Connecting a MIDI Keyboard with an iPad or Other iOS Device

One of the most exciting things that you can do with an iPad is connect it to a MIDI keyboard and use it with interactive MIDI software. As the co-author of Home Concert Xtreme—a program available for Mac, PC, and iPad—I must confess that I am rather prejudiced in this regard!

In another blog installment, I’ll talk about some of the things that you can do when you connect your MIDI keyboard to an iPad. For now, I’ll focus on the mechanics of connecting the two. And, I’ll broaden the topic to include other iOS devices, such as the iPhone and iPod touch.

Although I’ll refer to MIDI keyboards throughout the article, the same information applies to other MIDI devices, such as MIDI drums, MIDI pads, and MIDI tone generators.

(For those unfamiliar with the term, iOS refers to the operating system of mobile computing devices made by Apple. Mobile devices from other manufacturers use other operating systems, such as Android. At the present time, iOS offers software developers the most advanced MIDI support, and few programmers have produced MIDI software for alternative mobile operating systems.)

MIDI Keyboard Connections

As far as MIDI keyboards are concerned, there is nothing special that is required of the instrument itself when you connect to an iPad or other iOS device. No matter whether you are using:

  • an acoustic piano with a MIDI system,
  • a digital piano,
  • a portable keyboard,
  • a keyboard controller, or
  • a synthesizer,

you are faced with at least one of two standard connection methods:

(1) a pair of MIDI cables

or

(2) a single USB cable

The nice thing about using a USB cable is that you have only one cable to consider: a type of USB cable that is often called a USB device cable. This is the type of USB cable that you would normally use to connect a printer or a scanner to your computer. It has a flat connector that can be inserted into a computer and a squarish end that is inserted into the keyboard. This single USB cable carries data in both directions.

(Some very small USB controller keyboards alternatively use a mini USB connector at the keyboard end.)

If you elect to use MIDI cables to connect your keyboard, you’ll need two of them: one for the MIDI Out port of your keyboard and one for the MIDI In port. Note that some iOS MIDI interfaces (discussed below) include the necessary MIDI cables.

Unfortunately, the iPad does not have a place to attach either a USB cable or a pair of MIDI cables. For this reason, we have to resort to some sort of interface or adapter that will enable you to connect these cables to your iPad or other iOS device. There are basically four options available to you:

(1) MIDI Cables <—> iOS Device with a Dock Port

Connect the MIDI ports of your keyboard to an iOS MIDI interface that provides a dock connector. Early model iOS devices have a dock port.

(2) MIDI Cables <—> iOS Device with a Lightning Port

Connect the MIDI ports of your keyboard to an iOS MIDI interface that provides a dock connector and then connect the dock connector to an adapter that, in turn, connects to a Lightning port.


The Lightning port is relatively new and is found on the 4th generation iPad, the iPhone 5, and the 5th generation iPod touch. Hopefully there will be MIDI interfaces in the future that provide a Lightning connector instead of a dock connector, thus eliminating the need for the adapter.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD824ZM/A/lightning-to-30-pin-adapter-02-m?fnode=3a

or

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD823ZM/A/lightning-to-30-pin-adapter?fnode=3a

NOTE: I do not recommend the adapter shown in the second link because it will lead to a chain of bulky objects handing directly off the side of your iOS device, straining the connecting port.

      (3) USB Cable <—> iPad with a Dock Port

Connect the USB Host port of your keyboard to the Apple Camera Connection Kit adapter which, in turn, connects to the dock port of an iPad.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC531ZM/A/apple-ipad-camera-connection-kit?fnode=3a

NOTE: This option will not work with iPhone or iPod touch.

(4) USB Cable <—> iPad with a Lightning Port

Connect the USB Host port of your keyboard to the Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter which, in turn, connects to the Lightning port of an iPad.


http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD821ZM/A/lightning-to-usb-camera-adapter?fnode=3a

NOTE: This option will not work with iPhone or iPod touch.

Here are the details:

iOS MIDI Interfaces

The term interface refers to an object that comes between two devices, providing a method of connecting ports that are otherwise incompatible.

To connect MIDI cables to an iPad, you need an interface that provides MIDI plugs at one end for the keyboard and a dock connector or a Lightning connector at the other end. The recent 4th generation iPad, the iPhone 5, and the 5th generation iPod touch use the Lightning connector. All other iOS devices use the older dock connector.

At the present time, there are a number of iOS MIDI interfaces on the market that provide dock connectors, such as:

The first three interfaces listed above are very similar, providing connectivity to the MIDI In and MIDI Out ports on the keyboard side and to the dock connector on the iOS side. I personally prefer the iRig because (1) iRig includes activity LEDs that aid in troubleshooting (as does the MIDI Mobilizer II) and (2) iRig uniquely offers an optional micro USB connection that can power your device while you use it.

For more complex situations, the iConnectMIDI product is terrific. It offers simultaneous connections for as many as two keyboards via MIDI cables, one MIDI keyboard via USB (or several, if you use a USB hub), and as many as two computing devices (any combination of Mac, PC, and iOS). Unlike the other interfaces listed above, iConnectMIDI must be connected to a power source as well.

Interfacing with the Lightning Port

At this moment, no one is making an iOS interface that offers a Lightning connector for the 4th generation iPad, the iPhone 5, or a 5th generation iPod touch. However, all is not lost. You can get a dock-to-Lightning adapter to make the final connection to these recent devices. Apple makes such an adapter, and as I write this, 3rd party adapters are starting to appear.

Connecting with a USB Cable

To connect a MIDI keyboard to an iOS device using a USB cable, you’ll need Apple’s Camera Connection Kit Adapter (for devices with the dock connector) or Apple’s Lightning-to-USB Camera Adapter (for the newer iOS devices)—or the 3rd party equivalent. These adapters turn your mobile device’s dock or Lightning port into a USB port (like the one on your computer).

This solution will work with most MIDI keyboards that have a USB option. In rare cases, the keyboard draws too much power and will not work. In such cases, your solution is the iConnectMIDI interface because it offers a USB port and provides the necessary power. In other rare cases, the keyboard requires a driver to be installed, and there is no way to install such a driver on an iOS device.

Interestingly, the camera adapter solution will also work with many USB MIDI interfaces that were designed for use with a computer and a keyboard that has MIDI ports. Just plug the MIDI cables of the interface into your keyboard and plug the USB end of the interface into the adapter. The same caveat discussed above regarding power and driver issues applies.

NOTE: These USB camera adapter solutions work with the iPad but do not work with iPhone and iPod touch. The iConnectMIDI interface, however, will work with the iPhone and iPod touch.

 

Pictured from left-to-right: MIDI cable, iRig MIDI interface, Apple Camera Connection Kit adapter, USB device cable displayed with both flat and squarish ends, iConnectMIDI interface, Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin (i.e. dock) adapter.

 

 

George’s Crucial Recommendation

 

Regardless as to which method you use to connect your keyboard to your iOS device, I strongly suggest that you add a dock or Lightning extender cable to the cable chain. The reason is that the various interfaces and adapters discussed above add noticeable bulk to the connection point on the iOS device. In some cases, they don’t grip the port very solidly.

 

If you connect an extender cable to your iOS device, you’ll relieve the stress on the connection port as well as add additional length of cable to the chain (which can be useful).

 

When shopping for an extender, be sure that it is rated for all types of functions, including data (or sync), audio, video, and charging.

 

George Litterst is a nationally known music educator, clinician, author, performer, and music software developer. A classically trained pianist, he is co-author of the intelligent accompaniment software program, Home Concert Xtreme, the electronic music blackboard program, Classroom Maestroand the long distance teaching and performing software, Internet MIDI.