Why Use a Dedicated MIDI Clock?

It's a fair question.  After all, there are so many devices that can generate a MIDI Clock while at the same time doing whatever more interesting things the device is designed to do.  You probably have something like that already.  The ability to send Clock almost seems like a commodity.

So why invest in a dedicated MIDI Clock?  It really comes down to having greater control over this critical component of gear synchronization, along with greater precision.

Allow me to spell out the case for using a dedicated clock device.  I promise there are some advantages that won't be so obvious at first.

  1. Generating the most accurate Clock signal requires Priority. When a device like a programmable MIDI controller, sequencer, drum machine or DAW is running, the priority is likely not going to be on its ability to send MIDI Clock.  Sending clock out of a MIDI port (or any other sync port) shouldn't wait for free computational cycles.  A well-designed dedicated Clock makes sending clock signals the highest priority.

  2. As in #1 above, DAWs especially are notoriously difficult to obtain stable MIDI Clock from.  Everything may work well at first, but as the project grows and the demand on computational resources increase, the generation and output of MIDI Clock tends to suffer ... badly.  Some dedicated devices, like CLOCKstep:MULTI, have a special mode for syncing from a DAW that doesn't involve MIDI Clock.  This mode is commonly known as "Sample Accurate Clock".  The details are beyond the scope of this article, but worth mentioning.  You can read about Sample Accurate Clock here.

  3. Independent control of a dedicated Clock provides the most flexibility.  When other devices, such as a synths, drum machines or sequencers are designated as the Master Clock, it almost always means that the device cannot halt the other things that it does without stopping the Clock as well.  You have to find ways to keep Clock running even if you don't want to use that machine's other features in a particular moment.  With a dedicated Clock that you control independently, you can manipulate every other device as you see fit without interruption.

  4. Splitting and distributing the Clock signal alone is easiest with a dedicated Clock.  When clock comes at the start of a MIDI Chain before any other messages are present, the signal can be routed through a hub and distributed to larger systems.  If a device is sending out Master Clock and also sending other MIDI messages, it would take additional filtering of the messages if you wanted to only distribute Clock.

  5. A device like CLOCKstep:MULTI acts as a bridge for various Clock signals in a way a non-dedicated device do not.  In a system comprised a DAW, Sequencers, Synths, Loopers and Samplers, you are likely to run into a variety of sync techniques.  Having a dedicated device that can translate between Audio, MIDI and Votages using DIN, USB and TRS connections proves invaluable under these circumstances.

  6. Sending a variety of Sync Rates.  MIDI Clock is 24 PPQN, that never changes, but when you mix MIDI Clock with other sync methods such as Control Voltage outputs, you'll need some sort of utility device to divide the sync rate down to a more compatible sync rate.  Some dedicated clocks can do this without requiring any other gear.

  7. Monitoring the tempo can be done discretely.  Not every dedicated Clock device also acts as an Audio Metronome the way CLOCKstep:MULTI does.  The ability to route a discrete click track that's independent from any other audio signal will facilitate easier monitoring for a band.  Configuration of the Metronome may also be more comprehensive in a dedicated clock than what is offered in non-dedicated devices.



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