The Dream Becomes Reality
The outdoor synth rig has gotten a welcome update — bluetooth wireless. Before, I was tied by USB cable to the synth and the synth was tied by audio cable to the speaker, so every movement had to be carefully considered so as not to disturb the synth or cables. And it’s been a dream since I started this in 2017 to be able to do this wirelessly, but the technology just wasn’t ready yet because normally, bluetooth has too much latency to be usable for midi. But a new product came out around 2019 that solves one of the big problems, allowing latencies as low as 3ms. But the invention of these low-latency devices didn’t fix everything for me. There were still more hurdles to overcome before I could enjoy the benefits of wireless in my outdoor rig.
Low-Latency Wireless MIDI Invented
First, the wireless product is called WIDI Master and it allows you to replace a wired midi cable with two bluetooth adapters. These automatically connect to each other without user input and don’t require a battery or external power source because they are powered by the MIDI input itself. I got the WIDI Masters early on in their development from Hong Kong and tried them at the time and found them to work well. But using them would only eliminate a short MIDI cable, and I would still be attached to both the synth and the speaker, so I could technically be “wireless” but it wouldn’t actually free me from the synth. I would occasionally use them to connect gear in the studio, but otherwise the WIDI Masters lay essentially unused for at least a couple of years.
Red QuNexus and the New Adapter
But that all changed when I bought the updated version of the QuNexus controller in fall of 2022. Even though they are tough and can even endure a bit of moisture and shock, these controllers usually only last about a year because they are not really built for the hardcore kind of outdoor and travel usage I put them through. At this time I was down to my last working unit, and I always need a backup in case my main one goes down, so I made the plunge. I had noticed most shops were selling the new “red” QuNexus that makes a few hardware and software updates and was introduced to replace the “black” model, so that’s the one I got. There are pros & cons about this new version which may get a blog post of their own, but the main pro is that this one came with an adapter cable that goes from mini-USB directly to 5-pin MIDI. You can see it in the lower right corner of the image of top image on the page. At the end of it is the blue light of the WIDI Master, and there are no longer any wires from controller to synth. But the job wasn’t quite done yet.
One More Door To Open
When the USB cable was connected to the expander box, it also provided power for the controller through the mini USB port. But now the power to the controller had to be provided separately since I had eliminated its power cable and replaced it with a wireless bluetooth device. So I attached a battery pack with hook and loop and connected a micro USB cable to the other controller input for power. And with this, the rig truly became wireless, at least from a controller standpoint. The controller is powered from one side and sends MIDI data out the other side. The expander unit then receives the midi input and transfers it to the synth, without noticeable latency. This wirelessness comes with lots of benefits and almost no drawbacks. Allow me to go into a bit more detail.
What It All Means
Now that I don’t have to be connected directly to the synthesizer, it means I can put the synth and speaker down somewhere, and then walk around and interact with the crowd anywhere in range. This upgrade even lets me lay down a few dance moves during the performance. And most importantly, it eliminates most of the performance-interrupting issues that I often encounter when wearing the synth, like: 1) turning the synth off 2) unplugging a USB cable 3) unplugging an audio cable 4) turning down/off the volume and 5) switching patches. Getting rid of all these problems leads to more interactive and expressive performances that really engage an audience, and with less interruptions. I still always keep the wired version with me though because you never know when you might need a backup. 😉
If you want to see the latest setup in action in Stockholm, go to YouTube and check it out.