The dark enigma of USB hubs and Ableton Live 9

So I bought a new synth (Waldorf Blofeld, which Im very pleased with, see later blog review) but of course, now run out of USB ports to drive it. On top of that the old port is not powered and having the Waldorf Steichfett (which is bus powered, although AC usb adapter is supplied) on one of those plugged into the laptop was beginning to worry me about current drain, in fact the laptop was getting noticeably warmer, so time for a decent powered USB.

Bear in mind Im a self confessed tech man, theres always the chance in the not so far future of buying another thing that needs USB so I went and purchased a 10 slot USB2 hub for future expansion. Got it home plugged it all in, computer recognised everything and off we go.

The problems started when I came to use Ableton Live 9

Abelton recognised all the connected devices immediately, so I set about testing this out.

Now at this point I admit I have a complex connection set up

Heres my USB connections

1. Goes to MOTU MIDI Hub- This is a 5 in, 5 out 5 pin DIN MIDI hub for the 5 synths on my 19″ rack (actually 7 as I use MIDI though on a couple of channels)

2. Goes to Waldorf Streichfett

3. Goes to Waldorf Blofeld

4. Goes to Arturia Microbrute

5. Korg nanoKontrol II (useful little control surface)

6. Novation Launchpad

7. Arturia Beatstep

8. USB 2 connection to 8 in/ 8 out audio interface (has its own port on laptop)

9. Goes to Controller Keyboard

In addition I have another MIDI controller keyboard which connects via 5 pin DIN MIDI (see connection 1) – I like having a 2 manual keyboard set up with different synths on each

Obviously not all of this was used at the same time- but most connected via a non powered 4 USB hub and two other USB ports on the computer.

The issue with Ableton was that although it recognised all connections, two things happened. The controller keyboard and the beatstep would conflict- which meant if one channel opened first, it would take MIDI from that and not the other- so if I opened both channels for record, if I touched the keyboard, the channel with the beatstep on it wouldnt record any MIDI data- and vice versa. The other thing is the nanoKontrol would crash and hang up.

So I spent the whole of yesterday (Saturday afternoon) mucking around changing ports, channels on devices etc to no avail. I set up a complex channel/port thing yesterday evening, which seemed to cure all the problems. When I booted up this morning, back to square 1, GRRRRRRR!

I was now get a bit annoyed as these devices had worked together on the previous USB hub. And there in lay the solution. I dug out the old USB hub, plugged one end into the new powered hub, and the the devices I had issues with, into the old hub. So now I have daisychained the old 4 way USB hub into one of the slots on the new hub, with the conflicting inputs in the old hub. And…… bloody well works! Ive done several reboots and restarts of the complete system and all is stable and working fine!!

The only logical (ish) conclusion I can come two is this: The old hub is USB1, the new hub is USB2. I read in a technical forum somewhere that many devices that use USB to send receive MIDI data are still using USB1 protocols (dont know why, if true) and somehow between this and Ableton a conflict arises. But by plugging the conflicting devices into the old hub and connecting that to the new USB2 hub seems to cure the problem. This is just my observation and guesswork, I really cant explain why this cure works; in all other cases Ive found USB2 to be reverse compatible.

About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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