Edirol's latest offering is a well-specified multi-port USB MIDI interface which claims to offer excellent timing.
Until now, Edirol's product range has focused on the 'desktop music' market, but the UM880 MIDI interface is obviously intended for those with more complex studios, providing eight MIDI inputs and eight MIDI outputs plus a built-in MIDI patcher and merger.
Six of the eight available MIDI inputs and outputs are on the back panel, where there's also an IEC socket for the internal power supply and a USB socket. An alternative USB socket is found on the front panel, along with the remaining MIDI I/O. Each input and output has its own illuminated button: these normally indicate MIDI data activity, but pressing an output button causes those of any input ports patched to it to illuminate.
The patcher is simplicity itself to use. In Patch mode, you press an input button and then any combination of output buttons to make connections, and when a valid USB computer link is detected, clicking on the USB/MIDI button lets you connect the USB MIDI ports to the hardware MIDI outputs in the same way. You can also merge any combination of inputs and send the results to any output(s) you choose. Up to eight patches can be loaded or saved, while pressing Load and Save together engages a Panic function. A Utility button provides three further functions: Cable Check is self-explanatory, Preview lets you send out MIDI note 69 (A4) to any output port to check connections, and Filter can block up to eight types of MIDI message.
There's also a useful Setup mode that lets you select which MIDI inputs will transmit data to the USB port, specify a control port (which shows up in your computer as port nine) to transmit the current patch or a bulk dump of all patches to a sequencer, initialise one or all of them, switch between various startup modes, or return the entire unit to its factory preset condition.
Mac owners will need to be running Mac OS 8.5, 8.6, 9.x or X, and the UM880 comes with a driver CD-ROM containing drivers for both OMS and FreeMIDI (as well as an excellent printed manual), while PC owners can use Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP. Most modern PCs should work without problems, although the box states that VIA Apollo BX, MVP3, and MVP4 motherboard chipsets are incompatible. Edirol have implemented multi-client support for every MIDI input and output so that up to four applications can access each one; what's more, up to four UM880 units can apparently be connected to a Mac or a PC running Windows 98/ME. However, both Windows 2000 and XP currently have limitations that prevent this.
I found the UM880's patcher and merge facilities quicker and more intuitive than the software utilities provided by most other manufacturers. Under Windows 98SE I had no glitch or timing problems with the drivers, and I carried out the timing tests I described in my review of Steinberg's Midex 8 in SOS May 2001, by loading 16 MIDI channels in Cubase VST 5.1 with heavy-duty 16th-note hi-hats at 120bpm. I measured just 2mS (1.6 percent) variation between adjacent beats. This is slightly better than any other standard interface I've tested to date, perhaps due to Edirol's proprietary Fast Processing Technology, which claims to make more effective use of USB bandwidth.
Which MIDI interface you should choose depends on your sequencer, and those running Logic Audio are promised good results with the Active MIDI Transmission used in Emagic's AMT8 or Unitor 8. Cubase VST users may be swayed by the similar Linear Timebase technology employed in Steinberg's Midex 8. Nevertheless, the UM880 is easy to use and offers excellent MIDI timing. As long as you don't need SMPTE features, it looks very attractive.
- Easy to use as a stand-alone patchbay.
- Eight MIDI filtering options.
- Built-in Merge function.
- All MIDI inputs and outputs have multi-client capability.
- Multiple UM880 units are currently only supported on the PC under Windows 98/ME.
Edirol's UM880 eight-in/eight-out MIDI interface packs a surprising number of easy-to-use functions such as hardware patching and Merge into its elegant casing, and provides slightly better than average timing into the bargain.
Edirol Europe +44 (0)20 8747 5949.
- Edirol UM880 driver version 1.1.
- Intel Pentium III Coppermine 1GHz PC, Asus TUSL2-C motherboard with Intel 815EP chipset, 512Mb PC133 RAM, running Windows 98SE.