Yamaha MD-BT01 Bluetooth MIDI Adapter

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Yesterday morning, a package from Yamaha arrived.  That package contained the MD-BT01 Bluetooth MIDI Adapter, the sister product to the UD-BT01 that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

As I write this post this morning, I think there are four questions that should be asked:

  1. Why am I writing about BLE MIDI?  Why is it important?
  2. Why did Yamaha make both the MD and UD versions of this device?
  3. Does the MD-BT01 Work?
  4. Should I buy it?

So let’s take a look at those questions, not necessarily in that order.

As for BLE MIDI (Bluetooth Low Energy MIDI), I consider it a format that revolutionizes MIDI interaction with computers (or mobile devices).   I have nothing against MIDI, and I think it is a pretty remarkable standard.  Think about it: MIDI 1.0 was released in 1983, which is over 30 years ago.  Look around your house or office and ask yourself this: what item of technology is still using the same basic standard that it has used for thirty years?

That said, interaction with software and MIDI was always complicated for me.  We have MIDI do things it was never really intended to do (which again, is quite amazing) but dealing with MIDI settings and software can be tricky.

BLE MIDI does two things.  First, it simplifies the MIDI connection process (particularly on iOS Devices).  Second, it removes wires.  Both of these things makes my life better as a singer, player, arranger, composer, and teacher.  It is the single advancement in the past five years (after the iPad) that has real impact on my life.

Meanwhile, there are only a handful of companies doing anything with BLE MIDI.  I reach out to those companies and ask to test products.  On most occasions, companies wish to get the word out.  On some occasions, I am nicely told to “take a hike” (most recently by a company that rhymes with “Borg.”)  I am grateful for the many companies, in this case, Yamaha, that sends a product that I can test.

Back at Winter NAMM (January), Yamaha introduced two new Wireless MIDI Adapters.  One was the UD-BT01 and the other was the MD-BT01.  These both sell in the $50 range and enable a keyboard without BLE MIDI to have it.  The UD-BT01 is a USB adapter, allowing a keyboard with USB MIDI to plug into the adapter (which itself plugs into a power adapter).  The MD-BT01 (the subject of this review) simply plugs into the MIDI ports on the back of a keyboard.

The MD-BT01 functions in a way that is similar to an older product, the Quicco Sound mi.1.  The mi.1 features shorter ports, but each plug is square, whereas the Yamaha MD-BT01 is the same size as a regular MIDI cable.  The mi.1 has three flaws at the moment: it cannot connect to the CME WIDI Bud, the square part can conflict with the back of some keyboards (some do not have clearance around the MIDI ports), and it requires a MIDI port that has a powered pin.  The Yamaha MD-BT01 only has one of these flaws, which is that it also depends on power from a MIDI port with a powered pin.  Some keyboards (particularly those that are older) do not have a powered pin, and therefore the MD-BT01 (or the mi.1) will not work for those keyboards.  I also like that the MD-BT01 has a little more cable between the two sides of the adapter than the mi.1.  This just offers a little more flexibility when working with the device.

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The Yamaha MD-BT01 on the left, the Quicco Sound mi.1 on the right.  Notice the different in depth and design.

I had thought that the longer length of the MD-BT01 (versus the mi.1) could have been a problem when your keyboard was against a wall, so I compared the MD-BT01 to a regular MIDI cable.  It turns out that the MD-BT01 isn’t much longer (half an inch) than a regular MIDI cable, so those fears were unwarranted.

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The MD-BT01 isn’t much longer than a traditional MIDI cable.

The MD-BT01 is also labeled on each plug, having an arrow to show which side goes to MIDI IN, and which goes to MIDI out.  Plug it in, turn on the power, and you are ready to connect with your device (as long as your device is BLE MIDI enabled).

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The MD-BT01 connected in the back of the keyboard.

As expected, the MD-BT01 connects easily to the iPad (remember, you have to connect using a program that connects to the BLE MIDI device, such as GarageBand).  It can also interact with more recent (2012) MacBooks, and nearly any other device via the CME WIDI Bud.  I was finally able to get my old Windows device (Asus T-100) to connect to BLE MIDI devices with the WIDI Bud (I needed to use Notion to do it).  That said, it is time to give that old Asus away, as it cannot handle 64-bit programs (like Finale).

As another tip, George Litterst let me know that there is a program to update the firmware of both the MD-BT01 and the UD-BT01.  You can find that app (iOS) here.  It is an iPhone app, but it does run on iPads, too.  One of the great things about this app is that you can rename the device (if you were going to be running multiple BLE adapters, which is possible).  However, you have to re-rename the device every time you update the firmware (the firmware restores the original name).  Incidentally, George created a iOS MIDI guide for TimeWarp, which may be of interest to you.

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The MD-BT01/UD-BT01 app.

Now: the big question: do you need one of these?

If you have an older keyboard without BLE MIDI (which represents most keyboards), I think there is significant reasons to add that capability.  Right now there are four ways to add BLE MIDI to an older keyboard: The mi.1, the UD-BT01, the MD-BT01, and the Zivix PUC+.

I can’t really recommend the mi.1.  At one point, it was less expensive than other options, but that really isn’t true any longer.  The device is in its third revision, but in my tests I could not get the mi.1 to connect to the CME WIDI Bud (although it does connect to my iOS devices).  Even though it is in its third revision, it still has the same design and flaws as I mentioned earlier in the article.

The MD-BT01 (the focus of this review) is something I can recommend.  Its form factor is the similar to the mi.1, but different enough that port clearance is never an issue.  It comes from a well-respected manufacturer, and is priced fairly.  It works with the WIDI Bud, which mean that you can make a Chromebook, old MacBook, or Windows computer into a BLE enabled device.  The only time the MD-BT01 might not work for you is if your keyboard lacks a powered MIDI port.  In that case, see the Zivix PUC+.

The UD-BT01 is basically the same device as the MD-BT01, but requires a USB connection and a power adapter.  If your keyboard is new enough to have a USB MIDI connection, it likely also has a powered MIDI port, so honestly, I don’t see why you would choose the UD over the MD.  That said, I do have a couple of keyboards that only have a USB port (such as my Akai LPK-25, which is still available) that requires external power, and the UD-BT01 can work with that device.  Like the MD-BT01, the UD-BT01 works with the WIDI Bud.  It is also priced in the $50 range.

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The two new Yamaha BLE wireless MIDI devices: the MD-BT01 (with MIDI plugs) and UD-BT01 (with USB connectivity)

The Zivix PUC+ is a BLE wireless MIDI Adapter that has its own power source (AA batteries), a single MIDI port, and USB connectivity.  The positive thing about the PUC+ is that it pretty much works with anything you throw at it, as it provides its own power and is unleashed from wall plugs.  In terms of negatives, it uses batteries and only has a single traditional MIDI port.  It sells for $99.  If your keyboard has MIDI without a powered port or USB MIDI, this is the solution for you.

Don’t you love that we have all of these options today?  All four options work with iOS.

And again, don’t forget the WIDI Bud, the small USB adapter that turns most non-BLE devices into BLE capable devices (including old iPads, but the iPad USB camera connection kit would be required).  It really works (and is also $50)!

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The WIDI Bud can make your old computer/tablet into a BLE equipped tablet.

Let’s say you have an old MacBook and an “old” Keyboard (with USB).  For $100, you can add BLE capability to your setup without having to buy a new MacBook and keyboard.  In the short run, that saves you $1700 ($1200 MacBook, $600 keyboard).

Back to the topic at hand: the MD-BT01.  Yamaha has made an attractive and pragmatic wireless MIDI adapter that can be attached to your existing keyboard through its MIDI ports to turn your old keyboard into a BLE MIDI Keyboard.  As long as your keyboard is new enough to have a powered MIDI pin in its MIDI port, this is a great device to purchase.

 

 

 

 

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Yamaha UD-BT01

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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”).

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The UD-BT01 connected as it would be used…USB from the instrument, UD-BT01, and into a standard USB power adapter.

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.

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Three solutions, each different, to make a current MIDI instrument a BLE MIDI instrument: UD-BT01, Zivix PUC+, and the Quicco Sound mi.1 (the Yamaha MD-BT01 would be similar to the mi.1)

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.

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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.

 

 

News from Zivix (Makers of the JamStik+ and PUC+)

If you don’t know Zivix, it is a Minnesota company that has made two digital music products: a MIDI guitar called the JamStik and a MIDI interface called the PUC.  Both items are now in their second generation, delineated by a “+”, which add Apple’s Bluetooth MIDI interface to the devices (the original versions each acted like a wi-fi hotspot).

As I have blogged about in the recent months, Bluetooth MIDI is a game changer as connection is a breeze, and you don’t need wires between your digital instrument and your primary device (so far, only recent Macs and iOS devices), all with very low latency.  Currently, there are only a handful of Bluetooth MIDI devices, but I expect to see many more in the months to come–it will eventually be a standard feature in every digital instrument.  But for right now, old MIDI devices need a interface to become Bluetooth MIDI, and that is where the PUC+ comes in.  The PUC+ can be attached to any kind of existing MIDI device by the 30+ year old 5 pin plug, or wit Bluetooth.  The PUC+ was just announced by Zivix this past week (see video at the bottom of this post).

Yesterday as part of Summer NAMM, Zivix announced a new partnership with Hal Leonard.  From the press release:

“We are pleased to be partnering with Hal Leonard, a company that has been a pioneer in the music education industry and one that has helped shaped its foundation with it leadership over the years,” said Ed Cannon, chief executive officer, Zivix LLC. “This relationship allows us to better engage with the music industry by introducing our award-winning products, and associated software applications for music education. Through Hal Leonard, and their strong dealer network, we gain a fresh perspective and potential integration opportunities, as we continue to innovate and offer easy to use tools and technology to allow more people to engage in learning and playing music.”

“This partnership is a result of continued emphasis and focus on providing solutions to our customers that enhance opportunities to bring in new players and provide creative tools for existing musician. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have the jamstik+ SmartGuitar and the PUC+ Wireless MIDI Interface in our product portfolio.” said Brad Smith, Senior Sales & Marketing Manager of Hal Leonard Corporation. “With us working together, we see a long term vision providing a gateway between their technology and our content to have more people get involved in guitar and new engaging options for existing players”.

Put in simple terms, Hal Leonard will be distributing the JamStik+ and PUC+, and Zivix will be able to access some of Hal Leonard’s outstanding guitar method content.  As music as the music publishing industry bothers me in regards to digital sheet music (or the lack and/or restriction thereof), Hal Leonard’s reach is much greater than “just” sheet music, and they already have existing agreements with other software and hardware providers such as Noteflight and AirTurn.

Currenty JamTutor, Zivix’s “linked” iPad App, teaches guitar via tablature (people don’t even know they are learning tablature).  In the “guitar” world, this is a valuable skill.  The Hal Leonard methods (whether the Hal Leonard Guitar Method or Essential Elements–both are basically the same) focus on teaching traditional notation first.  As music educators, we want guitarists who can read both notation and tablature.  So as you can surmise, I am excited about the opportunity for Zivix to bring Hal Leonard’s notation-first content to Jam Tutor.

This is great news for Hal Leonard, Zivix, consumers, and music educators.

(The PUC+ Announcement appears below)