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I have some midi files, and I'm playing them back with Microsoft GS synthesizer. Are there alternative synthesizers or methods for improving the sound reproduction to be more like real instruments?

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Don't use "Microsoft GS synthesizer". You can get used Yamaha MU or Roland SC for very cheap and will have dreamlike sonic qualities compared to the MS GS synth. –  d-_-b Mar 15 '11 at 1:07
    
So that means I would have to buy hardware. I was hoping for a software only solution. –  Alex Mar 21 '11 at 16:26
    
OK, well, there are software only solutions. Next time specify that in your question. ;) I'll add an answer now. –  d-_-b Mar 22 '11 at 0:30

4 Answers 4

Yes there are!

MIDI is a set of instructional codes to tell the synth what notes to play and when. There's a standard ("General MIDI", GM for short) that gives numbers to common instruments, so that the synthesizer can know that some notes for instrument X should be played with a grand piano sound, but instrument Y refers to a violin sound. I forget the exact numberings but that's the idea.

So any synthesizer you might have that implements GM can play back the MIDI data from those files. Many hardware synthesizers have done this (it's really common on keyboards, and I've also seen rackmount synth boxes and even MIDI drum modules that implement GM). I don't know of any standalone software synths that do, but there's no reason why they couldn't. I know there are some synthesizer plugins (Synth1 by Ichiro Toda, for example) for larger audio tools which have a default instrument mapping that matches the GM numbers.

The quality of sound reproduction is entirely up to your synthesizer. Generally a synth tends to have some instruments that it can model better than others.

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It's way easier than all that. Download this app: coolsoft virtual midi synth

and one of the many soundfonts listed there, configure it to and voila!.

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You can get a better synth or use samplers. Audio samples will make your sounds more realistic, since they are actual recordings of instruments. There are hardware units and software (plugin) units. Some sound cards have better GM synths onboard too - this might be the easiest option, but it still won't sound realistic, as it's being synthesized.

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Some of the cards (e.g. Sound Blaster Live) actually use samples for MIDI playback. These can actually sound quite good if you get a good sample set (Sound font). –  jwernerny Mar 15 '11 at 2:19
    
Nice - I haven't used one for 10 years, so I'm probably a bit out of what's going on these days. Maybe they even sampled back then - doubtful though, due to the cost of memory. As soon as I found out about all this midi stuff I started plotting to buy an alesis micro synth module - then a roland jv-1010 - then onto plugins. Recently the native instruments komplete package - loving the Komplete sampler and all the instruments it comes with. –  Sam Greene Mar 15 '11 at 2:27
    
The SB Live 5.1 could take something like 8 Meg of samples, which could be broken into several banks. The other cool thing was you could drive the output all the way up without distortion, something a lot of other cards couldn't do. You can still pick them up for around $10 on ebay these days. –  jwernerny Mar 15 '11 at 2:35
up vote 0 down vote accepted

As you want a software solution, you could try a GM soundfont software synth. For exmaple RGC's SFZ. It looks like Cakewalk (cough) has bough RCG: http://www.cakewalk.com/products/SFZ/default.aspx

It looks like this is still free however.

There are a few others if you look around that may serve you well: http://www.synthfont.com/

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Thanks. So I tried synthfont, but it seems like a standalone synthesizer application. Can any one of the applications you listed above be used as a drop in replacement for GS Wavetable Synth in other application as the MIDI playback option? –  Alex Mar 22 '11 at 19:42
    
So you want to have a piece of software provide virtual midi ports. Is that it? You want to be able to send midi data from any midi software to this virtual sound module? Or are you looking for a VST plugin? –  d-_-b Mar 25 '11 at 3:01
    
I want any midi software to send midi data to the sound module. Right now, I can open any application and select GS Wavetable Synthesizer as my playback MIDI device. I'm looking for replacements that would be selectable in the same manner. –  Alex Mar 25 '11 at 13:50
    
@Alex: From the author of SynthFont, he has also created what you want: synthfont.com/About_SyFonOne.html There may be others. One thing in particular that you may want is a MIDI to VST wrapper app. Then you can use any VST instrument live or with old school MIDI sequencer. –  d-_-b Mar 29 '11 at 3:01
    
@Alex: Here you are: hermannseib.com/english/vsthost.htm On Linux there is JACK and a multitude of goodies. On Windows the selection is a bit more limited. I think that will do what you want though. I also found this: maizesoft.cn/cms/?q=node/11 –  d-_-b Mar 29 '11 at 3:08

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