MIDI 2.0

More than just gear porn came out of this year’s Winter NAMM. Sunday January 19 2020 marked a significant day for gear manufacturers, electronic musicians and producers of all sounds as the MIDI specification is officially moving on to version 2.0.

The new specs for MIDI 2.0 were approved unanimously by the members of the MIDI Manufacturers Association, according to a release at midi.org.

The original MIDI specification – which enabled musical instruments from different manufacturers to be networked together – was introduced in 1983 through the cooperation of two giants in the field. From 5 Mag’s history of the TR-808:

In 1983, Kakehashi and Sequential Circuits president Dave Smith would debut a new technical standard called MIDI, which allowed many different electronic instruments and devices to communicate with one another (Kakehashi and Smith would be awarded a technical Grammy in 2013 for this.) Whether it was its lack of built-in MIDI support or just a general dissatisfaction with the machine, 808s soon began to be sold at rock bottom prices in second hand shops and pawn shops, which is when they attracted the attention of a distinctly different audience.


Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi and Dave Smith weren’t planning for a world in which laptop computers outnumbered all electronic musical instruments combined, but MIDI paved the way for that too. The modern musical world is impossible to imagine without MIDI as the lingua franca taming a million dialects into one simple but intelligible language.

Thirty-seven years later, and MIDI is moving to version 2.0 (and it’s trademarked, too). Your instruments will not stop working – backward compatibility is baked into the MIDI 2.0 environment. Among the reasons why MIDI 2.0 is described as the “biggest advance in music technology in decades”:

Two Way MIDI Conversations
MIDI 2.0 assumes devices talk to each other – a “dialog” rather than a “monologue.” MIDI 2.0 is bi-directional rather than messaging from a transmitter to a receiver.

Higher Resolution, More Controllers and Better Timing
MIDI 2.0 “re-imagines the role of performance controllers, the aspect of MIDI that translates human performance gestures” – i.e., hitting a key – into “data computers can understand.” In addition, 32-bit resolution “gives controls a smooth, continuous, ‘analog’ feel… In fact, major timing improvements in MIDI 2.0 can apply to MIDI 1.0 devices—in fact, some MIDI 1.0 gear can even ‘retrofit’ certain MIDI 2.0 features.”

Read more at midi.org.

It may not be 37 years but the MIDI 2.0 spec was built for the future. “A new Universal MIDI Packet format makes it easy to implement MIDI 2.0 on any digital transport (like USB or Ethernet). To enable future applications that we can’t envision today, there’s ample space reserved for brand-new MIDI messages.”

All this is pretty exciting stuff. And it will certainly not be DOA: Roland’s latest and greatest keyboard controller, the A-88MKII, is already MIDI 2.0 capable and is due to be released in March 2020.

Photo by Alphathon [CC BY-SA]