The possibilities you can make with the electronic musical instruments on your digital audio workstation are endless! So getting easy access to these through your MIDI keyboard is crucial.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned audio engineer, knowing how to connect MIDI keyboard to an audio interface is necessary when performing and recording music.
With this knowledge, you get to free up USB space for other purposes and, overall, enjoy a smooth and efficient workflow in the studio or stage.
So what do you do? Keep reading and find out 3 ways how you can connect your MIDI keyboard to your audio interface.
- A MIDI keyboard is a controller that can send signals to MIDI-equipped devices via USB or MIDI cables.
- Outputs available in such a device are 1) USB output, 2) MIDI input and output, and 3) audio outputs.
- You can connect a MIDI keyboard: 1) directly to the computer via a USB connection, 2) directly to Audio Interface via MIDI cable, and 3) via MIDI adapter/MIDI hub.
3 Ways to Connect a MIDI Keyboard to an Audio Interface
First things first, you have to figure out what outputs your MIDI keyboard has, which you just read about above. Then you need to figure out what inputs the audio interface or computer carries.
After which, decide which of these 3 solutions on how to connect MIDI keyboard to audio interface works best:
#1 Directly to Computer via USB cable
Simply plug your MIDI keyboard to a computer via a USB output and USB cable. It’s that easy!
Plus, a keyboard usually uses such a connection as a source of power with no additional power adapter and cables required. This means you don’t need an additional cable to connect MIDI keyboards to your PC.
Yet, for this method, installing a DAW is still necessary to enable your MIDI keyboard to transmit signals to the software. You can choose either Ableton Live, Adobe Audition, Audacity, Reaper, etc.
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Plug in your MIDI keyboard to your computer by using a USB cable. You will only need one.
- Set the MIDI settings to transmit commands to your DAW. This configures your digital audio workstation to communicate with the MIDI keyboard.
- Test out an instrument on your DAW and use the MIDI signals to play them. As of this point, any sounds you play will pass through the audio interface.
I think this setup is the simplest and most portable way to connect the MIDI keyboard to the audio interface. However, it also comes with the downside of latency.
If your keyboard has more than a USB connection, I suggest you give the next methods a try!
#2 Directly to Audio Interface via MIDI cable
A modern interface will often use a USB cable and USB connection. But for older models, connecting MIDI keyboards with cables to a USB interface might be your only choice.
This was my problem too. Fortunately, I figured out how to connect MIDI keyboard to audio interface via MIDI input/output connectors directly.
To get started, ensure both units you are about to connect have MIDI in and out connectors.
Since MIDI cables only send data in one direction, you will need two MIDI cables to interconnect the units through their in and out ports.
Connect MIDI Output ports to the correct MIDI Input ports to successfully transmit MIDI data.
This may be confusing at first and might even cause MIDI device connection issues (I struggled the same way, too). But you’ll soon get the hang of it!
Here’s the step-by-step guide:
- From your MIDI keyboard, connect a 5-pin MIDI cable from its MIDI Outputs to the MIDI Inputs of the external hardware. If you need to connect multiple MIDI devices, use the MIDI Thru port of the first or previous device to the MIDI In the port of the next device.
- Next, connect the MIDI cable from the MIDI Out of the last external device to the MIDI In port of your audio interface, whichever you are using.
- Once all the hardware is connected, configure the DAW in your computer with the MIDI keyboard. Ensure the correct MIDI ports are enabled on the MIDI or audio interface within the DAW.
- Test it out by loading up an instrument that is capable of using a MIDI signal.
Once you play, the MIDI keyboard will give commands that will be transmitted through the MIDI Out.
The audio interface and your computer receive the commands through the Input, and vice versa. You are, in essence, creating a loop for your MIDI keyboard and audio interface to communicate.
I think the biggest upside to this method is you only have one attachment to your computer, from the keyboard to an audio interface. Plus, you’ll also have access to another controller through your DAW.
But, the downside to this setup, compared to connecting directly to the computer, is that you will need a separate power adapter for your keyboard.
This is where the USB connection and USB cable to a computer has an ADVANTAGE. But in terms of efficient and continuous workflow in music production, this method of connecting a keyboard to an audio interface is ideal.
#3 Via MIDI Adapter/MIDI Hub
This third and last option is an uncommon way to connect your keyboard to an audio interface.
But for me, it is the fastest solution when only your keyboard has both MIDI input/output connectors while your interface has neither.
A MIDI adapter or MIDI hub is designed to link different types of connectors. It is an interface that does not have audio properties.
It is mainly focused on transmitting MIDI information or connecting multiple MIDI equipment into a central hub to utilize its MIDI signal.
This is often used in most budget interfaces that may only have one input. The hub allows you to use its numerous inputs for your specific projects.
It is a two-headed cable. One end of the MIDI hub cable has two cables with 5-pin MIDI connectors, while the other end is a standard USB connector that is used to plug into a computer.
As for the step-by-step guide:
- Connect your MIDI hub to the computer through its USB end. Make sure the computer recognizes it.
- Configure your DAW settings to your MIDI Input. There will be no need to change the audio input settings since there is no audio signal on a MIDI hub.
- On the keyboard, connect its MIDI outputs to the MIDI inputs on your MIDI hub. These act as different channels and will take signals from various places.
- Test it out by loading up an instrument on your DAW and using this MIDI signal to play on the keyboard.
I find a MIDI hub really useful since I can connect different MIDI equipment, like keyboards, drum pads, and synthesizers, with ease.
A MIDI hub will save you the hassle of unplugging equipment to make way for other gears.
What is MIDI?
“Musical Instrument Digital Interface” was first developed in the early 1980s. Music production has never been the same again!
This revolutionary technology has made the process of music creation more EXCITING and CREATIVE by allowing multiple music equipment to be connected.
This is possible even among devices carrying different brands!
How does it work?
MIDI is a signal that carries messages and data for both hardware and software. It will communicate MIDI information, such as notations, pitch, and velocity, for the equipment to reproduce.
This data can also be saved within a file which you can use in the software to play your MIDI track.
What Are MIDI Keyboards?
A MIDI controller or keyboard is a device that can send signals to equipped devices. These commands or messages can be connected through a USB or MIDI cable.
From then on, a MIDI cable has become a staple in every musician’s studio.
Some modern-day MIDI keyboards have programmable pads, encoders, or faders for added functionality.
With a comprehensive MIDI keyboard, you can play virtual instruments like the piano, guitars, bass, and drums all on one hardware.
Drum machines, drum pads, and synthesizers can also be integrated into the software along with a MIDI controller.
What Are the Outputs on a MIDI Keyboard?
To connect the keyboard to your musical instrument’s digital interface, you need to understand which MIDI and USB inputs and outputs are more suitable for you.
Every MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller will have slightly different yet industry-standard outputs. They should also come with a signal diagram and output labels:
This is all there is you need to connect the MIDI keyboard to a computer.
But personally, such an output is not the best way to get your MIDI signal into a computer due to some experienced latency.
To connect MIDI keyboards to other devices, you simply plug the device into the MIDI inputs. It is usually next to the MIDI out.
The MIDI out is designed to send signals to your interface. If you accidentally connect your interface to the MIDI input instead of the MIDI output, you will not get any signal.
Some keyboards that generate audio apart from a MIDI signal have audio outputs too. These are used to send audio commands to speakers.
What Is An Audio Interface?
It is a multi-purpose device used to incorporate most of the tools and equipment used by a musician or sound engineer in their home studio.
Interfaces come with MIDI support. You can easily connect your keyboard to this equipment and get to work.
It functions like a sound card. Although your computer may already have one, you will find this one particularly fascinating since it’s far superior in terms of sound quality, especially in reproducing music.
This means that any audio data passing through the interface will be CLEARER with less interference and noise than your usual sound card.
You also have the option of recording with a keyboard, microphone, or an electric instrument directly to the interface.
It can serve as an amplifier for your headphone or studio monitor too. Some models even allow multiple speakers simultaneously.
Why Use an Audio Interface?
Although it is possible to directly connect your MIDI keyboard to the computer, many audiophiles still encourage using an interface. Here are the reasons why:
- Improved audio quality – with an interface, anything you play from your DAW or keyboard will be clearer and more pristine. Music will also be reproduced with more fidelity.
- Saves on USB port usage – this equipment can be used as a central hub to connect other MIDI devices, audio devices, and microphones.
- Serves as an amplifier – you can power your monitors and headphones with just a single USB connection. This saves you from having to buy a separate amp.
- Faster signal transmission – connecting to a USB input instead of an interface will cause delays in transmitting MIDI signals to your DAW. This could be an issue when recording music.
- Can combine audio signals – an audio interface is capable of combining audio signals from two sources. For example, if you wish to sing and play an instrument at the same time, you can run the signal through any input and the MIDI signal through another. All in all, these data can be fed into the DAW where you can record from multiple sources.
Frequently Asked Questions
Got more questions? We’ve got you covered!
Does MIDI Generate Sounds?
For those people new to MIDI keyboards, interfaces, and playing a virtual instrument in general, this is a question often wondered.
To simply answer, NO, MIDI does not generate sounds. MIDI signals and audio signals are two separate concepts.
Some MIDI keyboards may produce sounds, but most do not have a sound module to generate them.
A MIDI keyboard relies on your digital audio workstation or your virtual instruments and your computer to make the sounds themselves.
MIDI simply carries the data.
Your keyboard and other equipment will have the ability to turn data into hard audio. You can send this data to a computer or other sound modules to play your virtual instrument.
Does a MIDI Keyboard Have a Built-in Interface?
YES, USB MIDI keyboards come with built-in interfaces.
You don’t need audio interfaces for your MIDI keyboard to function. You can simply connect the MIDI keyboard directly to your PC and use your MIDI keyboard with your recording software directly.
However, you will be missing out on some features only audio interfaces can provide! That’s why I would recommend using a separate interface.
For starters, audio interfaces provide BETTER MUSIC QUALITY for your playbacks. This better sound greatly improves your recording and mixing.
Also, if you do not use an interface, you will have difficulty finding good speakers to match your setup. Although, quality headphones may suffice.
Can You Connect a MIDI Keyboard to a DAW Without an Audio Interface?
YES, you can record with your MIDI keyboard without the need for an interface. You can record with a MIDI adapter directly plugged into your computer, a microphone, virtual instruments, or a tape recorder. However, these tend to have lower music quality.
What Is the Difference Between an Audio and A MIDI Interface?
The audio interface can function with MIDI data, but a MIDI interface does not support audio. You can connect any MIDI-supported device to your interface with the use of MIDI and USB cables.
There are different methods for connecting MIDI keyboard to your interface.
Although all of them are straightforward, you can control your virtual instruments in no time!
Interfaces are great for their connectivity, input and output types, knobs, and controls.
For a thriving recording artist, these will be great to record through your keyboard, guitar, drums, bass, and even vocals. They will surely determine the quality of your recording.
I hope this guide on how to connect MIDI keyboard to audio interface has helped you through setting up your music studio.