Midipal clock - how precise?
  • Just wondering how precise the tempo is for the clock in midipal apps Sequencer, Synclatch, Clock, Drums, Arpeggio, Delay.

    Not that I have noticed any problems so far, but in particular I might like to use Clock app as a master clock for my setup, on occasions that I want a very precise tempo – if it is particularly accurate/jitter free.

  • Its accurate as the Quartz itself so its typical ±30ppm which is the overall precision.
    The jitter is up to the Hardware which is so simple i don’t expect any, the
    wow and flutter the MIDIpal produces is dependent on the Software it runs and should be next to nothing (as i suspect Olivier to make things with a bulletproof timing…).
    So the whole thing should be better than most Windows based Systems and as good as a OSX/eMagic Unitor combo or an MPC.

  • What do you compare it with though? Everything varies slightly. You would probably need an atomic clock to compare it with.

  • Not really… you can actually hear if a Sequencer/MIDIinterface has a “tight” timing or not. Tight is a MPC, totally untight is AbletonLive running under Win7 triggering Drums on an E4XT via an Novation ReMote 49 SLs MIDI Interface. If you measure this it will be well within Milliseconds, but you can here theres something wrong – it simply istn tight. Its like comparing your best Drummer Buddie when drunk with Simon Phillips when recording. So yes – timing does matter to me.

    But trying to Sync the Ableton/Win7/E4XT/Novation Mess above with a MIDIpal wouldn’t make it better i guess….

  • It is easy to roughly measure by recording audio from a known accurate slave device, anyway I just did this and the widest variation between clocks was 48 samples at 44.1khz so around 1.088ms – pretty damn good! Taking into account that the slave would be contributing some of the deviation, certainly good enough for my needs :)

  • 1ms is quite good – 9ms is quite suboptimal…..

  • Well there’s “tight” timing, how much latency and jitter there is, then there’s accurate which means how accurate is the tempo.

    Two different things :)

  • Colin Fraser, maker of Cirklon, wrote a nice post on the Sequentix forum as answer to the question if anyone knows how the Cirklon compares to other machines for timing accuracy. I’m just copy and pasting here, but I found it an interesting read. :) Hope he doesn’t mind..

    I feel an essay coming on…
    Before starting work on Cirklon, I did a fair amount of research into timing, so I think I have a pretty good take on it.
    I’m open to debate, so long as it’s based on empirical evidence (e.g. double-blind listening tests) and not just an assumption that a linear improvement in timing precision leads to a linear increase in perceived tightness.

    There are two important factors in the tightness of a sequencer – the internal accuracy of the timing of output events, and the minimum transmission latency.
    The most significant of these for a hardware MIDI sequencer is always going to be transmission latency.
    I found timing differences between multiple notes that are supposed to be playing at the same time are much more audible than variations in the timing of a regular single note.
    MIDI takes just under 1 millisecond to send a note message, or 0.64ms with running status.
    MIDI gets an unfair amount of blame for bad timing, IMHO. A 0.64ms timing spread between ‘simultaneous’ notes is not going to be audible unless the attack times of the sounds are close to or shorter than the delay.
    When you’re dealing with a synth sound, the oscillators across different voices at different pitches will be at different points in their phase, so even at super fast attack times there would be a variable amount of note-on click across different voices that will mask MIDI timing spread.
    Practically speaking, many MIDI synths add more processing latency than the MIDI delay anyway.
    Where MIDI does fall down is with percussive sounds. Triggering simultaneous drum sounds with varying MIDI delay will often lead to phasing effects changing the character of the combined sound.
    Even if it’s not audible as a timing error, you can hear it as a tonal change.
    That’s why I trigger my drums with the dedicated drum trigger output with synchronised trigger pulses (boards will be available soon).
    The way to get the best timing from MIDI is to use as many MIDI busses as possible and spread instruments across them.
    The fewer notes that are being sent on each MIDI port, the lower the average delay on each one is, and the closer together all the notes on one beat will be.
    For a sequencer with multiple ports, you should start with a single instrument on each port, and when/if you need to start doubling up, try to mix a synth that is more often used for pads or less attacky sounds, with a monosynth that might be doing snappy or precussive stuff. And keep the monosynth on a track with higher processing priority. On Cirklon, tracks are processed in ascending numerical order.
    Assuming the internal timing accuracy is not a factor, I think it fair to say that in real terms (i.e. actually making music with it, as opposed to doing a laboratory analysis of timing), the MIDI sequencer with the best timing accuracy is the one with most independent MIDI outs. That puts Cirklon ahead of most other hardware sequencers.
    I’m not aware of anything with more than 5 ports other than the Yamaha QX1, or a custom MIDIBox sequencer.

    Coming to the internal timing accuracy, there are different approaches to timing events in a sequencer, and the approach used will affect the underlying timing precision.
    I’ve seen the results of the timing tests on Inner Clock’s site, and there’s some very useful information there.
    But, given that we’re using MIDI, and listening to the results with human ears, there’s a point at which improving timing accuracy offers no further benefit.
    A typical pair of human ears will be separated by about 6 inches.
    The extra distance that sound must travel to the far ear, if it is coming directly from one side of the listener, is about 8 inches – the length of the path the sound wave takes round your head.
    This leads to what is called ITD – interaural time delay. It is in the order of 0.75ms for a typical head.
    This time delay is used by the auditory system to extract spatial information.
    That’s why a binaural (dummy head) recording sounds so much more 3-dimensional than stereo – our ears use both amplitude difference and ITD to localize sound.
    Stereo mixing usually only uses amplitude.
    The upshot of this is that rhythmic deviations around or below your maximum ITD can not be perceived as a temporal difference.
    ITD information is encoded as spatial information before it passes up the auditory system, so the perceptual timing resolution at higher levels cannot exceed it.
    You can demonstrate this very easily. Put your head halfway between a pair of speakers, with a rhythmic sound playing.
    Move your head 6 inches nearer to one of the speakers.
    Your head is now 1 foot closer to one of the speakers than the other, so you are hearing the sound from the nearer speaker almost 1 millisecond in advance of the other speaker.
    Did you hear a spatial change, or did you hear the drum sound coming from the nearer speaker with an echo in the other speaker ?
    I did various a/b listening tests to see what level of rhythmic error I could reliably detect in a rhythm, and I couldn’t reliably identify an error of 1 ms.
    Note that this is purely the ability to discriminate a timing error in a regular pattern of isolated sound events.
    On that basis, I set the heart-beat period of the Cirklon sequence engine at 250us – at least 4 times better than I could hear.
    Tempo is calculated to a much higher precision (1/65536th ms), but the timing of individual events is quantised to a 250us window, such that typical timing jitter is in the order of 125us before MIDI delay.
    If you’re interested in testing your own hearing, I can upload some test sounds and point you to the WinABX double-blind audio testing software.

    The CVIO output on Cirklon has a much higher bandwidth than MIDI.
    For that reason, I chose to deliberately delay sending of the data to the CVIO until after the MIDI data had a headstart.
    This is so that a MIDI receiving instrument with minimal processing latency is likely to be in closer sync with any gates being triggered on CVIO on the same tick.
    The change of state of the CVIO gate outputs is synchronised across all outputs for the same clock tick, since the simultaneous triggering of sounds was found to be so important.

  • MidiPal clock the most accurate and stable clock source among the ones I’ve tested.

    Here are some numbers for clock accuracy and stability expressed as average BMP and standard deviation over 96 clocks (4 beats). All devices were set to 40, 120 and 240 BPM:

    MidiPal: 39.9/0.1% 120.1/0.3% 240.5/0.2%
    Alesis HR16: 40.7/1.5% 121.2/0.7% 242.3/1.2%
    Alesis SR18: 39.9/0.1% 120.0/0.3% 240.3/1.0%
    DSI Evolver: 39.9/0.2% 120.1/0.5% 240.4/0.9%
    Korg Z1: 40.1/0.2% 120.1/0.5% 240.2/1.2%
    Roland Gaia: 39.9/0.9% 120.1/1.8% 240.7/4.7%

    The test was performed using Midi Clock Tester (a one off project I did to teach myself Atmel programming) calibrated with very accurate lab function generator.

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  • No surprise with the GAIA but I’m a bit shocked by the Evolver

  • Are those SR18 figures correct? The 240.3/1.0% must have a typo?

  • It’s not a typo, i just repeated the test and got the the same result.

    SR18 clocks seems to be pretty tight up to 180 BMP, however after that stability slowly degrades reaching 1.5% at 300 BPM.

  • You have midipal as 240.5/0.2% and SR18 as 240.3/1.0% so a 0.3 bpm deviation would not be a 1% error would it, more like 0.1 something or am I misunderstanding you numbers?

  • The second number (percentage) is a sqrt( 1 / (N-1) * sum( (Xn – Xave)^2 ), i.e. how close clock values are grouped around their average value. This characterizes clock stability as opposed to clock accuracy, i.e. how close are the clock values to 240 BMP.

  • Ah, I see – thanks for clarifying.

  • Hi,

    First post here. I’m semi-curious how accurate my “good ‘ol” Yamaha RM1x is. I’ve been using as my master clock for years.

    Regarding the Evolver, are you sure the “slop” setting was set to zero? The Evolver can intentionally add inaccuracies to give a more “analog” feel. I’ve never noticed if this is just pure OSC slop or more.

  • Very cool, thanks kvitekp (fancy seeing you here, still have your PC1600?). And high Daren also!

    One thing that would be interesting for me – hoping you have Ableton Live, I would love to see a test of its MIDI clock output. I appreciate that it might be a function of the MIDI interface you have in between, but still… Also if you have any other major DAW platforms…

  • @phreon — I don’t have Yamaha RMx1 but plan to get one off ebay some day, will let you know… Evolver’s OSC slop does not affect sequencer clock.

    @dnigrin — hey, good to see you too ;) my PC1600 is somewhere in storage on the other side of the globe :) I don’t have Ableton Live, still using Cubase SX. The best clock I could achieve is with Win XP based desktop, trimmed down to absolute minimum of running services, with disabled ACPI and every device using dedicated interrupt number, running midisport 8x8 — it has standard deviation 1.5%. Typical modern PC running Windows 7 is around 3-4%

  • Thanks – that’s pretty bad. I’m primarily Mac-based, I wonder if the situation is any better there…. My personal experience with the Ableton clock is that it is not very good…

  • Hi Dan!

    kvitekp – Might be interesting to use the midipal bpm monitor on the SR18, HR16, Z1, Evolver and Gaia to see if it reports the same errors.

  • darenager — MidiPal’s clock tester and my midi clock tester are in perfect agreement all the way up to 200 BPM, after that there is some minor difference in readings, for example at 240 MidiPal shows 240.3 and my tester shows 240.5, so the result would be identical for 40 and 120 bpm. Unfortunately, MidiPal does not test clock stability.

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  • @phreon — Yamaha RMx1 clock is excellent, I have not seen it better than that! It’s very precise and perfectly stable in its entire range:


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  • Thats so cool, I’d like such a test circuit too :) You don’t happen have an MPC1000 around to test? I would be really interested to know, especially because everyone is always blabbering about its super tight timing ;)

  • If you want super tight timing then MIDI isn’t the thing to use, you want CV.

  • Whilst that is true (CV junkie over here!) for some things midi is still needed (at least here, some of the time) so I do think it is handy to know this info.

  • @flip: yeah, clock stability tester is very useful, we may try to convince Olivier to add stability calculation in MidiPal’s BPM Meter app.

    No, I don’t have MPC1000 around and have no plans to acquire it at this point.

  • Wow, I always had a sense the RM1x is stable, but not that good. Hopefully they’re all that good and the one you tested isn’t an outlier. BTW, the one you pictured is very clean looking. Mine’s a bit more “loved” looking. Your result is yet another reason to hang on to the old thing.

    BTW, I hadn’t noticed how horrible the GAIA’s clock is.

  • I’d be very surprised to see any variation with different RM1x devices, they should all have the same super stable clock, no matter how “loved” they are. I just started to learn the thing and i’m already impressed… even the sound engine that i did not expect to be any good turned out to have some useful sounds.

    As for GAIA... well, it’s a great controller: all those knobs and sliders send some midi data which, if mapped through my toy project built on MidiPal platform, can control other synths with much more interesting sound ;)

  • Yamaha make rock solid kit, it’s just boring though :) the best devices they do tend to fail to catch on (eg. FS1r).

  • You can get really precise timing with MIDI from Ableton, you just have to be fanatical about it like these guys

  • Oh, this thread looks like made exactly for my actual doubt :)
    How cool!

    So, I have an Octatrack, Ableton Live Suite 8 with Max4Live, Electribe EMX, Kaoss Pad 3, Blofeld, Shruthi-1 soon, Midipal sooner, and Novation Impulse 49 (it has got internal arpeggiator, as also a note repeat + swing function on the pads, so I suppose it must be synced too).
    The idea is to do live looping/sampling performances combining the different possibilities of Octatrack and Ableton. Most will be improvisation, but I will also use some prepared samples.

    I am still learning how to use all those things more than actually making music with them, but I want to start from now to learn how to sync all.

    Ableton will run in a notebook with 8gb ram, in a SSD which I will optimize for the exclusive use of music production/performance (ah, any suggested lecture about which OS would be better and which services to leave, is SUPER welcome).
    The audio interface is a Roland Quad Capture which, for what I read, manages the midi clock internally, with very high precision, with a quartz crystal, very low latency and jiitter.

    I must set the Octatrack as Master or its pickup machine will not loop properly. Anyway if the problem is Ableton, we cannot solve it by just setting another device as Master.

    If Ableton´s problem is only when triggering an external device, I can use the OT to do that, and use Ableton only as a live looper, for example.

    I am trying to avoid the purchase of an Innerclock if not, but I absolutely needed.
    (BTW how the hell can they make all fit together?)

    What do you suggest?


  • I’m not sure that the kaosspad can be synced, but any and everything that has midi can, and will be synced, it might take a few read troughs of the manuals though, since some default to their own, others change to accept incoming sync when they detect it :/

    Something like the GM 5x5x5 midi interface seem to have much better drivers, and hence timing than the generic midi interfaces, apart from that, i guess the last thing to do is to sync as much as possible to the same midi interface (again, the 5x5x5 is handy for that), since everything should in theory achieve the same delay problems as anything else in the loop :)

  • I also was sure that a master slave settings in each device should be enough, but apparently it is not, at least with ableton.

    What is a gmx5x5x5x for? That site is a nightmare. I have typed gm5x5x5x in the search box and it is 5min there looking for something.

  • Here’s a link to the relevant MIDIbox Wiki page about the GM5x5x5 which is a Ploytec GM5 USB to MIDI interface with the full treatment of 5 x MIDI in and 5 x MIDI out. You can follow the links to the GM5 IC itself and various bits on the MIDIbox forum. There was just another (completed) bulk order for 250 GM5 ICs so a few of us will soon have more of those interfaces. Once in a while someone might sell one in the fleamarket section of the MIDIbox forum.

  • Oh thanks! But still, in that link there is no info about what this device does :(
    How could I benefit from it?

  • @kvitekp, I’m actually interested in that MIDITHRU pcb, where’d ya get it, can’t quite read the website.

  • @shimoda: I don’t have any more MidiThru pcbs laying around. The Eagle files are available here, however, if we’re going to make another run, i’d re-factor pcbs to add mounting holes.

  • Funnily this thread was delivered to me as i googled “Cirklon timing accuracy” to compare some values i sampled off a new (totally secret!) project with my personal reference piece of hardware in respect of tight timing. Im pleased that after 2 Days of fine-tuning Firmware and counting cycles i am in the same league…... they all cook only with water ;-)

  • So you are working on a sequencer?

  • Nope, just an very accurate Programmer. :-)

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