Hardware, MIDI Controllers

How to Connect an Old MIDI Keyboard To PC/Mobile (Any DAW)

Written By : Andrew Siemon

The audio interface with MIDI IN/OUT ports and a MIDI cable is all you need to get this set up. Don’t worry about a MIDI to USB Adapter. And it’ll work for most devices, ie, iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro, PC/Android.

To connect an electric keyboard or an old MIDI controller to your PC or mobile device, you need a MIDI Cable and an audio interface with MIDI IN/OUT ports. Run the MIDI cable from the keyboard’s MIDI OUT to the audio interface’s MIDI IN after connecting the audio interface to your PC/mobile device.

What You Need To Connect An Old Keyboard To Your DAW

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1) An Audio Interface With MIDI IN/OUT

The AudioBOX USB96 - How to Connect An Old MIDI Keyboard to PC:Mobile (Any DAW)
The AudioBox USB96 (on my Page) that you can see in this image is a great example of an inexpensive audio interface with MIDI IN/OUT ports.

You don’t have to get this one, specifically, to get your keyboard to work with your computer or DAW. It’s just the one that I own, so I can vouch for it. Another great audio interface to get is the aforementioned Scarlett 4i4, although, it’ll likely cost a bit more money.

I also have a Focusrite Sapphire 6USB which has MIDI IN/OUT ports as well. Regardless of the one you’ve chosen, just ensure the sound card you get has the ports on the back because it’s crucial for this to work.

The PreSonus AudioBOX USB96 (MIDI Ports) - How to Connect An Old MIDI Keyboard to PC/Mobile (Any DAW)
The MIDI Ports that you’ll need to use on the back of the PreSonus AudioBOX USB96

As I explained in my guide on the pros/cons of MIDI, the technology has been around since the early 1980s so any electronic keyboard, synthesizer, or drum machine that has MIDI IN/OUT will act as a MIDI controller for modern DAWs and plugins.

In the era of planned obsolescence and continuously changing multiport adapters, the fact that your super old electric keyboard from 1982 can control FL Studio 20 is impressive. At least it sure is to me. But I digress, let’s talk about the second thing you need.

2) A MIDI Cable

MIDI Cable - How to Connect An Old MIDI Keyboard to PC:Mobile (Any DAW)
The MIDI Cable [15-Feet] (on my Page too) that you need to run the keyboard/controller to your audio interface and computer.

The next thing you need is a MIDI cable like the one shown in the image above. There’s not much to say about it, really, other than that I would recommend getting a 10-foot cable or even a 15-footer like the one I linked to.

The reason is that you want plenty of wiggle room because you don’t know how far away your electric keyboard has to be from the rest of your set-up.

I know that with the way that I currently have everything set up in my basement, it’s imperative for me to have a long MIDI cable because the keyboard is actually behind the chair that I’m sitting in and the audio interface is on the table in front of me. You can see what that looks like here:

Electric Keyboard MIDI Set-Up - How To Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
In this diagram, I have an old Yamaha keyboard from the late 1990s connected to GarageBand iOS for iPad. This set-up will work whether you’re using a laptop, iPhone, or iPad.

How To Connect An Old MIDI Keyboard To Your PC/Mobile

How to Connect An Old MIDI Keyboard To Your Computer
How to Connect an Old Keyboard to PC/Mobile (Any DAW) [Diagram]
To connect an old keyboard or MIDI controller to your PC or mobile device, you just need an audio interface with MIDI IN/OUT ports and a MIDI Cable. Connect the MIDI OUT port with the MIDI Cable to the MIDI-IN port on the back of the audio interface as is shown here.

1) Connect Your PC/Mobile Device With USB-C to USB or USB Multiport Adapter

The Adapters for the iPhone/iPad - How to Use the AKAI MPK Mini Without A Computer [Guide]
The USB/Camera Adapter (on Amazon) is great for iPhone in case you need to connect an external power source like a block charger or power bank. The USB-C adapter (on my Page) will work great for MacBook Pros, new iPads, and similar PC devices that use USB-C.

If you’re just trying to get an old keyboard set up with your DAW and device, and nothing else, then one of the adapters shown in the image above will work great. I chose the USB/Camera adapter for iPhone because older iPhone models may need to connect to another power source to power an audio interface.

I’ve talked about this before in my guide on connecting the Scarlett 2i2 to the iPad/iPhone and the AKAI MPK Mini with the iPhone, but the long and short is that the USB/Camera adapter will save you a bit of headache.

All that said, I don’t think either of these adapters are what you should use. A much better option is to get a high-quality Kramer adapter. I have one just like it and it works extremely well. You can see what it looks like in the image below:

Adapters I Use - How to Connect Scarlett 2i2 to GarageBand
My set-up is a bit of a mess, but the adapter (on my Page) on the left-hand side allows me to connect whatever I need, whenever I want.

It has every kind of port you’d ever need and the cable is nice and long. It doesn’t get hot either, which is a common problem with Multiport USB Adapters. I understand they’re quite expensive though, which Is why I showed you the cheaper ones first.

2) Connect Multiport Adapter And Audio Interface With USB 2.0 Cable

USB-C Adapter, iPad, USB 2.0, Audio Interface - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile Device
Connect the USB-C multiport adapter to the iPad or PC and then run the USB 2.0 Cable from the adapter to the Audio Interface.

My set-up isn’t the most organized, but the multiport adapter allows me to connect every single thing I need, including multiple USB devices, a Yubikey, headphones, Memory Cards, HDMI cables, and any other necessary tools.

Most audio interfaces these days use a USB 2.0 cable, also called a printer cable, but newer sound cards like the Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Generation) use a USB-C cable instead.

3) Plug A MIDI Cable Into the Audio Interface’s MIDI-IN Port

MIDI IN Port - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
Plug your MIDI cable into the MIDI IN port on the back of your audio interface.

Connect your MIDI cable into the IN port on the back of the audio interface. The nice thing is that it works the way that makes sense. Because we’re outputting MIDI information from the electric keyboard, we’re inputting MIDI information into the audio interface, hence, MIDI IN and MIDI OUT.

4) Run that Same Cable From the MIDI-IN Port to the MIDI-OUT Port on the Keyboard

MIDI OUT on Keyboard - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile Device [Any DAW]
Run the other side of the MIDI cable to the MIDI OUT port on the back of your keyboard.

As I said earlier, we’re outputting information from the MIDI keyboard, so we want to connect the MIDI cable to the keyboard’s MIDI OUT.

5) Turn on the Electric Keyboard and Your PC/Mobile Device

Turn on Keyboard and iPad - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
If you haven’t already, turn on your keyboard as well as your PC, iPad, or mobile device.

The next thing you want to do is ensure your keyboard is connected to its power source, assuming it isn’t bus-powered, and then turn on your PC or mobile device if you haven’t done so already.

6) Open the DAW > Choose a Software Instrument

Piano in GarageBand iOS - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
Choose any software instrument track. Nearly all of them can be controlled with a MIDI controller or keyboard.

Open up your DAW, and then choose a software instrument because you won’t be able to control anything if you’re using the wrong style of track. This is important, otherwise, you’ll feel like nothing is working even though you just haven’t chosen the proper track.

How to Configure the Old Keyboard and Your DAW [GarageBand macOS]

What DAW you’re using plays a role in how you set it up. For example, if you’re using GarageBand macOS or iOS, you won’t have to configure anything in the preferences. By the way, the short video down below shows you how to connect any standard MIDI device to your computer in case you need help.

In GarageBand, you would go to Preferences > Audio/MIDI > and then choose AudioBOX USB. It’s pretty straightforward. If you run into problems though, try selecting Reset MIDI Drivers.

Preferences  AudioMIDI - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PCMobile [Any DAW]
The GarageBand settings configuration for how I’ve set up my old electric keyboard as a MIDI Controller alongside the AKAI MPK Mini.

How to Configure the Old Keyboard and Your DAW [FL Studio]

Navigate to FL Studio Preferences just like this, except you’ll want to choose your external MIDI keyboard instead of the masterkey 49.
Navigate to FL Studio Preferences just like this and then ensure you’ve enabled your audio interface as a MIDI device. That’s the important thing here.

However, if you’re using FL Studio or something similar, you’ll have to go into FL Studio > Preferences > MIDI > Select the Device > Check the Enable box.

7) The Electric Keyboard Will Control the Software Instrument

Demonstrating How to Use An Old Keyboard as a MIDI Controller

Start pressing on the keys on your electric keyboard, and you’ll notice that it controls your DAW perfectly and without any issues. Check out the video above that I made which demonstrates this whole process.

5 Tips for Using An Old Keyboard or MIDI Controller With Your DAW

1) Disconnect Your Power Source from the Multiport Adapter First

Power Adapter Connected to Multiport Adapter - How to Connect the Electric Keyboard to Your PCMobile
Unplug the laptop/PC power cable if you’re running into connectivity problems.

For whatever reason, I’ve discovered that the power adapter that’s plugged into my multiport adapter will often interfere with the connectivity of other devices, including external monitors, as well as the electric keyboard. If you find yourself unable to get the keyboard to connect to your DAW, try unplugging the power source and then plugging it back in.

2) You Can Also Use A MIDI to USB Adapter for Connecting Old Keyboards

You can also use a USB to MIDI adapter like what’s shown here, although, I wouldn’t recommend it.

A lot of people recommend using a USB to MIDI adapter or USB to MIDI interface, however, I find that just using an audio interface as I’ve already shown you is superior for a few reasons.

One reason is that most people into music production and home recording will already have an audio interface at their disposal.

The other reason is that I find USB to MIDI adapters to be unreliable and annoying. For example, I wasn’t able to get the USB to MIDI adapter to work with GarageBand and my Yamaha electric keyboard.

If you’re absolutely hell-bent on not using an audio interface, you can also get a USB to MIDI interface like this one down here:

One of these will work great if you have multiple MIDI controllers that you want to connect to your PC or mobile devices.

3) You’ll Need Headphones or Speakers If You’re Using A Mobile Device, ie, iPhone/iPad

iLoud MTM Speakers and Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros - How to Conenct An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
If you don’t already have headphones or monitors, I recommend getting the iLoud MTM Monitors (on my Page) or the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros [80 ohms] (on my Page too).

If you’re going to use an iPad or iPhone with your audio interface and electric keyboard, you’ll probably need to connect headphones or speakers to your audio interface, or the mobile device, itself.

I find this to be the case if you’re using GarageBand iOS. I’m unsure if Android devices function in this way, but I digress. There are a couple of ways to connect headphones.

A) Connecting Headphones to your Multiport Adapter

Headphone Port on Multiport Adapter - How To Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile Device

The first way is with the USB-Multiport adapter which has a headphone port right on it. This is the nice thing about multiport adapters, so make sure you get one that has a headphone port.

B) Use the Line L/R Speaker Outputs on the Audio Interface

Connecting Speakers to L/R on Audio Interface - How To Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile Device [Any DAW]
Many monitors will come with a power charger assuming they’re not buss-powered. There’s also a 1/4” jack that can be used for headphones too if you have the 1/4” to TRRS adapter.

The next way is to connect speaker cables to the left and right outputs on the back of the audio interface, then you connect your speaker monitors if you choose to do it that way.

C) Using AirPods to Connect To Your Mobile Device

AirPods - How to Connect An Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
I’ve got the AirPod Pros right here, and while they’re amazing and I use them all of the time, Bluetooth just isn’t the best for music production unless they have the option to be wired/wireless like the ATH-M50xBT.

You could also use something like AirPod Pros to connect to your device, but you’ll probably run into latency issues. I think Bluetooth speakers and keyboards are probably the future though, so keep in mind that latency issues won’t always be a problem.

D) Using the 1/4” Headphone Jack on the Back of the Audio Interface

Audio Interface Headphones Output - How to Connect An Old Keyboard To Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
The 1/4” output on a standard audio interface along with the 1/4” headphone adapter you’ll need to connect your headphones.

Another thing you can do is use a 1/4” to TRRS adapter and plug the headphones into the back of your audio interface.

4) Turn Down The Volume of the Electric Keyboard

Volume on Yamaha Keyboard - How to Connect Old Keyboard to Your PC/Mobile [Any DAW]
I’ve got the volume rolled right down on the keyboard itself because I don’t want to hear it along with the DAW’s software instrument.

If your electric keyboard has a built-in speaker which most of them do, you’ll want to turn down the volume on it so you don’t hear it as well as the software instrument coming from your PC/mobile device.

5) You Can Connect More Than One MIDI Controller If You’re Using A Multiport Adapter

Connecting more than one MIDI device to your PC, Tablet, or Mobile Device
You can connect as many MIDI devices to your PC/mobile as you’d like, depending on the size of your adapter and the number of USB ports.

As I was saying earlier, the multiport adapter is great for connecting more than one device. There’s no reason why you can’t use a modern MIDI controller like the AKAI MPK Mini that you can see in the image above as well as the older electric keyboard.

Personally, what I like to do is have the MIDI controller to my right or in front of me, and then I’ll have the electric piano on the left side. I’ll go to the piano if I want the full range that I can get with 61 keys, compared to the 49-keyboard that I have in front of me and the AKAI MPK which only has 25.

Other MIDI Keyboard and Audio Interface Articles

Important Things To Note About Connecting Old Keyboards to Your Device

1) Adapter Types Will Vary Depending on Your Device

As you may know from getting this far, what kind of adapter and cables you’ll need depend on your device. The audio interface and MIDI cable remain unchanged. If you’re using an iPhone or another device that uses Thunderbolt, the USB Camera adapter is a good choice.

But if you plan on using a PC or a newer iPad, I would recommend the USB-C multiport adapter from Kramer because then you’ll be able to connect a ton of equipment if you need to.

Gear Mentioned

1) AudioBox USB96

2) Scarlett 4i4

3) MIDI Cable [15-Feet]

4) USB/Camera Adapter

5) USB-C adapter

6) j5 Create Multiport Adapter

7) iLoud MTM Monitors

8) Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros [80 ohms]

9) 1/4” Headphone Adapter

Andrew Siemon is the principal creator of ProducerSociety.com, a website dedicated to all things music, including music production, music theory, recording, and how to use the most popular DAWs. Starting out as a metal guitarist, Andrew has since moved into other areas of music production including hip-hop and fusion

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