How To Use MIDI In An All Hardware Setup


Many people are going to look at the recently introduced Novation Launch Control XL as a cool MIDI controller for Ableton Live.

But the fact that you can edit what each knob, slider and button does means that it can be repurposed to do almost anything.

In the video below, Novation’s Chris Calcutt demonstrates using the Launch Control XL as a control center for an all-hardware setup. Calcutt flies through his discussion, but it highlights the importance of the 30 year old MIDI standard and how it lets you assemble complex rigs that combine new and old hardware and software:

In the demo, he uses an Elektron Octatrack to control his Novation Bass Station II and Novation UtraNova. He uses the Novation Launch Control XL to control the volumes of all the Octatrack’s audio tracks.

“This hardware-based setup….lets me generate all the sounds and perform the music using nothing but hardware, instead of a computer,” notes Calcutt. “It’s incredibly liberating: it’s totally self-sufficient and the workflow of the Octatrack means I play it like a real instrument. I just turn on a bunch of gear and start making music; it’s almost playing in the traditional acoustic way. It’s a real joy!”

30 thoughts on “How To Use MIDI In An All Hardware Setup

  1. So… the upshot of this is that you need a $2000 adapter to do what MIDI controllers could already do more than 10 years ago. Thanks novation, I’ll stick with my bitstream when I need to add some knobs and faders… and keep hoping that someone will come up with a MIDI controller with a real brain before it breaks.

    1. – You are right: Novation didn’t make these things for people without a computer in their studio (or live).
      – You are wrong: A 10 year old computer running MidiOx, costing 50$ second hand (add 20$ or less for a 1×1 midi interface) is more than enough.
      Not wanting a computer for music production is fine, whatever makes anyone happy. But tell me: why do you feel the need to spread ignorance? (by saying that it *needs* to cost $2000…)

    2. iconnectmidi is under 200 and does the usb to proper midi handling

      though of course, true midi jacks without the need for this converter business is far superior….like i want to drag a computer just to run midiox or some usb to midi conversion stuff when i’ve already got a table full of hardware i lugged

  2. Wow! Deja vu!!
    30 years ago:
    Ensoniq ESQ-1 with its sequencer driving itself plus an Ensoniq Mirage, Casio CZ-101, Roland MC-202, ARP Odyssey, Korg Mono/Poly and clocking a Yamaha RX5 and TR-606 through a 16 channel mixer with a bunch of delays and reverbs involved. I miss that system.

  3. My MPC has been sending CC messages to others pieces of hardware since 1996.
    This is not Novation. This is barely renovation.

  4. all hardware? i love novation, but no, ya’all need to put true midi jacks on your gear so we can omit the pc and don’t have to buy an iconnectmidi, imho…i still have and love the remote zero sl, no computer required and real midi jacks

  5. interesting that the guy use the phrase “different approach”. Different really?

    I have been using hardware MIDI sequencers since 1989. And I think that actually the computer is the weak point of a realtime MIDI control system.

    Remember de Mackie C4? a perfect controller with LCD screen feedback but the problem that it depends of the old OSX macs to work… NOW it is DEAD because the new OSX version is not compatible with that perfect controller.

    After that and other similar examples we must learn that a REAL professional controller must be a total STAND ALONE CONTROLLER without computer, like que Roland A90 or the Doepfer LMK4+ or the less powerful controller Novation ZeRO SL.

    Today I use as main sequencer and controllers the Roland MV8800, two Novation Zero SL a Roland A70, Roland A500Pro (with additional power supply) and a MIDI patch bay to merge and send all the MIDI signals to hardware synths. NO COMPUTER REQUIRED and nothing “new”.

    1. Not new to you. But then again, Novation isn’t talking to you. There is an entire generation of musicians who grew up with DAWs and in-the-box setups, and the only hardware they’ve owned are various controllers and laptops.

      Pure external hardware rigs were last seen in the wild in the early 90s. This is before today’s whippersnapping young dudes were even born. Hardware is a novelty, computer-cord-cutting is exotic.

  6. It would be nice to have real midi jacks, but these things are ultra low-cost, and then you would also need to sort out external power. If these devices are midi compliant then I guess someone needs to bring out a ‘battery powered USB hub with midi ports’ as a solution for all midi USB devices – if they haven’t got one already?

    1. i’m happy to pay 20~30 more to have true midi ports and forego the need for yet another box just to do usb to midi

      iconnectmidi does what you’re talking about, not on batteries, but it fills the role and is much smaller and simpler than another computer plus midi interface

  7. Agreed! I was very happy to see this when I first saw it, but then I saw the glaring omission and walked away…. a shame!

    And really… why not have both midi and usb?

      1. Nice to meet you too… I’m not an idiot & am fully aware that the unit isn’t high enough in it’s current configuration to accommodate midi cable sockets, but it’s perfectly possible to design something that is high enough… Think about it!!!


        1. Wow… proper smart asses here today!

          Like nobody had thought of or used them before… you really got the mammoths share of the brains hey!!

          Learn some respect boy – you just lost mine!!!

      2. Being a musician for the last 30 years or so has always meant hanging around with good people who were respectful to each other, helped each other out and had a lot of fun making music. We were never disrespectful of nasty to each other.

        I am very sad to see this changing in recent years – it totally sucks!

  8. Ok, seeing this gives me the opportunity to ask some midi nerds some basic shit, that a newly like me needs help with. What is the best way to sync the following – MFB 522 and Microbrute (with beatstep) . Neither seems to be able to be the master clock. Is there a device I can buy that will do tho and be used for added synths etc in the future? Please help!

    1. hi Vulcha
      midi from the beatstep to the drum machine then cv and gate to the microbrute should work,set them to different channels as well as setting the channels on the beatstep to match i.e cv sequencer to channel 1 (the brute being controled from cv doesn’t need a midi channel but set it to 1 anyway),midi pads and drum machine to channel 2 this will give you pads to play the drum parts with,you will have to set them to the relevant midi notes also set the mfb to external midi sync
      hope this helps

  9. Because of the computer it’s definitely not an all-hardware setup. I’ve got a very similar setup with the Octatrack as sequencer/sampler and some other synths. I was searching for a useful and lightweight controller for the OT and had to discard almost every new MIDI Controller.
    Why? Because of the fact that almost every company is only using USB for MIDI.
    I finally got an Arturia Beatstep which does this job excellent. It’s not that I don’t use a computer in the studio. But when jamming or performing live I want to travel with few equipment. A computer USB/MIDI dongle would just be too big. The iConnect is wonderful, but again: one more power supply and another piece to carry around.

  10. The thing is, it is far better to use a little MIDI thru box If you have a whole hardware MIDI setup, especially if you have more MIDI devices than 2-3, this MIDI thru boxes from MIDI solutions are a must then to avoid bigger lagging/latency when your MIDI cables are too long. They also have cheap 2-way and 4-way MIDI thru boxes that work perfectly. I’d also suggest you to use a good quality card with quality drivers for your PC, like RME. They make great hardware, but they also make great drivers and you can’t have one without the other. RME RayDAT and HDSP 9652 that I use both have 2 MIDI outs and ins, so if you have 2 MIDI hardware devices you can connect them directly, and if you have 32 MIDI devices you can use 2 MIDI solutions MIDI thru interfaces and have them all running smoothly and on time. MIDI Solutions makes some of the best quality MIDI devices out there.

    1. Dave Sinewave another recommendation is to use the MOTU interfaces like MIDI merge and patch processor. I love DAW for audio recording and editing but for MIDI recording and playback in hardware synths is the worst experience ever. For me the everyday work must be producing everything inside the box but the enjoyment and use of hardware synths must be in a hardware only environment imho.

  11. This video doesn’t explain or account for midi jitter… The second his setup is ready to be bounced down in a DAW… or even before that when composing if the guy decides to incorporate some clips in live, etc… the ish will hit the fan.

    This guy needs some innerclock systems syncgen in his life.

  12. but then he still uses the computer…..?? then why not just use launch control XL and ableton? Much easier when traveling around and playing….?

  13. Well for the real cheap one could use an arduino with an usb host shield, now the trick is about Novation Launch Control XL meaning once reprogramed does it save to the unit, if so then great. So here is what you need to start to make a standalone usb to midi host for those fun usb controllers.



    Collin’s Lab: USB Hacking with Arduino code

    I have to say the Teensy 3.0 and it’s USB Host library looks good for this also.

  14. I just got a standalone MIDI controller for my Octatrack in the form of a Faderfox UC4. And I have no idea how to set them both up. I am a noob and I need help.

  15. When there is a Laptop in a setup i know instantly that its not just a hardware setup… self disqualification 🙂

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