This review is for the Yamaha UD-BT01, available around $50 from many vendors. In a pre-summary, this is a device that needs to be plugged into a USB power adapter, but then allows a MIDI instrument that normally uses USB MIDI to connect to a computer to become a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) MIDI device that utilizes BLE MIDI to connect to a computer/tablet/phone which allows BLE MIDI (a feature found in newer iOS and Mac OS devices). In short, BLE MIDI is low latency and has no cords, which is a huge benefit when working with a computer or tablet.
This review requires me to travel back in time a few weeks, when I reviewed the CME XKey Air and the CME WIDI Bud. After posting a review, a reader e-mailed to let me know that the Quicco Sound mi.1, the Yamaha UD-BT01, and the Yamaha MD-BTO1 did not work with the CME WIDI Bud. I was able to verify that my 1st generation mi.1 did not work with the WIDI Bud, but I could not verify that the Yamaha devices did not work. As a result, I did what any blogger would do–I reached out to Yamaha and asked for a review unit. Yamaha graciously sent out a UD-BT01 for me to work with. It arrived yesterday and I have been working with it for a day.
The UD (can I just call it that for now?) is a USB dongle of its own that is not meant to plug into a computer. Instead, it is meant to receive a USB cable from a MIDI instrument, and then the UD is meant to plug into a USB power adapter (whatever you have on hand–my Apple iPhone USB brick worked just fine. So…the UD is made to receive a USB cable (we call this a “female” adapter) and to plug into an adapter (“male”).
Put another way, this adapter needs to be plugged into a power source to work. Therefore, if you need wireless capability without having to attach it to electricity…the UD will not be your device. If that is the case, see if the Zivix PUC+ might work for you (It is important to note is that the PUC+ can use either USB or traditional MIDI connections). Two examples of potable keyboards where a plugged-in solution may not be best are the Akai LPK 25 or the (original) CME XKey, both which normally communicate to a computer/tablet through a USB cable, drawing power through the USB cable.
Back to the UD, If you happen to have a power source near by (and you will for many keyboards), this adapter is a nice solution to convert an existing device to a BLE MIDI device.
I attached the UD to both my Casio PX 350 M and my Akai LPK 25. It worked flawlessly with iOS, as I expected that it would. The secret is to connect to the device in any BLE MIDI equipped app (e.g. GarageBand, Notion) and then use any other MIDI app. Once the device is connected in iOS, it can be used in any Core MIDI app. (Note: In GarageBand, go to settings (wrench), then Advanced, then Bluetooth MIDI Devices. If the UD is turned on, it will show up, and a single click will connect to it. If you see nothing at all, make sure Bluetooth is turned on in control center,)
My MacBook isn’t new enough to run BLE MIDI and my Chromebook does not have BLE MIDI. As a result, I connected the UD to both devices via the CME WIDI Bud. The WIDI Bud connects by itself to the first device it senses , so you need to make sure that you only have the device that you want to use (should you have multiple BLE MIDI instruments in your procession) turned on. In both situations, the WIDI Bud connected to the UD just fine, and I was able to work with Notion and GarageBand on my MacBook, and Noteflight, Flat, and SoundTrap on my Chromebook.
As for Windows, my Windows device is an Asus T-100 Transformer, and it simply doesn’t work well (It is slow and was cheap. You get what you pay for). I bought that device a few years ago to be able to help music teachers with Windows computers. The T-100 does not have BLE MIDI (and I am not even sure that BLE MIDI is yet incorporated into Windows 10), and the WIDI Bud just doesn’t seem to work well with my computer. Using CME’s WIDI Plus app, I can connect to various devices and the UD shows up on the bottom of the screen as a MIDI device nearby, but I cannot connect to it.
One of the joys of Bluetooth Wireless MIDI is that it takes a lot of the complexity out of MIDI connections. Connecting with an iOS device or a Mac, or even a Chromebook with a WIDI Bud, is fast and easy with no cables to worry about and no messing around with MIDI settings (sometimes you have to select the WIDI Bud as an Input/Output device on a web app, like Flat.io). MIDI was always a pain on my Windows computers (I was a convert to Mac in late 2008) and it looks like it still is today.
The UD works as expected and doesn’t get hot, so I would leave it plugged in most of the time without worrying about it. The adapter is small, and wouldn’t take well to being stepped on. Therefore, make sure the adapter is somewhere out of the way where it will be stepped on or crushed (e.g. We had a floor power source for my old Yamaha Clavinova Baby Grand, so that would not be a good place for the UD to live).
There is a hole on the UD, and I am not sure what it is for. I wouldn’t want to put it on a keychain, but I imagine a number of them could be stored by running a twisty-tie through that hole. $50 is a low price to pay to convert an existing MIDI instrument to a BLE MIDI instrument–so you may find this a good solution for you. You do not need to have a Yamaha piano to use this device. If you have an older Mac or iOS device, or a Chromebook and would like to turn it into a BLE MIDI capable device, consider the WIDI Bud from CME (See B & H, who carries it). As a reminder…an old iOS device will need the USB to 30 pin Camera Connection Kit to plug in the WIDI Bud.
In summary, the UD-BT01 is a great solution if you have a keyboard with USB MIDI that plus into the wall and you want to make it into a BLE MIDI device. If you are dealing with a portable keyboard, this really isn’t the device for you (you can make it work, but you need to be near a power socket), and as Yamaha reminds you on their packaging, the UD requires the use of a USB power adapter (i.e. the brick that likely charges your phone). There was a time that I would have said, “Yamaha should include the power charger,” but USB chargers can be found anywhere and you can likely find a spare one in your home, or it is easy enough to just go buy one.
I love to see all of these options for Bluetooth MIDI, which I feel is a significant improvement to the old way of dealing with MIDI instruments.
A very special thank you to Yahama for letting me test out the UD-BT01, which was introduced at Winter NAMM in early 2016.