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Miditemp MP88W

MIDI & Digital Audio File Player/Data Filer/MIDI Matrix By Martin Russ
Published July 1998

Miditemp MP88W

It's a MIDI patchbay! It's a MIDI data filer and player! It's a sample playback unit! It's... impossible to sum up in a few words. Martin Russ is delighted to make the aquaintance of the grand seigneur of all MIDI file players.

A MIDI Matrix (or MIDI patchbay, as they are often known) is a very significant purchase; it often marks the transition from an amateur home studio to a semi‑pro project studio, and typically means a marked change in the way that work is done. Essentially a MIDI version of a patchbay, it ensures that reconfigurations of your MIDI setup can be effected in minutes rather than hours, without the need for MIDI switch boxes, tedious reorganisation and replugging. Provided the patchbay is easy to install and set up, it should result in a faster, more productive working environment.

So far, so humdrum; a MIDI patchbay is undeniably useful, but scarcely the sort of gear that sets the pulse racing. Now imagine a device which is not only an 8x8 MIDI patchbay with all the functions you need to make life in your studio easier, but also has the following:

  • 64‑track MIDI file playback and record capabilities;
  • a WAV‑ or AIFF‑compatible RAM wave (ie. sample) player;
  • a hardware remote controller for all functions;
  • a high‑density floppy drive;
  • SCSI connections for attaching a CD‑ROM, additional hard disks or your host computer;
  • optical interface to connect other units like this one (all still driven from just one remote controller);
  • the option to install a GM soundcard (with WaveBlaster upgrade connector);
  • a Flash‑EPROM‑based upgradable operating system;
  • an internal (hooray!) universal power supply.
  • and, finally, a couple of optional extras — an internal 2.5‑inch hard disk and a CD‑ROM drive.

Clearly, you're no longer just imagining any old MIDI patchbay; in fact, you're thinking about the MP88W from German manufacturers Miditemp.

The MP88W is described by its designers as a Multiplayer, presumably because it's quite hard to sum up everything it's capable of in an easy‑to‑digest title (as the above feature list shows). This unit is, in fact, so much more than just an 8x8 MIDI patchbay; it can become the focus of all of the MIDI cabling and messaging in your studio, and on the road, it removes any need for a computer. In fact, it might leave a few studio computers with more time on their hands, too...

The Remote

Miditemp MP88W

You access the MP88W's host of functions with a very nice remote controller panel which looks as if it has come straight from a multitrack digital recorder. The remote very neatly combines the standard Transport controls used by the built‑in Sequencer with all of the other functions, and packages all of this into a robust box that would be equally at home on your master keyboard, or on your mixer (the front panel of the main rack unit is correspondingly light in controls!). The software user interface is a mixture of dedicated buttons, the ubiquitous data wheel, and display‑related softkeys which double up as numerical keys for value entry. The interface steals double‑clicking from computers, but, sadly, only has a 2‑row, 40‑character backlit LCD display instead of a monitor. There's also a MIDI 'panic' function, and a reasonably straightforward set of menus.

The major menu headings, like those that deal with the MIDI matrix, the sequencer, the wave player, and so on, all have their own individually named buttons, and you then use the softkeys to dig deeper into the menu hierarchy via the slightly arcane three‑letter acronyms on the display. In use, this means that you do tend to hop around between the dedicated buttons (Matr, Seq, Drive, and so on) and the softkeys, which can take a bit of acclimatisation. Although it is perfectly logical to separate the primary functions in this way (all the functions relevant to the switching matrix/patchbay are accessed via the Matr button, for example), the jumping about between buttons and softkeys interrupts your flow, and I would probably have preferred to have less dedicated buttons and longer softkey acronyms. Although not up to the mouse‑driven graphical sophistication of some patchbays, the MP88W's interface is arguably more convenient for use whilst playing, and probably encourages the use of the facilities in a live environment, whereas I always feel that a mouse and monitor on stage can be a liability.

The MIDI Patchbay

Miditemp MP88W

It's when you turn to the Matrix functions of the MP88W that you first encounter the storage hierarchy of the unit. The terminology (Program, Bank, Group etc) seems complex when you first encounter it, but in fact, it closely resembles that of a multitimbral synth (there's much more on this in the 'Patchbay As Synth' box below). Once you've mastered this, setting up the Patchbay is reasonably straightforward.

The basic role of any 8x8‑port MIDI patchbay is to route data from individual MIDI channels on any of the eight ports to any individual MIDI channel on any other port. However, routing is just the first part of the real‑time processing that the MP88W can carry out on the MIDI information that passes through it. The Input Filter is the first processing element through which MIDI data passes, and it allows you to determine exactly what sort of information is passed through the routing switches. For example, you can remove real‑time messages like MIDI Clock, stop System Exclusive information from being processed, or even separate out a specific MIDI Controller. You can then split each port into up to 16 zones (defined by MIDI note number), and each of these zones can then be processed separately if you wish. Controller and pitch‑bend information is not split, so that it may easily be routed to multiple outputs to act as a 'control' channel.

The Transpose function can then process the note data passing through a port or zone, shifting its pitch by up to 64 semitones. The Velocity function allows you to set up a form of velocity‑dependent routing; note data played in with a velocity below a certain user‑definable figure is routed to one destination through the patchbay (say, to be played by one of your modules on one particular MIDI channel), while data above the velocity split point is routed elsewhere (to another sound on an altogether different module). You can also crossfade this function, so that over a range of velocities around your velocity switching point, data will be routed to both locations. Comprehensive control over the input/output curve of velocity can also be achieved using the built‑in MIDI Limiter, Compressor, or Reverser (which inverts all MIDI values it sees, so that notes played in with a velocity of 126, for example, emerge from the inverter with a velocity of 1). There's also provision to scale up the velocity output of the Yamaha DX7 mark 1 (which could only output a maximum MIDI velocity of 100) so that values extend across the full range 0‑127, and an arbitrary eight‑stage curve to control exactly how the velocity data is processed. The LCD on the MP88W's remote control is really not suited to displaying of this type of graphical detail; I had to resort to drawing graphs to figure out what was happening. The unit's controller mapping function is more straightforward, allowing you to remap one type of MIDI Controller data to another Controller number. The manual gives one practical example of where you might want to use this; Böhm MIDI‑equipped‑organs use MIDI Controller Number 0 for Volume data instead of the standard number 7, but with the MP88W, you can remap such potentially incompatible controller information. There is also a host of creative applications that you can produce using this remap function (you just knew I was going to say that, didn't you!). For example, you could remap the controller information output by one synth's mod wheel to control other parameters in different synths: say Pan in one, Modulation in another, and Filter cutoff in a third...

Finally, the Program Change function allows you to embed program change messages into a routing Program so that the messages are transmitted when that patch is selected, which is useful for automatically selecting the sounds on all of your MIDI gear. MIDI Volume (or any other Controller) and System Exclusive messages can also be sent, which allows you to potentially reconfigure an entire MIDI rig!

The Sequencer

The MP88W's sequencer is actually a MIDI File player and recorder, which also doubles up as a MIDI data recorder, so it can be used as a simple playback device, or record your live playing whilst playing back an accompaniment, or even capture SysEx or live controller messages and subsequently replay them. The sequencer has a resolution of 384ppqn and can deal with format 0 or 1 MIDI Files, but the only synchronisation option is MIDI Clock. As with most MIDI data storage devices, your data is stored in Songs (which are also stored in Banks — 128 Songs in a bank, and there are a total of 56 banks! As with many aspects of the MP88W, the words 'more than you are ever likely to need' apply again).

Unlike most MIDI File Players, and more like the hardware sequencers of old, you do not need to just hit the 'Play' transport button on the remote controller and play along with the pre‑recorded MIDI FIle backing track. Loopable cue points within the song allow rather more complex control on the fly via the remote controller. In fact, you can re‑arrange songs on the fly, by looping around Verse‑Chorus pairs, or even having a looped middle eight for gross soloing exhibitionism. In a world where live performance is often little more than regurgitating the same piece of music again and again, being able to break out of the straightjacket of fixed playback is wonderful.

Building on the automation facilities that you already have in the routing, you can build up chains of songs, add control events, select programs, and generally automate quite a lot of the functions of a performance by using a list of instructions called a Job. This is just a list of events that you step through — a script of what happens at each stage. The footswitch socket on the front panel allows simple control over the progress through the Job, and can be set, for example, to allow premature stopping of a Song to allow for variation during a set. Although the button on the remote says 'Seq', this is rather more than just another tame playback sequencer.

The Wave Player

Behind the Wave button on the remote controller lurks the Sample Player, with either WAV‑ or AIFF‑format samples, in mono or stereo, at 8‑ or 16‑bit resolution, and with sampling rates from 5 to 50kHz. There are eight Banks of 128 waves, which provides 1024 storage locations for your samples. The Wave player loads in waves in their entirety from the internal floppy drive and plays them back from RAM, but if you're playing back from the optional hard disk, the samples are loaded and played back a block at a time, and subsequent blocks are loaded as required. Hard disk playback therefore allows the use of large samples with only limited amounts of RAM (the review model was supplied with 1Mb, but you can install up to 16Mb). Effectively, this provides two audio tracks alongside the MIDI sequencer, which opens up the possibility of non‑MIDI accompaniment (like backing vocals) for a solo live performer. The wave playback and the soundcard audio can be assigned to either of two stereo phono outputs on the MP88W's front panel. Waves can be triggered from MIDI notes via the sequencer, an external MIDI controller or keyboard, or from the remote controller.


The 94‑page A4 manual has an overview, description of the basic functions, and then detailed explanations of everything. The MP88's learning curve is quite steep at first, but the manual does a good job of taking you through the initial setup, device‑naming and configuration process, whilst giving plenty of guidance on how to use the facilities. You get the strong feeling that this has been designed by people who actually use it every day for making music! [Surely shome mishtake? — Ed]. Some information, however, just isn't in the manual — like the fact that the optional GM Soundcard (a Roland SCB7 in this case) is connected internally to Port 7. I could also find no mention of how to change this assignment. There was also no MIDI Implementation Chart in the manual (it would make interesting reading!). After using the unit for some time, I felt that a more advanced section on 'Making the Most of...' would have been useful.

You get the strong feeling that this has been designed by people who actually use it every day for making music!


There are plenty of 8x8 MIDI patchbays (MOTU's MIDI Time Piece, or Opcode's Studio 4 are two popular examples), but the combination of MIDI Matrix, MIDI File Player, Wave player and soundcard player, plus floppy drive and SCSI is more unusual. I suspect that you would have to add a MIDI File Player with a built‑in GM expander to get part of the way towards producing an equivalent, but I don't know of any that have SCSI or Wave player facilities, so I don't think that this DIY approach wouldget you anything like the depth of facilities available in the MP88W. Realistically, it is difficult to see what else could have been put into this box apart from more sophisticated synchronisation facilities (if you were working with video or film, the MP88W's lack of MTC/SMPTE facilities would be a serious restriction), but I suspect that the intended market is live gigging.

I am very happy with my existing MIDI patchbay, an Opcode Studio 5LX, but the MP88W made me look at things in a very different light. I liked being able to use the remote controller anywhere in the studio — in fact, it ended up on the convenient flat surface on the right‑hand side of my master keyboard, next to the remote keys for my Mac sequencer. I especially liked being able to see, control and edit patches without needing to have the computer switched on. The GM expander module and the Wave playback would be very, very useful when gigging, but less so in my studio environment where I have several GM units and sample playback. But I don't currently gig with my setup, and if I did, I suspect that an MP88W would be high on my list of essential purchases, because I can't see any way that I would take my computer on the road. And don't forget that you can probably cross a GM expander and a sample playback unit off that list...

I couldn't find anything serious to fault technically with the MIDI Matrix patchbay and processing functions, and the MIDI file player did exactly what you would expect, even with my wacky MIDI files (see the 'Testing, Testing' box). But nothing is perfect, and there were one or two minor concerns. I missed having permanent real‑time indication of MIDI activity (you can display activity, but not whilst doing anything else with the display), and I was also a little worried about some glitching on the WAV playback, but this was restricted to one 22Mb sample (not the largest one used in the demos, either) and one song — The glitching was also independent of MIDI playback speed, wave memory or pre‑load memory, and so may not have been a real problem with the hardware, but some problem with the WAV file instead. The demonstration usage of long WAV samples to provide vocal accompaniment to GM songs is perhaps a little artificial (and the choice of demonstration material was a little too MOR for my taste), since you are then fixed to one tempo for the sequence playback (but altering the tempo of the sequencer can produce some memorably out‑of‑time singing if you feel wicked!); I assume that the samples are much more likely to be used as 'spot' audio effects instead, where the unit behaved fine.

In some ways, the sheer wealth of facilities the MP88W offers gives rise to problems. The display may be conveniently located as part of that ever‑so‑neat remote controller, but it makes getting to grips with some of the functions very difficult — you especially lack any way of seeing the big picture at any one time, rather than the fine detail. For live performance, where you will be calling up pre‑prepared programs and songs, everything is fine. But setting up those performances is going to take time, lots of notes on paper (or a remarkable memory and grasp of the unit), and considerable effort to get everything exactly right — especially debugging if you have problems with a routing Program. It will take time and effort to maintain an MP88W so that it does what you want, and you need to factor this in to your assessment of this unit's match to your working style. This is one unit which could take over your studio AND your life!

Overall, this is a very useful workhorse for the dedicated person who wants a setup that can be used in the studio or on tour. This is not a shallow product in any way; there's a huge amount to it. Even bearing in mind the provisos I've mentioned above about visual feedback, it's worth serious consideration if you need a MIDI patchbay with MIDI File playback and more.

Stop Press!

Just as SOS was going to press, Miditemp announced details of a software Windows‑based Matrix editor, which will obviously go some way towards addressing Martin's concerns about the editability of the MP88W via the LCD made in the 'Patchbay as Synth' box and the conclusion of this review. We'll have more details on the editor in next month's News pages; until then, check out Miditemp's web site (address at the end of this review) for more on this.

Patchbay As Synth – MP88W Architecture

The MP88W's internal architecture is actually rather like that of an eight‑part multitimbral synthesizer. The routings for the 8x8 matrix routings and MIDI processing options are stored in Programs, and these can in turn be stored in Banks of 128 (just like Patches and Banks on a multitimbral synth), and everything can be stored away on hard or floppy disk. Unlike many patchbays, you can have eight separate routing Programs active at once (again similar to a multitimbral synth), so that you do not need lots of individual Programs with minor variations to cope with permutations of inputs and processing: instead you can dedicate individual programs to specific devices or processing functions. As a result, when you need to change just one part of the routing, you merely change one of the programs and leave the processing in the remaining seven completely alone. Neat and very effective.

On a synth, a complete memory of the multitimbral setup would be called a Performance. On the MP88W, the equivalent is called a Group, and each of these may at any one time contain eight Programs from any of the possible 8 x 128 Programs you may have stored in the MP88W's Program memories (there are 128 Programs in each of eight Banks, remember). In fact, the eight programs in each Group are very much like the Parts in a multitimbral synthesizer, and so as you would expect, there is a priority order, which is great for creating 'global' over‑ride programs. Once you realise that this is organised as a routing 'synthesizer', things get much easier, and the concept of having special 'tweak' programs as ways of adding to a master global routing program allows enormous flexibility for individual song setups, special debugging routes, and so on.

The architecture of the MP88W is sophisticated enough to deal with just about any requirement that I could think of; my only problem with it was trying to keep track of exactly how I'd set up all my routing! This is the serious catch to the MP88W — due to the limitations of its LCD display, you can only ever see the lowest level of your routing at any one time. What's really needed in a device of this potential routing complexity is the sort of overall graphical feedback given by a computer monitor displaying, say, an OMS routing diagram or the Environment window in Emagic's Logic. Miditemp do provide a very useful way of 'scrolling' through all the active bits of programs, but it doesn't really suffice [but check out the Stop Press box for some late‑breaking news — Assistant Ed].

Testing, Testing

Miditemp use a custom chip to do the MP88W's MIDI routing and processing, and this coped very well with the streams of System Exclusive data interleaved with Note On and Offs, pitch‑bend information and other controllers that I threw at it. In normal usage, I would deliberately keep SysEx messages separate from real‑time messages, but this misuse is one of the traditional tests for MIDI patchbays. The other test involves merging two or more sets of MIDI information together to see if the processing 'chokes' when trying to combine them into a single stream. Merging two extreme mixed sets of intense pitch‑bend, note, aftertouch/channel‑pressure, polyphonic pressure, release velocity, and SysEx data did not upset the MP88W, and the expanders connected to it did not have any problems decoding any of the information — the acid test for the merged MIDI data. I did notice some time delays because of the interleaving, but this is a consequence of trying to squash too much real‑time information into a limited‑bandwidth transmission medium, and not a problem with the unit.


Miditemp do not have a UK distributor at present, but you can buy direct from them (this is why all the following prices are shown in Deutschmarks — check the current exchange rate before you convert, as at the time of going to press this was dropping from its previously stable point of around three marks to the pound). Contact Miditemp themselves for further details on shipping charges to the UK.

MP88W basic2498DM
MP88W + hard disk + CD‑ROM3598DM
Note: the MP88W with the CD‑ROM drive is a 2U device instead of 1U.

Miditemp also make a 2x2 matrix version:

MP22W basic 2100DM
MP22W + hard disk + CD‑ROM (2U version)3298DM
MP22W + hard disk + CD‑ROM (1U version)2500DM

And you can buy just the 8x8 or even a 16x16 matrix:

PMM88E 8x8 MIDI Matrix1350DM
MT16X 8x8 MIDI Matrix2198DM


  • A versatile, powerful combination of useful facilities in one box.
  • Convenient remote control.
  • Well suited to live performance usage.
  • Expandable via SCSI & optical network ports.


  • Deep and comlex: a lot to learn.
  • The small display makes visualising routing functions very difficult.
  • The lack of synchronisation facilities might restrict its possible number of applications.


There's a lot here. With a big hard disk, time spent exploiting the programming possibilities, and a master keyboard, this could be a very powerful tool for the gigging solo musician.