MIDI 2.0: a Brief (and Simple) Guide

by | Jan 31, 2021 | Hardware, Software, Tech | 0 comments

MIDI 2.0 was a major conversation starter during the National Association of Music Merchants’ (NAMM) Believe in Music Week virtual conference. This significant update to the 35-year old technical standard by The MIDI Association is a welcome innovation to an ever-growing market of MIDI instruments.

MIDI 2.0 provides faster and clearer communication environments between digital instruments and software, and more expressive control over singular notes. Selector has set out to explain the basics of MIDI 2.0 and the future of MIDI instruments as the new standard becomes more available.

MIDI 1.0 History

The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technical standard was introduced in 1985 as an answer to synchronizing instruments from different companies. MIDI allows musicians to use electronic sounds in songs with perfect timing and create complex arrangements with little notation expertise.

In 1983, founders Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits and Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland along with Korg, Yamaha, Moog and Kawai agreed to use MIDI 1.0 in all of their future products.

MIDI’s inception came with the rise of of home computing, samplers and digital synthesizers. That powerful timeline of inventions and innovations also brought a new generation of music makers to the forefront.

The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA), founded in 1983, oversees the standards for full MIDI compatibility among all devices. In 2016 the MMA rebranded as The MIDI Association, a community that connects artists and developers using MIDI technology worldwide.

The Association adopted the complete suite of MIDI 2.0 specifications in their annual 2020 meeting. MIDI 2.0 was then unveiled at Anaheim’s winter NAMM conference in 2020, still in its final development stages.


How MIDI 2.0 Works

MIDI 2.0’s connectivity sets a groundbreaking new standard due to its intelligent design.

The MIDI 1.0 standard uses a basic “monologue,” meaning one device simply recognizes the other is MIDI capable when connected. In other words, the device can only send or receive data – not both. This can make for tedium in the studio, with engineers and producers having to find and program all knobs and controls manually.

MIDI 2.0 devices, however, “speak” to each other in a dialogue called MIDI-Capability Inquiry (MIDI-CI). A MIDI 2.0 controller can understand what type of controller or software it is connecting to and map itself to their most common controls. Parameters in MIDI 2.0 are interchangeable, recallable and adjustable directly on DAWs, improving production workflow while working on a session.

MIDI 2.0 instruments are also backwards compatible with MIDI 1.0. When a device with MIDI 2.0 detects a non-MIDI 2.0 device, it communicates using MIDI 1.0. Also as a result, the MIDI 2.0’s higher control resolutions and enhancements presides over MIDI 1.0’s specifications.


The ROLI MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) keyboard.

More Polyphonic Expression

In MIDI 1.0, four MIDI data messages go to the computer when pressing a key. The first set of data sent is note length, instrument channel played, the pitch of the note and how hard the key is pressed (velocity). Then, channel-wide messages are sent across the arrangement: modulation (movement from one note to another) and aftertouch (extra pressure applied while the note is pressed).

With MIDI 2.0, all of this information is assignable around pressing a single note.

The MIDI 2.0 standard provides a higher resolution (32-bit) for precise “analogue” movement on controls, keys and faders. One of MIDI 2.0’s key benefits in recording is to track a musician’s expressions and nuances as playback data with the same accuracy as using a live instrument.

Attributes for guitar, string and wind controllers are also available and assignable to one note in the MIDI 2.0 standard. Simply using a combination of hardware and software can theoretically recreate the sound and dynamic of a live symphony orchestra, all within the MIDI 2.0 environment.

The MIDI Association’s creation of MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) specifications in 2016 essentially set up what MIDI 2.0’s attributes are today. London gear manufacturer ROLI is best known for using MPE as focus in designing their award-wining line of MIDI products.

Roland’s MIDI 2.0-ready A-88MKII.


Future Tools

Controllers and software (namely VST3 products) are currently rolling out updates with the MIDI 2.0 standard. At the time of writing, the Roland A-88MKII is the most widely available keyboard with full MIDI 2.0-ready capabilities. More brands are following suit as they continue to manufacture products around the new MIDI standards. Space for more MIDI messages are also in the new MIDI 2.0 data, for use as the technology develops.

Once it becomes a global standard, MIDI 2.0 promises to introduce a new world of increased workflow, precision, creativity and overall productivity in the studio and onstage.

More information about the new MIDI 2.0 technical standard on the MIDI Association website.

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