Understanding Ports and Devices in the MIDI Device Configuration Window

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Understanding Ports and Devices in the MIDI Device Configuration Window

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To use the MIDI Device Configuration Window effectively, you will need to understand the distinction between MIDI port and device, both of which refer to software or hardware that produces instrument sounds. The term MIDI port is something that is defined by Windows, and something that you find references to in most other MIDI programs. In contrast, the term MIDI device has a special definition in Composer, even though the word device is also used in many ways by other programs. It is important that you understand how Composer defines the term device, and the relationship between a port and a device.

A MIDI port is something that Microsoft Windows abstractly defines. Basically, a MIDI port identifies the "place" where a MIDI application, such as Composer, "talks" to a particular MIDI sound-producing device. A device is some mixture of MIDI driver software and hardware circuity residing on your computer and on your sound card or external physical MIDI device.

Composer defines a device to represent something generally more physically concrete than a Windows MIDI port. There are external and internal devices. External devices are particularly easy to understand, because they are things you can see, such as a MIDI keyboard or a rack-mount MIDI sound module.

Internal devices are somewhat more difficult to visualize than external devices, because they reside somewhere inside your computer, where you do not really see them. A good way to think about an internal MIDI device is to realize that it basically does the same thing as an external MIDI device-- it makes instrument sounds, through some combination of software and hardware (sound card) computations.

There are two types of internal devices: hardware-based and software-based. An internal hardware-based device is sound card circuitry that simulates instrument sounds. An internal software-based device is software that uses the general computing powers of your computer to calculate the sound waves that are then played through your sound card. Such an internal software-based device is usually called a software synthesizer.

If you think about a Composer-defined MIDI device as something that makes instrument sounds, then it should be easier for you to understand a device than a Windows MIDI port. Except for when you are configuring MIDI devices in Composer, you will not have to think about the abstract Windows MIDI ports. Whereas you cannot change the usually difficult-to-understand names of Windows MIDI ports, you can give whatever name you want to a corresponding device, such as, "Keyboard" or "Casio".

The following diagram provides a general illustration of the relationship between Windows MIDI ports and devices:


The above diagram illustrates these important relationships:

B853A Windows internal output port is always associated with a Composer-defined internal output device.
B853A Windows external output port is always associated with a physical connector. In this example, the physical connector is the joystick connector, to which a joystick MIDI cable is connected. In other examples, the physical connector might be one of the computer's USB connectors.

The next diagram is almost the same diagram as the above, except it shows the names of MIDI ports and devices that are initially assigned by Composer when it detects the MIDI ports on your system. The port names are highlighted in yellow, and the device names in light blue.

The next diagram also differs from the one above because a single external port, named "SB Live! External", handles both MIDI input and output.

NOTE: For some Soundblaster sound cards, the name of the external MIDI port is "SB Live! External UART" instead of "SB Live! External MIDI". Some older versions of Soundblaster sound cards have separate external MIDI input and output ports, named "SB Live! MIDI In" and "SB Live! MIDI Out", or "AWE32 MIDI In" and "AWE32 MIDI Out".


The above diagram illustrates that Composer initially assigns the placeholder device the same name as the corresponding port. You can rename the devices, as described in Assigning Device Names That Make Better Sense to You.

The following MIDI Device Configuration Window shows how the above configuration is represented in Composer's MIDI Device Configuration Window, after you have renamed the external device "Create SB Live! External MIDI" to "Yamaha Keyboard":


Some important details in this window are explained here:

B853Windows MIDI ports are indicated in bold text.
B853Composer-defined devices are listed in normal text.
B853The default device is indicated by green text.
B853The first two colums indicate whether a port or device provides MIDI input or output. In this example, the external port serves both MIDI input and output; and the external device, a MIDI keyboard, is both a playback (output) and recording (input) device
B853An external device is listed below an external port, when that external device is physically connected via a MIDI cable to the MIDI connector corresponding to the port.
B853An internal device is listed below the internal port with which it is associated.