Very poor timing when triggered from external MIDI

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/27/2011

Loving this software - I've got a well stocked Logic based studio with vintage synths and yet Nanostudio is proving more fun recently!

I really want to integrate Nanostudio on some forthcoming studio projects. So I bought an Akai Synthstation 25, mainly to enable the triggering of Eden from Logic via the MIDI USB connection - turning it into a MIDI sound module (the Synthstation advertises this...). However, this is unusable due to incredibly poor timing inconsistencies. I might get away with this on an evolving pad, but a quantized 16 step sequence is all over the place.

I should point out that this is NOT consistent latency (this could be compensated for by adjusting the MIDI output pre-delay on Logic). The timing errors are random.

I have tried both a 2nd gen and 4th gen iPod Touch. Both with the latest Core MIDI iOS. I have disabled the wi-fi on both. I have used Logic and Pro Tools to send the MIDI on two separate computers and the issue is the same.

It is also exactly the same problem with the bundled Synthstation software, so this is leading me to believe that the iPhone/iPod touch has a fundamental inability to process incoming MIDI with anything near professional timing accuracy.

Now, all I could do with knowing once and for all is whether this problem IS potentially fixable by the software developer like the venerable Blip or whether I need to start hassling Akai and/or Apple for making claims for Core MIDI on iOS (ie 'professional MIDI spec') which are misleading to say the least.

I'm particularly frustrated by this as I work as a lecturer for a large Music Tech college course with a supply of iPod Touches - and I saw Nanostudio with the Akai keyboard as being a potentially very interesting and handy learning tool - but this lack of external MIDI consistency has put me off pursuing this at present.

Anybody out there shed some light..?

Joined: 07/27/2011

Ok, I've had a swift reply from Akai's technical support on this and it's not good news folks...

"Sorry to hear that you are experiencing some issues with the Synthstation25 and iPod touch. The problems you described are normally caused by the Touch processor not being able to consistently keep up with the processing power required to process MIDI information. This mainly happens with iPod Touch and iPhone 3g.

Unfortunately this is something beyond our control as it all depends on the iPod you are using.

The only solution would be in fact to try and use the SynthStation with an iPhone4 which has a more powerful processor.

Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.

If you require any further assistance, please do not hesitate in emailing us back.

Kind Regards..."

There we have it in black & white - all iPod touches and some iPhones are not capable of processing even the most basic MIDI note on/off data.

This seems unbelievable - how did synths and drum machines back in 1983, with their tiny processors, manage it? MIDI information is minuscule in size compared to most of today's data. None of my pieces of vintage MIDI gear (including one of the very first MIDI synths - a Jupiter 6, and one of the first MIDI TR909s) have any problem with processing incoming MIDI.

If this IS true, it is a real shame for great apps like Nanostudio, which cannot at present be treated like the 'proper' instrument that they clearly have potential to be on iPhone/iPod Touch.

However, with all due respect to the guy from Akai, I can't help but think that there is more to it than this.

Please Blip, give me some hope that a software tweak will sort this!

Joined: 06/23/2011

Hi Beatmunga,

This is very sad news indeed for all iPod Touch owners!
I have been looking into getting a Synthstation 25 or a Midi Mobilizer but have been holding off until the Yamaha midi interface (i-MX1?) is available in the UK.
Now, from what you've been told by Akai it seems that none of these devices will give me good midi timing because the iPod Touch is not capable of it! Unbelievable!
I started out using an Atari 1040 ste which I believe had a 16mhz processor and the midi timing was rock solid. So much for progress!!

Joined: 07/27/2011

Quite right on the Atari Pablo, never been bettered for stability!

Lets just hope that this problem is down to how the hardware and software talk to each other, and that if enough developers like Blip and Akai moan to Apple about it they might tweak the iOS in the musician's favour...

Bit of a long shot though.

Blip Interactive
Joined: 04/05/2010

Yes there's been some talk of this before:

In short, iOS likes to get round to looking at what the accessory interface is up to in its own time, and it's only then that incoming MIDI events will be seen. Other tasks such as drawing to the screen, processing touch inputs and (particularly) rendering audio can result in a delay before the MIDI events are noticed. You can help the situation by a. giving it less to do (a simpler song/project) or having a newer device so that the CPU finishes everything faster and hopefully should be waiting for the next incoming event.

I like the comparison with the Atari ST, and it's a tempting comparison to make. I never programmed any realtime stuff for the ST but I suspect the OS let programmers use hardware interrupts and timers to keep everything super-tight, plus the OS didn't have to multitask to nearly the same level. These days, iOS will 'shield' applications from most hardware level events and so there's a level of software in between - and that means longer and more variable latencies.

Note that iOS appears to give Core MIDI a more direct route to the app than it does with the accessory interface, and I believe that most accessory manufacturers will shift to using this method on the next generation of interfaces.

Joined: 07/27/2011

Thanks Blip - for the reply if not the info, which makes me lose much enthusiasm for the Synthstation I just bought, plus the brand new iPod Touch, and with it, your potentially very useable app which was a big factor in purchasing both.

I sent another email to Akai - very similar to my last one above querying whether Core MIDI etc on iOS is just hot air if the iPod Touch cannot handle the input, and why Akai 'bigged up' the inclusion of Core MIDI on the latest version of the software in light of its uselessness at handling input MIDI. This is what I got from the after sales support advisor for Numark/Akai Europe:

"I recommend you put the iPod Touch into Flight mode and make sure you have plenty of free space in its internal disk. This usually improves performance.

Although we have had a few queries about the responsiveness and latency issues of the unit, it generally hasn't been anything that has been reported to deem the unit unusable. If you think that the correct functionality of the SynthStation is incorrect, then you are entitled to get it replaced or repaired. It may be a case that you have a faulty unit. Please get in contact with the store where you purchased it from if this is the case.

Kind Regards.."

I get the impression he wants me to get my money back and stop drawing attention to his company's potentially massive and embarrassing blunder of developing products for a platform that will never be able to support them in the advertised way...

Having said that, I'm willing to concede that there is a slim chance the unit is faulty. But I need some help on this. Can someone out there with a Synthstation 25 and Nanostudio make a simple drum pattern on a software sequencer to trigger Nano's drums (I recommend a simple kick/snare on the beats with 16th step closed hi-hats as a good indicator of solidity), and maybe a simple 3 or 4 note rhythmic chord stab on another channel triggering an Eden? And then tell me that yours is tight as a gnats chuff in terms of timing? Then I can go back to the shop and get a replacement and all is well with the world.

The fact that no one else on the tinterwebs has highlighted this problem either means that my unit IS faulty, or that no one is bothering to integrate these powerful apps into anything like a professional music creation system, and the problem goes unnoticed.

If the latter then this is tragic. Surely these apps deserve more than being standalone toys? I want to make Nanostudio a central part of a commissioned remix I am working on right now, perhaps posting a demo/tutorial video on YouTube proving this app has played an important role in the production process. And I can't. And by the looks of it, neither can anyone else for the foreseeable future.

Does this hobbling of your app's potential not worry you Blip?

Blip Interactive
Joined: 04/05/2010

I have to say that I'm surprised you're getting this problem so badly with a simple pad pattern and some 4 note chords, particularly on new hardware. You have to have quite a lot more going on before you run into problems.

The only other thing I can add from a NanoStudio perspective is to ensure that the 'Maximize audio CPU' option under MANAGE/Settings is unchecked. However, this shouldn't make a difference is there's not much going on in your song and you said that you get the same issues in SynthStation, which is why I didn't mention it before.