If you take a snapshot of DJ technology of today, you’ll see a mish-mash of aged standardisation, along with whatever proprietary system the manufacturers have in place for cross-device communication. Allen & Heath has X-Link, Pioneer DJ has LINK ports, And Denon DJ now has yet another system for their mixers and players. But wouldn’t it be nice if your CDJ-2000NXS2s could plug into the X-LINK ethernet port on the PX5 mixer and just… work? Doesn’t it make sense to use shared protocols to connect a Toraiz SP-16 with a Denon DJ club mixer, to a Gemini media player?

The frustrating thing is that it seems most of the open standards are all ancient. MIDI is 35 years old, having launched in 1983. The ubiquitous RCA connector first appeared in the 1940s. Even the trusty old USB-B 2.0 plug is 18 years old now, having released in 2000.

Other than taking their ball home with them so no one else can play, a manufacturer using a closed system to connect gear serves little purpose. Much like closed systems in other industries, these are short-term tactics, which only hurt the end user in the long run. And it feels like audio technology has been making-do with jury-rigged systems based around the aged MIDI, CV/gate, and audio pulses like the Volca range. It’s just fudged, and prone to unreliability.

I can’t even think of a single example where an open connection standard has caused a negative impact on a manufacturer… in any industry. Just look at the open source Ableton Link system. Apps have rallied round the concept, making interoperability simple and reliable, without cost, both internally and over a network, meaning your music production software JUST FUCKING WORKS. But it’s so far not designed for hardware interoperability.

A modest proposal

First, let me set the requirements:

  • A simple, reliable socket/connector.
  • Preferably provides power.
  • Connects multiple devices without the need for external routing (like a hub).
  • Super tight syncing.
  • Set the tempo/quantisation on any device and have the rest follow.
  • Latency compensation.

We already have a reliable, open source, widely available syncing protocol to use: Ableton Link. We just need it built into hardware. Whether a central unit that controls all your gear and talks to the other equipment (but designed to do so), or just built in to all the hardware itself, it should be as easy as plugging in a connector. Hell, take a leaf out of X-LINK’s book and add daisy chained power of the cable. Setups will be so much cleaner and more compatible.

Basically, it’s time we got a modern replacement for the MIDI protocol, befitting the needs across the whole industry, not just for the convenience of single manufacturers’ products. Perhaps they need to hurry up and sort out the MIDI HD-Protocol?

Your take

Is there a user need for proprietary connectivity? Can you think of any recent open connection standards outside of Ableton Link?


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