The Basics: MIDI

There are quite a lot of applications that support MIDI in one way or another. So I thought I’d give a brief run down of what you can expect:

MixPad from miniMusic is a MIDI player / viewer / mixer which arrived in 2007. The Pro version of MixPad (not available at the time of writing) will have recording and editing facilities as well.

NotePad again from miniMusic is a notation editor with the ability to export files to MIDI, but no MIDI import facility.

BeatPad again from miniMusic is a pattern sequencer which will export to MIDI, again, no MIDI import.

Bhajis Loops
Bhajis Loops will import and export MIDI files.

Griff has some interesting MIDI control facilities using the Griff MIDI plug in, and also the MIDI network plug in. I’ve never got around to trying these two plug ins, but they present some interesting possibilities.

Syntrax has MIDI support.

AudioBox Micro Composer
AudioBox has MIDI import.

PDA Musician
PDA Musician have a couple of applications that feature MIDI support. MidNote is a notation application that also has MIDI import and export, and MIDI control is a MIDI file utility that allows you to mute tracks and change instrument etc.

All in all lots of applications have MIDI support in one form or another although most are limited to simple import and export facilities.

For me the most promising will be the Pro version of MixPad when it becomes available. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Basics: Trackers

I was never really into trackers, so I doubt that you are going to get a good idea of what the tracking capabilities are. What I can do is tell you about the tracker applications I know about that run on PDAs.

This application runs fine on my Dell Axim although I have spent very little time on it so far. It is worth a look if trackers are your thing, and is being continually developed.

This is an application I know very little about indeed. Psytexx has been around for some time and is a cross platform application as well as being open source.

Mobi Tracker
Mobi tracker is another app I know nothing about, but also runs on a platform I know nothing about.

As far as I know that’s it in terms of tracker apps, but if you know of more, please let me know.

The Basics: Music Studios

If you’re looking to make mobile music on a PDA then you may well be looking for a mobile music studio kind of application. There are a number of options available.

Palm Operating System
The most obvious choice for Palm is Bhajis Loops. Bhajis is one of the most well rounded all in one music applications available, irrespective of platform. It not only includes sample editing, sequencing, mixing, automation, and rendering to .wav, but also can import and export MIDI files amongst it’s array of features.

If you are a palm user and what a stand along application for all your music needs then Bhajis Loops is really worth trying out.

Windows Mobile
When it comes to windows mobile there is a lot more to choose from.

First off there’s Griff which sports multiple plug ins, synthesis, sampling, etc.

AudioBox is a great self contained music studio application with MIDI support. There’s lots more on AudioBox on the rest of the blog, so if you want more just search for it,

Finally, there’s Syntrax which is another excellent application (as well as being free now) and it runs on Windows Mobile and Symbian. Again, there’s more on Symbian on the rest of Palm Sounds.

This is really just a brief run down of what is around. The best thing to do is to try out applications before you buy them.

The Basics: Sampling

Sampling applications are quite common on all platforms these days. Of course there are a wide variety of applications available but few will do all the things you want in one place.

First off there are lots of voice recording applications. There’s nothing wrong with these apps, but of course they do very little in terms of sampling.

Palm OS
On the Palm side there are only a small number of actual audio editing applications. My favourite is Wave Edit Pro, and of course the enterprise edition of the same app.

Wave Edit Pro is an excellent recorder and editor. It offers no plug ins or effects, but is very good at cutting and pasting sample data directly on a Palm device. Also, it has one benefit over other applications in that you can paste sample data from one sample into another.

Aside from Wave Edit Pro the best application for sample editing and manipulation is Bhajis Loops. Of course there’s plenty of information on this blog about Bhajis Loops and on the chocopoolp site too.

However, the notable information in terms of sample editing is that you can do almost anything using Bhajis loops when it come to samples.

Windows Mobile
In terms of windows mobile applications, again there are lots and lots of audio recorders available, but fewer sample editors. There is one application like Wave Edit Pro called Pocket Mixer, which I have never tried personally but looks really good.. There are of course lots of applications that work with sample data:

4Pockets make the awsome MeTeoR (Multi-Track Recorder) application, which is one of the best audio applications for PDAs anywhere. 4Pockets also make the AudioBox Micro Composer, which has an onboard sampler.

Griff too has a sampler, as does Syntrax, although Syntrax has really amazing sample manipulation features. Mixx Mobile is also worth a look at.

Other Platforms
Syntrax is available for Symbian devices as well as PocketPC, but aside from that I know very little

The Basics: Notation

Notation applications are few and far between on all platforms:

Palm OS
For Palm devices there is the wonderful NotePad from miniMusic. With four ways to see your songs on screen, it’s easy to enter music and edit your ideas. Tools include chords, key signatures, time signatures, tied notes, triplets, inversion, retrograde, MIDI export, and full cut/copy/paste editing.

As a user of NotePad for many years now I can safely say that it is almost certainly the best notation tool available for a PDA.

Windows Mobile / Pocket PC
On this platform I know of only one application that has not been updated for a very long time indeed. MidNote was developed when Microsoft’s mobile OS was Pocket PC and hasn’t been updated. It does have a number of useful features though:

– Enter music with fully graphical editor
– Each piece can have up to 10 separate tracks.
– Six octave tonal range (or 15 with tricks 🙂
– Musical edit functions like transpose and mirror
– Full drum support
– Standard MIDI import and export
– Polyphonic play through integrated MIDI player (GSPlayer, Mimidi or PocketAMP)

The Basics: Synthesis

I’ve always been a lover of synths since I was a teenager and bought my first mono synth of a friend. Synthesis on PDAs is difficult as the devices themselves don’t have anything like the processing power of desktop or laptop computers, and depending on the kind of device and operating system you choose, there are big differences in terms of what you can achieve.

Windows Mobile
Windows mobile music applications actually do very well when it comes to synthesis, and there are a number of different applications to choose from. One of my favourites is AudioBox from 4Pockets. This application has a number of different synths available to it, and works in many ways like a mini studio application giving you synths, sampling, sequencing etc. In terms of the synthesis options avilable they are very good indeed. AudioBox offers an an analogue synth and dedicated string pad synth amongst it’s capabilities.

Griff is also an excellent contender for synthesis on the go, and boasts an array of synth plug-ins which are worth looking at such as pSyn, or Goldfish. If you want to know more about Griff, I have written a whole post on it here.

Other useful applications for synthesis are Phoenix Studio and of course, Syntrax, which has some truly amazing synthesis capabilities, although I have never really got to grips with it.

Palm OS
Synthesis options are far fewer on the Palm operating system. Microbe is a great starter application for Palm and includes two monosynths. SoundPad from miniMusic is a dedicated synth application, but in order to use the sounds from it you need at least one of the other applications from miniMusic such as BeatPad or NotePad.

Of course, Bhajis Loops has a range of synthesis options within it, but of course you always start with a sample as the basis for your sounds.

As far as other platforms are concerned, Syntrax is available for Symbian Series 60 and UIQ devices.

As time goes on I’m sure we’ll see synth applications for the iPhone / iPod Touch platform coming out too, but so far there’s not much available. In early 2008 the SDK for native applications for this platform will be released, so let’s and see what happens.

Hopefully this gives you a brief overview of what’s available, if you find anything that I haven’t covered, please let me know.

The Basics: Platforms

Handheld platforms are changing quite rapidly now, and more platforms are becoming available as more devices become available. There was a time when selecting a PDA was a simple choice between Palm OS, and Pocket PC. However now there’s much more choice both in terms of device and operating system.

Palm OS
In the past Palm was one of the few mobile OS’s that had any kind of music applications available. Of course, some of the best apps are on Palm OS. Such as Bhajis Loops, Microbe, NotePad, BeatPad etc

Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile is perhaps one of the strongest mobile operating systems these days. However, when choosing a device be careful not to choose a Windows Mobile smartphone devices, as this will mean that you can’t make use of many of the best music and audio applications. Of the many applications available for Windows Mobile there is of course MeTeoR, the 12 track multi-track audio editor and Griff, the music studio with numerous plug-ins. Of course the other thing to keep in mind is that if you want to run palm applications on a Windows Mobile device you can using the StyleTap emulator.

I know very little about Symbian, except to say that there is a tracker application available for it, and that now StyleTap are supporting a version of their emulator that will allow you to run Palm OS applications on a Symbian device.

Nintendo DS
Not so much of a PDA platform really, but it has not only a growing number of homebrew music applications, but also a number of excellent commerial applications, such as Electroplankton and Jam Sessions.

iPod Touch / iPhone
The jury is out on the iPhone platform at the moment, we’ll have to see what the SDK brings in 2008 and how developers respond to it.

Palm OS II
Again, this new platform from Palm promises much, but is as yet to surface. If you believe Palm then you’ll be able to use their new devices running Palm’s OS II to run current Palm applications and also do all manner of new things. Who knows what it will mean for developers.

Nokia Internet Tablet
The Nokia tablet runs a linux based OS and the nice people at Access (previously know as PalmSource) have made a Palm OS emulator for the device. Ok it is currently in beta, but it does have potential. However, if you’re looking to choose a device for mobile music, don’t head straight for the Nokia as it has no native applications for music.

Last of Google’s forthcoming Android mobile OS. No one knows what it will mean as yet. However, one developer (Daniel from Griff) has commented that as the SDK is Java based it will be no good for mobile music applications. I guess we’ll have to wait and see,

The Basics: External Hardware

External hardware used to be far more important than it is now. In terms of Palm devices and devices powered by the Palm OS, there were only three external hardware devices that I was aware of.

Swivel Systems SG20
The SG20 module was the first external module I discovered some years ago. I don’t know how long it was made for or how many were sold but it was a very niche product to say the least. The SG20 was an innovative product for its time. It was a GM module housed in palm modem casing (or very similar) that clipped on to the bottom of a Palm III series PDA, or a TRG Pro. It would also fit a Palm V or Vx with a special adapter.

The sound quality was very good indeed using a 3.5 stereo jack socket. But the SG20 didn’t stop there, it also had MIDI out capability

The Tsunamidi for Palm V
This tone module offers a full General MIDI sound set and wavetable synthesis. This means you’ll have 128 different instrument sounds plus drums clipped onto your Palm V or Palm Vx handheld!

The Tsunamidi is about the same size as the Palm V Modem. It takes two AA batteries and doesn’t use any additional power from the handheld. It has a built-in speaker and headphone jack and a port for an AC power adapter. There is also a special cable (included) that gives you full sized MIDI-in and MIDI-out ports to connect to any electronic music instruments or equipment.

I owned one of these for a while, and it was a nice device to have, but in many ways very similar to the SG20 device.

BeatPlus Module
This module only works in the Handspring visor PDA series. It is almost impossible to find these days. However, the Yamaha chip used in the module is the same as the one used in several of Sony’s Clie devices.

The module had a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a tiny speaker too. The applications that worked with it were miniMusic’s suite of software.

miniMusic Adapter

This was a MIDI adapter for Palm PDAs prior to Palm OS 5. It converts any Serial HotSync Cradle or Cable into a MIDI-out interface that you can connect to any electronic music instrument (requires full RS2332 serial signal, some handhelds require special cables to meet this specification). There are some low cost handhelds that include ONLY a USB port instead of a full HotSync connector, like the Palm Zire, preventing anyone from making a serial cable and preventing a MIDI connection of any kind.

These are still available from miniMusic

Other external hardware options

Of course you could connect other MIDI hardware. With the exception of most OS5 Palms serial out was supported. People have used the Yamaha series of portable MIDI studios such as the QY100 or the MU15.

As for Windows Mobile / Pocket PC devices, there was ages ago a MIDI adapter for some of the iPaq series called MIDI Port, but I haven’t seen them for a long time.

Response to comment on Basics: Devices

Thanks to (DrBunsen) for this comment / question on the Basics: Devices post:

“Any thoughts on the best Palm device for serial MIDI? I bought a IIxe – 8mb, AAA batteries and a serial port – for this purpose, but I’m not pleased with the screen contrast.”

I can understand your issues with the IIIxe and contrast. If you’re using serial to MIDI then the other devices you might try are:

* IIIc: Same as the IIIxe but with a colour screen
* Palm m500, m505, m515, m130 are all worth looking at as they support serial and also have SD slots

I hope this helps. If you need any more, please email palm dot sounds at mac dot com

The Basics: Devices

If you are new to handhelds completely you probably have an advantage as you may not have bought a device at all as yet. If you have a device already then you know where you stand and can get a clear idea of what is available to you.

There are two main types of device. Those running a Palm operating system, and those running Windows Mobile. There are one or two others which I’ll mention at the end, but only leave out as they don’t have the range of software that is available on the Palm and Windows Mobile platforms.

Essentially your choice of device or platform will govern what is available to you in terms of music software for your PDA.

Palm Devices
If you go for a Palm device you are in many ways restricted in the types of device that are available. In fact, all you can really by are the devices from Palm. Although you might think that this is limiting (and in some ways it is), there are still a number of good devices available from Palm. The newest are the Treo smartphones, which are very good in their own way. However, you should be careful as a number of the newer ones come in Windows Mobile flavours too. The Palm TX is very good (or so I am told) although the audio is apparently a little hissy. Don’t be tempted by the forthcoming Palm Foleo device. Currently non of music applications that run on the palm operating system will run on the Foleo. If this situation changes then I will write about it on the blog.

If you are interested in buying second hand Palm devices then there are many more opportunities. Possibly the best palm device for making music is the Palm Tungsten T3. This device has a 400mhz processor and 64mb of storage RAM and a 10mb dynamic heap, which is exceptionally useful for loading samples. The T3 is arguably the palm device best suited to music making. However, there are other devices that are very handy too such as the Zire 72 the T5, and the Lifedrive.

One very important thing when choosing a device make sure it runs Palm’s operating system 5 or above. It your device runs anything less than this, you are going to be fairly disappointed in the options available to you in terms of software.

Windows Mobile
With Windows Mobile or Pocket PC devices there are far more choices in terms of hardware, as there have been lots and lots of device manufacturers. Because of this it is quite difficult to give you specific advice for each manufacturer or range of devices, so I’m going to stick to some principles and tell you my experience with Windows Mobile.

In general if you are looking for a Windows Mobile device you need to think about three things:

1. Processor speed. I would aim to go over 400mhz, the faster the better.
2. Memory. Again, more is better. You need plenty for storage and for running music applications which are very memory hungry on the whole.
3. Operating system version. Ideally you want either Windows Mobile 5 or Pocket PC 2003, nothing before this is possible.
Ok. Having given you some basic principles. Here’s my experience of the platform.

I first used Pocket PC with an HP Jornada 568 which I bought on eBay. It was a great device. I ran applications like Syntrax and Griff and it performed very well. The Pocket PC OS was ok to use, but it has issues, I guess like all operating systems. In Pocket PC / WM5 apps don’t close, they stay open until you run out of memory, which isn’t too clever. Also the way in which memory is split Is a bit strange.

I’ve recently upgraded my old Jornada to a Dell Axim. This Is another great device and some of my issues with the Pocket PC OS have been dealt with, and others haven’t.

The one great thing about Windows Mobile over Palm is that using the StyleTap emulator you can run palm applications on a Pocket PC. The same is not true the other way around.

Now, at the beginning of this post I said I’d talk about other PDAs which can be used. The two types I wanted to talk about were the Sony Clie devices, and also the Zarus.

Sony discontinued the Clie some time ago, and so these devices can only be bought on ebay. Some of the clies are very nice indeed. There were a number of different ranges, but the later ones ran Palm’s OS5, and some also had a built in Yamaha sound chip allowing them to play MIDI sounds directly.

In terms of the Zarus, I only know of one music application and that is PDa, PureData anywhere. Apart from this I know very little about the platform. At some point (when I’ve got the money) I will get myself one and find out more about the platform.

Anyway, I hope this has been useful and gives you some help in which type of device to look into. Remember, it is alway worth doing your own research, but if you want to ask any questions, please email me at palm dot sounds at mac dot com.