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Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

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Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby Libertine Lush » Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:01 am

Hi everyone,

I’m making my first attempt in digital instruments/production.  My initial setup will consist of a Komplete Kontrol S25 (MIDI controller with MIDI I/O and USB), an Audio Interface (haven’t chosen one yet), a Mac laptop (with 2 USB ports) and Hi-Fi speakers.  The following are a few questions about the very first step of the process: setting it all up.

1) What are the various ways I can connect these devices together?

From what I’ve googled it seems there’s 2 options: a) Connect a MIDI cable from the keyboard to the audio interface, and then a USB from the audio interface to the laptop (but then, it seems, I’d need to buy an additional power adapter to power the keyboard), or b) connect the keyboard to the laptop via USB and the audio interface to the laptop via USB too.

As for the Hi-Fi speakers, do I connect their input to the output on the audio interface?

2) Of the possible setups, which is ideal and why?
3) My Hi-Fi amplifier’s inputs are a pair of RCA jacks and a 3.5mm stereo socket.  Which one do I use for my setup and how are they different?
4) Do I need an Audio Interface for this setup?  My understanding is that I can connect a MIDI keyboard to a laptop via USB, but without an audio interface there may be latency and the sound quality will always suffer?  If so, how significant is the sound quality difference?

Thank you so much for any help! Excited to dive in, but also infinitely confused.
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby desmond » Wed Feb 18, 2015 3:32 am

Libertine Lush wrote:I’m making my first attempt in digital instruments/production.  My initial setup will consist of a Komplete Kontrol S25 (MIDI controller with MIDI I/O and USB), an Audio Interface (haven’t chosen one yet), a Mac laptop (with 2 USB ports) and Hi-Fi speakers

1) What are the various ways I can connect these devices together?

From what I’ve googled it seems there’s 2 options: a) Connect a MIDI cable from the keyboard to the audio interface, and then a USB from the audio interface to the laptop (but then, it seems, I’d need to buy an additional power adapter to power the keyboard), or b) connect the keyboard to the laptop via USB and the audio interface to the laptop via USB too.

Yes, that's correct.
If it was me, I'd plugin both in via USB (or get a Firewire or Thunderbolt audio interface instead of a USB one).

Libertine Lush wrote:As for the Hi-Fi speakers, do I connect their input to the output on the audio interface?

Yes, the audio output of the audio interface connects to your amp/speakers.

Libertine Lush wrote:2) Of the possible setups, which is ideal and why?

It doesn't really matter. One config uses two USB ports and can power your keyboard, one config uses one USB port but you'll need to power your keyboard. it's your call as to which is more convenient - there won't be any performance advantages either way.

Libertine Lush wrote:3) My Hi-Fi amplifier’s inputs are a pair of RCA jacks and a 3.5mm stereo socket.  Which one do I use for my setup and how are they different?

You'd connect the two Left/Right outputs of the audio interface to the aux inputs on your amplifier, usually RCA phono cables.

Libertine Lush wrote:4) Do I need an Audio Interface for this setup?  My understanding is that I can connect a MIDI keyboard to a laptop via USB, but without an audio interface there may be latency and the sound quality will always suffer?  If so, how significant is the sound quality difference?

*Need* - you haven't really specified what your requirements are. For example, if you want to record acoustic instruments with a studio mic, then yes, you'll need an audio interface with a mic preamp and the appropriate phantom power. If however you simply want to compose music in your laptop using virtual instruments, then no, you don't *need* an audio interface as you can use the audio output of your Mac.

The latency is fine with inbuilt Mac audio, there is no problem here using the Mac for good latency.

The audio output on most Macs isn't brilliant but is ok to compose with. An audio interface that's a step up from the low end will be better, but you'll need to assess your requirements to choose and appropriate model, based mostly on how many inputs and outputs you need. In your case, a simple stereo output (to connect to your amp) will be fine, however you'll need to think about whether you will be recording acoustic instruments and vocals and buy something that has at least two line level inputs and at least one mic preamp with phantom power to serve you going forward. Lots of choice here.

Libertine Lush wrote:Excited to dive in, but also infinitely confused.

Actually, it sounds like you've done your research and have a pretty decent understanding of what you need to do, so far!

If you don't need to record audio at first, then I'd probably say get the Mac, keyboard and whatever software you want to use first and get started, and move on from there with an audio interface as needs dictate.

Hope that helps,
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby Libertine Lush » Wed Feb 18, 2015 4:35 am

Firstly, thank you so much Desmond for such thorough info. You've cleared it all up for me!

desmond wrote:
*Need* - you haven't really specified what your requirements are. For example, if you want to record acoustic instruments with a studio mic, then yes, you'll need an audio interface with a mic preamp and the appropriate phantom power. If however you simply want to compose music in your laptop using virtual instruments, then no, you don't *need* an audio interface as you can use the audio output of your Mac.

I anticipate using only virtual instruments for a good while, as I gradually learn the basics. I'll be getting Komplete 10 to compliment the keyboard, so I'll want to focus on that massive library of sounds initially.

desmond wrote:
The audio output on most Macs isn't brilliant but is ok to compose with. An audio interface that's a step up from the low end will be better,...

Can you describe what sort of audio quality difference I'd find in working with only virtual instruments, with and without an audio interface?
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby ef37a » Wed Feb 18, 2015 9:43 am

I am NOT on commish' Honest!

But do look at the NI KA6 interface. Has all the inputs mentioned as well as MIDI friendly Cubase.

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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby desmond » Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:19 pm

Libertine Lush wrote:I anticipate using only virtual instruments for a good while, as I gradually learn the basics. I'll be getting Komplete 10 to compliment the keyboard, so I'll want to focus on that massive library of sounds initially.

Ok. As most of the NI stuff are plugins, I assume you'll be using some kind of DAW software as well to actually do the composing/recording..?

Libertine Lush wrote:Can you describe what sort of audio quality difference I'd find in working with only virtual instruments, with and without an audio interface?

It's difficult to quantify these things in text form. Do you have the Mac already? Plug it's audio output into your amp and play music through it to get an idea of what it sounds like. It depends on your Mac, I've had Macbook Pros where the audio output was quite poor, having a low-level buzz/whine when the electronics are turned off, and a thumpy noisy glitch as the mac would switch the audio output on and off (these are low level details, but very hearable). My current 2011 MBP isn't as bad as the 2008 one.

You can expect an audio interface to be less noisy, have a wider frequency range, sound bigger, more "stable" and with a deeper sound field, but these things are subjective and as I say difficult to quantify - and it also depends on the experience of your ears too, of course.

Remember though that this is just for monitoring purposes - the sound quality of what you are hearing will not be contained in any mixes you make in software as this is done digitally and internally.
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby ef37a » Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:50 pm

desmond wrote:
Libertine Lush wrote:I anticipate using only virtual instruments for a good while, as I gradually learn the basics. I'll be getting Komplete 10 to compliment the keyboard, so I'll want to focus on that massive library of sounds initially.

Ok. As most of the NI stuff are plugins, I assume you'll be using some kind of DAW software as well to actually do the composing/recording..?

Libertine Lush wrote:Can you describe what sort of audio quality difference I'd find in working with only virtual instruments, with and without an audio interface?

It's difficult to quantify these things in text form. Do you have the Mac already? Plug it's audio output into your amp and play music through it to get an idea of what it sounds like. It depends on your Mac, I've had Macbook Pros where the audio output was quite poor, having a low-level buzz/whine when the electronics are turned off, and a thumpy noisy glitch as the mac would switch the audio output on and off (these are low level details, but very hearable). My current 2011 MBP isn't as bad as the 2008 one.

You can expect an audio interface to be less noisy, have a wider frequency range, sound bigger, more "stable" and with a deeper sound field, but these things are subjective and as I say difficult to quantify - and it also depends on the experience of your ears too, of course.

Remember though that this is just for monitoring purposes - the sound quality of what you are hearing will not be contained in any mixes you make in software as this is done digitally and internally.

"Subjective" Des'? Well maybe but the KA6 has returned a noise floor (REC/PLAY) on at least 4 computers I have used it on of better than -100dBFS so you would need PDGood ears to detect any "nasties"!

I dare say other interfaces in the £200 bracket, Focusrite, Presonus to mention just two are equally clean but I doubt they have the blindly low latency of the NI nor the rock stable drivers?

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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby desmond » Wed Feb 18, 2015 3:15 pm

ef37a wrote:"Subjective" Des'? Well maybe but the KA6 has returned a noise floor (REC/PLAY) on at least 4 computers I have used it on of better than -100dBFS so you would need PDGood ears to detect any "nasties"!


Subjective, when dealing with someone who isn't an experienced audio engineer, yes, and for someone who isn't recording audio and probably has an amp which generates more noise than the audio interface.

As I said, an external interface will be better than the internal MBP audio, as I've described, but it's not night and day for someone who maybe isn't experienced in critical listening. Depending on the use case, inbuilt audio may be fine for many people. I can certainly happily compose away using my MBP's inbuilt audio.

I was trying to keep things reasonably simple for the OP.
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby Libertine Lush » Thu Feb 19, 2015 5:04 am

ef37a wrote:I am NOT on commish' Honest!

But do look at the NI KA6 interface. Has all the inputs mentioned as well as MIDI friendly Cubase.

Dave.

I've taken a cursory look at that audio interface. It has more than sufficient specs for my needs and I love it's industrial design. I do, however, see many complaints from Amazon reviewers about some sound issues. Seems like it could be relegated to Windows users, but I'll still do more reading on it before I dismiss it.
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby Libertine Lush » Thu Feb 19, 2015 5:14 am

desmond wrote:Ok. As most of the NI stuff are plugins, I assume you'll be using some kind of DAW software as well to actually do the composing/recording..?


Yes, I'll be using a copy of Logic Pro X, as I happen to have gift cards for the App Store to cover the expense.

desmond wrote:It's difficult to quantify these things in text form. Do you have the Mac already? ...I've had Macbook Pros where the audio output was quite poor, having a low-level buzz/whine when the electronics are turned off,...


I'll be using a MacBook Air I've had for some time.

Regarding the buzz you speak of, I have indeed noticed that before with past sound systems I've owned, as well as my present one (Air hooked up to Hi-Fi speakers with an external DAC in between). With my present setup, I can hear a faint buzz emanating from the speakers when they're turn on, if i press my ears close to them. What does that tell you? I imagine something about the quality of my setup.

desmond wrote:You can expect an audio interface to be less noisy, have a wider frequency range, sound bigger, more "stable" and with a deeper sound field, but these things are subjective and as I say difficult to quantify - and it also depends on the experience of your ears too, of course.


Ah okay! That's great to know.

desmond wrote:Remember though that this is just for monitoring purposes - the sound quality of what you are hearing will not be contained in any mixes you make in software as this is done digitally and internally.


Could you explain how it will sound differently when mixed? Are you saying what I'm hearing as I'm creating will sound better or worse after being mixed or am I misreading you?

Thank you again.
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby desmond » Thu Feb 19, 2015 5:58 am

Libertine Lush wrote:Yes, I'll be using a copy of Logic Pro X, as I happen to have gift cards for the App Store to cover the expense.

Good choice! :)

Libertine Lush wrote:Regarding the buzz you speak of, I have indeed noticed that before with past sound systems I've owned, as well as my present one (Air hooked up to Hi-Fi speakers with an external DAC in between). With my present setup, I can hear a faint buzz emanating from the speakers when they're turn on, if i press my ears close to them. What does that tell you? I imagine something about the quality of my setup.

There's always going to be some noise when an amp is turned up with no signal to drown it out. Where the buzz is coming from is difficult to say - it could be coming from the Mac's audio output, but it could be caused by other things. If it *is* from the Mac's output, then an audio interface should improve this. Another good test is to plug headphones into the Mac and turn the volume up and listen to the noise. Also, play some music, and stop the music, and listen to whether you get noises when Apple's power management turns the audio circuitry on and off - that gives you a good indication of the background noise of the audio system in your Mac.

Libertine Lush wrote:
desmond wrote:Remember though that this is just for monitoring purposes - the sound quality of what you are hearing will not be contained in any mixes you make in software as this is done digitally and internally.

Could you explain how it will sound differently when mixed? Are you saying what I'm hearing as I'm creating will sound better or worse after being mixed or am I misreading you?

What I mean is that the audio quality of your final mixes has nothing to do with the audio output circuitry that you are monitoring with - so even if if the audio output was noisy when turned up, and you'd obviously hear it while composing and listening to your audio, that noise would not be in the bounced mix file - the mix is created internally in the computer.

So whatever the audio quality that you are monitoring through isn't "imprinted" on your mix.

Of course, the audio quality you are listening to may well affect your mix decisions and of course a decent monitoring chain is recommended by all engineers - not just the quality of the hardware, but also the listening environment as well. But any noise created by the audio output circuitry won't be in your mix - that will be just lovely perfect digital cleanliness! :)
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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby ef37a » Thu Feb 19, 2015 6:40 am

Libertine Lush wrote:
ef37a wrote:I am NOT on commish' Honest!

But do look at the NI KA6 interface. Has all the inputs mentioned as well as MIDI friendly Cubase.

Dave.

I've taken a cursory look at that audio interface. It has more than sufficient specs for my needs and I love it's industrial design. I do, however, see many complaints from Amazon reviewers about some sound issues. Seems like it could be relegated to Windows users, but I'll still do more reading on it before I dismiss it.

As a user "relegated" to Windows I should like some links to those damning reviews! I have been recommending the KA6 to people for well over a year now and several at SOS* and other places have bought one and reported nothing but total delight.

Mac OR PC, the on board sound circuits are going to be whale poo compared to any 1/2 decent interface...Shoot! My Behringer UCA 202 at £25 is better than most!

*Tis a shame SOS have never reviewed one. I have offered mine at least once and make the offer again!

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Re: Setting up MIDI Keyboard, Audio Interface, Laptop and Speakers

Postby Libertine Lush » Thu Feb 19, 2015 7:51 am

desmond wrote:What I mean is that the audio quality of your final mixes has nothing to do with the audio output circuitry that you are monitoring with - so even if if the audio output was noisy when turned up, and you'd obviously hear it while composing and listening to your audio, that noise would not be in the bounced mix file - the mix is created internally in the computer.

Oh okay! I completely understand now. I suppose that's self-evident, but that never occurred to me. I'm sure it's the sort of thing I would have wondered somewhere down the line. All the info you've shared with me is really wonderful. Thank you.
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