I recently had to set up a wireless MIDI link between a laptop and a MIDI-enabled pipe organ. I learnt a few lessons along the way, so this is partly a tutorial, partly some notes on the lessons learned, and partly a mini review of the devices I bought.
My use case
After a recent refurbishment, the pipe organ at my church was fitted with MIDI ports which can be used to record and play back performances on the organ. Initially, I used a regular USB-to-MIDI cable connect a laptop, and we successfully proved the concept with an app called OrganAssist.
A short USB-MIDI cable is a bit limiting though, as you have to stand around the organ console to play anything back, which is not ideal in church services. I looked for a wireless alternative.
Wireless MIDI is apparently a thing these days. It seems to go by various names, but is officially known as Bluetooth LE MIDI. I found that support for it is inconsistent: support was only added to Windows in Windows 10 Anniversary Edition and it also requires support in the audio application itself. Support is apparently better on MacOS and iOS, but I’m not a Mac user.
My laptop was running a compatible version of Windows, but OrganAssist does not support Bluetooth LE MIDI.
Then I discovered the family of WIDI products from CME which can work in a number of different ways. To be honest I found their documentation quite confusing. WIDI is a trademark of CME, and as a technology it is based on Bluetooth LE MIDI but also has a superset of features, such as being to group WIDI devices together and set virtual patching from your phone.
At the “instrument” side of the connection you need a WIDI device – either a WIDI Master or a WIDI Jack. As far as I can tell, the only difference is the physical form factor. (The WIDI Master is a pair of stubby dongles that fits into a 5-DIN MIDI port, while the WIDI Jack is a separate box that you connect to your MIDI ports with little patch leads).
If you have a Mac, iOS device, or a piece of hardware that supports Bluetooth LE MIDI (there are apparently some synths that offer this now), then that’s all you need.
If you have Windows 10 Anniversary Edition or newer, you can install a third-party Bluetooth LE MIDI driver from Korg, and then you can use apps that support Bluetooth LE MIDI. At the time of writing, this is only Cubase, and I wasn’t able to get it to work.
Most Windows users will need another piece of WIDI hardware at the “computer” side of the connection – a WIDI Bud Pro. This device talks to your WIDI Master or WIDI Jack using Bluetooth LE MIDI, but talks to your PC using regular USB MIDI. It appears as a normal MIDI device and “just works” with older versions of Windows and older apps.
CME WIDI Jack
I chose the WIDI Jack for a semi-permanent installation on a pipe organ that has been fitted with MIDI ports during a renovation. I liked that the DIN jacks were so stubby and short, with little patch leads. Due to the location of the MIDI ports by the organist’s right knee, anything longer would’ve got in the way when the organist got on or off the bench.
The WIDI Jack is magnetic, and it includes a self-adhesive metal plate – so you can either stick it onto a metal object by itself, or you can apply the metal “sticker” to a surface and attach the WIDI Jack to that. You can see in my picture I’ve stuck the metal “sticker” to the underside of the MIDI ports so the WIDI Jack is kept out of the way and out of sight.
The WIDI Jack draws power from the MIDI Out connection of your instrument so there is no need for a power supply. It just turns on when you turn your instrument on.
CME WIDI Bud Pro
The WIDI Bud Pro effectively uses Bluetooth LE as a link between itself and the WIDI Jack, but it presents the connection back to Windows as a regular USB MIDI device which “just works” on any version of Windows. No Bluetooth complexity to worry about. The WIDI Bud Pro and WIDI Jack automatically pair with each other so you don’t need to do anything.
In actual usage, I can only review this in the context of using the WIDI Bud Pro together with the WIDI Jack. Put simply, it works, the latency is low and I haven’t had any problems. The range is better than expected – it claims up to 20m range in open spaces but I actually got 25m away from it in the church without any problems. However, be careful of interference because when I got close to some metal railings it dropped a couple of notes and the timing of some notes went a bit sloppy.
Just a quick demo to show that it’s possible to control a pipe organ from a laptop via Bluetooth, and walk around the church while it’s playing some Bach. Sorry it’s dark… I try to save electricity when working in the church in the evening.
In practice the laptop will be tucked away to one side during services, and then hymns can be played back remotely.