Improving Your Macintosh System

By improving your system, we are referring to having high-quality sound, and synthesizers with low-latency, producing that high-quality sound.

If you haven't yet looked at the general improvements that are applicable to all operating systems, please click the following link (and after reading it, click your browser's back-button to return here for more specific instructions):

Improving Your System - All Operating Systems

In improving your system, there are two ways we accomplish it:

  1. Improving Sound Quality

  2. Reducing Latency

Latency is the delay between hitting a key, and hearing the musical tone that key produces. Latency makes it difficult to play fast tempo music. The greater the latency, the greater the difficulty.

Sound quality is the difference between the sound of an upright piano (as is found in many homes), and a concert grand piano costing thousands of dollars.

The Java Sound Software Synthesizer you get from Apple with Mac OS X versions up through 10.6, has low-latency (which is good), but it doesn't allow you to load better soundfonts. It also has limited polyphony, which gives you problems in playing most MIDI files.

I will start with the easiest or lowest-cost solutions. If at any point in this progression, you are satisfied with what you have, you can stop at that point.

So let's get started.

Getting A Good Soundfont

As of version 1.26 of the KeyMusian Keyboard, the excellent FluidR3_GM sound-font is included as part of the installation process. It is in the “KeyMusician Keyboard/Soundfonts” folder (the one with a space, rather than a hyphen), in your home directory.

On 64-bit systems, using the Gervill (Java Sound) synthesizer, you can simply load this sound-font (and it will be a suggested option). You can also access it when configuring Simple Synth, AU Lab, or other software that makes use of sound-fonts.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to load sound-fonts when using Apple Java.

If you are using the FluidR3_GM sound-font, it is best if you use one of the configuration files provided for it, as shown in the following screen-shot:


Of course, you may modify these configuration files to fit your preferences, saving them with new configuration file names.

You can find out more about the FluidR3_GM sound-font at the following link (but you don't need to download it, if it is already installed).

FluidR3_GM soundfont

To find out what other soundfonts you can obtain, do an internet search for “soundfonts” or “soundfonts free”, and check out what you can get. Though this is something worth investing in, there are some really outstanding soundfonts available for free.

It's a good idea to put them in (or create) a folder called “Soundfonts” within the “KeyMusician Keyboard” folder (the one with a space, rather than a hyphen) for storing any soundfonts you download and use.



Installing Simple Synth (32-bit Mac Only)

There is a free synthesizer which uses soundfonts, that is available for Mac OS X. It is released under the MIT license, so we can legally distribute it.

It is low-latency, and has a lot better polyphony than the Java Sound Synthesizer on Apple Java, so you will no longer have problems playing MIDI files. It supports loading soundfonts, so you can use the FluidR3_GM soundfont (and other soundfonts) obtained above.

As the name implies, it is a simple synthesizer, in that it doesn't include special audio effects, such as reverberation (reverb). But it still works well and sounds good.

Unfortunately, on Mac OS X 10.7 and above (the 64-bit version), the loading of soundfonts on Simple Synth doesn't work. On Mac OS X 10.6 (32-bit Mac), it works fine – no problems. But on 64-bit Mac, you can load soundfonts using the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer, so you don't need Simple Synth. Simple Synth is needed only on 32-bit Mac.

If you have a 32-bit Mac, you should install Simple Synth to allow the use of better soundfonts. Even if only using the standard Mac soundfont, it still gives you better polyphony than the Java Sound Synthesizer of Apple Java, so the MIDI player will be able to play any MIDI file (not just simple ones).

Here's how you install it.

1. Download the zip-file containing SimpleSynth by clicking on the following link:

Simple Synth Download

2. In the Finder, browse to your Downloads folder, and double-click on the “SimpleSynth-1.1.zip” file, which will expand it, creating an application called “SimpleSynth”.

3. Drag the newly-created “SimpleSynth” application to your applications folder. You might also want to drag it to your dock to make it easy to launch.

Here's how you use it.

Run SimpleSynth as you would any other application.

At the top of the SimpleSynth window that appears, at the top, the “MIDI Source” drop-box should have “SimpleSynth virtual input” selected. This is the software MIDI interface it supplies, and it will work fine, both in the “MIDI Output To” drop-box of the KeyMusician Keyboard, and also as the Playback Device of the MIDI Player/Recorder.

You can also select another MIDI interface you have, such as the IAC Driver.

The “Sound Set” text-box will show “Apple DLS Sound Set”, which is the default soundfont (the same as used by the Java Sound Synthesizer on Apple Java). If you have Mac OS X 10.6, you can click the “Open...” button (to the right of it), and browse to where you saved your soundfont(s). Double-click on the desired soundfont, and it will be loaded in-place of the default soundfont. FluidR3_GM.sf2 should be in the “Soundfonts” folder of the “KeyMusician Keyboard” folder, of your home folder.

Unfortunately, loading soundfonts doesn't work on 10.7 or above, but there, you can load soundfonts using the Java Sound Synthesizer.

At this point, you can run the KeyMusician Keyboard and play it. Be sure to select its MIDI interface (by default the “SimpleSynth virtual input” interface) in the “MIDI Output To” drop-box of the “F1 Help/Setup” pane.

Remember to start SimpleSynth before running the KeyMusician Keyboard. If you forget, click the “Refresh Devices” button of the “F1 Help/Setup” pane after starting SimpleSynth, and you should see its interface.

If you chose to load the FluidR3_GM soundfont, you should select one of the FluidR3_GM configuration files (in the “Configuration File” drop-box), such as “FluidR3_Gm.kmk”. These configuration files are specially-tuned to using that particular soundfont. When you switch configuration files, you may have to re-specify your “MIDI Output To” drop-box.

To terminate SimpleSynth, you can't just close its window. You have to click on the “SimpleSynth” menu of the menu bar (top of screen), visible when the SimpleSynth window is focused. Then select “Quit SimpleSynth” from the menu.



Playing The Hardware Synthesizers In Soundblaster Or Audigy Soundcards

Note: It is unlikely you have hardware old enough to have these sound-cards, but if you do, this is how to use them.

If you have an older desktop (tower) computer (rather than a laptop), installing a Soundblaster or Audigy soundcard is a good solution, since it has the lowest latency, and the greatest polyphony, with the lowest processor usage.

This may not be a good option for many, who would (for good reason) shrink from installing hardware in their machine.

I must also state that I have not tried this option on Mac OS X, because I don't have a Macintosh desktop computer, for which this would be an option.

Nevertheless, if you would like to try this option, read on – otherwise skip to the next section.

The following sound-card models have hardware synthesizer capability:

SoundBlaster Live!

SoundBlaster Pro, 16

Audigy 2 Series

Audigy 4 Series

Audigy 2Z5 Series

With the kX Project software, and having one of the above soundcards, this will be all you need on Mac OS X to get low-latency, quality sound with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

The kX project provides support for soundcards having hardware synthesizers (the emu10k1 and emu10k2 chips) on Mac OS X. This support includes the ability to load soundfonts of your choosing. Click on the following link for instructions on installing and setting-up support for these sound-cards having hardware-synthesizers.

kX Project

If you chose to use the FluidR3_GM soundfont, you should select one of the FluidR3_GM configuration files (in the “Configuration File” drop-box), such as “FluidR3_Gm.kmk”. These configuration files are specially-tuned to using that particular soundfont. When you switch configuration files, you may have to re-specify your “MIDI Output To” drop-box.



Turning-On (or getting) A MIDI Interface

The remaining options require you to either turn-on, or obtain a MIDI interface. This section tells you how to do it.

The quickest, easiest, and least-expensive way to do this, is to turn-on the “IAC Driver” software MIDI interface already on your machine (but turned-off by default).

Here's how you do it:

Click on (or find and click-on) Applications...Utilities.

Click on “Audio MIDI Setup”.

If the “MIDI Studio” window doesn't appear (only the Audio setup window appears):

Note: You may have to double-click the “IAC Driver” icon, as shown in the screen-shot below:




In the “MIDI Studio” window, double-click the “IAC Driver” icon. When you do this, the “IAC Driver Properties” window should appear.

In that window, if the “Device is online” check-box is clear, click on it to select it.

In the “Ports” pane, toward the lower-left, click the “+” button to add the “IAC Bus 2” port. Since you have a port with the number '2' in it, I think it would be a good idea to rename the original MIDI interface port to have the number '1' in it.

In the menu-bar (top of screen), click “Audio MIDI Setup”, and choose “Quit Audio MIDI Setup” in the menu that appears.

Alternatively, you can get an inexpensive USB hardware MIDI interface for around $35. This approach is useful if you want to connect to a non-USB MIDI device.

For information on using a MIDI interface to connect the KeyMusician Keyboard to a software product like Garage Band, click on the link below:

Connecting To MIDI Software Using a Hardware MIDI Interface

After connecting your MIDI interface as shown in the above link, in the KeyMusician Keyboard's “F1 Help/Setup” pane, configure its MIDI Output drop-box to send to your MIDI interface. If you used the software MIDI interface, it will be called “Bus 1”, or “IAC Bus 2”.



Playing the DLS Music Device Software Synthesizer (AU Lab)

Note: This does not work on Mac OS X 10.12 and above.

AU Lab is an Apple-supplied, free software component, that is not installed by default. It includes the DLS Music Device software synthesizer, which uses soundfonts, and (even on Mac OS X 10.7 and above), will load soundfonts of your choice!

It has more features than SimpleSynth, including mixing and reverberation (reverb).

To obtain it, click on the link below, and scroll down to the “AU Lab” section of the web-page. Read its paragraph, then click on its “AU Lab” zip-file link, to the right of its paragraph. Here is the link:

Mastered for iTunes – AU Lab

Using the Finder, browse to your “Downloads” folder, and double-click on the “AU Lab Image.dmg” file.

In the “AU Lab” window that appears, drag the “AU lab” icon, dropping it on the “Utilities” folder. Enter your password when/if it asks you for it.

Close the “AU Lab” window.

To run AU Lab, click on (in the dock) “Applications”, then scroll-down & click on “Utilities, then click on AU Lab (you'll have to give permission to open it the first time).

It is now installed.

But before you run it, you need to put your desired soundfont in the place it expects to find soundfonts. Here is how you do that:

1. Using the Finder, browse to the folder where you saved your soundfonts, and single-click on the soundfont you want to use, to select it.

2. Click on the gear/sprocket toolbar icon (Perform tasks with the selected item), and choose the Copy entry in the menu.

3. In the top-of-screen menu-bar, click on the “Go” menu, and choose “Computer” from the menu that appears.

4. In the right pane, double-click (in the order shown) on each of the following items:

5. Click on the gear/sprocket toolbar icon (Perform tasks with the selected item), and choose the Paste Item entry in the menu.

You can repeat the above numbered steps to copy any other soundfonts you want to use. AU Lab lets you choose which of the available soundfonts you want to use.

The first time you run AU Lab, you have to set it up (configure it). Thereafter, all you have to do is run it. I'm sorry it's a lot of steps, but you only have to do it once. Here's how you do it:

1. Run the AU Lab application (the first time you run it, you'll have to give the system permission to open it).

2, This first time running it, click the “Create Document” button. A new window will appear, called “Untitled”.

3. Click the “Edit” task-bar menu (top-of-screen), and select “Add Audio Unit Instrument” in the menu that appears.

4. In the “Add Audio Unit Instrument” window that appears, click the “OK” button.

5. In the “Stereo Mix: DLSMusicDevice” window that appears, click the “Sound Bank” drop-box, and choose the soundfont (copied above) that you want it to use.

6. Click the “Apple's Device View” drop-box, and select its “MIDI Editor” entry.

7. In the “Channels” diagram that appears, hold-down the shift-key while you click on the “16” box. This should select all of the MIDI channels (1 through 16).

8. Close the “Stereo Mix: DLSMusicDevice” window.

9. Click on the “File” task-bar menu (top-of-screen), and choose “Save As...” from the menu.

10. Type “AU Lab Config1” in the “Save As” text-box, and click the “Save” button. When you do that, “AU Lab Config1” will appear in the title-bar of the window.

11. Click the “AU Lab” task-bar menu (top-of-screen), and select “Preferences” from the menu.

12. In the window that appears, click on the “Document” tab (to the right of “General”).

13. Click-on (select) the “Open a specific document” radio-button, then click the “Choose” button.

14. In the “Open” window that appears, click on “Documents” (in the middle pane), then double-click on “AU Lab Config1” that appears in the right pane.

15. Close the “Document Settings” window.

AU Lab is now (finally) ready to use! You might want to drag its window to the lower-right area of the screen.

You can now play it using the KeyMusician Keyboard, so fire it up. AU Lab is setup to receive from any MIDI interface, so select the MIDI interface you established in the prior section (such as “Bus 1”, or “IAC Bus 2”) in the “MIDI Output To” drop-box of the “F1 Help/Setup” pane.

If you chose for AU Lab to use the FluidR3_GM soundfont, you should select one of the FluidR3_GM configuration files (in the “Configuration File” drop-box), such as “FluidR3_Gm.kmk”. These configuration files are specially-tuned to using that particular soundfont. When you switch configuration files, you may have to re-specify your “MIDI Output To” drop-box.

Click on one of the performance panes (such as F2), and start playing.



Playing VST Instruments Using GarageBand

Note: GarageBand 6.0.5 (also known as GarageBand-11) works better with the KeyMusician Keyboard than later versions (such as 10.2.0), so don't upgrade to the latest version of GarageBand. The later version works, and you can have more than one software instrument track, but you can't use DLS Instruments (which means you have no General MIDI synthesizer to use with the KMK Player/recorder). Unfortunately, if you have Mac OS X 10.13, the older version of Garage band will hang during initialization, so you'll have to upgrade to the more recent level.

Another option for improving your Mac OS X system, is to play the software synthesizers that come in the form of AU (Audio Unit) or VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins.

If you have the “GarageBand” software (from the Apple store), you get a number of software synthesizers in the form of VST plug-ins. It has some really impressive sounds, and a good variety of instruments. It is also very low-latency, which is a good thing.

There is a difficulty with GarageBand (except when using DLSMusicDevice soundfont-player instruments), in that you can't change instruments from the KeyMusician Keyboard (you have to manually change them in GarageBand). Also, there is no way to have the chords instrument be different from the melody instrument.

With DLSMusicDevice soundfont-player instruments, you can change instruments from the KeyMusician Keyboard, and have a different instrument for chords and melody. You can also use the FluidR3_GM soundfont installed with the application. The only problem with this, is you can't use separate instruments for chords and melody, of different volume-levels when you are recording. It only works for live performance.

There is a KeyMusician Newsletter article telling you everything you need to know about using GarageBand with the KeyMusician Keyboard. You can read that article by clicking the link below:

Using GarageBand With The KeyMusician Keyboard



Playing Software Instruments Using MainStage

Note: The original MainStage application will not run on Mac OS X 10.13. To use it on 10.13 and beyond, you need to purchase and install the “MainStage 3” application.

There are a lot more instrument sounds available in the inexpensive MainStage application, or in the (much more expensive) ProTools application, or Logic Pro application. In fact, MainStage gives you the Logic Pro instrument sounds for free (except for the time required for a lengthy download).

I like MainStage, and use it. It has some really good instrument sounds, including layered sounds, such as Piano/Strings, and Grand Piano / Choir Pad. It is really good at letting you build your own layered (composite) instrument sounds. You can also change instrument sounds using the “Instrument” drop-box, or changing to a performance-pane with a different instrument specified in that drop-box.

That is better than with GarageBand, where you have to manually select the instrument in the GarageBand window.

A difficulty with MainStage, is that it wants to own the entire screen. In order to play it using the KeyMusician Keyboard, the KeyMusician application needs to be on-screen, and have keyboard focus. You can control which application has focus by clicking on which application you want in the dock.

There is a KeyMusician Newsletter article telling you everything you need to know about using MainStage with the KeyMusician Keyboard. You can read that article by clicking the link below:

Using MainStage With The KeyMusician Keyboard



Playing A VST Instrument Plug-In Soundfont Player, Using GarageBand

Note: Currently, it appears that the Bismark bs-16 Soundfont Player VST Instrument is not available anywhere, so you can skip this section. If it becomes available again, this is how you use it.

This section can also be used to show you how to import a VST instrument plug-in into GarageBand. VST instruments can't be used with GarageBand 10.2.0 and above, so keep (or obtain from the list of already-paid-for applications) the older version (6.0.5).

It is possible to have the same low-latency and quality sound, with the full general-MIDI set of instruments on Mac OS X, as is available on Linux, by installing a soundfont-player VST instrument. Using this solution, you can obtain and load soundfonts of your choosing.

If you have version 1.26 or later of the KeyMusician Keyboard, you already have the excellent FluidR3_GM sound-font. For earlier versions, you can obtain it by following the instructions you get by clicking on the following link:

FluidR3_GM soundfont

To find out what soundfonts you can obtain, do an internet search for “soundfonts” or “soundfonts free”, and check out what you can get. Though this is something worth investing in, there are some really outstanding soundfonts available for free.

Fortunately for us (allowing ease-of-use, and training that works on all of the supported OS's), there are VST instruments that use soundfonts as the basis of their instrument sounds, and the soundfonts used are ones of your choosing, such as the excellent FluidR3_GM soundfont.

Of these VST instruments, I recommend the “bismark bs-16soundfont-player VSTi. This player handles a full 16 MIDI channels, and responds to MIDI program-change messages. This VSTi will cost you a modest amount of money, but it's worth it, because this one VST instrument can instantly change to any of over a hundred different instruments.

You can also try it out for an extended period without having to buy it. During the trial period, it will make the sound of a dog barking once every 30-seconds, which you wouldn't want in a recording, but generally isn't a big problem in playing it (though if you have cats, they won't like it).

The same web-site has a free version (the "bs-0VSTi), but it doesn't have enough simultaneous-sound capability (polyphony) to handle the chords produced by the KeyMusician Keyboard.

On the KeyMusician Keyboard, when you hit a function-key to change performance-panes, it generates bank-change and program-change MIDI messages, to change the instrument sound to the one selected in the performance pane.

For instructions on installing and setting-up the bs-16 VST instrument plug-in, click on the following link:

Installing And Setting-Up The BS-16 Soundfont-Player VST Instrument

Having done all this, the KeyMusician Keyboard should perform with little or no perceptible latency, with high quality soundfonts.

If you chose fto use the FluidR3_GM soundfont, you should select one of the FluidR3_GM configuration files (in the “Configuration File” drop-box), such as “FluidR3_Gm.kmk”. These configuration files are specially-tuned to using that particular soundfont. When you switch configuration files, you may have to re-specify your “MIDI Output To” drop-box.



Using Logic Pro X For Playing Software Instruments And Audio Files

Logic Pro is (in the Apple world) the next step up in music from GarageBand and MainStage. There is even a lot of commonality between MainStage and Logic Pro.

Logic Pro provides everything needed by players of the KeyMusician Keyboard, which includes the ability to play (simultaneously) chords and melody, each using a different instrument sound.

It provides hundreds of quality instrument sounds, giving you a huge library of sounds to create your musical masterpieces with.

It also provides a General-MIDI sound set, as well as the ability to make use of sound-fonts, so it integrates seamlessly with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

Given these capabilities, we recommend Logic Pro as the next step up in the music world for Mac users.

To learn about using Logic Pro X, by reading the KMK Newsletter article on it, click on the link below:

Using Logic Pro X – 2019-01

Given that Logic Pro is moderately pricey, there is another step up for music on Mac OS X, detailed in the following section.



Using Cubase For Playing VST (Software) Instrument Plug-Ins

For playing VST Instruments, and using the MIDI player, Cubase can be used, which is supported on Mac OS X. Cubase is also a sequence-editor, and sound production application. It also allows you to play the chords and melody with different instrument sounds, which both GarageBand and MainStage do not support.

To learn about using Cubase, and obtain it, read the following KMK Newsletter article:

Using Cubase 2017-10



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