Pauley Unsaturated

MIDI Sync Sucks

MIDI Sync Sucks

May 20th, 2010  |  Published in Audio  |  24 Comments

I was down in Santa Cruz at a friends house this thanksgiving weekend with some people trying to get a jam session going.  Everyone brought a piece of gear.  All counted, we had my TR-808, my x0xb0x, a MacBook Pro with a MOTU and Ableton Live 7, an Elektron Machine Drum and a Korg electribe sampler and a “Pocket Thru” Midi splitter.  So far, so good.

We hooked the MIDI from the laptop to the thru box, and into the Korg, the Elektron and the x0xb0x.  The TR-808 was slave synched via the DIN out on the x0xb0x.  All audio was going directly into the MOTU, coming out on different tracks in Ableton.  The rig was a thing of beauty… we were all set.  

We fired the boxes up and noticed the timing was really wonky. Fine, we attempted to adjust the MIDI pre-delay in Ableton to match what we were recording.  We saw something like 36ms of latency in the 808 kick (yikes!).  We pre-delayed the works by 36ms and fired it up again, only to find that the MachineDrum sounded like it was rushing.  I switched the x0x out for a MIDI->DIN sync box I got from europe… still the same issue.  The bottom line was that we could not get the Elektron to match the TR-808 no how, no way.  

After hours of toiling away trying to get this stuff to match and agonizing about the MIDI chain, we eventually gave up and didn’t record one single lick of music.  Disappointing is an understatement. I’m starting to really believe the rants of this MIDI sync guru over at innerclock systems.  And I’m so desperate to get these sync issues worked out that I’m going to get one of his $300 sync shifters.

Moreover, I think this is a prime example of a great problem that has yet to be solved.  Someone needs to design and build a box that takes one MIDI in and can individually shift 4 to 8 MIDI / DIN outputs.  

This whole MIDI sync mess needs to end, the solution needs to be dead simple and it needs to be something that can be done live so that everyone with old gear can have tightly locked tempo synched jam sessions.

While looking at the Ableton forums, I found the following thread that explains everything:

The gotcha here is that our sync was all working perfectly until we started running the audio through the computer. At that point, everything was 30ms off! Bad on Ableton for letting a bug like that slip.


  1. ryan says:

    December 1st, 2008at 6:58 pm(#)

    fucking liberal media

  2. erin says:

    December 17th, 2008at 4:43 pm(#)

    newsflash: ableton sucks. analog gear beats that shit with a freaking bat, yo.

  3. eric says:

    June 4th, 2009at 3:32 pm(#)

    Just curious if you got the innerclock Ststems sync shift mkII?

    We are having similar issues with our macs.


  4. pauley says:

    June 5th, 2009at 9:44 am(#)

    I did get the Sync Shift. I’m loving it, it did indeed resolve the issue… well one of the issues. My TR-808 appears to have a bit of a slow response to DIN sync, about 10 to 12ms slow. The innerclock absolutely solved that issue, now the 808 sounds absolutely tight. The other issue was that Ableton 7 had a bug.

    My recommendation is to slave your external gear and Ableton to some machine that gives MIDI clock. The thing is that Ableton’s priority is to process audio, MIDI is pretty much the lowest priority, and if the clock your rig is running on is not solid then bad bad things will happen.

  5. phillip says:

    June 13th, 2009at 9:00 pm(#)

    Wow – just the problem I am having….and so hard to troubleshoot! I have a laptop running ableton, which is USB connected to a Midi Time Piece, which then has a Midi output going to a Roland MSQ100 and from that, Din Sync to an 808, 202, 303 etc…The problem I have is, when I hit start in Ableton, it plays perfect for about 8 bars, and then the drift kicks in, and just gets worse and worse. I have been going nuts with this. What I am wondering is if it is the midi interface, or the MSQ100 that is going out. Or abletons clock, as you said. I am thinking of ordering the Innerclock system, and hoping that will solve the problem. If I can get the 808 stabilized, at least the trigger outputs will sound good, and if I buy two of those innerlock boxes, the 202 and 303 will be tight as well…Im just hoping you can elaborate and say how your experience with the thing has been. Im losing it over here. Is it all Abletons fault?

  6. pauley says:

    June 15th, 2009at 3:43 pm(#)

    Phillip: all I have is empirical evidence to suggest that ableton was the problem here. I should probably work on writing a new article up with cold, hard data and timing charts / etc. I think that in general MIDI sync is busted with CoreMIDI. There needs to be a way to schedule MIDI events in a sample-accurate way by specifying a timestamp. It seems like Logic works fairly well, but I have yet to hear one person that doesn’t have an ableton sync horror story. My current suggestion (until the sync-lock is released) is to sync your ableton rig to some external signal, like a machine drum or sampler.

  7. Robotkid says:

    June 30th, 2009at 10:34 am(#)

    Interesting…I’ve been going through a similar thing with Live 8…It was drifting like crazy between my sync’d 808 and midi beat clock’d 909, but when I went in to prefs and changed my USB audio interface buffer up or down, then restarted my sequence…it would stay in sync for the rest of my session (until I quit out of Live.)

    Thanks for the tips.


  8. hungarian_knight says:

    July 18th, 2009at 4:00 am(#)


    why dont you use a third program on a separate pc to sync your stuff.
    I use midi clock (,
    you could download it from here :

    it is easy to sync multiple devices with it as it has dual ouput

    just a thought

  9. hungarian_knight says:

    July 18th, 2009at 4:02 am(#)

    yeah just wanted to add
    the last version does have tap tempo support
    but it is tricky to configure

    you need to edit the ini file, apparently

  10. pauley says:

    July 23rd, 2009at 11:01 am(#)

    The problem was partially Ableton Live, so using Logic as the master helped quite a bit. Unfortunately, it seems that the 808 is the second problem here. While Korg gear and Elektron gear will deal with lame / jittery MIDI clock, the 808 gets VERY confused when something goes wrong. My friends and I have taken to just slaving everything from the 808 and then using the Sync-shift MKII to get all of the other gear in time. Works like a charm. I wish MIDI gear came with built-in pre-delay so that one could tune a system.

    In any case, I’ll be trying out the Sync-lock as soon as it ships. Until then, I’ve decided to slave everything to the 808 and just roll with it. Seems to work great for now!

  11. Obsoletetechnology says:

    August 7th, 2009at 6:50 am(#)

    I am using almost the same kind of rig as you describe here and have also been experiencing timing problems with Midi to Sync converters. Somehow Midi to sync conversion is very much depemding on the quality and timing of the Midi Sync signal generation.
    A good solution to overcome these problems is converting the Sync signal from the TR808 to MidiSync and using this as the master clock to drive all the other devices, including software sequencer.
    Just make sure that, after recording your session this way, you turn off the warp feature in Ableton Live in order to get to your original timing, otherwise Ableton will try to realign everything to it’s own tempo grid.
    In case somebody wants to check out, please find my MidiSync-SyncMidi Converter project here:
    Hope this is helpful,
    Cheers, Obsoletetechnology

  12. Innerclock Systems Sync-Lock « “»❤«” says:

    April 23rd, 2010at 12:23 am(#)

    [...] after some ennui-inspired “research” on the internet, I stumbled upon a link that described a similar situation.  This was tremendous! I was not alone in thinking that my [...]

  13. duncan says:

    May 24th, 2010at 6:28 am(#)

    slightly different problem here- no computers involved- two or more hardware sequencers & a MOTU midi mangler to do merging/routing. I have a timing delta, big enough to sound like a flam, between an octopus & a P3. both of them are being clocked by my master clock, an electrix repeater. however, I have tried different combinations of routing the octopus through the P3 on its way to the sound modules, using the P3 as the master clock, using the octopus to clock the P3….

    conclusion I’ve come to is that what’s needed is a device with multiple midi clock outputs which can be individually delayed in increments of one tick. either that or I drop back down to using one hardware sequencer at a time…. :-/

  14. pauley says:

    May 24th, 2010at 9:49 am(#)

    Duncan: the innerclock sync-shift MKII will absolutely solve your problems, but yes, you’re correct. Such a box doesn’t exist in a readily available form, and really needs to be created.

    Here are my biggest desires currently for sync of this type:

    1: A ‘MIDI-master’ box that can shift each MIDI clock out into the sub 1/10th of a millisecond range.
    2: A MIDI-stopper box that goes inline and can stop the clock to only one instrument, and re-starts the clock on a configurable whole note division (defaulting to 1 whole note).
    3: Some method of syncing two computers that doesn’t involve MIDI. Perhaps something like IEEE 1588.

  15. rv0 says:

    August 12th, 2010at 2:17 pm(#)

    stumbled across this by looking for 808 midi interfaces.
    For tight dinsync, with shuffle, get the freeware Sync Unit DC and a dc coupled soundcard. for full info

  16. zambari says:

    December 8th, 2010at 4:20 pm(#)

    Although clock from Ableton can be wonky, there’s one thing that should be said. Most devices (unfortunately, x0xb0x not being one of them) can be re-synced from the front panel. Once the clock is going (I assume getting 808 in sync would be a priority) you can manually restart the phrase – at least on the electribe (shift-play) and I would be really surprised if that wasn’t possible on machinedrum.
    From my experience the machins will eventually go out of sync but there should be at least half an hour of solid timing.
    I try slave rest of the kit from the x0x – including ableton connected via MOTU. Ableton Live doesn’t like to be synced externally and places loads of time markers on the recroding but that’s ok – at least you can record something worthy this way ; )

  17. sean zoega says:

    February 6th, 2011at 5:25 am(#)

    MIDI clock from DAWS is terrible, and its quality is also dependant on how much work the computer is doing…i.e. its unworkable. I have been trying to get all of my stuff synced so thought I would let you know how I’ve got on.
    First method is using expert sleepers silent way step lfo to drive a MOTU 896 audio interface. This only outputs trigger sync but I have used it succesfully to sync up a Roland 104 sequencer, OSCar arpeg, Jupiter 4 arpeg and monopoly arpeg. (You have to do a little wiring trick on the 896 to get a 5v pulse…and also a little transistor/resistor combination has to go into the monopoly trig jack plug to convert to s-trig)
    Next method is to use the rv0 sync DC to produce ppqn pulses i.e. I need 12ppqn for my Roland CR78…at the moment this is running slow but that maybe “pilot error” on my part…I will keep you posted.
    The third and last method is to use the innerclock system sync-lock to create a solid midi clock…this is does really well and I am using it to sync a Xoxbox via sync-24 and a sequentix p3 via MIDI clock. The problems tend to be start up delay…on the Xoxbox this is about 7mS which can be sorted using the start delay in the innerclock systems sync-gen II software (currently still at beta testing…I am one of the beta testers)…the p3 has a start up delay of 40mS which is a bit more serious and presently cant be sorted but the boys at innerclock are working on it.
    Bottom line I have spent about a year trying to get all of my stuff sorted and still dont have an answer for syncing my PPG wave 2.2 (72ppqn!) but I am getting closer so if I can be of any help to anyone please get in touch…I know how frustrating it can be swearing at computers!

  18. sean zoega says:

    February 6th, 2011at 11:33 am(#)

    update to my earlier comment, the problem with the rv0 sync DC was indeed stupidity on my part. I got in touch with Wim at rv0 and he was extremely helpfull. Great little freebie software plug-in.

  19. ri says:

    January 15th, 2012at 1:08 am(#)

    Holy smokes.

    I’m trying to sync up 3 laptops with Ableton & Reason, and I wonder if it’s even possible. Lord knows the Network MIDI can’t (after hours and hours of troubleshooting).

    Can anyone confirm it’s even possible with MIDI and an external timeclock on say a MOTU 828MKII?

  20. Jordan says:

    February 5th, 2013at 1:37 pm(#)

    I completely agree that Ableton is the problem. I have solved this by slaving my laptops to an MPC1000. no drift at all. However, I no longer need the MPC in my set, and it is now just a large glorified Master MIDI Clock. Any suggestions about a smaller, simpler piece of hardware? Is there anything made that is dedicated to simply sending out a Master tempo signal? Or will I always need to use a machine (drum machine, sampler) that happens to also send clock?

  21. frederico says:

    February 8th, 2013at 3:44 pm(#)

    where can I buy this inner clock sync system ?

  22. pauley says:

    February 9th, 2013at 3:35 pm(#)

    ri: What are you using for network MIDI? You might have a prayer if you use ethernet. WiFi has a latency that’s just too large to make this feasible.

  23. pauley says:

    February 9th, 2013at 3:37 pm(#)

    Jordan: I’m looking for the same thing. I got ahold of a Roland SBX-10, but that thing really doesn’t like having the tempo changed while it’s running. I’m hoping that the innerclock guy can help us here. I’ve given him a brief list of features I would need in such a sync master clock box.


  24. pauley says:

    October 6th, 2020at 8:36 pm(#)

    Just wanted to point out that 12 years later, there are now pretty good solutions:

    This one is expensive but looks great

    There is a whole list of them here:

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