MIDI vs. USB B: Understanding the Differences

In the world of music technology, interfaces and connections are the lifeblood that allows instruments, computers, and other devices to communicate and create. Two common acronyms you’ll encounter are MIDI and USB B. While both are essential in their own right, they serve entirely different purposes and are not interchangeable.

This article aims to clarify the distinct roles of MIDI and USB B, shedding light on their functionalities, applications, and why understanding their differences is crucial for musicians and music enthusiasts.

What is MIDI?

MIDI, short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a communication protocol that transmits musical information between electronic instruments and computers. Instead of sending audio signals, MIDI data conveys musical instructions such as notes, timing, pitch, velocity, and controller data.

Key Features of MIDI:

  • Digital Protocol: MIDI transmits musical information as digital data.
  • Note-Based Communication: It focuses on conveying musical notes and their properties rather than audio waveforms.
  • Flexibility: MIDI allows for versatile control over various musical parameters.
  • Synchronization: MIDI enables synchronization of different devices for precise timing.
  • Widely Used: It’s a standard protocol used by a wide range of musical instruments, software, and hardware.

What is USB B?

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is a widely used standard for connecting various devices, including peripherals, to a computer. USB B is a specific type of USB connector commonly found on devices like printers, external hard drives, and musical instruments.

Key Features of USB B:

  • Data Transfer: USB B is primarily used for data transfer between devices and computers.
  • Power Supply: It can also provide power to connected devices.
  • Versatile Connectivity: USB B is compatible with various devices, offering a universal connectivity solution.
  • High-Speed Data Transfer: USB B supports various data transfer speeds, from USB 1.1 to USB 3.2.

The Difference Between MIDI and USB B:

The fundamental difference between MIDI and USB B lies in their intended purposes. MIDI is designed specifically for musical communication, while USB B is a general-purpose data transfer and power supply protocol.

MIDI: The Language of Music

MIDI data is not actual audio but rather instructions on how to create sound. It acts as a language for musical instruments and software to understand each other. For example, when you press a key on a MIDI keyboard, it sends a MIDI message indicating the note, velocity, and other information. This message is then interpreted by the connected software or instrument to generate the corresponding sound.

USB B: The Data Highway

USB B, on the other hand, is used for transferring data and power between devices and computers. When you connect a USB B-equipped instrument to a computer, the computer can send data to the instrument (like control data or audio files) and receive data from the instrument (like audio signals or MIDI data).

Why Are They Often Used Together?

While MIDI and USB B are distinct, they often work in tandem in musical workflows. Many modern musical instruments use USB B to connect to computers. However, they often also have MIDI ports for sending and receiving MIDI data.

For example, a digital piano might have a USB B port for connecting to a computer for recording audio or transferring files. It might also have a MIDI port for sending MIDI data to a music production software, allowing for control over virtual instruments or effects.

Advantages of Using MIDI:

  • Low Latency: MIDI data is lightweight, allowing for fast and accurate transmission, resulting in minimal latency.
  • Flexibility: MIDI offers extensive control over musical parameters, enabling complex expression and manipulation of sounds.
  • Universal Compatibility: MIDI is a widely adopted standard, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of devices and software.
  • Efficient Data Transfer: MIDI focuses on transmitting essential musical information, making it efficient for musical applications.

Advantages of Using USB B:

  • High-Speed Data Transfer: USB B supports high data transfer speeds, enabling quick data exchange between devices.
  • Power Supply: USB B can provide power to connected devices, eliminating the need for separate power sources.
  • Versatility: USB B is a versatile connector, offering compatibility with a wide range of devices and peripherals.

When to Use MIDI and When to Use USB B:

  • For musical communication: Use MIDI to transmit musical information between instruments, software, and other devices.
  • For data transfer and power supply: Use USB B for general data transfer, software updates, or powering a device.
  • For audio recording: Use USB B to connect an instrument to a computer for direct audio recording.

Understanding MIDI and USB B: A Practical Example

Imagine you’re recording a guitar using a computer. You could connect your electric guitar to your computer through a USB B port on an audio interface. This will allow you to record the audio signal directly into your computer. However, if you also want to control a virtual guitar amp plugin on your computer with your guitar’s volume knob, you would need to use a MIDI connection.

Your guitar might have a built-in MIDI output or you could use a MIDI interface to convert the guitar’s signal to MIDI. This MIDI information can then be sent to your computer, where it can control the virtual amp plugin, emulating the sound of a real amplifier.


While MIDI and USB B are often found together in musical setups, they serve fundamentally different purposes. Understanding the distinction between MIDI and USB B is crucial for any musician or music enthusiast.

MIDI focuses on transmitting musical information, while USB B excels at data transfer and power supply. By understanding their unique functionalities and applications, you can make informed decisions about your music technology setup and harness the power of both MIDI and USB B to achieve your musical goals.


MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s a protocol, a language, that allows electronic musical instruments and computers to communicate with each other. MIDI doesn’t transmit audio signals like a USB connection; instead, it sends messages that represent musical events like note on/off, pitch bend, and controller data. This information can then be used to control synthesizers, drum machines, or even software instruments within a digital audio workstation (DAW).

MIDI connections are typically made using five-pin DIN connectors, which are circular and have five pins. While MIDI is often used in music production, it’s also used in lighting and other control systems.

What is USB B?

USB B stands for Universal Serial Bus Type B, which is a standard connector type used for data transfer between devices. USB B is more versatile than MIDI because it can transfer both data and audio signals. It’s widely used for connecting peripherals like printers, external hard drives, and even musical instruments to computers. USB B connections are rectangular and have a type B connector on one end and a type A connector on the other.

While USB B offers a wide range of functionality, it doesn’t directly translate to musical data like MIDI does. For audio signals, a USB B connection requires specific drivers and software to properly interpret and process the information.

What are the key differences between MIDI and USB B?

MIDI is a specialized protocol designed specifically for musical data. It transmits information about musical events, such as note on/off, velocity, and controller data, allowing instruments and software to communicate with each other. USB B is a more general data transfer protocol, able to transmit both data and audio signals. This means that it can be used for a wide range of applications, including connecting peripherals and even controlling musical instruments.

However, USB B requires specific drivers and software to interpret and process the audio signals, while MIDI has a dedicated system for interpreting musical data. As a result, MIDI is often preferred for musical purposes, as it provides a more direct and efficient way to control musical instruments and software.

What are the advantages of MIDI?

One major advantage of MIDI is its ability to transmit musical information efficiently. Since MIDI only sends messages about musical events, it requires less bandwidth than other protocols like USB. This makes MIDI ideal for applications where low latency is critical, such as live performances or recording sessions.

Another advantage is its versatility. MIDI can be used with a wide variety of musical instruments and software, making it a popular standard in the music industry.

What are the advantages of USB B?

USB B offers a more versatile connectivity option for a wider range of devices. It can be used to transfer data and audio signals, making it suitable for various applications like connecting peripherals, streaming audio, and controlling instruments. USB B is also widely supported by computers and operating systems, making it a readily accessible and convenient choice.

Furthermore, USB B allows for higher bandwidth than MIDI, enabling faster data transfer speeds. This is particularly beneficial for applications that require large amounts of data, like video streaming or high-resolution audio recordings.

When should I use MIDI?

MIDI is the preferred choice when you need to control musical instruments and software in a direct and efficient way. If you are a musician or music producer, MIDI is essential for controlling synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments. It’s also useful for recording musical performances and creating original compositions.

MIDI is particularly suitable for applications where low latency is critical, such as live performances or recording sessions. It’s also a great option for controlling multiple instruments or software simultaneously.

When should I use USB B?

USB B is ideal for connecting a wider range of peripherals and devices to your computer, including printers, external hard drives, and even musical instruments. If you need to transfer data or audio signals between your computer and another device, USB B is a versatile and reliable option.

USB B is also a good choice for applications that require high bandwidth, like streaming video or audio. However, if you are specifically looking for a way to control musical instruments or software, MIDI is generally a more efficient and effective choice.

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