Beginner's Guide to MIDI - page 4

MIDI topics

Improving MIDI playback continued:
Using a Software MIDI Synthesizer

Not everyone feels confident installing hardware. You may be happy to know that there are software alternatives, i.e free programs you can download for playing MIDI files with more realistic instrument sounds. I'd recommend installing a software MIDI player which uses soundfonts. Two good, free players for Windows are Timidity and Synthfont (donation-ware).

In order to make either player work it is necessary to obtain a soundfont. Timidity comes with its own default soundfont, and both sites provide links to other soundfont download sites, so getting a soundfont bank won't be much of a problem. Two points worth bearing in mind are that some soundbanks can be very large (hefty download time), and that the larger the soundfont the more drain there will be on your computer. Software synthesizers are a bit of a resource hog, I'm afraid.

Timidity uses less processing power than Synthfont, but is somewhat geeky to set up: you need to provide a configuration file telling the player which soundfont to use. (This is really not difficult, being no more than a couple of lines of text written in Notepad and saved with the extension .cfg. Full instructions are given on Tim Brechbill's excellent site). Synthfont is easier to set up and use, and can include VST effects like reverb and chorus.

In case you need convincing, click on the icons to listen to the following examples:

In the examples above I used my own soundfont bank, a collection of instrument sounds dowloaded from the internet, which I named "Philharmonia". If you would like a copy of this, or other soundfonts in my posession, please contact me via the link at the top of this page.

Combining Synthfont with Van Basco's MIDI Player

Although excellent as a stand-alone player, Synthfont lacks some of the features which make Van Basco's attractive, such as transparently simple controls and karaoke display. On the other hand it's possible to make many fine adjustments to playback in Synthfont, using sounds of your choosing. A nice compromise is to combine the two players, by means of a VST or Virtual Instrument, a Virtual Host and a Virtual Cable. This is what you do:

  1. Go to www.synthfont.com and download the VST version of Synthfont. You should now have a file named VSTSynthfont.dll on your computer. If you haven't got a soundfont bank, download one now. You can check out the links on the Synthfont site for one of these.
  2. A Virtual instrument is like the bare bones of a program: it cannot do anything alone but needs another application to act as host. In this case the Virtual Host is a program called Savihost, available here:
  3. Savihost sends its music output to Van Basco's, using Maple Virtual MIDI Cable. Get it here and install it on your computer. Restart your computer if prompted to do so.
  4. Navigate to C:\Program Files and create a new folder. Give this folder a name, e.g. "Soundfont Player". Unzip the file savihost.exe to this folder. Also place the file VSTSynthfont.dll here.
  5. Right-click on savihost.exe and rename the file VSTSynthfont.exe. If you wish you could make a shortcut for your desktop; give it a new name such as "Midi Player".
  6. Start Van Bascos and open the setup menu by clicking the button on the top left of the player.

    setup button in Van Basco's player

    Under Player configuration, set the output device to Maple Midi Out: Port 1.

    midi setup in Van Bascos

  7. Open VSTSynthfont by clicking on VSTSynthfont.exe or its shortcut. Click on the Options Button towards the bottom right of the main window.

    VSTSynthfont options

    In the options window, click the "default soundfont" button, and browse to your soundfont file.

  8. In the main menu, click on devices then MIDI to open a window entitled "Select Midi Device".

    devices

    For "Input Port" select "Maple Midi In: Port 1".

  9. Next time you want to play a MIDI file in Van Basco's, be sure to have VSTSynthfont open at the same time, or your MIDI will be silent.
Please note: When playing karaoke files you may notice a slight delay between the words being displayed and the notes sounded. This is called Latency, the extent of which varies according to your computer's processing power. If latency causes a problem you can reduce it by closing other programs to free up your computer's memory. Also consider using a smaller soundfont - there are a couple of good ones available from Tim Brechbill's Timidity site.

Update: Using VanBasco's with VirtualMIDISynth

VirtualMIDISynth from CoolSoft is a virtual MIDI driver/synthesizer which is extremely easy to set up and appears to suffer none of the latency problems described above. You will need to download a soundfont. At present it lacks the versatility of synthfont, but can't be beaten for simplicity. Recommended.

Useful Links

Synthfont
CoolSoft VirtualMIDISynth   Software MIDI synthesizer/driver.

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