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My older synths (JX-8P, Juno 106, and DX7) all had MIDI in, out, and thru. But my Nord stage and Little Phatty only have In and Out.

Was this an intentional design change in the industry?

Did Thru functionality get moved to the Out?

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MIDI thru echoes data received at the MIDI in.

Did Thru functionality get moved to the Out?

MIDI thru's functionality did not get moved to MIDI out. MIDI out only transmits information from that particular device.

Was this an intentional design change in the industry?

MIDI thru has gone away for a couple of reasons.

Latency

The problem with MIDI thru after a few iterations is latency.

If you have only one or two devices, then it's imperceptible, but after a half dozen? Timing issues start to come into play. Misbehaving devices, with poor MIDI thru, can really throw a wrench into the gears of time.

Business

A more cynical problem with MIDI thru is that it makes more business sense to sell more devices (e.g. a MIDI patch bay) instead of including functionality, as flawed as it is, onboard the equipment. The port takes up room, implementation adds expense, et. al.

If you have more than a couple of pieces of MIDI kit, then either a MIDI interface with multiple outputs or a dedicated MIDI patch bay is preferable to daisy chaining via MIDI thru.

  • Beat me to it - was pretty much going to say the same thing… so I'll not bother now ;-) +1 [incidentally, I once had a DX7 without any Midi at all - pre-production model;) – Tetsujin Feb 27 '15 at 17:46
  • I was hoping that there was some sort of cut-through technique used in new implementations. Guess not! Thanks for the answer. – derjur Feb 28 '15 at 2:01
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MIDI is an ancient technology. I mean, 7 bits, seriously??... IMO it's obsolete entirely, but the continued popularity of MIDI tracks and the universal compatibility (with no serious competition) means it will remain relevant for years to come, as a digital standard.

However, that's only the software part. On the hardware side, there is another standard with near-universal compatibility: USB. That can be used just as well for transmitting the MIDI data, and is superior to the old DIN plugs in, almost literally, every sense:

  • It can easily handle the bandwidth of a normal MIDI connection (or multiple – I mean not just the 16 channels but possibly a whole bunch of entire 16-chn MIDI streams). And it won't immediately get into trouble when you try to merge two busy streams of controller messages.
  • It can also transmit non-MIDI information in real time (with direct protocols, rather than awkward controller-encoding or SysEx hacks).
  • Power supply built-in.
  • It allows you to identify devices by name, rather than channel number
  • Its connectors are more robust & safe (if still nowhere near as rugged as XLR, alas...).
  • Slightly more stable WRT to interference in long cables (though USB isn't really made for long lines either; there are now ethernet-based standards which can work over hundreds of yards, if you need that).

The single “benefit” of DIN is: the devices don't even notice it when you unplug the MIDI, so you can hot-swap anything. But that's technically horrible, and often leads to stuck notes etc.. Better change the routing in software.

So this is now the reasonable thing to do: connect every MIDI device via USB, rather than DIN-MIDI.

This leaves the DIN plugs as only a backup: use them if you quickly want to set up a single connection between devices from the pre-USB age. For anything more complex, forget about DIN – if a device doesn't have USB, glue a cheap USB-MIDI interface to it.

But daisy chains of DIN cables to connect devices via MIDI-THRU? Definitely obsolete.

  • Though I agree with your answer entirely, it still leaves the problem of what to do with old Midi-only gear. Solution, USB->Midi interface, cheap as chips. Routing via computer, as you essentially mentioned above. – Tetsujin Feb 28 '15 at 11:55
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1) I own a synth with the same problem but solved it by some research. On this on-line manual (http://www.manualslib.com/manual/341329/Yamaha-Mu10.html?page=15) it says ...'Since data received via the TO HOST terminal is relayed to the MIDI OUT terminal, you can connect an external tone generator to the MIDI OUT terminal..." So my point is that on some synths (as on my Yamaha MU10) even though the MIDI out port is labelled as such it also echoes the MIDI data that enters the synth's TO HOST input.

2) This is true for your NORD STAGE synth, according to http://www.norduserforum.com/nord-stage-2-midi-thru-t6459.html site, posted Postby smullins » 20 Feb 2014, 16:13 From page 45 of the manual:

Extern MIDI Soft Thru

Incoming MIDI that matches the Global or Slot A/B channels can be re-routed on the Extern channel to the Stage 2’s MIDI OUT jack or the USB interface, if the Extern section is active on the current Program. This setting determines if this re-routing should apply or not. Range: Off (Default), On So not quite a full MIDI thru (not all channels) but may work depending on your situation.

3) Your question made me remember the days I taught MIDI at a couple of London FE colleges - I made a poem that read 'what goes in the midi in goes out the midi thru, but what comes out the midi out is only what you do (i.e. pressing buttons on or sending sysex from the device itself)'. thanks

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The likely answer to the question (as opposed to a debate regarding benefits of this or that data bus standard) is likely that the cost of implementing a star topology MIDI setup, as opposed to one which is daisy chained, has fallen below the threshold where it was in the interests of manufacturers to universally support the latter.

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Was this an intentional design change in the industry?

No. It did however follow the general trend of computers becoming the centerpiece of music production, relying less on multi-device synth setups and daisy-chaining those using thru. With a DAW running everything, and a multi-port MIDI interface, you get a more convenient experience than MIDI thru because of:

  1. no need to fiddle with MIDI channels, each device gets its own port on the computer and can be run in omni mode
  2. bypassing the fact that MIDI thru copies IN to THRU without intermixing built-in keyboard etc. on the device in question - thus only really useful for chaining outgoing MIDI
  3. no worries about signal degradation. MIDI thru is generally implemented in hardware with optocouplers (also see answer to the other question below), which means that there is no latency worth worrying about as is commonly incorrectly told. However, due to using optocouplers and not digital logic for the thru feature there will be signal degradation, which adds up over several devices to a point where errors might be introduced in the MIDI stream. Still not latency, but data errors, leading to dropped notes etc.

These days, USB MIDI is sort of the next step in that trend of computers (and eventually phones and mobile devices) becoming more important in electronic music, and accordingly we're seeing 5-pin MIDI going away entirely or being replaced with some kind of optional breakout connector - cf. KORG Electribe 2 or Yamaha Reface series.

Did Thru functionality get moved to the Out?

Some devices offer a "soft thru" feature where IN can be routed to OUT, sometimes as a replacement to the thru port, sometimes in addition. Soft thru has an advantage in that the instrument's OUT gets mixed into the stream, which does not happen with hardware thru (see point 2. above). The most straightforward way to implement soft thru is as part of the instrument's software, and hence not optocoupled. Thus it's subject to drift and/or latency - though if one is concerned with latency it should always be measured in practice and not assumed based on the supposed design of the instrument.

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If one wanted to have three MIDI devices operated off a MIDI keyboard, there would be three ways that could be accomplished:

  1. Have the controlling keyboard include three MIDI output jacks.

  2. Have at least two of the devices include "thru" jacks.

  3. Have the controlling keyboard include one MIDI output jack which is fed into a repeater box that has one input and at least three outputs.

Approach #2 could easily accommodate up to 15 devices without them having to know or care about how many other devices were in the chain. Approach #1 would require that the controlling device make explicit provision for the number of devices to be used, and #3 would require having an extra box to haul around the stage.

If the devices that were used as MIDI controllers would also frequently used as stand-alone instruments, as designers thought would be the case, it wouldn't have made sense to include multiple output jacks. If, however, one doesn't use MIDI as a means of connecting instruments to each other, but rather as a means of connecting instruments to a purpose-built controller, then it makes a lot more sense for that controller to include as many jacks as needed to connect directly to each instrument, than to have instruments include "thru" jacks.

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