Improving Your Windows 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:

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. In using the Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer up to this point, you have already experienced the difficulties latency can cause, and will therefore be motivated to reduce or eliminate it.

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.

Using A Quality Sound-Font

As of version 1.26 (or later) of the KeyMusician Keyboard, the excellent FluidR3_GM sound-font is included in your installation. It's in the “Soundfonts” sub-folder of the “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder (the folder where it was installed).

You can learn more about it (or obtain it for earlier releases), by clicking on the link below:

The Fluid Release 3 General-MIDI Soundfont

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.

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.

If you put any soundfonts you download into the “KeyMusician-Keyboard\Soundfonts” folder, it will make them easily accessible to the KeyMusician Keyboard application (making it unnecessary to browse for them to load them).

On Windows, you can load sound-fonts in the Java Sound synthesizer, or use them in VST sound-font players.

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 machine (having PCI card slots) with one of the sound-cards shown below, you can also use sound-fonts. Newer machines have only PCI-Express card slots, which won't work with PCI cards.

To load sound-fonts into a Soundblaster or Audigy soundcard, you need third-party software (free) available from the kX Project .

Unlike Windows XP, on Windows 7 and 8, these sound-cards are not supported (and it will not load any device driver for them).

Fortunately, the kX Project 3rd-party software supports them just fine on Windows 7 and XP. I have not tested it on Windows 8, or Vista.

If you have a desktop (tower) computer (rather than a laptop), installing a Soundblaster or Audigy soundcard is a good solution, since it has the lowest latency.

The following sound-card models have hardware synthesizer capability:

SoundBlaster Live!

SoundBlaster Pro, 16

Audigy 2 Series

Audigy 4 Series

Audigy 2Z5 Series

On Windows XP, even if you don't install the kX Project software, the default Windows soundfont is pretty good, and you definitely get the lowest possible latency. With the kX Project software, this will be all you need on Windows to get low-latency, quality sound with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

For instructions on installing and setting up the kX Project software (and for instructions on how to tell what soundcards you have), click on the following link:

Installing and setting-up the kX Project Software

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) Software Instrument Plug-Ins

On Windows, most of the software providing low-latency, quality sounds, is in the form of VST instrument plug-ins.

Plug-ins can either provide a software instrument (in which case they are called VSTi plug-ins), or effects on the sound (such as reverberation, flanger, and other effects). You can chain plug-ins together, with successive plug-ins acting on the output of the prior plug-in.

There are some very good instruments available in this realm, and some of them can easily cost you a lot of money, since you can end up paying for each individual instrument.

There are VST instruments that use soundfonts as the basis of their instrument sounds, and the sound-fonts used are ones of your choosing, such as the excellent FluidR3_GM sound-font. Soundfont Player VST instruments are becoming rare, and hard to find, nowadays.

If you get the “SONAR X2” software (put out by Roland, that used to be called “Cakewalk”), you get many quality software synthesizers in the form of VST plug-ins. These instruments are good, but the SONAR X2 software is (in my opinion) so hard to use, that I actually use other VST Host software to play those instruments.

You can purchase the excellent Dimension-Pro VST instrument, which has a large number of quality instrument sounds at a moderate cost in money. Dimension-pro also runs as a stand-alone software synthesizer, not needing a VST host.

To play VST software instrument plug-ins using the KeyMusician Keyboard, you will need a MIDI interface. The reason for this need, is that the VST Host software is unaware of the Java MIDI interfaces, and the Java MIDI software is unaware of any VST Hosts. But both sets of software are able to talk to hardware (or software) MIDI interfaces.

Installing A Software MIDI Interface

The easiest, and least expensive solution to this need on Windows, is to use a software MIDI interface, such as provided by LoopBe1. This interface is free for non-commercial, personal use, and even if you need it for performing or commercial use, it is inexpensive (about $14.00). Up to 8 applications can use it at the same time (you'll also use it with the Integrated MIDI Player/Recorder, simultaneously with the keyboard).

For instructions on installing and setting-up the LoopBe1 software MIDI interface, click on the following link:

Installing and Setting-Up the LoopBe1 Software MIDI Interface

Alternatively, you can get an inexpensive USB hardware MIDI interface (such as the M-Audio USB UNO) for around $35, and that can also be used for connecting to an external synthesizer.

For information on using a hardware MIDI interface to connect the KeyMusician Keyboard to a VST Host, click on the link below:

Connecting To MIDI Software Using a MIDI Interface

After connecting your MIDI interface as shown in one of the above links, in the KeyMusician Keyboard's F1 Help/Setup pane, configure the “MIDI Output” drop-box to send to your MIDI interface.

In your VST host software, set it up to receive from your MIDI interface, which enables you to play your VST Soft-Synths using the KeyMusician Keyboard.

Installing An ASIO Device-Driver

Another thing you will need for playing VST instrument plug-ins, is some sort of ASIO device-driver for your sound card.

If you don't do this, you will have significantly more latency. On a 1.7 gigahertz machine running Windows 7, without the ASIO device-driver, my VST soundfont player instrument had nearly as much latency as the Java Sound Synthesizer! So this is important.

Many sound-cards will have ASIO drivers available for them, and you can get these drivers by updating the driver for your particular sound-card.

But many sound-cards do not have an ASIO driver available. For these cases, you can obtain a general-purpose ASIO device-driver, at no cost.

For instructions on installing and setting up the ASIO4ALL device-driver, click on the following link:

Installing And Setting-Up The ASIO4ALL Device-Driver

After you install it, your VST Host software will see this new ASIO device-driver, which will connect to your existing sound-card(s). You should configure your VST Host to use this driver, reducing the latency, and avoiding other problems with sound.

Beware: While you are using the ASIO driver, things that require the former WDM soundcard driver may hang. It may be a good idea to turn-off Windows sounds (using the “Sounds” item in the Control Page) if you use the ASIO driver. If you try to use the Java Sound (Gervill) synthesizer while using the ASIO driver with your VST Host, Java may hang, and you will have to terminate the Java process using the task manager).

Even given the above scary warning, the reduction in latency is well worth the effort to be careful while using it.

When your VST Host software is not running, everything will work fine using the old WDM soundcard driver, including the Java Sound Synthesizer.

VST Host Software

A VST Host is a software application that you 'plug' your VST instruments into.

There are a number of VST Host applications you can use, and many of them are available at no cost. Others cost a lot of money, but also provide a lot of quality VST instruments.

I have tried a lot of the free VST hosts, and some of the expensive ones. Some are easy to use, and others are hard to use.

Where the Bismark bs-16 Soundfont Player VST instrument is no longer available, and soundfont player VST instruments are increasingly hard to find, we are presented with a dilemma, and you need to decide which way you want to go.

For using the MIDI Player, we need a VST instrument that supports the General MIDI set of instruments, and responds to MIDI Program-Change messages.

We used to recommend the Bismark bs-16 soundfont player for this, but it appears to no longer be available. Though there are other soundfont player VST instruments, such as the Fantasize Soundfont Player, by Synthway, they don't necessarily respond to MIDI Program-Change messages. The Fantasize Soundfont Player is one that doesn't respond to program-change messages, so it can't really be used by the MIDI Player.

Fortunately, Cubase includes a VST instrument, the Halion Sonic SE, which supports the General MIDI set of instruments, and can easily be configured to act on MIDI Program-Change messages, so it can be used with the MIDI Player.

Cubase also works on both Windows, and Mac OS X. It also gives you a first-rate sequence editor, and audio production capabilities. The starter-version of it is also available for a moderate cost.

So this is the way we recommend for you to go.

You can learn about Cubase, and how to use it, in one of our KMK Newsletter articles:

Using Cubase 2017-10

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Another way to go, especially if you are a performer, is to use a VST Host designed for live performance, and forget about the KMK MIDI-Player/Recorder, which is mainly used for the tutorials exercises, anyway, and you may no longer need it.

If you choose to go that route, I recommend Cantabile Lite, which should be fine for most people. It's easy to learn, easy to use, and has the functionality needed for the KeyMusician Keyboard. It is also free for personal use. For a modest cost, you can purchase Cantabile Solo, which you can use professionally.

I particularly like to use it in conjunction with the excellent DimensionPro VST instrument, which is available for a moderate cost.

You can learn about Cantabile, and how to use it, in one of our KMK Newsletter articles:

Using Cantabile 2017-12

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If you wish, you can also look at the more expensive VST hosts. “SONAR X2is very difficult to use (but it gives you a lot of good instruments, and you can use other, easier-to-use VST hosts to play those instruments). The “SONAR X2 Essentialversion is not terribly expensive, but still gives you a lot of good instruments.

A partial version of DimensionPro is available with SONAR X2 Essential.

You can learn about SONAR X2, and how to use it, in one of our KMK Newsletter articles:

Using Sonar X2 2017-11

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For general use in performing, I like the Dimension-Pro synthesizer, in combination with the bs-16 sound-font player. Unfortunately, the bs-16 is no longer available.

Of the expensive ones I've tried, “Ableton Liveworks fine, and it is relatively easy to use (and learn), and it gives you a lot of really good VST instruments.

You can learn about Ableton Live, and how to use it, in one of our KMK Newsletter articles:

Using Ableton Live 2015-03

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Dimension-Pro (with Cantabile as the VST host) is easier to use.

You can learn about DimensionPro, and how to use it, in one of our KMK Newsletter articles:

Using DimensionPro 2015-06

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IFor information on the above VST hosts, do an Internet search for the text-snippets within double-quotes (in yellow), above (without including the double-quotes).

Having done all this, the KeyMusician Keyboard should perform with little or no perceptible latency, and give you outstanding instrument sounds, sampled from the finest instruments world-wide.

System Tuning

If you have a slow machine using Windows 7, you may still have perceptible latency, or latency that comes-and-goes (isn't there all the time). This wouldn't have been a problem on Windows XP, but it will get you on Windows 7. Windows 8 wouldn't support such slow machines, so you wouldn't encounter it.

You can almost entirely eliminate this latency by following the instructions in the following link:

Reducing Latency On Slow Machines Running Windows 7

Dual-Booting Windows And Linux

There is another solution to consider which will solve both the sound-quality and latency problems. That option is to install Linux on your computer along-side Windows, and dual-boot (you get a choice of which operating system to boot) your machine.

It will also solve the problem of lack of support for the General MIDI set of instrument sounds, and the lack of soundfont player VST instruments.

For all kinds of wonderful MIDI software (available at no cost), simply boot Linux, and install the KeyMusician Keyboard there. On Linux, you can connect to that software without needing a hardware (or software) MIDI interface.

This option is also attractive, with end-of-support of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 either here, or approaching. Machines that can't be upgraded to Windows 10 will run Linux just fine.

On Linux, there is a lot of software for creating music on your computer, available for free. A sequence-editor alone can cost you from $250 to $500 on Windows, but you get Rosegarden (which I've been using for years) and MusE (another good sequence-editor) for free.

For information on Linux click on the following links:

UbuntuStudio – a version of Linux especially tailored for audio production

Lubuntu – a version of Linux tailored for running on slower, lower memory machines

The KeyMusician Keyboard has been tested on most of the Ubuntu Linux varieties.

I recommend UbuntuStudio, or Lubuntu.

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