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PhoneBox

Looking to replicate a groovebox/ "DAW-less" setup with my phone and some of the USB-Midi controllers I own.

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There are many groovebox products on the market today. While searching for pre-owned options, I came across the Akai MPC Touch: https://www.akaipro.com/mpc-touch. This piece of hardware looks great, but I am not able to justify the ~$600 price tag when my phone and already-owned USB-Midi devices should have all the capability they need to replicate this type of device.

Problem Statement
As stated in the description, I am looking to cobble together a setup which will provide capability and functionality similar to the Akai Touch, and other groovebox style devices. (Other inspirations include Novation Circuit, Akai MPC Studio, and the Korg Volca devices). Theoretically, I could plug a midi controller into the USB-C port on my phone, plug my headphones into the AUX port on my phone, open up a midi-controllable app, and get going. 

Initial Concept Investigation
I have attempted to use the CAUSTIC app for android before, as online sources told me this app provided the best balance between functionality and low latency. Despite this, I found that the latency was too high for me to play or record live. On a recent re-investigation into using this app, I discovered that the bulk of the latency was added by the bluetooth headphones I was using to monitor the audio. Further research uncovered that at the best of times bluetooth headphones provide as low as 34ms of latency, while the ideal maximum latency for studio recording is 10-12ms. What I learned here is that bluetooth is out of the question for monitoring music performance/production. Playing audio from the phone speaker, I was able to confirm that with a USB controller, the audio latency would not be problematic for me (gut feeling check). As a further check, with wired headphones plugged into my phone, I did not notice an adverse amount of latency when using the phone's touch screen to trigger drum samples (another gut feeling check).

My life's story will be continued in the "Project Logs" section...

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  • Tabletop Setup

    bass.gator10/06/2021 at 19:39 0 comments

    From the initial concept investigation, it might be assumed that I could plug the USB-midi device into my phone's USB-C port via an adapter and plug headphones into my phone's AUX port. The issues here is that AUX ports are being phased out of phones (including my current one) by many manufacturers. I was able to circumvent this by plugging a small USB-C dock into my phone, which houses ports for USB-C charging and 4 USB connections. I used one of these USB ports to plug in a USB to USB-C adapter, and then plugged a USB-C to 2.5mm aux adapter into the first adapter. Now I can take this setup anywhere, but I have to sprawl this rat's nest of adapters out wherever I go, find a spot to prop my phone up, and worry about snapping off a connector as I move the setup around or place it on any soft surface (connectors protrude from the sides of the hardware). Also, this setup uses my phone to power the controller, which drains battery quickly. While cumbersome, the tabletop setup is promising on a system level.

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