When working with MIDI hardware, a stable clock signal is the key to accurate timing. Greg Scarth checks out a neat new solution for live and studio use.
ERM’s Midiclock is an incredibly simple device: a tiny box which generates a rock solid MIDI clock signal. Whether working in the studio or a live setting, accurate MIDI clock is the key to precise timing. Older drum machines in particular are notoriously imprecise, but even the clocks on newer hardware and software can suffer from jitter – tiny deviations from perfectly even timing. The Midiclock allows all your equipment to be slaved to a rock solid clock signal, which is output over a pair of DIN sockets. ERM claims that the Midiclock is 50,000 times more accurate than the average DAW (a technical report, The Impact of Clock Jitter on MIDI Syncable DAWs, is available on the company’s website).
Too many products in the boutique hardware market feel distinctly home-made. The Midiclock clearly bucks the trend. It’s made by hand in Berlin, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a DIY project. The powder-coated steel case is solid and well finished, with neat rubber pads on the base. The LCD screen is high quality and clear. The rotary control for tempo is reassuringly solid.
ERM claims that the Midiclock is 50,000 times more accurate than the average DAW.
The unit is powered via a USB connection. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a computer connection; the Midiclock isn’t a USB device, but a standard USB type B connector is used so the unit can be powered by any computer or USB charger. It’s a smart move which we’re surprised more manufacturers haven’t adopted.
The tempo of the clock signal is set using a rotary control which dials in your chosen clock speed in 0.1 bpm increments. The tempo range extends from 60 to 200 bpm. In Normal mode turning the knob doesn’t immediately adjust the tempo but allows you to dial in a new setting which is activated immediately by pushing the tempo knob once. Double-clicking the tempo knob switches the unit to Live mode, in which the tempo of the master clock varies in real time as you adjust the knob.
The only other controls on the unit are play/pause and resync/reset buttons. The former works like any other play/pause button, resuming playback from the same point it was paused. The resync/reset button is an interesting feature which makes a lot of sense in a live context. Hitting it during playback works to resynchronise all devices by resetting the song position pointer at the start of the next bar. Effectively this means that any devices which have slipped out of sync are immediately and seamlessly restarted without interrupting playback. A flashing LED gives visual feedback; for an additional €30, ERM will also offer a modified version with a headphone jack providing a metronome click.
The Midiclock is a product that makes life very easy for reviewers: you can sum up its purpose in a sentence and it works exactly as promised. The ability to start, stop and adjust the tempo of a MIDI clock signal isn’t going to win any award for innovation, but that’s not really the point. You might not be impressed by perfect timing, per se, but if you’ve experienced the frustration of imprecise timing you’ll know how important it is. The key feature of the Midiclock is that the timing of the clock signal is rock solid. With a claimed average jitter of 0.1 µs and a maximum deviation of 0.46 µs, this is a seriously stable foundation for anyone trying to sync MIDI gear. There may be a case for the addition of other features – a tap tempo option, perhaps, or a true stop button in addition to the pause and reset approach – but fundamentally the Midisync is a very simple but highly effective solution to a common problem.
Purchase: ERM Midiclock
The Final Word
A simple but effective solution for anyone suffering from MIDI clock jitter problems.