MMLabs Review – MIDIBOX 4×4

If you’re working with MIDI hardware, eventually you’ll need a way to connect all your instruments together. The Intelligent Mate MIDIBOX 4×4 is a MIDI interface offering flexible signal routings and dependable connections to keep your music productions moving forward.

What I really appreciate about this gear, is not only does it have 4 MIDI Ports of In/Out connection (that’s 64 physical channels of MIDI), but it also has 4 different switchable ways to route your MIDI signal paths.

It helps that it’s also inexpensive, especially for what it does.

The MIDIBOX routing choices are only briefly covered in the video, and not explored at all in the product documentation, so I’ll go over them a bit more here. In all of the following examples, the interface is powered through a USB type-B cable connected either to a computer or to a USB power wall adapter depending how it’s being used.

Technically, this interface is capable of:

MIDI USB 4 In / 4 Out (as a computer interface)
MIDI 4 In / 4 Out
MIDI 1 In / 4 Thru-Out
MIDI 2 In (Merge)/ 4 Thru-Out

MIDI USB 4 In / 4 Out (connected to a computer)
Connect the MIDIBOX 4×4 to your computer or iPad using a USB type-B cable, and the behavior you get is essentially what many modern Electronic Musicians have learned to expect from a bus powered MIDI interface.

In USB mode, the interface acts as the connection point for the MIDI devices and signal routing duties are then handled by your DAW. I use the word “routing” purposely. If you compare the MIDIBOX’s behavior in this mode to other computer networking devices, it’s acting just like a network router.

The DAW in this instance decides what port and channel to send signals out to, and on what ports and channels to listen to for incoming signals. The computer is directing the traffic of incoming and outgoing data on the IO port (the USB cable).

MIDI USB 4 In / 4 Out (no computer)
For the most part, this routing type isn’t going to be of much use unless you’ve got allot of gear to hook up. 4 In / 4 Out port routing looks like this: A=A, B=B, C=C, D=D. It’s a one-to-one relationship or pass through.

At first look, you might ask yourself, why not just get a longer MIDI cable? All it seems you’re doing is running a MIDI cable from a controller device, into a box, out the same box, and then on into a MIDI instrument.

Remember that each one of those 4 ports has 16 MIDI channels available. Let’s pretend for a moment that you have 1 MIDI controller keyboard and only 1 MIDI port (Port-A) available. You could be passing signals to up to 16 MIDI devices on the Out side of Port-A, as long as each device was assigned a different MIDI channel (1-16).

Multiply that mental image times 4, and you get 64 devices that you could be routing signals into (theoretically more), in such diverse ways that the thought begins to hurt my brain.

Long cable runs could be another reason to route signals using this setting. MIDI signals degrade and become susceptible to errors when you have long cables and lengthy connections.

They can also become quite “glitchy” if you run them past power adapters or if they’re exposed to strong magnetic fields along the way.

So, for long cable runs, if you were controlling synths located off-stage for example, the extra voltage picked up by going through the MIDIBOX might minimize any potential false note triggering or device hangups.

MIDI 1 In / 4 Thru-Out (no computer)
This routing passes the signals generated from 1 MIDI controller device, like a keyboard, duplicates (Splits) the signals 4 times, then sends those 4 signals “Out” or “Thru” to any instruments or MIDI devices hooked up to each of the 4 (A, B, C, D,) Out connectors.

There’re a few important ideas to touch on if you’re routing MIDI like this. Most of it has to do with the capabilities of whatever MIDI controller you’ve got connected.

If say, your controller keyboard is sending it’s signals out on MIDI channel 1, all of the devices further down the signal chain on those 4 Out ports could be set to receive MIDI signals on channel 1. You’d be sending one MIDI signal from the controller keyboard, “Splitting” it inside the MIDIBOX, then sending that signal (Thru) down 4 different paths.

This would also mean that the 4 different synths connected would be playing identical musical parts because they’re all receiving the same “Split” signals or MIDI notes sent from your controller keyboard.

Now let’s say, your MIDI controller keyboard can be organized into zones, one side of your keyboard sending out MIDI notes on channel 1, and the other side sending out MiDI notes on channel 2. Then you could control 2 different synths, one connected on Port 1 – Channel 1, and the other connected on Port 1 – Channel 2.

This is just the basics. Having 4 ports of MIDI “Thru” capability allows you to connect devices in a some very flexible and interchangeable ways.

MIDI 2 In (Merge)/ 4 Thru-Out (no computer)
Add another controller keyboard that has been setup into zones, just like the example above. Except in this instance, the second controller keyboard is assigned to send MIDI signals to Port 1, on channels 3 and 4. This second MIDI controller keyboard would be connected into “In-B” location.

The MIDI signals on this setting “Merge” together (In-A together with In-B), and that combined signal then is “Split” or repeated if you will, out to the Out-A, Out-B, Out-C, Out-D connectors.

Here’s my “real world” configuration for this MIDIBOX setting. I have an Arturia Keylab 25 plugged into connector In-A. That controller keyboard can be zoned between MIDI channels 1 and 2. This allows me to have MIDI control of whatever is hooked up connectors Out A thru D on either Channel 1 or 2.

I then have an Arturia Beatstep plugged into the MIDIBOX connector In-B, and that’s assigned to control MIDI devices receiving on channels 3 and 4 or above (typically).

If both controllers get assigned to the same MIDI channels at the same time, MIDI signal collisions will potentially occur during the MIDI Merge process causing all sorts of unexpected behavior – so that’s something to avoid.

Conclusion
These are just a few routing examples… I could go on and on. Maybe you can start to see why there’s sometimes a need to hire an expert to help design all these possible configurations for you – especially when you start adding MIDI controlled lighting systems to your show.

Frankly, there’s somewhat of an “Art” to it all – finding the optimum interface configuration between human and electronics device. My appreciation for artists like Howard Jones and Vince Clark grow every time I delve into this stuff.

Where I purchased the Intelligent Mate MIDIBOX 4×4:
http://www.dx.com (SKU: 42471) $46.60 US

My price: $46.60 US

TL;DR 

4 Ports of connection in a MIDI interface at this price point is a steal.
There are so many ways to route MIDI using the various settings available, that you'll have a mind bending time figuring out all the possibilities.
It's a good choice if you need the flexibility of both a USB computer hosted MIDI interface, and a stand alone MIDI interface.
It could be difficult to find someplace that has the MIDIBOX in stock.

4 Comments
  1. chris
  2. SLEIZURE

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