Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not great?

You can talk about almost anything that you want to on this board.

Moderator: Moderators

zzo38
Posts: 1064
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 12:46 pm

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by zzo38 » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:02 pm

I think MIDI files are not the best format for final distribution of music, unless what you are intending to distribute is the sequence of notes rather than the sounds, anyways (although it can be used during your work; also, of course you can distribute both files, if you want to distribute both the sounds and the notes!). However, MIDI can be use for many things, not only music.
[url=gopher://zzo38computer.org/].[/url]

User avatar
FrankenGraphics
Formerly WheelInventor
Posts: 2032
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:55 am
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by FrankenGraphics » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:58 pm

However, MIDI can be use for many things, not only music.
Including the rise of the ringtone industry in the 90:s and subtitled karaoke machines ;) Want to escalate that brooding conflict with your neighbor beyond the point of no return? connect their smart light relays to your drum machine.
http://www.frankengraphics.com - personal NES blog

Revenant
Posts: 441
Joined: Sat Apr 25, 2015 1:47 pm
Location: FL

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Revenant » Fri Oct 20, 2017 1:00 pm

Bregalad wrote:Of course it didn't age so well, but at least you got a workable GM + minimal GS set on your computer.
Very minimal, as it were - GM.DLS contains the entire SC-55 patch set, but for some reason, using the extended instrument selection other than drum kits is not actually possible (i.e. using the bank select CCs for melodic instruments does nothing).

93143
Posts: 1146
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2014 9:31 pm

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by 93143 » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:02 pm

On further reflection I think it was CD audio that killed MIDI. Once games could just use Red Book audio for free, there seemed to be no point improving MIDI playback. (And it was literally Red Book audio - you could pop X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter into your stereo, skip to Track 2, and just kick back and listen to John Williams' Greatest Hits.) The SoundBlaster Live! took the whole thing through a hard left turn where instead of better default playback (which it had), the draw was amateur music production using SoundFont and EAX. By the time the amateur music scene rejected the Audigy and SoundFont 2.1 in favour of VST, the idea of 'better sound card = better MIDI playback' was already dead.

And it's not like we can't do better. Leaving aside movie-grade orchestra sets that ship on hard drives, there are loads of amateur soundfonts that prove you can crush Microsoft GS with a couple dozen megabytes of samples, and even beat a professional hardware synth under some circumstances. Imagine what a professionally balanced GS set targeted to modern PC resources could sound like!

User avatar
FrankenGraphics
Formerly WheelInventor
Posts: 2032
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:55 am
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by FrankenGraphics » Sat Oct 21, 2017 1:28 am

As far as games go, that's probably right.

By 1999, General MIDI 2 was declared, mostly to cover for deviations in roland and yamaha keyboard products. But by then, the window for GM was steadily shrinking as software synths became more and more competent/viable, along with DSP cards entering the music production market.

GM2 largely seems to have lived out its days as a provisional composition/arrangement tool for scores meant to be recorded by ensembles anyway.

Plain, open ended MIDI is of couse indispensible in music/studio production. I cannot understand why adobe decided to drop MIDI support from its audio workstation software. Not that they get mentioned a lot in music/studio circles, but since it's part of the bundle, it would've been an option if they hadn't arbitrarily downgraded it.
http://www.frankengraphics.com - personal NES blog

User avatar
Bregalad
Posts: 7880
Joined: Fri Nov 12, 2004 2:49 pm
Location: Chexbres, VD, Switzerland

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Bregalad » Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:23 pm

Very minimal, as it were - GM.DLS contains the entire SC-55 patch set, but for some reason, using the extended instrument selection other than drum kits is not actually possible (i.e. using the bank select CCs for melodic instruments does nothing)
I can get a "Sine wave" using the "Sqare Wave" instrument with bank 8, and a detune electric piano using bank 8 and patch #4 and #5, as well as detuned organs using bank 8 and patches #16 and #17. I can also get a non-detuned Square Wave using bank 1 and patch #80, as well as a non detuned saw wave using bank 1 and patch #81 (normally those are detuned when using bank #0 on almost all synths).
It's required to send a "GS Reset" sysex before accessing those features though. This also makes non-valid instrument silent, which is not always a good solution.

User avatar
rainwarrior
Posts: 7814
Joined: Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:03 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by rainwarrior » Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:37 pm

Is there some documentation somewhere of which controls it responds to, which bank/instrument combinations produce variations, etc?

Revenant
Posts: 441
Joined: Sat Apr 25, 2015 1:47 pm
Location: FL

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Revenant » Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:20 pm

Bregalad wrote:I can get a "Sine wave" using the "Sqare Wave" instrument with bank 8, and a detune electric piano using bank 8 and patch #4 and #5, as well as detuned organs using bank 8 and patches #16 and #17. I can also get a non-detuned Square Wave using bank 1 and patch #80, as well as a non detuned saw wave using bank 1 and patch #81 (normally those are detuned when using bank #0 on almost all synths).
It's required to send a "GS Reset" sysex before accessing those features though. This also makes non-valid instrument silent, which is not always a good solution.
Huh, you're right. I remember GS MIDI files not always playing back with the correct patches when I tried, but maybe whatever I was using to play them was sending regular GM reset messages and disabling the other banks or something.

Do you know if a real Sound Canvas required using the sysex to enable those patches? It seems strange that the Windows version gives you access to the extra drum kits by default but not the rest.

Bavi_H
Posts: 123
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:52 am
Location: Texas, USA
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Bavi_H » Sun Oct 22, 2017 1:24 am

rainwarrior wrote:Is there some documentation somewhere of which controls it responds to, which bank/instrument combinations produce variations, etc?
A. Sekaiju, a basic MIDI sequencer for Windows, comes with a "Cakewalk-compatible instrument definition file" (.ins file) for the Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth. In the Sekaiju zip file, look in the instrument folder for Microsoft_GS_Wavetable_Synth.ins. It's a plain text format that tells the sequencer the what names to display when you change the program, bank MSB (CC 0), and bank LSB (CC 32) numbers. It also has drum note names, controller names, and registered parameter names. However, the comments at the beginning of the file explain the developer (kuzu) gathered the information from the internet:
; This list is based on uncertain information on the Internet.
; First, Microsoft does not publish the specification of MSGS.
; Therefore, this list may be wrong.
B. If the Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth contains the SC-55 sound set, then the program and bank listing in the SC-55 manual may be another starting point: Roland Manual Archive, Roland SC-55 Owner's Manual (PDF).


Using Bregalad's tip, I made an example MIDI file that plays the "GS Reset" system exclusive message and the four gunshot variations. I can hear these variations on my Windows 8.1 computer.

Note: Sekaiju and the .ins file use program numbers between 0 and 127. (Gunshot is 127.)
The SC-55 manual uses program numbers between 1 and 128. (Gunshot is 128.)
gunshot-variations.png
Edit 2019-03-26: Added link to a description of the Cakewalk instrument definition file format.
Attachments
gunshot-variations.zip
(353 Bytes) Downloaded 75 times
Last edited by Bavi_H on Tue Mar 26, 2019 9:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Bregalad
Posts: 7880
Joined: Fri Nov 12, 2004 2:49 pm
Location: Chexbres, VD, Switzerland

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Bregalad » Sun Oct 22, 2017 1:33 am

Revenant wrote: Do you know if a real Sound Canvas required using the sysex to enable those patches? It seems strange that the Windows version gives you access to the extra drum kits by default but not the rest.
I can't say for the SC-55, but my SC-88 pro never disables instruments, if an invalid instrument is selected the previously used instrument on that channel continues to be used (not that this is not a very good choice either - normally the synth is supposed to "fall back" to the corresponding General MIDI instrument).

You do not need sysex to change mode, by pressing select+part buttons you can change the synth to reset to General MIDI or GS mode manually.

User avatar
rainwarrior
Posts: 7814
Joined: Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:03 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by rainwarrior » Sun Oct 22, 2017 8:19 am

Thanks for that info, Bavi_H. That's interesting. It seems really weird to me that they never documented what their synthesizer could do.

Pokun
Posts: 1448
Joined: Tue May 28, 2013 5:49 am
Location: Hokkaido, Japan

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Pokun » Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:18 pm

So midi is still used a lot in the music production process even though the final audio data in games are normally PCM.
FrankenGraphics wrote:
Yes I think midi has commands for effects like echo and reverb and also things like sustain pedals on midi keyboards. But you can't do anything outside the specifications so I guess it's mostly only good for music and simple sound effects.
This is incorrect. You can get very sophisticated with MIDI. This is done through CC (control change) messages. With these you can program just about any parameter in your synth; including but not limited to patch parameters, internal fx (not just echo/reverb but any imaginable effect), and whole bank and RAM rewrites (for example including patches, samples, waveforms, depending on the synth). EDIT: oops, the stuff marked in red is not CC, but SysEx, which is designed do do just about anything... some synths would let you upload new firmware via SysEx messages, potentially working as a jailbreak. Naturally, SysEx is even more wild west.
. They have a sample rate and sample depth which sometimes (rarely) restricts you, but a competent synth can work around that.The crux is, CC:s are designed rather open ended so synths can use them for whatever the engineers want them to. While some synths and samplers may adhere to a loose standard, it's a bit of a wild west case. I'm not sure but i wouldn't be surprised if windows and most old midi to audio cards simply doesn't listen to the bulk of the CC range.
I see, midi is more versatile than I thought.
lidnariq wrote:
Pokun wrote:I don't know if the midi was part of the soundcard hardware on my 98 computer or something though.
That was during a period when there were a bunch of sampler soundcards. (The GUS, the AWE32, and a few less famous options)

Sometime around the start of Windows XP, though, it became assumed that CPUs and a softsynth were both Good Enough. Drivers often included their own incompetent software emulations of EAX, which caused crashes.
Yeah maybe my soundcard had that. When we got a new computer with Windows XP I noticed that RPG Maker 2000 games sounded so much worse, first I thought it was the new puny speakers or something but then I noticed it was only midi sound that had declined in quality.
I'm pretty pleased with Airfont 340.
OK gotta try that soundfont. I'm currently using FluidR3_GM.

Rahsennor
Posts: 475
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2015 3:09 am

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Rahsennor » Wed Oct 25, 2017 2:30 am

Win98 was also around the time Yamaha produced some cheap XG MIDI soundcards. The YMF724's Sondius-XG mode sounded incredible (IMHO), but was limited to that one operating system - the drivers for later versions of Windows sounded awful by comparison.

User avatar
FrankenGraphics
Formerly WheelInventor
Posts: 2032
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:55 am
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Contact:

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by FrankenGraphics » Wed Oct 25, 2017 4:25 am

pokun wrote:So midi is still used a lot in the music production process even though the final audio data in games are normally PCM.
Definitely. Consider the time before MIDI. Every single instrument/ensemble had to be recorded by live/studio musicians. That sort of manual labour gets really expensive quickly; especially for "large sound" productions common in pop music and soundtracks. You want strings? Then you got to pay for a group of people rehearsing and playing it, a full-feature studio and an engineer to record it. The alternative (voltage controlled synthesizers) were expensive and had limited composing capabilities at this point. Because of this, MIDI is often credited for saving the record industry in the 80:s. It is still integral and indispensible to any sort of music production not reliant on a minimalist performer setup, such as a singer-songwriter or a basic setup rock band.

It is also responsible for the longevity of certain styles. While there were examples of hip hop, synth pop and numerous subspecies of electronic dance music prior to the launch of MIDI, that's what made them explode.

But at the same time, i know for a fact that the soundtrack for Breath of the Wild was performed by studio musicians on acoustic instruments, so apparently, some dev houses have the budget for that.The fact that the backbone of BotW is played on piano probably mitigates the cost by some. MIDI probably played some role as a compositing tool (any notation program ususally builds on MIDI).
I see, midi is more versatile than I thought.
On one hand (for musical purposes), the MIDI standard is almost perfect. It's still version 1.0, because there has never been a need for additional features or restructuring so great that it overrules the need for a consistent standard for communication between instruments. There has been some plugin-type standards (GM, GM2, super speed variants) but original MIDI has outlived them all.

On the other, it is clearly limited because it is designed around the piano/keyboard as the main interface, which isn't a particularily well-suited interface for sound synthesis. It's just that way because of path dependence (for example, the piano keyboard has traditionally been many composers' go-to tool because of its wide range, digitized notes, see-all layout and neutral tone). Buchla-style synths, ribbon controllers, theremins, other modernist instruments or any fretless traditional instrument, or even drums - all these need more or less cumbersome workarounds to be played properly via MIDI. In some cases, a good enough compromise can be achieved, but in some other, it's not worth the hassle. Additionally, there are also other ways of composing music and sound that just doesn't fit the way MIDI is structured - The reemergence of modular and/or voltage controlled/controlling interfaces and instruments in the last ~15 years speak for the need for covering this gap.

For other purposes than music, there's often a better standard. MIDI *can* control (certain) light rigs and relays, but DMX does it more robustly and can send 512 slots of channel data, each one byte long with each frame, though it has a slower frame rate than MIDI iirc. The "fast" frame rate of MIDI is wasted on light rigs.
http://www.frankengraphics.com - personal NES blog

Pokun
Posts: 1448
Joined: Tue May 28, 2013 5:49 am
Location: Hokkaido, Japan

Re: Why does the Windows MIDI soundfont sound so... not grea

Post by Pokun » Thu Oct 26, 2017 7:50 am

Interesting, so there's probably nothing replacing midi in music production in the near future.

Post Reply