Thursday, April 23, 2020

Roland A-110, 220 and 880 "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page brochure, 1991


Roland "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page colour brochure featuring the MIDI separator A-220, MIDI patcher/mixer A-880 and MIDI display A-110 from 1991. 

USB MIDI sucks bum. There. I've said it. 

Give me a five-pin DIN MIDI interface any day of the week. That's how my grand daddy did MIDI. That's how my pappy did MIDI. And that is the way I'm going to go to the grave doing MIDI. 

This brochure is simply gorgeous. Lovely diagrams. Gorgeous cover photograph. Lots of info. But one thing irks me - the title - "MIDI Peripheral Equipments" With an "s" on the end of "Equipment". Odd. But other than that, this brochure hits a home run!

I've placed the scans in the order they would appear if you opened up the brochure full and scanned from left to right. Not in the order that it would be read - Cover, flip open to see the A-220 page on the left, A-880 page on the right, Flip open A-880 page and see the A-110 page and the Advanced application page, then the spec page on the back. Hope that makes sense. 

Of all the MIDI devices I've ever craved, it has to be Roland's A-110 MIDI Display. There is something so simplistic yet so hypnotizing about being able to see an 88-key MIDI display of the data moving through your MIDI cable. And they threw in five MIDI thru to boot.

The reason I've been looking at MIDI utility devices these days is because I'm currently building my new house that includes a new studio space - and every time I visit the space I think about how things will get set up. And MIDI is a huge part of that thinking. So I pulled out this brochure to get some ideas. 

Of the three devices featured in this brochure, the A-110 and A-220 MIDI Separator are cool little tools to have in the shed. But, as with any large number of MIDI keyboards and drum machines, a MIDI thru like the A-880 is a necessity. This thing is not just a MIDI patch bay to send a MIDI input to up to 8 MIDI outputs. It also has merging functionality too! 

I don't have an A-880, but I have a few of its simpler cousins including three Casio TB-1s, an Akai MP30P, a Korg KMP-68 and a few others. But they all require power. And they have a max 8 MIDI in and/or outs. Sure, there are bigger ones out there like the Kenton 25 MIDI thru box - but it only has one input.  

I'm looking for something that is like a MIDI matrix system. But simple to use. 

What I figure I want is a MIDI patch bay that works like an audio patch bay.  No power required - totally passive. You just plug all your MIDI INs and OUTs into the back. Then use short MIDI cables to connect different MIDI in's and outs together. This way, using the patch bay system together with my MIDI thru boxes,  I could have my Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari, PC computer and my desktop and modular MIDI/CV sequencers all plugged into separate gear. And I could easily re-patch using the patch bays. 

Yeah, I haven't even totally figured out what I want, but it doesn't mean I haven't started searching the web for an answer. :)

Googling around, it's clear I'm not the only one that has asking for this type of thing. And some people have come up with some creative solutions - all of which unfortunately seem complicated. One creative solution was to use a TRS patch bay, and make a bunch of short female MIDI Din to TRS cables to connect their gear to the patch bay. Interesting. Others just want to solder a bunch of MIDI Din connectors together in a box and wire them internally.  That seems like a lot of work. 

I'd like a passive patch bay like I described, or even better a powered matrix of 25x25 midi ins and outs that is just button presses like the A-88 to assign different ins and outs together, mixing midi signals as required. 

Out of all the real-world solutions I have found, this one is so far the closest to what I want - the Signex CPM22M Midi Panel with rear DINs. 

Each rack gives you 22 MIDI DIN connectors on the front and back.  I would need two of them (one for ins, and one for outs, and then connect them together from the back connectors. There is even a version that doesn't include Din connectors on the backside, just wires. So I can save some cash and solder between the two myself. Then I'd have 22 in's and out's in a two rack space. Buy four and I have 44 ins and outs. Hubba! 

Like I said - I haven't figured it all out yet. But I'm getting there. 

Any suggestions welcome. 


Adam XPC said...

I have the A110 and A880 - they're both irreplaceable in my opinion. Great devices.

Gef said...

Great post. I have the Akai MP30P, and many moons ago when I was performing live I made a passive midi patchbay using the 1/4" trs method you mention. 5pin din was just too fiddly and delicate for live set up. 1/4" is more resistant to heavy handed roadies, connectors are easier to solder, and you can just use stage/road grade cable, or these days purchase pre made cables cheap as chips. Rock solid, never let me down, and still working years later in my little static home rig.
As always, great to read your articles. Don't stop!

RetroSynthAds said...

Great comments!

Adam XPC - agreed - irreplaceable.
Gef - I want this!!!!!

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