A Review of the PUC+, from Zivix (makers of the JamStik)–with Video!
This review follows a post I made on Monday where I reported that Zivix has released a campaign on Indiegogo for their latest product, the PUC+.
Zivix is best known (so far) for creating the JamStik. One of the challenges Zivix faced was finding a way to connect the JamStik to an iPad (or Mac) wirelessly. Although some Bluetooth approaches existed at the time, there was no “standard” for Bluetooth via MIDI on any platform.
MIDI is an old standard (established in 1981) that is a way that a digital instrument can transmit information to a computer or another digital instrument. While there has been a little tweaking to the standard over the years, the core functionality remains the same. Put another way, the standard was so well written than another standard has not been needed. As a result of MIDI’s roots in a day where computers were significantly less capable than an Apple Watch, the standard requires a very small amount of data to be transmitted to work effectively. This makes MIDI a good computer process to implement and transmit over Bluetooth.
Thankfully, Zivix did not create their own Bluetooth MIDI solution and instead developed a way to make a JamStik into a wi-fi hotspot for the transmission of MIDI data from a JamStik to an iPad or a computer. In the process, the introduced (and fund-raised) for a device called a PUC, which would act as an intermediary between an existing MIDI five pin device and an iPad or a computer. In other words, the PUC simply adapted the technology that was being created for the JamStik—and if memory serves, the PUC shipped before the original JamStik.
In the fall of 2014, Apple announced a new Bluetooth MIDI standard over Bluetooth LE (low energy) which is found in late-model iOS devices and Macs (my 2008 MacBook is NOT Bluetooth LE enabled). And while a few Bluetooth MIDI devices have been introduced since last fall (the mi.1 MIDI adapter, the C. 24 keyboard, and the JamStik+), the music technology industry has not been quick to adapt to the technology. Apple recently joined the Bluetooth standards committee—and I am willing to bet that Apple’s Bluetooth MIDI feature will soon be available to all other platforms.
Integration of Bluetooth MIDI into existing devices is going to take time (likely the update of existing models or all new models). Zivix (and a few other smaller companies) were uniquely suited to bring these first devices to market. Some owners of original JamStiks and PUCs are upset that their devices are not Bluetooth—but that was never offered as part of their respective campaigns, and again, there was no Bluetooth MIDI standard at the time.
Zivix was kind enough to send me a PUC+ for review, and although I recorded a video review on Saturday, iMovie was not working on my iPad, so I was unable to edit the video until last night. In the video, I connected my Casio PX-350 to the PUC+ for the first time.
The PUC+ really couldn’t be any easier to use—twist off the bottom cover, put in two AA batteries, spin the cover back on, hold down the power button until it turns on, and plug in the MIDI cable from your keyboard.
As I have shown with other Bluetooth MIDI devices:
- Go to GarageBand
- Go to settings (in GarageBand), choose “Bluetooth Devices,” select the PUC+ (it will start with a name that says “ZX”)
- Use GarageBand, or minimize GarageBand and use any other Core MIDI app, such as Notion, Symphony Pro, or more.
- As long as you have connected the device in GarageBand, and GarageBand is in the background, you can use the PUC+ connected device with any Core MIDI app.
While I have been leading workshops at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education this week, I have used the PUC+ in workshops (attaching it to a keyboard at the center), and I even made a trip to Guitar Center to try the PUC+ with several keyboards.
There are several things to keep in mind:
- The PUC+ is a single-directional device—you are attaching MIDI OUT to your iPad or computer. There is no MIDI IN back to your MIDI device.
- Whereas the other MIDI adapter I have shown in the past—the mi.1—is less expensive, the mi.1 does not physically fit in many keyboards. As it accepts a MIDI cable, the PUC+ will fit with those keyboards. The mi.1 also requires a powered MIDI pin from your keyboard—many keyboards do not have this pin. The PUC+ does not require this powered pin to work–but the MIDI device should still be powered.
- In general, I have found that unpowered MIDI devices do not work well with either the PUC+ or the mi.1. This includes my USB AKAI LPK25, an unpowered device that can run off my iPad.
- Batteries on the PUC+, according to Zivix, last about 7 hours. You can use a USB brick to the PUC+’s micro USB slot if you don’t want to deal with batteries.
- Some devices, such as my Casio PX-350, worked via USB MIDI to the PUC+ (you will see this in the video). I couldn’t get some other devices at Guitar Center to do the same.
- Remember that Bluetooth MIDI allows you to connect a number of devices to one iPad or computer at once.
My only criticism with the PUC+ is that they include a Y adapter (this adapter is shown in the video) for USB connections. The PUC+ is large enough that they could have included a full-size female USB port in the back (in addition to the micro USB) for people wishing to use a USB MIDI connection. At the same time, my guess is that nearly every device with a MIDI USB connection has a traditional MIDI out as well, so perhaps an additional port would have gone unused for a variety of people (I have generally learned to trust the designers of hardware and software, and that they know more than I do—but it is still okay to bring up questions).
Do you need a PUC+? Possibly. There are a few keyboards on the market (or coming) that will have Bluetooth MIDI integrated into the keyboard itself—right now, that would be the Miselu C.24 ($279) and the Xkey Air 25 (MSRP $199) or 37(MSRP $299), (hopefully) coming this fall. So, if you want the collapsable C. 24 (which I love), or want to wait for the XKey models—you won’t need the PUC+.
If you have an existing powered MIDI device, you have two options. The Quicco Sound mi.1 might work for you—but it physically needs to fit, and the MIDI ports from your keyboard need to carry a powered pin (not all keyboards have this). And I’m not advertising for the mi.1, but it is available on Amazon for $45. The PUC+ costs more, but there is a peace of mind that it will fit and work with more keyboards. A powered “pin” from the keyboard’s MIDI port is not required of the PUC+ (the AA batteries provide its power), but you may need to factor the price of batteries or a USB charger and longer micro USB cable into your price calculations (side note: Zivix may want to offer this as a “side kit” for purchase). I won’t lie to you—if the mi.1 works with your keyboard, the end performance is the same as the PUC+, but that peace of mind might be worth the price difference. And although I haven’t discussed this with anyone at Zivix, I would be surprised if they wouldn’t be willing to offer a discount of some kind to schools once the product hits the market.
Right now, you can buy a PUC+ at a discount as a part of the Indiegogo campaign, whereas it will cost $130 after the campaign. These fundraiser campaigns have been the center of a lot of bad press recently, as many products never make it to market. Zivix has already put three crowd-sourced items on the market (the JamStik, the PUC, and the JamStik+), and again, for the most part, the PUC+ contains the Bluetooth technology from the JamStik+. I see no reason why they wouldn’t ship the product on time. You are very safe sponsoring a product from Zivix (The goal is to ship in September). I also love the fact that Zivix is a Minnesota company.
In closing—if the PUC+ appeals to you in any way—and if you are a music educator with an iPad or Mac, it should—join the Indiegogo campaign today!