At last year’s NAMM show iConnectivity announced new MIDI interfaces with the iConnectMIDI2+ / iConnectMIDI 4+. While the latter is still waiting on its release (which should be very soon now), the iConnectMIDI2+ has been available sporadically for a while now.
Next to being an all-purpose interface for sending MIDI back and forth between your devices, the most appealing functionality about the new iConnectMIDI devices is their Audio Passthru technology. This means you can have audio sent digitally(!) from and to your USB-connected devices (Mac, PC, iOS). With one USB port (on the iConnectMIDI2+) supporting iOS devices, this will allow you to conveniently incorporate your iPhone / iPad into your DAW as if it were a touch-controlled VST Instrument / effect.
Sounds great on paper doesn’t it? Let’s take a closer look at how the iConnectMIDI2+ combines the best of both worlds.
The iConnectMIDI2+ is a small but solidly built device. The weight and metal housing make it feel like a professional studio interface with an option of mounting up to 4 units together on a single rack shelf.
You’ll receive 2 cables inside the package, one regular USB(-A to -B) cable for connecting the iConnectMIDI to your Mac or PC and one 30-pin to USB cable to connect your iOS device.
Two things to keep in mind is that all the latest iOS devices will require a 30-pin to Lightning adapter as well (sold by Apple) and since the interface is bus-powered, you’ll also require a separately sold power supply for keeping your iOS device charged while connected.
iConnectivity would do good putting a Lightning cable in there as well (or instead of the 30-pin) considering the ever increasing amount of users having a Lightning-equipped iDevice.
Setting up the iConnectMIDI
So, you’ve connected the iConnectMIDI2+ to your PC/Mac as well as your iDevice with the 2 associated USB ports. Now it’s a matter of downloading the iConnectivity software and updating the device’s firmware to the latest version, which is vital if you want a stable performance.
You can change the device’s configuration both through a desktop app and an iOS app (available in the App Store), but after updating the device to the latest firmware (1.06) my Macbook Pro (running OS X Mavericks) couldn’t recognise the device anymore in the app (although it was still available as an Audio / Midi device). Luckily the iOS app has been brought up to par to its desktop counterpart recently so you’re not missing out on anything when you just use the iOS version.
You can dive really deep into the MIDI port routing options for the 2 USB ports and 4 regular MIDI IN/OUT ports on the back of the device, but for me the out of the box configuration works just fine.
For setting up the iConnectMIDI2+ to work along your current audio interface iConnectivity created tutorial videos (Mac example below):
If you’ve set up everything correctly you should be able to route MIDI and audio from and to your iOS device.
I was using Ableton Live with an Ableton Push connected to my Macbook. I set up an external instrument in Live, routed its MIDI to my iPad and selected the iCM2+ as the audio source. While the MIDI came in fine into my iPad, the audio that was sent back didn’t
Audio Passthru Problems
The audio that came back into Live was crackling and distorting heavily. Whichever buffer size I chose in Ableton, I couldn’t get a clear audio signal from my iPad/iCM2+. Since there are a lot of variables that can influence the audio I tried different configurations for both my DAW and the iCM2+, all to no avail.
I contacted iConnectivity’s support and we went back and forth verifying the Audio MIDI settings in OS X, connections and configuration of the iCM2+. Since nothing had a positive impact on the crackling audio I was almost ready to give up on the iCM2+ until someone on the Audiobus forums advised to try a different (shorter) USB cable to my Mac.
So, I took one of my old external Lacie HDD USB cables (picture) and connected the iCM2+ to my Macbook with it. This instantly solved the crackling audio issue and allowed me to use the iPad properly in Ableton Live.
I have to say the iCM2+ is a flexible device for merging the iOS and desktop audio platforms and its Audio Passthru technology (when working properly) is something that you can’t find on any other interface.
The upcoming iCM4+ and iConnectAudio4+ will probably iron out the remaining connectivity wrinkles and be more suitable for power users that are looking to connect more than one iDevice.
If you’re looking to just connect two devices (iOS + PC/Mac or Mac/PC + Mac/PC) and shoot MIDI + Audio back and forth between them the iConnectMIDI2+ fills that need perfectly once you get past its hurdles.