Over the past month I’ve been picking up old Apple iBook and iMac computer gear for surprisingly very cheap prices. I found three computers that all work perfectly with my external synthesizers for sequencing and programming patches. The Apple G4 series seems to work the best but I also found an old Apple G3 to work well too. Below I have tested several sequencing and drum machine oriented software. I have listed the ones that I found worked the best on either the Apple G3 or G4 with external synthesizers. It’s important to note that I have no need for any audio recording or sampling. I also don’t have any need for soft synths that cannot control midi external hardware. So any cpu taxing soft synths and/or audio software I have no need for. This in turn allows me to use the older iBooks and iMacs perfectly with external synths such as the Roland D-50, Yamaha DX-7, and Korg M-1 synthesizers to name a few.
With all the software listed below, I am using G3 and G4 iBooks or iMacs with between 650MB ram and 1.5GB ram. They also run anywhere between 800 to 1.33 in speed and all are using OSX 10.4.11. For Midi interfaces, I use mainly the Edirol UM-3EX which works flawlessly. The key important features I look for when in music software to control my external synth are as follows:
1. Step or Modular sequencing is a must.
2. MIDI OUT of all note and controller data is crucial.
3. Save to Midi file is a HUGE bonus!
4. Being able to assign and match software keys to the external synth is vital for drums especially.
5. Must work on a G3 or a G4 computer with OSX 10.4.11 installed.
Synth Librarian and Editor
1. Midi Quest XL 10.5 (G3/G4)
For Librarians I have found that Midi Quest works for almost every hardware synth I throw at it. Midi Quest also works on Macs with OSX 10.4.11 perfectly. I know there are specific librarians and editors around for different synths and many also like SoundDiver 3.x for Mac but good luck finding that. So I use Midi Quest which is still available and supported.
1. Ableton Live 5.2 (G3/G4)
2. Digital Performer 5.13 (G3/G4)
3. Logic Pro 8.02 (G4)
Ableton works great for VSTs while Digital Performer works very well for MIDI sequencing. All three applications above work very well on a G4 if you primarily use MIDI while the G3 can only handle DP and Ableton 5. I couldn’t get any later versions to install on a G3 and G4 was difficult as well for testing purposes. These versions are pretty light weight though and seem to work well on the old computers.
Step Sequencers and Step Drum Machines
AudioRealism ( Right behind the Klee and M185, I’d say these two AudioRealism products are superb. They now have MIDI OUTPUT that also allows you to save to Midi files. These are very good for working with external synths. The ADM Drum Machine has one minor problem though. You are stuck with pre-determined midi notes for the drums so you will have to change the drum sounds on the external synth. The is a big minus for ADM and why I prefer Numerology, Guru, or MicroTonic which allows you to change the note values ).
1. ABL Bassline 2.1.2 (G3) No Midi Out / 2.5.2 (G4)
2. ADM Drum Machine 1.2.1 (G4)
Sonic Charge ( This is pretty good with external synths as you can control the MIDI note assignments for the drums and even save patterns to MIDI files. The swing value also works great.)
1. MicroTonic Drum Machine 2.0.1 (G3/G4)
Sugar Bytes ( The 1.0.2 version works ok on a G3 but occasionally you get latency. On a G4, 1.5 works very well without issue when testing. Version 1.5 will not work on a G3.)
1. Thesys Step Sequencer 1.0.2 (G3) / 1.5 (G4)
Defective Records ( These are HANDS DOWN, the best step sequencers for use with external synthesizers. I registered these instantly when I found out how cool they were when running on old iBook/iMac G3 and G4 processors. These are very impressive and really add great functionality to the Roland D-50 and other synths without a sequencer.)
1. Klee Step Sequencer 2.1 (G3/G4)
2. M185 Step Sequencer 1.5 (G3/G4)
D16 Group ( All of these drum machines worked very well when tested on a G4, but they don’t work at all on a G3. MIDI OUTPUT works very well when controlling external synths. )
1. Nithonat Drum Machine TR-606 1.4.4 (G4)
2. Nepheton Drum Machine TR-808 1.4.4 (G4)
3. Drumazon Drum Machine TR-909 1.4.4 (G4)
4. Phoscyon Bassline TB-303 1.8 (G4)
FXpansion ( Guru is really awesome. It’s probably my most favorite step drum machine software. The new Geist just doesn’t work well for me on these older iBook computers.)
1. Guru 1.5.1 (G3/G4)
Audio Damage ( I couldn’t get any MIDI OUTPUT to work with Tattoo on either the G3 or G4 platform in VST format. It just doesn’t work. I added it here because I know many people use it and will recommend it, but for the G3 and G4 VSTs on a Mac, it didn’t output MIDI at all with my testing.)
1. Tattoo 1.0.3 (G3/G4)
Five12 ( I tested Numerology 2.3 on both the G3/G4 and it works flawlessly. I’ve heard 3.x doesn’t work though. I’m not sure why.)
1. Numerology 2.3 (G3/G4)
Again I must mention that I primarily use hardware synths. I only added the iBooks and iMac because they were cheap, reliable, and easy to hook up without any issues. I don’t use these computers for any audio recording, sampling, mixing, or for any cpu intensive purposes. I only use MIDI. I hope this info will give users with old computers some direction on what to choose for MIDI Sequencing and programming their external hardware.
The three computers I recently purchased in Japan used are as follows including the Ram and OS install disks:
1. Apple Mac iBook G3 800mhz 650MB Ram running OSX 10.4.11 ($35)
2. Apple Mac iBook G4 1.33 with 1.5GB Ram running OSX 10.4.11 ($60)
3. Apple iMac G4 900mhz with 1GB Ram running OSX 10.4.11 ($75)
A final point to make is that it’s very tricky if not impossible to get MIDI OUTPUT to work with Apple AU plugins. I had to use VST versions in every case from within Ableton to get MIDI OUT to work any of the above VST Mac plugin sequencers. Make sure when testing on old iBooks and iMacs that you find a suitable VST host and get the Mac VST versions. For me an old version of Ableton was the best and most stable. The AU versions suck big time I’m sorry to say when working with external synthesizers. There are some workarounds I’ve heard, but honestly I’d rather spend more time playing the synth than fiddling with a computer and AU plugins. VSTs are the best so far when it comes to MIDI and controlling external hardware. AU Plugins and MIDI OUTPUT do not work well together at all.
MIDI software sure has come along way since I remember way back in the early 90s. You can sure do some great stuff nowadays.