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iPad Accessories

A Review of the PUC+, from Zivix (makers of the JamStik)–with Video!

The PUC+ from Zivix

The PUC+ from Zivix

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!

PUC+ on Indiegogo NOW!

The PUC+ (image created by Zivix)

The PUC+ (image created by Zivix)

Zivix, the makers of the JamStik (and new JamStik+) are offering the new PUC+ on Indiegogo now.  The original PUC acted as a wi-fi hotspot, allowing you to connect just about any MIDI device to an iOS device or Mac without cords.  The new PUC+ connects using LE (low energy) Bluetooth.

LINK TO THE INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/puc-plus-universal-bluetooth-midi-interface

If you have followed techinmusiced.com, you know that I am in love with Bluetooth MIDI…it changes the game.

Why would you want the PUC+?  Simply to be able to connect a MIDI device your (recent) iPad or Mac using Bluetooth.  Right now, you can support the PUC+ initiative and get a PUC+ for a great price–making your current MIDI device a Bluetooth MIDI device, without having to buy a new device that is Bluetooth enabled.

I have talked about another device, the mi.1, which is less expensive–but works with a much smaller range of devices.

I was sent a preproduction PUC+ and will be writing about it soon–I have had some issues editing the video that will accompany the review.

Really–if you have an existing MIDI device–or devices–the PUC+ is wonderful (review coming soon) and a great buy (Hint: buy one today).

JamStik in the Classroom

I am very excited to see where this goes. Definitely a blog to follow…

 

http://paideiamusic.wix.com/online#!jamstik-blog/c17y3

JamStik in Education…and the Campaign Continues!

As I said in a previous post, Zivix has always been focused on education, but they have been expanding their mindset from 1:1 guitar instruction to classroom instruction. The video features the MacPhail Center for Music, which is in the Twin Cities (close to the headquarters of Zivix in Minneapolis).

I only have one complaint about the video: it doesn’t go far enough in expressing how the JamStik can change guitar instruction.

As a music educator with licensure in both vocal and instrumental music, I am not afraid to say that guitar should be a part of every high school music program. That doesn’t mean that band, choir, or orchestra doesn’t have a place in the curriculum–but guitar does. This is a scary statement for a lot of music educators, as they fear losing students to a guitar class, or they fear that they will have to teach the class.

The JamStik is uniquely situated as the perfect guitar for classroom guitar classes. To use the device, you do need an iOS Device (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) or a Mac. That said, many schools (even Chromebook schools!) will have a classroom set of iPads or iPod Touches available which can be used with a set of JamStiks.

Once you have a device to link with the JamStik, you have a perfect solution for a guitar class. First, the devices never need tuning. Yes, you eventually need to teach students how to teach a guitar (or do you?). Second, the students are learning with real strings and real frets. Third, the environment is silent, and every student can hear what they are doing, as they would be using headphones to practice their guitar skills. Should you also need to hear what the student is doing, you could use a headphone splitter, or you could look at a solution like the JamHub (no relation to the JamStik) for multiple inputs at one time. Fourth, you can use Zivix’s JamTutor, or you can use other materials, such as GarageBand’s (Mac) guitar lessons, or you can even use a “traditional” guitar book. Fifth, although you need a place to store and charge the devices, the amount of space required is a fraction of what you would need for a set of acoustic guitars (and likely will cost a fraction of the cost of storage units). And last in my list (but not final by any means), the devices are extremely rugged. Our units are showing some scuff marks where you strum the guitar, but are otherwise in perfect condition. One student dropped a JamStik wth the guitar strap in place, and the JamStik landed on the peg that connects the strap to the JamStik. The peg will no longer hold in place on that JamStik, and that is our only mechanical error (and that is because of a student’s mishandling of teh device). Although we bought some extra strings, all of the strings are holding up and show no sign of wear, even though they are being used multiple hours per day.

Another important aspect of “traditional” guitar classes is teaching music literacy, which means reading music on a staff (in addition to reading guitar tablature). When I taught guitar classes, I would always have students who could play guitar and read tabs, but could not read music. Those students actually had to start at the beginning, for a very different reason than other students (learning to read versus learning to play). When they had “down” time, those students would often pull up a tab sheet and play songs from various webpages. The JamStik+ connects via Bluetooth MIDI, meaning that you keep an active internet connection on your device. This means that students will have the ability to access those tab sheets online, as they don’t have to sacrifice their internet connection for the JamStik.

The cost of a guitar and a case for a guitar class is under $200 (make sure to get a guitar with a truss rod…just trust me on that one), and plan extra money for new strings and eventual repairs. Once the campaign is over, I would suggest keeping an eye on Zivix for information on educational pricing, classroom sets, and other solutions. I don’t think Zivix can match “bargain basement” guitar pricing, but I would expect a discount below the $299 MSRP, and the promise of a device that may be more rugged and stand up better over time than a traditional guitar.

In my case, I am not teaching a “traditional” guitar course (specific students in my 8th grade classes are doing an independent study versus singing in choir), but I have taught those courses at the high school level in the past, and I would have loved to have had a JamStik at that time. By the way, every “traditional” guitar class only covers the first 5 frets (or less) of the guitar. There are a few guitar purists who insist that they need more frets (maybe they do), but I would guess that the JamStik’s capo feature would make playing in most keys a possibility.

As an instructor, I bought a Washburn Rover travel guitar so that I could easily navigate a classroom and help students. That guitar was about $120, although they list at $175. How much better would a JamStik have been for those classes…showing fingering using the open play feature on a screen, and walking around the room with even a smaller solution than the Rover.

So again, I have no arguments with the video–I would just love to see an entire guitar classroom, teaching “traditional” guitar classes, outfitted with JamStiks. If you are interested in the JamStik+ for yourself, you can still purchase one at a significant discount through their campaign.

 

Five Years of iPad

It seems that April 3rd is considered the birthday of the iPad. I remember standing in line to buy my first iPad, at the Richfield, MN Best Buy, which is literally in the shadows of Best Buy Headquarters (I had a bad experience with Best Buy last fall, and I have not been in a Best Buy since). If you want to read about my first iPad, you can read this old post.

Since that April date, an iPad has been my main tool at school, thanks to a number of apps including forScore, unrealBook, Notion, and Keynote. In the past five years, I have personally owned four of the six models that have been released…the iPad 1, the iPad 2, the 4th Generation iPad, and just a couple of weeks ago, my iPad Air 2.

So much has happened in the past five years, including wireless mirroring. I remember how excited I was in the fall of 2011 to stream from iPad to a screen without wires. Now there are ten ways to do that!

Many of the technology blogs are celebrating the iPad today, while declaring that “tablets need to take the next step.”

I'm not sure what that next step is. Certainly, a larger iPad (the iPad Pro) would be a welcome addition, and there is always room for improvement in apps (ask any developer, they will quickly admit that they can and will improve their app over time). But as I work on this iPad Air 2, I'm not sure what else the hardware itself can do, and in fact, Apple has packaged more hardware in the last few generations of these devices than the accessory makers can take care of–example? Bluetooth MIDI. The device has been physically capable of this for more than two years, but iOS allowed for it last fall, and there are only a handful of accessories that can take advantage of it.

Sure, a true active stylus, such as the Microsoft Surface, would be a nice addition. That said, I wouldn't want to be tied to any stylus, either. But if you think back to the time where everyone complained about the iPad's lack of a USB Port–the combination of Bluetooth and Cloud computing has taken away much of the need for USB devices (including storage). The greatest flaw in the current iPad line is the existence of the 16GB iPad…no one should ever buy an iPad with only 16GB, and Apple should not be selling that device. Every iOS device should start with 32GB. Period.

By the way, until I can purchase the Zagg Rugged Case for my iPad Air 2, I am using a Finite case that I found on Amazon for $10 (the cost of a replacement screen for the Griffin Survivor cases that we use with our school 4th Generation iPads). My previous case for my iPad, the strange looking but extremely useful Gripcase, is not avaialble for the iPad Air 2. While the Zagg case appeals to me, this Finite case will last for some time.

Five years with the iPad…it is hard to believe it has been that long…but I can't imagine teaching without it. Although I am at a 1:1 where students often take their devices for granted (and some actually complain about the iPads), I wouldn't trade my iPad for any other device in my classroom.

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