How to Connect Multiple Hardware Synthesizers

If your hardware synthesizer rig is steadily growing, you’re likely wondering how you should go about synchronizing all of your instruments together. While the best solution for you is going to ultimately be determined by the specific synths you’re working with and their features, this article aims to lay out some basic guidelines for how you can get your rig connected.

First, most modern hardware synthesizers are linked by a connection type called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and communicate via MIDI messages. This special five-pin connection type is integral to linking your synthesizers. If you have a vintage synth that isn’t MIDI-compatible out of the box, you can look into aftermarket CV (control voltage) to MIDI converters, like the Kenton Pro Solo MK2.


Option One: Daisy-Chaining

TAKEAWAYS
  • Link your synths together in a chain using dedicated MIDI thru ports.

  • Only suitable for a few synths, watch out for latency if you add too many.

One way to link your synths together is by daisy-chaining them together via MIDI connection. This is a practice electric guitarists will be familiar with, as the process is much the same as that of daisy-chaining pedals together on your effects pedalboard.

In order to synchronize your synths this way, you’ll have to first choose a "master" controller to head your chain, sending MIDI commands that control the rest of your rig (known as "slaves"). Attach a MIDI cable to your master’s MIDI OUT port and then connect the cable to the MIDI IN port of the first slave in your chain. If your slave is equipped with a dedicated MIDI THRU port, connect another MIDI cable to that and then connect that cable to the MIDI IN port on the next slave in your chain, and so on.

Daisy-Chaining Via Thru Box

Not all synths have a dedicated MIDI thru port. Some synths without the dedicated port allow users to set their MIDI out port to function as a thru port via the settings menu, so be sure to check the manual for your specific synth, but this isn't always an option. And if it's not an option for you, you can pick up a MIDI thru box, sometimes referred to as a MIDI splitter.

A MIDI thru box or splitter does just what its name would suggest—splits one MIDI signal into multiple identical outputs. Different MIDI thru boxes come with varying numbers of inputs, so be sure to chose the right one to satisfy your specific needs.

If you only have a few synthesizers to synchronize, daisy-chaining can be an efficient and inexpensive way to link your synths without having to add another piece of hardware. But as with an overcrowded effects pedalboard, watch out for latency—connecting too many synths in this way can lead to unwanted delay.


Option Two: MIDI Interface

TAKEAWAYS
  • Each of your synths links individually to the interface.

  • Signal path can often by managed and modified directly from the interface without having to manually switch around MIDI cables.

If you're working with a more substantial rig featuring more than two or three hardware synths, you can pick up a dedicated MIDI interface to synchronize your setup. Dedicated MIDI interfaces will be packed with an abundance of MIDI ports that you can connect each of your synths to (as well other MIDI-capable devices like drum machines, sequencers, etc.).

As with MIDI thru boxes, MIDI interfaces come with varying numbers of ports based on your needs and how much you're willing to spend. Additionally, almost all MIDI interfaces are USB-compatible, making for an easy connection to your computer and DAW if you're also looking to record your rig.

In addition to being able to link more synthesizers without the latency you'd get from daisy-chaining them, most interfaces also allow users to decide and modify their signal chain from the unit itself without having to manually reroute any MIDI cables. Some interfaces also include synchronization features that allow video players system or DAWs to play back at synchronized timing.


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