iOS (or OS X) over Bluetooth MIDI.
2. It connects to external audio.
3. It acts as a sticky stand, propping up your iPad and keeping it from slipping.
4. It lights up in disco patterns, synced to your music. (An app controls the patterns.)

The programmability of Wej is perhaps the coolest bit. There’s an Arduino inside, so you can reprogram its functions. Those 48 “ultra-bright” LEDs are programmable. (For instance, you could … turn them off. Sorry, imagining this being slightly blinding in some situations. Okay, you might also come up with cool effects.)

http://preorder.retronyms.com/hacks.html

And MIDI and USB, disco lights aside, are quite functional. You can reprogram MIDI functions, for making your own arpeggiators, filters, and the like. The USB ports are proper USB host ports, so they work not only with USB MIDI devices but gadgets like joysticks and keyboards, too.

I would still prefer cables for recording or rigorous live performance work, but as a sketchpad to keep on your desk daily, or as part of a larger live rig, I think it could be appealing. (I’m also guessing a lot of people are underestimating the quality of wireless performance these days – the iPad’s sometimes-buggy WiFi notwithstanding.)

It’s US$99 on preorder, assuming they get enough preorders, via the talented iOS developer Retronyms.

http://preorder.retronyms.com

Clarification: I’m surprised that describing this with the words “it could be appealing” (emphasis mine), even with the caveat that I wouldn’t want to record or perform with it is something causing some angry reactions.

Let me be clear: there are some ups and downs to this design solution. The USB hub function is nice, but then you have hardware with somewhat crossed purposes. You rely on wireless to the iPad, but you don’t get wireless on the other hardware – when you’re really prefer everything be wireless or for wired hardware to work with the iPad. Second, the wedge design adds a lot of bulk to a mobile device – all for the purpose of adding a light-up display you probably don’t need.

For now, I think a MIDI hub remains a better solution. In fact, the real flaw here is that Apple’s port can’t accept both power and connections. This is a fascinating workaround, but it’s a workaround. If we just had a USB connection that also took power, I think this would be solved – that “rat’s nest’ of cables is still required anyway, until MIDI hardware goes wireless.

But I don’t see any harm in trying an idea, least of all when would-be preorder customers effectively vote with their dollars about whether it should be made. And if people don’t mind having this wedge on their desk, it’s not so bad – and a convenient way to try things out quickly on the iPad if it does spend a lot of time on your desk (without having to sacrifice its power port). I can see why it was made by app developers; some iPad enthusiasts might indeed want this.

wej

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 7.24.04 PM

If you prefer wireless MIDI as a way of bringing together conventional hardware, your best bet is still probably PUC. Using battery power (or USB), you can add the puck-shaped, um, PUC to any existing controller – and you’re free to do with your iPad as you will. It doesn’t have the USB functions of the Wej, but then if you’re looking at MIDI gear and just want to quickly control it from iOS, its tiny form factor and MIDI DIN may look just fine. (Also, I have to say, using Apple’s own Smart Cover I haven’t had any trouble with my iPad mini slipping around.)

Stay tuned for our test.

http://mipuc.com

Wireless MIDI isn’t limited to all this new-fangled hardware. The most convenient application won’t require any hardware at all. You can now route MIDI wirelessly between an iOS mobile device and OS X Yosemite. From mobile to desktop, that means multi-touch controllers, X/Y pads, alternative keyboards, step sequencers, DAW controllers, and the like can all become quick-and-dirty controllers for your computer. That seems like it’ll be ideal for quick control of a computer on the go — sitting on a bus, for instance, you could whip out an iPad mini and play without having to remember cables and controllers. Going the opposite direction, you’ll have an option for sequencing and syncing your mobile gadget from your desktop.

Yosemite isn’t out yet, so developers aren’t necessarily shipping this yet, but early reports from devs have been extremely positive – see the image from Matt Smada, below. (Thanks to Matt and Gwydion for the reports.) Developers have been enthusiastic about both performance and ease of development. And that’s good news – this doesn’t have to be a replacement for wires; if it’s easy to do, it can be complementary. There’s no reason your creativity has to die just because you don’t have the right cable or adapter.

Matt’s app can even connect to other apps that haven’t yet added support for the feature. “Think of it as a route-everything-everywhere app,” he says, in a quick-and-dirty Facebook post on his proof of concept.

mattsmada_wirelessmidi

For more on the feature, you can watch the sessions from WWDC (if you’re a developer). For everyone else, expect more on this soon – particularly as we test real-world performance and reliability.

https://developer.apple.com/videos/wwdc/2014/

  • Marcos

    Wej @ 99 is the perfect price.

  • Marcos

    Wej @ 99 is the perfect price.

  • Wire Paladin

    Cool.

  • Wire Paladin

    Cool.

  • genjutsushi

    Amazing product – could be ESSENTIAL in any studio that contains an iPad. Only criticism i have is that Airplay is a very difficult / slow protocol to use for audio. Ive DJ’d through an airplay system before and it was not nice to have my headphone mix 2 seconds adrift of the main output.

  • genjutsushi

    Amazing product – could be ESSENTIAL in any studio that contains an iPad. Only criticism i have is that Airplay is a very difficult / slow protocol to use for audio. Ive DJ’d through an airplay system before and it was not nice to have my headphone mix 2 seconds adrift of the main output.

  • heinrichz

    Thanks for this great overview, this is just what the doctor ordered. Let me just say having done my share of wiring and cabling in the past, i hate cables now…they always thend to get tangled:)

  • heinrichz

    Thanks for this great overview, this is just what the doctor ordered. Let me just say having done my share of wiring and cabling in the past, i hate cables now…they always thend to get tangled:)

  • ja

    I don’t really see a point in those LEDs. But who am I to say… I have iPad2 and it could never work with it. If I would ever upgrade, it would be rumored 12″ iPad, for which this Wej seems a bit too small.

  • ja

    I don’t really see a point in those LEDs. But who am I to say… I have iPad2 and it could never work with it. If I would ever upgrade, it would be rumored 12″ iPad, for which this Wej seems a bit too small.

  • yawn

    boring

    one for the iSlaves

    • Actually, no reason this has to be iOS / Mac only – just Apple did the first implementation in the actual OS. Peter Brinkmann did this years ago on Android. Linux, Windows also possible.

  • yawn

    boring

    one for the iSlaves

    • Actually, no reason this has to be iOS / Mac only – just Apple did the first implementation in the actual OS. Peter Brinkmann did this years ago on Android. Linux, Windows also possible.

  • Popo Bawa

    …or I could just stick to OSC for more options without needing to buy anything!

    • Well, there’s nothing here to buy, either. And OSC isn’t really an alternative to MIDI for the applications here.

  • Popo Bawa

    …or I could just stick to OSC for more options without needing to buy anything!

    • Well, there’s nothing here to buy, either. And OSC isn’t really an alternative to MIDI for the applications here.

  • tek

    have they fixed the latency issues with wireless midi yet?

  • tek

    have they fixed the latency issues with wireless midi yet?

  • squaretooth

    I’m guessing the latency issue with realtime music apps over Airplay has been fixed then?

  • squaretooth

    I’m guessing the latency issue with realtime music apps over Airplay has been fixed then?

  • Gustavo Bravetti

    Sounds good. By the way, the “iPad moving while playing” issue can be easily solved placing a small piece of fabric underneath, actually the micro fibber that comes with the iPad does the trick. 😉

  • Gustavo Bravetti

    Sounds good. By the way, the “iPad moving while playing” issue can be easily solved placing a small piece of fabric underneath, actually the micro fibber that comes with the iPad does the trick. 😉

  • Mister Pickle

    My pre-order is in!

  • Mister Pickle

    My pre-order is in!

  • C33

    So for using, say, Lemur to control Live, can I skip setting up an ad hoc network with any of these?

  • C33

    So for using, say, Lemur to control Live, can I skip setting up an ad hoc network with any of these?

  • Will

    I wouldn’t get our hopes up for low latency bluetooth audio just yet. Fine for playback and sorta slow ambient/pad like stuff but tapping out beats will likely be frustrating.

    I’m glad Retronyms is going for this. Looks great, helps with an actual problem and will grow once hardware hackers get a crack at it. Lights seem silly, as does limiting it to only 2 USB ports but I dig the concept:features:price.

    Sidenote: Secret Base Design currently offers a collection of iOS apps (and companion AU/VSTs as needed) that cover almost all of this territory (bluetooth audio and midi) for the price of a Kanye download. Worth investigating.

  • Will

    I wouldn’t get our hopes up for low latency bluetooth audio just yet. Fine for playback and sorta slow ambient/pad like stuff but tapping out beats will likely be frustrating.

    I’m glad Retronyms is going for this. Looks great, helps with an actual problem and will grow once hardware hackers get a crack at it. Lights seem silly, as does limiting it to only 2 USB ports but I dig the concept:features:price.

    Sidenote: Secret Base Design currently offers a collection of iOS apps (and companion AU/VSTs as needed) that cover almost all of this territory (bluetooth audio and midi) for the price of a Kanye download. Worth investigating.

  • I have an iPad 3 and PUC, and unfortunately starting with the new CPU and graphical demands of iOS 8 I have started to experience significant latency with PUC. missed notes, latency, and the like. I’m using an Akai MPK88, which is a really great companion to the iPad when everything works because it is sort of like a full workstation at a fraction of the cost, but only when it works as intended… which is less and less and the iPad 3 gets dated. would be nice if the Wej has one traditional DIN MIDI I/O alongside the usb option. Unfortunately with the MPK88, if you are using USB you cannot simultaneously use the DIN MIDI I/O, which is necessary for me because I use a splitter to send MIDI to several hardware synths

  • I have an iPad 3 and PUC, and unfortunately starting with the new CPU and graphical demands of iOS 8 I have started to experience significant latency with PUC. missed notes, latency, and the like. I’m using an Akai MPK88, which is a really great companion to the iPad when everything works because it is sort of like a full workstation at a fraction of the cost, but only when it works as intended… which is less and less and the iPad 3 gets dated. would be nice if the Wej has one traditional DIN MIDI I/O alongside the usb option. Unfortunately with the MPK88, if you are using USB you cannot simultaneously use the DIN MIDI I/O, which is necessary for me because I use a splitter to send MIDI to several hardware synths

  • patrick205

    Wej needs battery power, more than two USB inputs and MIDI DIN in and out. Then I’ll order.

  • patrick205

    Wej needs battery power, more than two USB inputs and MIDI DIN in and out. Then I’ll order.

  • Brent Parker

    What are the main problems I have with music programs? Lack of velocity! The the problems solved with this hardware are minor nuisances.

  • Brent Parker

    What are the main problems I have with music programs? Lack of velocity! The the problems solved with this hardware are minor nuisances.

  • a

    one interesting thing with bluetooth (midi) is proximity sensing. so an app could reconfigure the controls for whatever device you are near (or how far away from the bluetooth receiver you are). distance will probably be the more useful marker for a while with the majority of hardware using hard cabling still.

    it might be nice using like dummy beacons that you moved to to reconfigure the interface though. you know, something to get a little more physical activity into making music if nothing else. like if you moved closer to the mixer it might show you mpc/live style clips of sequences to select or some means of playing the instruments, while if you moved over to an instrument it might switch to mixer faders.

  • a

    one interesting thing with bluetooth (midi) is proximity sensing. so an app could reconfigure the controls for whatever device you are near (or how far away from the bluetooth receiver you are). distance will probably be the more useful marker for a while with the majority of hardware using hard cabling still.

    it might be nice using like dummy beacons that you moved to to reconfigure the interface though. you know, something to get a little more physical activity into making music if nothing else. like if you moved closer to the mixer it might show you mpc/live style clips of sequences to select or some means of playing the instruments, while if you moved over to an instrument it might switch to mixer faders.

  • a

    oh and the leds in the wej will be useful for data visualization… or hacking them with photo resistors or just tapping into the led outs to hook up with other hardware. 🙂

  • a

    oh and the leds in the wej will be useful for data visualization… or hacking them with photo resistors or just tapping into the led outs to hook up with other hardware. 🙂

  • Murdockscott

    Sorry to say it… But I am not likely to buy any hardware from these people. For all the talk of embracing open standards and hacking in this video… That is not the attitude I have witnessed from them in the past regarding their iOS software. Everything they do strikes me as an attempt to lock people into using their environment. Understandable I guess, but not for me. I believe there are work arounds, but why bother… I prefer to suport developers that solve problems, not create new ones.

  • Murdockscott

    Sorry to say it… But I am not likely to buy any hardware from these people. For all the talk of embracing open standards and hacking in this video… That is not the attitude I have witnessed from them in the past regarding their iOS software. Everything they do strikes me as an attempt to lock people into using their environment. Understandable I guess, but not for me. I believe there are work arounds, but why bother… I prefer to suport developers that solve problems, not create new ones.