Time for a new MIDI standard?
With MFX processors becoming more popular among guitarists, perhaps it's time for manufacturers to put some thought into making their products more usable. I don't want to discuss UIs; that's a subject that could take a lot of time to properly address. I believe in addressing problems that are more tractable and have a short-term payoff.
In particular, I think there's a big opportunity for improvement in how MFX processors interface to floorboards.
There are four common approaches in use today:
- The all-in-one unit combines the floorboard and the processor. This offers several advantages:
- overall convenience,
- excellent integration between the flooboard and the processor, and
- low system cost.
- limitations in its ability to integrate with larger systems,
- compromises in ruggedness and long-term reliability of the controllers in order to hit a low price point, and
- lack of user choice regarding controller size and layout.
- The proprietary separate controller with proprietary interface has only some of the benefits and all of the disadvantages of the all-in-one architecture. In particular, the cost of this controller is often a significant fraction of the processor's cost. That cost is difficult to recoup in the event that the owner decides to change brands.
- The proprietary separate controller with MIDI interface is less common. (The only current example would be the MFC controller for the Fractal Audio Axe-FX.) Because of the non-proprietary interface, there's some chance that the controller itself can be repurposed to control a different processor, although it's likely that not all of the controller's functions will be operative except with the matching processor.
- The general-purpose controller with MIDI interface alleviates all of the disadvantages of the all-in-one system and the proprietary separate controller with proprietary interface. However, the general-purpose controller nearly always fails to take advantage of the attached processor's full control and display capabilities.
What I'd really like to see is an industry consortium formed to create a new standard for the things that floorboard controllers commonly need to do when combined with a MFX processor.
Wouldn't it be cool to have a choice of floorboard controllers - from different manufacturers, with different capabilities and price points - that can all handle the most common two-way communication with your MFX?
If a consortium could standardize protocols for
- patch name display,
- tuner display,
- annunciator (LED) status for on-off parameters,
- initial state of toggle footswitches upon patch change,
- dumping initial status of the MFX to the pedalboard,
Think about it: you could still program your floorboard to make it work the way you want, but you wouldn't have to do any programming at all. Your new floorboard (selected according to your needs) would work right out of the box - with any MFX processor that also implemented the new standard - and provide functionality (e.g.: patch names from the MFX, tuner display, and sync controller status indicators with MFX) that you can only get today with a proprietary controller.