• Iona Catherine

What is the difference between MIDI and Audio?

Updated: May 3

So... you've read up about music production and had a play around in your DAW , but what is the difference between MIDI and audio? After all, both of these mediums allow you to produce sound—so, what's the difference?


MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is a digital language that provides a way for electronic musical instruments to communicate with each other using digital signals instead of audio signals.


MIDI represents musical notes and performance data such as velocity, pitch, and CC messages. MIDI information can be sent from one MIDI device to another, or from a MIDI device to a computer. It can also be sent from a computer to one or more devices. In this way it is a standard for communication between musical instruments and computers.


MIDI does not produce sound directly.

MIDI does not produce sound directly; it is only capable of transmitting control data which must be processed by other hardware (computer, tablet, synth module) in order to generate an audio output. The quality of the resulting sounds will depend on the synthesis capabilities of the device being used to process the MIDI data.

For example: a generic digital audio workstation computer will be able to generate basic instrument sounds from its built-in sampled instrument or VST library. However, if you want more advanced or realistic sounding instruments and effects, you'll need an additional sampler software program or sound bank library installation. Essentially whatever device is processing your MIDI data creates an audio output for you. For example, the same MIDI data could create the sound of a violin, a synth, a tuba, or a piano, depending on which software is being used to read the data.

After MIDI data is recorded, you can change the notes, velocity, and other attributes in your DAW’s sequencer.

MIDI is a very flexible and easy-to-use format for recording musical performances - simply press record and play on your digital instruments to capture it. The MIDI data you have recorded can be edited, moved around in your DAW’s sequencer, changed to a different instrument or pitch, and modified with velocity or timing information, usually within the MIDI s editor screen.


By contrast, audio is sound captured as a digital waveform by a microphone or other physical device.

An audio signal is captured by a microphone. The original sound wave signal is converted to digital information by an audio interface, and then recorded by a DAW or computer.

A microphone will pick up whatever it can hear. Common sounds to record with a microphone can include but are not limited to:


-A vocalist singing into a microphone and keyboards

- A vocalist singing into a microphone

- Foley sounds such as rain falling or footsteps


There are 2 main types of audio file: mono and stereo.

Mono means there is only one audio channel being recorded or played back. Stereo means there are 2 channels, left and right, mimicking our two human ears. If you choose to record an audio signal directly into your DAW using a microphone, you are capturing the exact sound of a particular instrument or sound in the real world in that particular moment. This means that once this data has been recorded and saved, there is no way to edit it further. In this audio files can be much less flexible but much more 'realistic' (depending on your sonic aims), than MIDI sounds.


In conclusion...

The key difference between MIDI and audio is that MIDI does not contain any actual sound—it simply contains instructions for how to play those sounds at certain times. Audio, on the other hand, contains the actual sounds. For example, if you were to record a piano performance with a microphone, you would get an audio recording of yourself playing the piano, pedal sounds and all.


If you were to use your computer instead to create a virtual piano instrument and then play it from your computer keyboard, you would get a MIDI recording of yourself playing the piano in the form of adjustable data. In both cases you're playing music, but one method (MIDI) lets you perform without actually making any sound until later, and the other lets you capture a real world sound.


I hope these explanations have helped clarify the differences between MIDI and audio. If you have further questions, do drop me a line here at learnhowtomusic.com. I would love to hear from you.

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