Is Midi Latency ever noticeable??
Old 20th August 2009
  #1
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Thread Starter
Is Midi Latency ever noticeable??

When using rackmounts with midi controllers (vs. an all-in-one synth) is midi latency ever perceivable?

Looked around on google for a bit but it was pretty fruitless.

What sort of delay in milliseconds is normal?
Old 20th August 2009
  #2
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According to some, I probably have the 'worst' set up: all synths on one chain, cheap hosa cables, rompler drums, long runs. I probably have around 20m of MIDI cable. But I don't give a toss about that as the latency of the interface is of more annoyance.

I'd gather around 1-5ms is normal for a modern MIDI interface. Keep in mind this does not include the module/synth's response. MIDI is a serial protocol with 7-bit resolution.

Where's VAC when we need him?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elvis Gotta Gun View Post
When using rackmounts with midi controllers (vs. an all-in-one synth) is midi latency ever perceivable?

Looked around on google for a bit but it was pretty fruitless.

What sort of delay in milliseconds is normal?
Old 20th August 2009
  #3
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Thread Starter
Thx.

So it's basically a non-issue. Good to know.
Old 20th August 2009
  #4
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The latency is not in the cables, it is in the processing that occurs within the gear. And the amount of latency depends on the individual synth and/or midi interface etc. And although many have very short latency, some are pretty bad. For example, most of my synths have no noticable latency but I have an old Ensoniq VFX that has latency of something like 50 msec ( ! ) when used in certain modes, like when layering sounds.

But in a practical sense, latency is pretty easy to deal with, at least if you are actually recording the synth's audio tracks (rather than building big 'live' midi sequenced tracks with multiple sync'd synths).

Here's what I do - Record the synth's audio tracks. If it's a slow pad sound or anything that doesn't have a snappy attack, don't worry about it. A millisecond of latency added to a 650 millisecond attack time doesn't matter. If it's a snappy percussive sound that really must be right on the beat, it's really easy to just nudge the recorded DAW track so the attack transients line up on the beat. It only takes a few seconds per track to make the adjustments. And besides, I almost never use 100% quantized tracks, so they won't line up with the beat anyway. I play the tracks on a keyboard or midi drum pad, maybe fix a few wrong notes in the piano roll view, maybe tighten up the timing with something like 30% quantizing, but I don't want tracks that I played to end up sounding like they were just played by a machine.
Old 20th August 2009
  #5
Oli
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Some synths also have issues processing MIDI controls fast enough. I think this is primarily due to available processor resources.

Also, higher resolution NRPN strings, and some sysex strings require more time for completion of each frame. If sweeping realtime controls, on gear that with poor response, this may be a factor (I'm speculating though).

In some situations, overhead on a computer running a DAW can cause varying delays with MIDI echo or playback. Software environment and interface hardware and signalling conditions are factors here.

Using onboard controls usually circumvents bandwidth/processing issues.

Still for most decent gear, under most conditions, the delays are not an issue (for me at least).
Old 20th August 2009
  #6
Oli
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Peck View Post
The latency is not in the cables, it is in the processing that occurs within the gear. And the amount of latency depends on the individual synth and/or midi interface etc. And although many have very short latency, some are pretty bad. For example, most of my synths have no noticable latency but I have an old Ensoniq VFX that has latency of something like 50 msec ( ! ) when used in certain modes, like when layering sounds.
Oops, beat me to it. Nice explanation by the way.

Still some gear doesn't respond sufficiently well to real time control sweeps, which can't just be nudged in audio.
Old 20th August 2009
  #7
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That's cos you're being all posh with your MIDI automation

Sysex and CC messages take different processing times. Sysex being more intensive. But yes I do use the panel on my old crap.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oli View Post
Oops, beat me to it. Nice explanation by the way.

Still some gear doesn't respond sufficiently well to real time control sweeps, which can't just be nudged in audio.
Old 20th August 2009
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lain2097 View Post
That's cos you're being all posh with your MIDI automation

Sysex and CC messages take different processing times. Sysex being more intensive. But yes I do use the panel on my old crap.
It's probably just laziness on my part. I tend to treat the DAW as musical score more than anything, and don't work a lot in audio. It's an old habit from using slow computers in early 90s. Also, a fair bit of my gear doesn't have sufficient on board controls for live tweaking, so MIDI is the only option. If I'm finishing a track, I will record to audio, with live tweaking instead of automated control, as much as possible.
Old 20th August 2009
  #9
Gear Head
 

It blows my mind that a protocol as outdated as MIDI is still the standard. We shouldn't even need to have discussions about latency in 2009. The fact that it is serial just seems so archaic to me.

One thing that is nice for anyone who is completely ITB with modern DAWs, latency is not an issue as they automatically compensate and have sample accurate sequencing as long as you don't incorporate external gear.
Old 20th August 2009
  #10
According to Comparison of MIDI and OSC it's purely the DIN interface that's holding things back.

Which is really nice, if it weren't for the ridiculous fact that we're still working with this crap over DIN cables instead of over CAT5 or something that can use stupid, cheap consumer routing hardware.

Sadly enough all manufacturers are so busy trying to promote their own dead-along-the-roadside standard that we'll probably have to suffer for another two decades.
Old 21st August 2009
  #11
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back in ye olden times when all my sequencing was done on a workstation synth & it was daisy chained to another synth or 2, a drum module, a sampler, & maybe a couple rompler boxes... by the time the midi signal was hitting the device @ the end of the chain, latency was very noticeable. Now if yer running that much midi you can snag a Midi Timepiece & give each device it's own signal.
MOTU MIDI Timepiece AV Interface USB from zZounds.com!

try & avoid extensive daisy chains & you should be fine.
Old 21st August 2009
  #12
3 + infractions, forum membership suspended.
 

i switched from windows to osx so i could use logic with a unitor again. then i fell in love with macs. anywho... i had bad problems with windows, even after i built a music specific pc with special usb ports, boards, memory, processor, etc., that were all supposed to be the best thing for a music based computer. i tried out as many nfr daws, audio, and midi interfaces as i could my hands on while working at a music gear shop and i still had midi problems. i then received a copy of the last logic that was made for windows, and i had great results. problem was, it was loosing support for plugins and there would never be an update.

so, i bought a mac g5 and logic 7.2 and upgraded my amt to a unitor for around 25 usd. also at this time i got a good audio interface (lynx 2a), and everything worked, works and will continue to work better than anything i ever did with windows and pcs.

also, if you have synths that need midi to cv, vota is as tight as you can get.
Old 21st August 2009
  #13
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Everything I use is USB and it's fast as lightning!

OOPS, no I am only Joshing.

I have an MPC-60 and whatever Roger Linn and akai stuffed into that machine is just right! I am sure Midi hasn't gotten ANY better since the MPC-60, it's rock solid. I have never had any sort of timing issues... But then perhaps if I had a machine telling me how much latency I will get from my midi instruments and controllers, like DAW often do, I would be more aware and concerned with this "latency" thing. I used to use a lot of softs and it would always kill me when I would try and get my controllers response fast... slowly cranking that latency closer to zero... and then at about 20 ms the sound starts to turn to shit. I wish they didn't tell me how much latency there is! But my MPC has no such information to share with me so I don't know how many milliseconds it may be. Obviously not enough for me to notice... so I don't consider the matter and focus on creating good music!
Old 21st August 2009
  #14
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I primarily use an MPC1000 for my MIDI sequencing. It's only got about a millisecond of jitter, so it's nice and tight. Whenever I need to flip on the computer to do some sequencing, I use an M-Audio MIDISport 2x2. It was totally sucking for the longest time when I first got it until I learned about all the little ways to tweak Windoze to play along correctly. In ZTracker, I'm getting about 2ms of jitter and 4ms when I was using Sonar. I haven't tested it with Reaper yet. But with jitter rates that low, you only really notice when you're doing really fast music that needs super tight timing.
Old 21st August 2009
  #15
Oli
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From a technical point of view, there is nothing wrong with serial signalling. The DIN connector is also not a critical factor, as the data rate is set low for historical reasons.

Really high speed signalling is most easily done in serial. Parallel transmission can have issues with sync between the individual lines. These days, there is usually a means of boosting bit rates more easily than improving parallel sync.
Old 21st August 2009
  #16
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Exactly. I don't know what some of you are smoking but I've never and any sort of latency issues discussed. Yes I have drum machines and rompler modules too.

Besides as Dave Peck (below) said; it's not the protocol at fault but the damn synth/module! Even if your drum machine was connected via USB the response will remain the same. Actually probably worse due to driver complications. Which is precisely why low-latency USB audio interfaces don't have more than four ins/outs - besides the bandwidth.

Let's face it most medern gear sucks in terms of control response (MIDI or otherwise). My Juno 106 can respond to notes so fast that it sounds like FM whereas a Moog LP is ******** in comparison.

T1/E1 connections are serial by definition but have an extremely fast response (anything below 10 dropped frames is a problem) that VoIP can only dream of. (Sorry my Telco job comes out).

Not looking for a fight but WTF?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Peck View Post
The latency is not in the cables, it is in the processing that occurs within the gear. And the amount of latency depends on the individual synth and/or midi interface etc. And although many have very short latency, some are pretty bad. For example, most of my synths have no noticable latency but I have an old Ensoniq VFX that has latency of something like 50 msec ( ! ) when used in certain modes, like when layering sounds.

But in a practical sense, latency is pretty easy to deal with, at least if you are actually recording the synth's audio tracks (rather than building big 'live' midi sequenced tracks with multiple sync'd synths).

Here's what I do - Record the synth's audio tracks. If it's a slow pad sound or anything that doesn't have a snappy attack, don't worry about it. A millisecond of latency added to a 650 millisecond attack time doesn't matter. If it's a snappy percussive sound that really must be right on the beat, it's really easy to just nudge the recorded DAW track so the attack transients line up on the beat. It only takes a few seconds per track to make the adjustments. And besides, I almost never use 100% quantized tracks, so they won't line up with the beat anyway. I play the tracks on a keyboard or midi drum pad, maybe fix a few wrong notes in the piano roll view, maybe tighten up the timing with something like 30% quantizing, but I don't want tracks that I played to end up sounding like they were just played by a machine.
Old 23rd August 2009
  #17
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boreg's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Derp View Post
I primarily use an MPC1000 for my MIDI sequencing. It's only got about a millisecond of jitter, so it's nice and tight. Whenever I need to flip on the computer to do some sequencing, I use an M-Audio MIDISport 2x2. It was totally sucking for the longest time when I first got it until I learned about all the little ways to tweak Windoze to play along correctly. In ZTracker, I'm getting about 2ms of jitter and 4ms when I was using Sonar. I haven't tested it with Reaper yet. But with jitter rates that low, you only really notice when you're doing really fast music that needs super tight timing.
Derp, could you share these tweaks? I'm pretty much in the same boat as you (Windows XP, Reaper, Midisport 4x4 + several hardware synths). I've done some generic optimizations (like turning off unnecessary services), but is there anything that directly affects MIDI?
Old 23rd August 2009
  #18
Oli
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If you're using USB MIDI interface, then minimising all other USB traffic may be worthwhile. I would also not use an external USB hub.

Apart from disabling software components, I also disable hardware components which aren't used.
Old 24th August 2009
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boreg View Post
Derp, could you share these tweaks? I'm pretty much in the same boat as you (Windows XP, Reaper, Midisport 4x4 + several hardware synths). I've done some generic optimizations (like turning off unnecessary services), but is there anything that directly affects MIDI?
Like Oli said, minimize the number of USB devices you have for starters. Even go so far as switching from USB keyboard/mouse to the oldschool serial connection if you can pull it off. Go into system, advanced hardware setting, optimize for background services. Adjust display for best performance instead of best appearance (I think this is in the same menu as the background services optimization.) Go into your device manager and turn off anything that isn't required: Kill off your integrated audio device. If you're using your music computer for internet, stop. Uninstall all internet related programs and deactivate your network devices.
Old 24th August 2009
  #20
3 + infractions, forum membership suspended.
 

Old 24th August 2009
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derp View Post
Like Oli said, minimize the number of USB devices you have for starters. Even go so far as switching from USB keyboard/mouse to the oldschool serial connection if you can pull it off. Go into system, advanced hardware setting, optimize for background services. Adjust display for best performance instead of best appearance (I think this is in the same menu as the background services optimization.) Go into your device manager and turn off anything that isn't required: Kill off your integrated audio device. If you're using your music computer for internet, stop. Uninstall all internet related programs and deactivate your network devices.
I have considered what USB devices I have and found nothing I could give up. It's basically:
- Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse (can't give it up, it's too convenient
- Novation Remote SL (my master keyboard)
- MIDISport 4x4
- Virus Ti
Likewise, the music PC also serves as the main home PC - which means, disconnecting it from the internet is not an option. I know it's not ideal, just as having the "studio" in the living room is not ideal - but these are limitations I have to live with. Thanks for the suggestions anyway (esp. about disabling the integrated audio - certainly should do that!). I'm still wondering if there would be a noticeable improvement from
a) buying a separate USB controller [cheap option]
b) replacing the MIDISport with MOTU MicroLite [expensive option]
Old 24th August 2009
  #22
Gear addict
 

no no...midi latency IS an issue...
especially when timing is inconsistent... not always same.... thats a problem...
you can be lucky... its a mix of your daw, midi interface and how your synth work with midi signal...

saddly for that nothing is better than soft synth are they are sample accurate.... but again... having a real synth with an average midi timing could bring life in your song lol
Old 24th August 2009
  #23
Oli
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MIDI timing is a manageable issue. It can help to understand your set up for this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boreg View Post
I have considered what USB devices I have and found nothing I could give up. It's basically:
- Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse (can't give it up, it's too convenient
- Novation Remote SL (my master keyboard)
- MIDISport 4x4
- Virus Ti
Likewise, the music PC also serves as the main home PC - which means, disconnecting it from the internet is not an option. I know it's not ideal, just as having the "studio" in the living room is not ideal - but these are limitations I have to live with. Thanks for the suggestions anyway (esp. about disabling the integrated audio - certainly should do that!). I'm still wondering if there would be a noticeable improvement from
a) buying a separate USB controller [cheap option]
b) replacing the MIDISport with MOTU MicroLite [expensive option]
You're trying to solve a problem, but are you sure that one really exists?

If you want a good and cheap MIDI interface, the Ploytec GM5 is serving me very well. I built mine, but there may be other options. I suppose Ploytec offer these in a retail package?

I also do music on my only computer. I use dual boot environments, depending on what I'm doing. I do most of my work in Linux, and pretty much just use Windows XP 32 for music. There are ways to do something similar with dual Windows environments.

I still like to be online when doing music, as I will often enough need to search for information. I'm pretty much just learning my way at this stage though, so if you don't need to be online, it is one more thing you could eliminate from your music computing environment. At least you are not using a USB modem, sharing an external hub with a USB audio interface, and USB MIDI interface.

I still use PS/2 keyboard and mouse at the moment, as I have found them to be the least trouble, but will probably change this year.

You can also disable some hardware features in your BIOS.

There are various ways to strip sections out of Windows, but these can be problematic if you are not really sure of all the dependancies (it can be obscure).

Small tweaks to save on RAM usage and background processes can really add up to gains. Of course the gain also depends on your hardware etc. I'm using a pretty old computer, so the effort has been relatively rewarding for me.
Old 24th August 2009
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oli View Post
You're trying to solve a problem, but are you sure that one really exists?
That's a good question Oli! Actually, no, I'm not sure
See, I just recently converted to this PC-centric setup, after years of using direct MIDI connection (keyboard -> MPC1000 -> synths). Compared to an all-hardware setup, I do notice a slight latency when playing via PC - but in fact, so far it seems acceptable. That's why I'm not in a hurry to upgrade the MIDI interface; on the other hand, if there are simple system tweaks that reduce latency even further, I'm interested.

Quote:
If you want a good and cheap MIDI interface, the Ploytec GM5 is serving me very well.
Interesting, never knew about the Ploytec. Found this thread on VSE - the latency and jitter figures are impressive! If I saw one for sale, I'd probably snag it; but as for building one - my DIY skills are not that good, alas
Old 25th August 2009
  #25
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FYI
MIDI: 32,000 Bits Per Second
USB 2.0: 480,000,000 Bits Per Second
Firewire 800: 800,000,000 Bits Per Second
Old 25th August 2009
  #26
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CNC robots are controlled by 9600baud serial. Most lab equip are HPIB.

Depends on what you want to do.

After all this talk I'll have to post a sound test of MIDI "jitter". This sounds much like making a mountain out of a molehill.

I have two MIDI interfaces, first the one included on my firewire interface, the other a cheap MIDI-USB interface. I guess that I can run a heavy drum sequence or something through either interface and then against a straight 2m MIDI chain and my "long" 20m MIDI chain.

In essence that would make four possibilities.

To say that if anybody can find faults with either would be an understatement. People give their ears too much credit.
Old 25th August 2009
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lain2097 View Post
People give their ears too much credit.
The ear is incredibly sensitive to rhythm, that's how pitch is perceived for one thing.

The thru ports on some old synths can be quite slow if they are implemented as soft-thru. MIDI latency certainly does happen. As has been said it's not hard to adjust for if you are recording. Inconsistent MIDI timing is worse.

In Windows - shut down all processes and services you don't need to have running. That means no virus checkers or instant messaging crap in your startup.

Check what's in 'startup' with run/msconfig.

If you know a bit check 'hkey_local_machine/software/microsoft/windows/run' in the registry using run/regedit.

Here's a good guide to XP services - Windows XP x86 (32-bit) Service Pack 3 Service Configurations by Black Viper

There's lots of services in Windows that are running by default that most people don't need at all especially if the machine is used as a dedicated DAW.

Turn the internet off. Make sure you have a MIDI interface with good drivers.
Old 25th August 2009
  #28
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Mac osx here. Point taken about windows I unfortunately must pry myself away from my unix work (and mac laptop) to support it.

Yes I agree about some synths having non true MIDI though.

But this is exactly why I want to do a "blind" audio test. I'll try to have it ready by tonight.

More tongue-in-cheek than anything though. All in good fun.
Old 25th August 2009
  #29
Oli
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stevil View Post
FYI
MIDI: 32,000 Bits Per Second
USB 2.0: 480,000,000 Bits Per Second
Firewire 800: 800,000,000 Bits Per Second
Unfortunately, maximum throughput doesn't fully specify a channel's capacity for real time performance.
Old 25th August 2009
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by masstronaut View Post
The ear is incredibly sensitive to rhythm, that's how pitch is perceived for one thing.


Check what's in 'startup' with run/msconfig.

If you know a bit check 'hkey_local_machine/software/microsoft/windows/run' in the registry using run/regedit.


There's lots of services in Windows that are running by default that most people don't need at all especially if the machine is used as a dedicated DAW.

Turn the internet off. Make sure you have a MIDI interface with good drivers.
first off you forgot to look under the user's section too in regedit.

HKEY_CURRENT_USER
HKEY_USERS WITH individual user listings that are listed as weird number letter string combos.

secondly do not disable services, most times you end up slowing the machine down by disabling services. they are not running until called upon and disabling them means simply not preloading them into ram or onto the faster section of the hard drive's swap area in some cases and preventing apps from functioning fully or as quickly as possible in other instances. if you have enough ram and any recent processor there is no reason to disable a service unless it is a rogue service installed by some form of malware. services are idle until called by the kernal or an app requesting access through the kernal. they aren't little programs sitting there running 24/7, they are programs of a special system level type that are run dynamically and only when needed.

thirdly...

shutting off an internet connection only helps speed up the machine if you have a malware infection that is trying to phone home a lot. it's another one of those "tips" that makes no sense. the amount of time a processor uses for a time get or keep alive ping is so minimal it isn't worth disabling an internet connection for. also when you do need to activate the network again for backup or other useful purposes like research that time spent enabling the internet / network connection is far more of a penalty than simply leaving it on would have been. let alone the time wasted going to another machine and turning it on simply to browse the internet...

if you find yourself getting viri and malware constantly you are the problem not the machine. your surfing habits are the cause of the viral infections and you need to re-analyze what is important enough to look at on the internet vs. how much of a risk you put your machine at by going to questionable links. for instance...
in an office where i did IT a worker stated she had to open that email attachment as it said "important" in the heading. i just looked right at her and asked "were you expecting any documents from this person?" to which she replied "no, but it could have been important". to which i replied "if it were don't you think the body of the email would have stated what the attachemnt was about?". this is the part where i got a blank look, and then her co-worker came to her defense with "but it's your job to make sure this doesn't happen" to which i replied "and i am making sure she doesn't do this again which is my job, i can't think for you all day, somewhere along the way you have to start doing that for yourself, stop looking for a magic bullet to stop virus attacks, it's mostly up to you to figure out what's legit and what's not."

this is the problem most have...
"this anti-virus is worthless, i got a trojan anyway"
an anti virus software package and built in browser security measures are there to scan for a virus before you run the app or execute the script on a webpage. it can't do anything for you if you don't actually enable it to do it's job, and when it recommends you don't continue, if you decide that you must absolutely see what's on that internet site or you absolutely need this app installed anyway it can't protect you from doing dumb things.


anyway back to midi 101

midi is a serial protocol and it's a slow protocol.
it's more than adequate for note on, note number, note off and velocity messages. toss in any continous pitch or mod wheel motion info and it gets choked very fast with only one channel of data. this means your daw has to prioritize note info or wheel update info per frame of midi communication data. cc knob and sysex and nrpn data have the same effect. midi is slow, however for simple note on off and velocity playing info it's more than capable. when you start sending continous state change data it pretty much is more data than midi can handle at once so a daw needs to start quantizing resolution steps and skipping some to make sure note on off and number and velocity info has priority. which isn't so big a deal until you do daisy chaining and /or multiple knob/pitch/mod wheel data to multiple synths. this is where the midi interface standard fals flat on it's face and causes some synths even to lock up or get stuck notes because they can't filter and pass on the required data properly.

best practices are ...
multi port midi interfaces
avoid chaining if at all possible
realise when you start your knob tweaking sessions what's going to get tossed when you start doing cutoff and res and lfo knob movement recording/playback at the same time.
stack mod source amount to the mod wheel as much as possible in your synths for multi parts where you need to adjust things in relation to each other (for example cutoff + amount and resonance - amount to mod wheel)
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