Review: Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer for iPhone + iPod touch
Line 6's MIDI Mobilizer ($70) is an accessory that allows users to connect an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to a variety of standard musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) devices, including piano-style keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines. The package includes a module that connects to your device's Dock Connector and two 2.5mm-to-5-pin DIN MIDI cables that connect between the MIDI In and MIDI Out ports on the Dock Connector module and the corresponding ports on the MIDI device.
Rather than sending out actual audio streams, MIDI devices operate by sharing digital music information—notes, tempos, sound references and volume levels—with one another. This information can be recorded and played back on MIDI hardware, or edited using a number of desktop computer applications. In order to process MIDI data, your iOS device needs to use a companion application that can be downloaded automatically from the App Store the first time you connect the accessory. There are actually three different apps currently available for the MIDI Mobilizer, two of which are by Line6, with an additional app from a third-party developer. These apps are also compatible with the iPad running in 1X or 2X mode, although as of yet no iPad-specific applications have been released. It’s interesting to note that this is the first app-aided accessory we’ve seen that provides a choice of multiple downloadable applications upon connection.
MIDI Memo Recorder is the app “bundled” with the MIDI Mobilizer as a free App Store download. This app allows users to record data from a connected MIDI device such as a keyboard. Data is stored in a MIDI file that can then be exported via e-mail or played back from the app by connecting a MIDI device. The MIDI Memo Recorder app functions similar to an audio recording app, providing basic recording and playback controls, starting in playback mode with a simple C Chord file loaded. Swipe the slider at the bottom of the screen to switch to recording mode, and use a large button in the center to control playback or recording depending on the selected mode.
The Memos button on the left side of the screen allows the user to select a different recording or create a new one. There’s also an Info button to display more information about the currently open recording.
Recordings can be shared via e-mail or accessed over a local Wi-Fi network from your web browser. Wi-Fi access is turned off by default, but can be enabled within the application’s settings in the iOS Settings app. Users can optionally choose to require a login and password for Wi-Fi access.
MIDI Memo Recorder simply captures raw MIDI information sent out from whatever device is attached to the MIDI In port, which makes it useful to not only capture music playback but also for tasks such as backing up MIDI settings from a device or creating MIDI presets that can be “played back” to various MIDI hardware—even non-music MIDI devices such as lighting systems. The app can record real-time information or simply accept a “MIDI dump” of data from another MIDI device. The MIDI Memo Recorder also provides the ability to update the firmware on the MIDI Mobilizer directly from within the app; an alert will appear when a firmware update is available, offering the user the option to install it.
Line6 also plans to introduce other apps to leverage the MIDI Mobilizer, the first being MIDI Surface, a $6 app that provides the ability to customize and send MIDI control messages to various MIDI devices via the MIDI Mobilizer.
Line6 has also released an open SDK to allow third-party developers to leverage the MIDI Mobilizer in their own iOS applications. MIDI Live ($40) by Garren Langford is the first example of such an app, which allows users to import and play back MIDI files through the MIDI Mobilizer while making realtime modifications of MIDI file parameters such as tempo, key change and instrument assignments.
The main advantage of the MIDI Mobilizer is its extreme portability, effectively allowing iPhone and iPod touch users to carry around a MIDI recorder and controller in their pocket, a function previously reserved for laptop-sized computers. Although the included MIDI Memo Recorder app only provides basic capturing and playback capabilities, this can be of benefit to musicians and audio technicians who work with a lot of different MIDI equipment, due to the app’s ability to capture and send MIDI commands to various devices. Even for the casual electronic musician, however, the MIDI Mobilizer and Memo Recorder app offers a reasonably-priced way to capture MIDI performance data on a pocket-sized device for later editing and review in a MIDI PC or Mac application; the $70 asking price makes this an attractive option to standalone hardware. Further, the availability of more advanced apps and open SDK provide many other possibilities for the MIDI Mobilizer in a wide variety of electronic music applications, offset only by the possibility that developers will charge a little too much, as happened with the third-party MIDI Live app above. On its own merits, MIDI Mobilizer is worthy of our B+ rating and strong general recommendation.