We’re always looking for ways to ditch some wires in our performance rig. M-Audio just gave us a new one. They’ve unveiled a completely wireless set of products called MidAir, including 25- and 37-key keyboards and an upcoming MIDI interface you can use with any MIDI device, all with a 30-foot range and battery power. And here’s the big surprise: pricing starts at US$250 list. Thanks be to volume. Full details from M-Audio after the jump.



MidAir is powered by Frontier’s wireless technology (the folks behind our beloved TranzPort wireless remote, as seen here before). The gear uses the 2.4GHz spectrum and features a 30-foot range and low-latency. (And yes, you can have the same low latency over wireless as you would using a USB keyboard.) The products themselves should look familiar: the 25-key keyboard has the layout of M-Audio’s ubiquitous Oxygen keyboards, but with the new gray color and nicer pitch and mod wheels from the Axiom. The 37-key version will add 8 faders. Everything is programmable, as always, so the MidAir is not only useful for playing soft synths but remote control surface, as well. (And they’re very popular with the VJ set, too.)

You really can ditch all of your wires, because the MidAir is completely battery powered (9V, it looks like). The remote unit is interesting, as well; M-Audio could have just left it as a USB paperweight that connects to your computer, but they chose to give it MIDI I/O, too, making it a useful MIDI interface on its own. In fact, the only thing missing is a strap mount, which would seem an obvious choice for a wireless device but M-Audio chose to leave off. Stay tuned here, as I’m sure someone will mod this into a strap-mounted keytar within days of it shipping. We can easily out-cool M-Audio, too, gang: I want to see a polished hardwood handle with light-up LED effects and a cowhide strap.

When things will get really interesting is when M-Audio ships a MIDI interface version of this, expected in August. When that happens, any MIDI hardware you have can become wireless, so dust off that battery-powered keytar and get ready. (I’m thinking Roland AX-7, myself.)

M-Audio isn’t the first to make a wireless interface — we’ve seen them here before — but other versions have been clunky, ugly, and expensive. This looks simple, elegant, and cheap. It’s actually priced like a wired model; the premium should be really minimal at street pricing. If it lives up to its performance promises, it’ll be a huge hit. We’ll know for sure once we get a unit in for review.

MidAir 25 Product Page [M-Audio]

Compatibility: Mac, Windows, and (thanks to class-compliance) Linux
Availability: Estimated late June (25-key), July (37-key), August (standalone MIDI interface)
Pricing: US$249.95 (25-key), $299.95 (37-key), TBD (standalone interface)

Commentary elsewhere:

Tom at Music Thing was so inspired by this announcement that he posted a brilliant roundup of hot keytar action. Brilliant stuff, with insanely great keytar players.

Tom points to the Kenton wireless system. This is indeed more rugged, but at a price: the receiver is enormous, even the transmitter is rather large, and the whole thing will set you back GBP400. The payoff is the range jumps from 30 ft. as on the MidAir to a whopping 260 feet outdoors (less indoors). The MIDIjet Pro I’ve covered here can get up to a full 500 feet. It’s also much more compact than the Kenton, and costs only US$400. But I suspect for most of us, that’s still too much cost to justify . . . well, certainly, until some of us get gigs on stages that large! (Unless you’re planning on bodysurfing with your keytar, in which case, send video.) For premium wireless MIDI, options are still out there. For something you can afford and easily stick in a pocket, I can’t wait to review M-Audio’s more mass-market offering. (Incidentally, this is 2.4GHz but it’s definitely not Bluetooth, so forget any troubles you’ve heard about that route — this should be lower latency, having fooled around a bit with 2.4GHz transmitters and receivers on DIY projects.)

  • http://myspace.com/photocopiedpaperbacks tristan

    very nice! I'm going to be tempted, though definitely waiting for reports as to just how well it works.

    I can just imagine it now…composing from my papasan chair across the room.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I can absolutely think of some applications, yes!

    Don't worry, you won't have to wait too long to find out how it works. ;)

  • thesimplicity

    I love the Oxygen8 form factor (still my favorite small controller all these years later), but… 9V? That doesn't sound so great. If I buy anything wireless that doesn't come with a built-in rechargeable battery, I want it to be AA so I can use my own rechargeables.

    The I/O on the receiver is definitely the best part… it's like a MIDI to USB interface with the added bonus of being able to receive signals from a wireless controller. But my question is: will one receiver work for multiple devices? It'd be pretty nice to have a dozen or so of these all routed to the same computer without using a dozen USB ports or having to make a MIDI chain.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I'm not sure it takes a 9V battery . . . I just know it takes an external 9V power source, so I'm guessing it takes 9V of electricity one way or another.

    Let's see, we're coming up with an increasing set of hacks for this sucker . . . add a shoulder strap, a neck, and then hack in a rechargeable LiPo battery. Because we're crazy like that. :D

    M-Audio is made for hacking, too . . . I've seen everything from repainted Oxygens to (think Music thing may have covered this, can't recall) Oxygens rebuilt in clear acrylic cases.

    Seriously, though, the specs look good so far, and I'll get some more details on it soon.

    I'd *definitely* like to know about multiple receivers, etc. I'll follow up on that.

  • http://members.iinet.net.au/~jjt2005/Website3/ Travis

    From the M-Audio Website: "Operation without the included 9V DC power supply requires standard AA batteries (included). Battery life exceeds 20 hours of continuous power (variable based on battery brand)."

    Looks like recharable AA's will be the go, short of the aforementioned hacks. Definitely looks exciting, although I'd like to see what extra controls (faders maybe, more knobs or buttons probably) the 37 key model will have.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    The 37-key model has 9 additional faders, according to the press release. They don't mention anything else, so that may be the only difference (aside from, obviously, another octave of keys!)

    Rechargeable AAs are awesomely useful, especially now with those rapid 1-hour chargers and whatnot being so cheap. So that'll be perfect. And yes, 9V of electricity can come from either AAs or a 9V battery . . . glad they went with the easier choice. Sorry I failed to read that line! :)

  • http://members.iinet.net.au/~jjt2005/Website3/ Travis

    Sorry, just found out: The 37 key model will add 9 assignable faders, making it a most delicious sounding prospect.

  • http://www.soundengine.com SoundEngine.com

    One of the problems with wireless links is generally latency. This applies to many RF link solutions including Bluetooth.

    Also, just curious if this is a 2.4Ghz link. If so, you're hosed if someone in the office of the venue uses a cordless phone while you are playing. 2.4Ghz is highly susceptible to interference because cordless phones, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and 802.11 Wifi are all sharing that RF bandwidth.

    Anyway, if it's not 2.4Ghz, then nothing to worry about other than latency (delay).

  • cobalt

    With wireless USB coming (hopefully soon), I'm not sure how much going this way makes sense. My understanding is that wireless USB should work just like wired USB.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    It is 2.4GHz spectrum, yes. My understanding, though, is that effective latency depends on implementation . . . and as for interference, I'll be testing this in an apartment that receive a dozen wi-fi networks (thank you, Manhattan), while talking on my cordless phone in one ear, chatting into a Bluetooth receiver in the other, and mirowaving a burrito. If it still works, we're golden.

    Wireless USB does look promising, though. I think the point is this is here now . . . is there a way with wireless USB to add a universal adapter to any USB device, or are we counting on specifically wireless USB hardware?

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  • kalistipah

    as a laptop user, the less junk i have plugged into the ports the better. why has someone not utilized one of the two existing wireless technologies built in to most modern laptops (802.11b/g & bluetooth) to tunnel midi data through??? fusk!

  • Lee Sherman

    I'm waiting for the MIDI interface as the last thing I need is another keyboard. As to wireless USB, I'm not sure this will ship before the Belkin Wireless USB hub that they announced in January. Right now, its hard to say which approach will better address issues of latency and interference.

  • David

    been looking for something like the wireless interface for ages! finally i can limit the number of wires trailing across the stage from my MIDI foot controller to my laptop.

  • http://www.soundengine.com SoundEngine.com

    Hey Peter:

    There is a long legacy of cordless phones that behave differently in the RF spectrum. For example, at my day job, we have a phone that we call "the death ray" because it takes out most of the 2.4 Ghz frequency range when in use – it's just a really poor implementation of the radio. Your phone may be different and have a more clever implementation.

    Anyway, it's all interesting.

    The bad news is that there is heaps more technology headed for the 2.4Ghz spectrum, making life in the future even more difficult for those unlicensed bands.

    Scott

    SoundEngine.com

  • cobalt

    From my understanding of wireless USB, the protocol should support any USB 2.0 device. So you have a USB dongle on your PC, allowing you to connect wirelessly to a USB hub, which is attached to all your gear. Whether we'll get really seamless connectivity for something like multiple MIDI data channels or an audio interface, we'll see. The advantage of wireless USB though would be theoretically that it will work with hard drive storage, audio interfaces, etc. And of course, wireless MIDI and wireless USB might work together in interesting ways.

    I had to switch my cordless phones to 5.8 GHz because of the "death ray" effect on my wifi network. The Tranzport wireless controller also runs at 2.4 GHz, although I haven't noticed any interference with wifi from it.

  • WarpedEye

    Sounds very nice, I'd like to use something like this for live performance and DJing. But, 2.4GHz? I'm not so shure, as others have said.

    And I agree with kalistipah, why hasn't there been midi products that use bluetooth? Is there any noticeable latency in Bluetooth?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wireless USB isn't going to solve everything, because there are still devices (like Roland's AX-7 keytar) that I'd like to plug in wirelessly. So M-Audio's USB-to-wireless MIDI adapter should be really interesting when it ships, especially since a lot of us are swimming in keyboards like the Oxygen. (If you have an original Oxygen, though, this could be a worthy upgrade — build quality has improved a lot since the old M-Audio gear. Remember when they were Midiman?)

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  • david radford

    we have the problem solved????????????????????????

    24 bit 192 khz sampling digital wireless 1/4 inch in xlr in spdif in rca in midi in wireless ………….no usb is data only ???????????

  • Curtis Williams

    It's August

  • Ger

    Tried the M-audio USB wireless interface with my Roland AX-7. It simply does not offer the promise it makes, which is 10 meters under typical circumstances. With 2 meters distance I already had hanging notes (only thing between the transmitter and receiver was my body). At about 4 meters (line of sight connection) I found noticable delays. You don't want to have this happen on stage. I sent I back to the supplier and will most probably look for something with a wider range.