Way back in 1983, when I was born, makers of musical instruments put aside their differences (if not their competitive streaks) and agreed that adopting a standard they could all use would be better for them, and for end users. The standard they agreed upon was called Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), and this month it got its first update in more than 35 years. What’s the biggest difference with MIDI 2.0? It’s bi-directional.
Dialog(ue) not monologue — MIDI 1.0 only works in one direction, for example, pressing a key on a MIDI controller sends a signal from the controller to a receiver (say, for instance, GarageBand on a Mac). MIDI 2.0 enable signal transmission in both directions. That’s huge.
MIDI 2.0 includes a new messaging feature called MIDI Capability Inquiry (MIDI-CI) that enables multiple devices to share information with one another. That makes it easier to use multiple devices together. And because supported devices can store parameters or preference settings, you’ll be able to simply plug them in and get jamming, rather than having to fiddle with manual configurations every, damn, time.
Backwards compatible — Even more pleasing is the fact that MIDI 2.0 equipment can recognize MIDI 1.0 devices and communicate with them using the original standard exclusively. The danger of updated standards that don’t offer backwards compatibility is they enrage users while also rendering perfectly good hardware obsolete, as Sonos learned, and then corrected. So kudos to team MIDI for avoiding that nightmare.
MIDI 2.0 also supports higher resolution (32-bit instead of the usual 7-bit), won’t require new cables or connectors, provides more reliable timing, and allows for the pitch control necessary for non-western scales.
Standards beat proprietary solutions every time — The fact that musicians have been using the original MIDI standard for 35 years is testament to how good it is. The fact that MIDI 2.0 addresses all of the deficiencies of its frontrunner is testament to the commitment of the MIDI Association, and a reminder of what’s possible when hardware makers focus their efforts on meaningful differentiation that makes consumers’ lives better, rather than creating proprietary standards for the sake of shifting more accessories (ahem, Apple, ahem).