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Does a MIDI Keyboard Need an Audio Interface? Here’s the Answer

25 or 49 key MIDI keyboard
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MIDI keyboard is one of the essential tools in music production. 

It brings an endless number of sounds to your fingertips, giving you the freedom to play and manipulate them as you wish. 

To do so, you need to connect it to your computer.

You need an audio interface to connect a microphone and studio monitors to your computer, but do you need one for a MIDI keyboard?

We’ll answer this question and more. 

Overview

An audio interface isn’t necessary to connect a MIDI keyboard to a computer. You can connect a MIDI keyboard to your computer via USB. However, there are some multi-purpose audio interfaces with built-in MIDI interfaces that you can use to connect your MIDI keyboard. 

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is a universal language MIDI controllers use to communicate with software instruments (VST). 

MIDI send MIDI messages to virtual instruments telling them what notes to play, at what velocity, and for how long.

Computers can only receive these MIDI messages through USB since they don’t have MIDI ports. 

You can connect any MIDI controller you buy these days directly to your computer through a USB cable. 

If not, some controllers can send MIDI signals through a MIDI interface that transfers them to your computer via USB.

3 Ways to Connect MIDI controller

There are three ways to connect a MIDI keyboard to a computer – all of which require a USB connection.

First, a MIDI keyboard that supports USB can connect directly to a computer using a USB 2.0 Type A to Type B Cable Cord.

If a MIDI controller doesn’t support USB, it’ll come with two ports; MIDI IN and MIDI OUT

You can connect these MIDI ports to a MIDI interface using two 5-pin DIN MIDI cables.

From there, you’re able to link your MIDI interface to your computer via USB. 

Lastly, some audio interfaces have a MIDI interface built-in, allowing you to connect all your devices through one interface.

We’ll detail each of these methods for connecting a MIDI keyboard and what hardware you need.

  • USB
  • MIDI Interface
  • Audio Interface with built-in MIDI controller

USB Connection: Why a MIDI Keyboard doesn’t Need an Audio Interface

An audio interface aims to convert signals into a form that your computer can recognize. 

Luckily, many modern MIDI keyboards can communicate directly to computers through USB.

USB MIDI controllers eliminate the need for an audio interface.

They can send MIDI signals directly to your DAW – through a USB 2.0 Type-A to USB Type B MIDI cable (the same cable used for a printer).

From there, you can play all your virtual instruments through one device. 

The advantage of a direct USB connection is you can simply plug-and-play without any additional hardware.

MIDI Interface: Connecting MIDI Keyboard that Doesn’t use USB

What if your MIDI keyboard doesn’t support a USB connection?

MIDI ports typically come in two; MIDI IN and MIDI OUT – designed for 5-pin DIN MIDI cables. 

You can use MIDI cables to link a MIDI keyboard and a MIDI interface.

From there, you can connect your MIDI interface to your computer via USB.

Does a MIDI keyboard need an audio interface?
Credit: iConnectivity

How to Connect MIDI Cables to MIDI Ports

As shown in the diagram above:

  1. Connect one end of the MIDI cable to the MIDI OUT port of your MIDI keyboard.
  2. Connect the other end of the same cable to the MIDI IN port of your MIDI interface
  3. Repeat the same process for the other MIDI cable – connect MIDI IN of your MIDI keyboard to MIDI OUT of your interface.

What’s a MIDI Interface?

A MIDI interface is a device with MIDI connection ports – it lets you connect a MIDI keyboard to a computer via USB.

You can think of it as an audio interface for MIDI devices.

Credit: iConnectivity

There are two types of MIDI interfaces; a MIDI Interface Host Box and a MIDI to USB Interface Cable.

MIDI Interface Host Box commonly comes with 2, 4, or 8 MIDI ports. 

Like an audio interface, it connects to a computer using USB. 

MIDI host boxes typically range from $50 – $200, depending on the number of ports. 

The MIDI Solutions Quadra Thru is a popular choice if all you need is four ports.

MIDI to USB MIDI Interface Cable serves the same purpose as a host box. 

It has two 5-pin din cables on one end and a USB plug on another – a small MIDI converter connects these ends. 

You’ll likely spend around $50 for a reliable MIDI interface cable. 

The Roland UM-ONE-MK2 and the FORE MIDI to USB Interface are two great options.

Using an Audio interface to Connect MIDI

Some audio interfaces have a built-in midi interface, such as the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 or the Universal Audio Volt 2.

[Check out our reviews on the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 and the UA Volt 2 here] 

You don’t need an audio interface to connect a MIDI keyboard, but it is a convenient way to connect one that doesn’t support a USB cable.

The advantage of an audio interface with MIDI ports is the ability to centralize all your devices rather than buying a separate MIDI interface. 

If you don’t have an audio interface already, you’ll need one to connect your microphone, studio monitors, and a guitar to your computer. 

Buying an audio interface with MIDI ports can save you a purchase on additional hardware.

Using an Audio interface to Connect Audio

What about connecting a piano keyboard or synthesizer to a computer?

Let’s say you have a keyboard or synthesizer that you want to use to record audio and MIDI. 

In this case, you’ll need an audio interface. 

How you connect audio devices to your computer is different from how you connect a MIDI keyboard.

We can use a USB to connect a MIDI controller because it doesn’t generate sound, only signals. 

A MIDI controller relays information to your DAW based on which notes you play – for how long and with how much pressure. 

We refer to this information as MIDI messages. 

Virtual instruments apply sounds to these MIDI messages, which you hear during the production process.

On the other hand, you’ll need an audio interface to connect and record an instrument that generates sound. 

[Learn why you need an audio interface for music production here]

How you connect an instrument to an audio interface is similar to how you connect a microphone.

Line Out / Output in the back of a keyboard

You’ll need to use a ¼ jack audio cable to connect the L/MONO line output in the back of your keyboard to the line input of your audio interface.

This will allow you to record in mono.

To record in stereo, you’ll need two inputs on your interface and two cables.

Mono Recording

  • Connect one end of the 1/4 inch jack audio cable to L/MONO output in the back of your keyboard.
  • Connect other end of the 1/4 inch audio jack cable to line input on your audio interface.

Stereo Recording

  • Repeat the process above with another 1/4 inch audio jack cable

How to Connect MIDI Keyboard to a Tablet / iPad or a Phone

Connecting a MIDI keyboard to a tablet or an iPad is similar to connecting it to a computer. 

They both need a USB connection. 

If your MIDI controller has USB, you don’t need an interface.

IOS Connection

To connect a MIDI controller to an iPad or iPhone, you’ll need a lightning to a USB Type B MIDI cable

Another method is using a USB to lightning adapter that connects to your IOS device.

Android Connection 

The connection process is similar for Android. 

Instead of using a lightning connector cable, you can use a Micro USB Male to USB Female adapter.

Another alternative is a USB type C to B cable.

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