Alesis Vortex: Functional Description and Midi Programming Guide

This Guide is available as a PDF file.

UPDATE 2013/11/7: Alesis posted a new firmware (1.20) and the Vyzex Patch Editing software on their site. I posted about the changes here. The new Firmware/Software combination kind of makes this page less relevant. I tested the manual programming of the new Firmware (1.20) changes. They are noted in their respective sections: Pitch Wheel, Pads.

In the previous post, I looked at the inside of the Alesis Vortex. This time, I examine the messages coming out of the Vortex and look at the programming of the different switches and sensors.

I decided to write this guide because I kept forgetting how certain buttons were programmed, and because as of this writing (2012/12), Alesis still hasn’t produced a detailed manual. Also because you have to reprogram the Vortex quite often, especially since there is NO way to know what is already programmed, and NO way to save the programs on a computer. Hopefully, Alesis will change this in the future.

This colour is used to identify a word (or a series of words) as actual markings on the Vortex.

The image above is probably ©Alesis. Taken from the Quick Start Guide available on the Alesis site

The Vortex uses “patches” to store modified parameters. There are three “banks” of 8 patches.

To select a patch:

  • press the Patch Select button (once to enter the Patch Select Mode and
  • then each press will roll to the next “bank”)(the active Bank is indicated by a LED (A, B or C) and then chose a particular Patch by pressing a Pad button (P1 to P8).

Note: When you select a patch, it can send a Midi ProgramChange command. I explain how to program this in the “And some extras…” section below.

Each  Patch contains all the modified assignments for every modifiable button and function on the Vortex. I still haven’t found a way to save patches on a computer. I still haven’t found a way to tell what parameter has been modified for a particular button except to go in Patch Edit Mode and edit the button. I still haven’t found a way to know which patch is active at a particular moment, except right after switching! So, I tend to use one or two patches at the most. Otherwise, I would need a pencil and paper to make a list (and tape it to the Vortex?). Not good. I’m guessing there must be a way to exchange SysEx information with a computer through the USB, but it is not documented.

Normally, the Vortex is in PF (Patch Function?) Mode. In general, the Vortex is programmed by pressing Patch Edit (the display will show “PE”)(Patch Edit Mode),then by pressing a button/sensor. The display will show the button/sensor name (abbreviation) and you can then change the values. Pressing the Enter key (on the Keyboard itself)(Key #37) will change (store) the value. Pressing Patch Edit again will let you out of Patch Edit mode. Often, values can be changed by using the three knobs (potentiometers) aptly named K1, K2 and K3.

If you end up programming the Vortex and just can’t figure out what you did, you can reset the patches to default settings by powering the Vortex off, then pressing the Start/Stop AND Patch Select keys and while holding these two buttons, power it back on. Hold it for a couple of seconds and release the two buttons. The LEDs will flash and all patches will be reset.


Here’s what happens when you press…

The Keyboard

The keyboard sends NoteOn and NoteOff Midi messages. The messages cannot be changed, except as noted in the next section (Keyboard Zones). This means that the keyboard cannot send CC or other Midi messages.

There are two velocity messages sent by the keyboard: the faster you press a key, the higher the velocity. That’s the normal behaviour of nearly every keyboard on the market. What’s special here is that the velocity is also sent when you release the key. This is the first time that I see this. I have seen keyboard that send a NoteOn messages with a velocity of zero to substitute a NoteOff, and I have one keyboard that sends a velocity of 64 on NoteOff messages. But this is the first time that I see an actual velocity value on key-release, with a NoteOff message. I have no idea if I will ever need to use this. But I know it’s there.

As with all keyboards, how hard you hit a key is not really important. Velocity is related to speed, not strength. But if you keep pressing on a key hard enough, you will engage Aftertouch. Aftertouch is force sensitive.

The Aftertouch (AF) on the Vortex is Channel Pressure only. This means that the AF is applied to the whole channel as a global message, not to individual notes. This also means that even if you press more than one key, only one type of AF message will be sent. By the way, the AF engages after about 1/4 of a second. Also, the MIDI message for Channel AF is two bytes long.

The AfterTouch message cannot be modified. Too bad. I would love to be able to change the velocity (or sensitivity) curve.

But… there are three buttons on the left hand bar that affect the behaviour of the keyboard. They are called

The Keyboard Zones: Lower/Split/Upper

With the default settings, the Vortex powers up in Lower mode. This means that the keyboard will send Note messages on channel 1 and that the lowest note on the keyboard will be C2. If you press Upper, the messages are sent on channel 2, and the lowest note is C2 again. If you press Split, the lower half of the keyboard will send on channel 1 and the upper half will send on channel 2 (split after F3)(or after the 18th key). These 3 buttons can be reprogrammed.

  • Enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Press one of the three buttons. Its name will show up on the display (“Lo”, “19″ or “uP”).

For Lower and Upper, three parameters can be modified by turning the knobs (K1 to K3).

For the Lower and Upper buttons:

  • Transposition: Turn knob K1. The first parameter goes from -12 to +12. This will transpose the notes sent by the keyboard, one or more semitones at a time. For example, setting it at -12 will send a note that is one octave lower. Why would you do that, when you have dedicated Octave Down/Up keys? One good use of this function is when the keyboard is put into Split Mode (see below), You can then have the keyboard operate on non-contiguous octaves (or, even, overlapping octaves). This is useful in MusicLab’s RealGuitar, for example.
  • Midi Channel: Turn knob K2. The second parameter is the midi channel (1-16). So, by pressing one key (Keyboard Zone) you can effectively switch the channel of the whole keyboard, or use two channels at the same time based on the Split location.
  • Velocity Curve: Turn knob K3. The third parameter is the Keyboard Velocity Curve. The value go from 1 to 8 and if you refer to the Quick Start Guide on page 37, the nice (hand drawn) velocity curves can be applied to the Zone. I don’t know what the default curve is. I would think #1.
  • Press the Enter key on the keyboard to save your changes. You don’t have to change every parameter.

Note: By the way, pressing the Lower or Upper buttons in PF mode will send two midi messages: CC121 (Reset Controllers) and CC123 (All Notes Off) on the other zone’s channel. This is to ensure that you don’t end up with stuck notes in the case that a Zone change is made after a key has been pressed but before it has been released (Alesis must have caught that while debugging…) Notes: Firmware 1.20 removes that behavior. Vortex now remembers which note is pressed on which channel and will release that note on the proper channel. Nice bug correction!

For the Split button:

  • Split Point: When you edit the Split button, the only parameter to edit is the split point. Enter Patch Edit Mode, then press Split and touch the key where you want the split to occur (19 by default) and press Patch Edit again. As of this writing, the official Quickstart Guide is wrong. Pressing Enter or Cancel will only change the split to 37 or 36!

These buttons help a lot with the limited size of the keyboard (3 octave). The next buttons go hand in hand with the Keyboard Zone keys

The Octave Down/Up buttons

These two buttons cannot be modified and don’t send midi messages. They just allow you to change the whole keyboard, transposing every key by exactly one octave (12 semitones), up or down.

The Octave buttons will have the same effect when the keyboard is in Split mode, meaning that the WHOLE keyboard is transposed. So you can’t “freeze” one section. Too bad. That would have been awesome in RealGuitar!

The Ribbon Controller

The Ribbon Controller sends midi messages. By default, it sends CC1 (Modulation).

  • Enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Press the Ribbon Controller. The display will show “Rib”
  • Press the Mode Assign key on the keyboard to alternate between two states: You can only change the behaviour of its release. It can be made to send a value of zero (or the minimum value assigned through the button (see below)) when released (the display will show “rn” (or ‘return’ I guess)), or it can latch (“Lch”) and keep the last value sent. The default action (“rn”) is the usual choice.

But you can also program the type of message sent by using  

The Ribbon Modes buttons

The Ribbon Modes buttons (1,2 or 3) will change what is sent by the Ribbon Controller while in PF Mode. By default, button 1 will make the Rib send CC1 (modulation), button 2 will make the Rib send CC2 (Breath Controller) and button 3 will make it send CC3 (undefined CC).

In Patch Edit Mode, pressing one of the three buttons will let you change four parameters.

  • Enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Press one of the Ribbon Modes buttons. The display will show “rb1″, “rb2″ or “rb3″.

The first parameter is the type of message:

  • press the Mode Select key repeatedly on the keyboard. You will have a choice between Control Change (“cc”), Pitch Bend (“Pb”) or AfterTouch (“AF”).
  • Once this choice is made,press the Enter key on the keyboard
  • pressing the same Ribbon Mode button again will let you adjust 3 parameters by turning the knobs (K1-K3):
  • CC:
    • CC number
    • Range Min
    • Range Max
  • PB
    • Channel
    • Range Min
    • Range Max
  • AF
    • Channel
    • Range Min
    • Range Max
  • Don’t forget to press the Enter key after changing the parameters to register the modifications.

Note: The Range values are interesting. You can limit the range of values sent by the Ribbon Controller. I find it useful when doing Pitch bends, for example. I like my PB to be 2 semitones to 4 semitones up or down, so I set the range accordingly, with an initial CC value of 64 and a Max value of 128. The software on my computer does the rest. I can then assign another Ribbon Mode button to set the limit to something else or the Pitch Bend. Also, by setting the Max value to a number smaller than the Min value, you can reverse the action of the Ribbon Controller. Nice feature.

Note: When the ribbon controller behaviour is set to “rn”, releasing the controller will reset the sent value to the MIN value set for the range. For example, sending a PB from 0 to 64 (instead of the usual 0 to 128) and releasing the controller will send … 0. But if you reverse the range (to create a reverse PB?) and send 64 to 0, releasing the controller will send 64, not 0. That can be used to create some unusual effect.

Note: The channel assigned to the button can be changed right after entering Patch Edit Mode. Just press the Midi Channel key on the keyboard and use the numeric keys (1-9 and zero on the keyboard) to set the channel. Yes, redundantly, you can also change the channel by turning knob K1, but only for modes PB and AF.

The Pitch Wheel

The Pitch Wheel cannot be programmed. It will send … Pitch Wheel messages (Midi Message 14). But the PW will send the messages on the same channel as the keyboard. Interestingly, it will send two pitch message when the keyboard is split. It’s logical, but will definitely send a lot of traffic on the Midi line.

Note: Firmware 1.20 allows reversing the action of the Pitch Wheel. This is done by

  • Enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Move the Pitch Wheel. The display will show “pth”
  • Press the Mode Assign key on the keyboard to alternate between two states: “Pc1″ (default) or “Pc2″, which will reverse the action, so moving the PW toward the Keyboard will decrease the PW values
  • Don’t forget to pre Enter to accept the change.

The Sustain button

The Sustain button cannot be programmed. It behaves exactly like the pitch wheel, sending messages on the same channel as the keyboard. It sends CC64 (Sustain) with values of 127 when pressed and 0 when released. It will also send two messages in Split mode: one for each channel.

The Slider

No, not the Ribbon Controller, often called “the slider”. It’s the little sliding potentiometer near the Pitch Wheel. By default, the slider sends CC7 (Channel Volume). For the Vortex, it behaves like a Master Volume, not a Channel Volume. It sends on one channel only, even it the Keyboard Zone button forces the keyboard on another channel.

But it can be programmed to send CC, Pitch Bend or Aftertouch messages, just like the Ribbon Mode buttons. Just go into Patch Edit Mode and move the slider (you might have to move it back and forth a few times)(the display will show “SLi”). Then chose Mode by pressing Mode Assign on the keyboard. Then refer to Ribbon Modes button programming technique above to modify the parameters. Of course, the “value” field of the assignment is variable and its value is determined by the slider position.

The knobs

… are in fact potentiometers (pots). In PE Mode, the knobs (K1, K2 and K3) are used to change parameter values when you program the buttons and sensors of the Vortex.

They can also be programmed to send various Midi messages themselves, while in PF Mode. By default, they send CC21, CC22 and CC23 (all Undefined Midi CCs) on Channel 1. They can be programmed like other buttons by entering Patch Edit Mode and then moving the knobs. The display will show “nb1″ for knob one, etc. They are then programmed like other buttons (see the Ribbon Modes buttons section above).

The Start/Stop button

The Start/Stop button sends Midi Start or Midi Stop messages (Midi Real Time Message, values 252 or 254). It can be programmed to send CC messages instead. It will then send the CC message with a value of 127 when the button is pressed, and a value of zero when the button is released.

To program the Start/Stop button,

  • enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button and then
  • press the Start/Stop button. the display will show “PLy” (for ‘PLay’, I guess)
  • change the message type by pressing the Mode Assign on the keyboard (or by turning knob 1, as per the Official QuickStart Guide). It will switch between “?”(strange “Predator” style alphabet here!)(which I guess means Midi Real Time) and “cc”
  • Press the Enter key on the keyboard to save the change
  • In CC mode, the knobs are used to enter the CC code that you want. The button can send ANY CC code. So you can use it as a CC sending button that has a LED showing its state. Nice feature.

Note: When in CC mode, one press of the Start/Stop button will send the CC number set by knob K1 with a value of 127. Releasing the Start/Stop button will send the same CC number with a value of zero. Pressing the Start/Stop button again will do the same thing for the second CC number, assigned by knob K3.

Note: When in CC mode, the channel for the Start/Stop button cannot be changed and is linked to the channel of the keyboard, like the Pitch Wheel. So it will also send two messages when the keyboard is in Split Mode.

The Program Down/Up buttons

The Program Down/Up buttons cannot be programmed. They can only send a Program Change Midi message (PC, code 12) on channel 1 (not modifiable see below), in sequential order. The program number is shown on the display. This is a two-byte midi message. Those keys are quite useless if you have a lot of program changes, unless you never jump to a particular program. Note: in firmware 1.20, the Program Change will be sent on whatever channel is chosen on the Keyboard. That includes sending 2 PC when the Keyboard in in Split mode. Nice work, Alesis.

So how do you jump to ANY program? You have to use

The Pads

The Pads (P1 to P8) can send a variety of messages. They are a key feature of the Alesis Vortex.

To program the Pads:

  • Press the Patch Edit key to enter Patch Edit Mode, then
  • press the Pad (P1 to P8) you want to edit.  Each of the parameter types (Channel, Mode and values) can be edited separately.

If you don’t edit one parameter type, it will retain the previous value (which you have no way of knowing, by the way)(unless you use MidiMonitor on the Mac or MidiOx on the PC). The display will show its number (like “Pd1″).

You can change the Midi channel, while in Patch Edit Mode:

  • by pressing the Pad and then the Midi Channel key on the keyboard and using the numeric keys (1-0) on the keyboard to enter the channel number. Don’t forget to
  • press the Enter key at this point to save that channel.

To choose a Mode, while in Patch Edit Mode:

  • press that Pad again. You then
  • choose the Mode for this Pad by repeatedly pressing the Mode Assign key on the keyboard. Then,
  • press the Enter key on the keyboard (if you don’t, the Pad will not be programmed). You then
  • press that Pad again to program the codes and values.

There are five modes:

  • Note: Displays “no”. Sends a NoteOn message when pressed and NoteOff message when released. The display will show “no” (which must mean ‘note’)
  • CC Toggle: Displays “cc1″. Sends a Control Change (CC) message when pressed once and the same CC message when pressed a second time, but with a different value. The display will show “cc1″
  • CC Momentary: Displays “cc2″.Sends a Control Change (CC) message with value1 when pressed and another value for the same CC when released. The display will show “cc2″
  • Program Change: Displays “pc”. Sends an MSB (Most Significant Byte)(Midi Message zero) message, then an LSB (Least Significant Message)(Midi Message 32), then a Program Change (PC)(Midi Message 12) message when pressed. The display will show “Pc”
  • Panic Mode: (new in Firmware 1.20) Displays “pnc”. Sends an All Notes Off, (Midi CC command decimal 123) on all 16 channels. Very useful.

Programming the actual codes and values is a bit of a challenge. Here’s how it’s done:

  • To program a Note:
    • Turn knob 1 (K1) to chose the note (you knew that there were 128 notes in Midi, right?)(So you must KNOW the number for each note, right!)(No, you can’t just press a key on the keyboard to assign its value to the note. The program would have no way of knowing which octave you’re in)(or wouldn’t it?). There is room for improvement here.
    • Turn knob 2 (K2)  to assign a velocity to the note when the Pad is pressed. This velocity will be sent regardless how hard you press the Pad, although they are Velocity Sensitive (kind off). It disables the velocity sensors. But if you set this value to zero, then you…
    • Turn knob 3 (K3) to chose a Velocity Curve (nicely hand drawn on page 37 of the Official QuickStart Guide). Remember that this knob is useless if you chose anything else than zero on knob 2.
    • Finally, don’t forget to hit the Enter key on the keyboard to validate and assign the values
  • To program a CC Toggle:
    • Turn knob 1 (K1) to choose the CC number
    • Turn knob 2 (K2) to choose the first toggle value
    • Turn knob 3 (K3) to choose the second toggle value (the one sent on the second press of this Pad
    • Finally, don’t forget to hit the Enter key on the keyboard to validate and assign the values
  • To program a CC Momentary:
    • Turn knob 1 (K1) to choose the CC number
    • Turn knob 2 (K2) to choose the first value
    • Turn knob 3 (K3) to choose the second value (the one sent when the Pad is released
    • Finally, don’t forget to hit the Enter key on the keyboard to validate and assign the values
  • To program a Program Change:
    • Turn knob 1 (K1) to select the Program Number
    • Turn knob 2 (K2) to choose a value for the Bank LSB
    • Turn knob 3 (K3) to choose a value for the Bank MSB (keep in mind that the MSB and LSB are sent in reverse order (i.e. MSB first))(??)
    • Finally, don’t forget to hit the Enter key on the keyboard to validate and assign the values

That’s it for the pads. They are a (relative) pain to program, but very flexible.

What am I forgetting? Ok yeah,

The Accelerometer

The Accelerometer (“Accel” for short) is stuck inside the Vortex. But there is a LED (the only green one!)(right next to the display)(it’s called Tilt, for some strange reason)(maybe the guy at Alesis played a lot on pinball when young) that flashes when the Accel is activated. By default, the Accel is activated whenever the Vortex is tilted more than 45 degrees from horizontal with the left hand  UP (it’s called “the neck” in the Official QuickStart Guide). It can be programmed to act differently and also can be programmed to send other Midi messages than the default CC1 on Channel 1. By the way, it doesn’t matter if the Vortex is flat on its back, in normal playing mode or upside down. The fact is that if the left hand is above the right hand, the Accel will eventually get activated.

To change the behaviour of the Accelerometer:

  • Enter Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Press the Edit Accel key on the keyboard. The display will show “Acc”
  • Press the Mode Assign key on the keyboard. The display will show “cc” for Control Change, “Pb” for Pitch Bend, “AF” for AfterTouch or “oFF” for, well, Off.
  • Choose a Mode by repeatedly pressing the Mode Assign key and then
  • Press the Enter key on the keyboard to record the new setting

See the Ribbon Mode buttons section for info about how to change the parameters for each modes

Note: If you use CC, keep in mind that the values entered are for minimum and maximum. This means that if you set the minimum to 5 and the maximum to 6, for example, the Accel will alternate between these two values only.

To calibrate the Accelerometer:

  • Enter the Patch Edit Mode by pressing the Patch Edit button
  • Press the Cal Accel key on the keyboard. The display will show “||Y1″(which, in Modern Klingon is the same as “XY1″)
  • TILT the Vortex to the minimum horizontal threshold position (the position, from horizontal, that will trigger the Accel)(don’t choose zero, or horizontal, as this will set the Accel off nearly continuously)(The Accel is set at 45 degrees or so by default)
  • Press the Enter key on the keyboard. The display will show “||Y2″(“XY2″)
  • TILT the vortex to the maximum position, which, by default is about 90 degrees (totally vertical)
  • Press the Enter key on the keyboard again to save all that

Note: If you set the minimum position too close to horizontal, the Vortex will send Midi messages pretty much continuously. But you can, if you want. You can even set it to a point BELOW horizontal.

Note: if you set the CC to alternate between two values, by choosing number X for minimum and X+1 for maximum, the Vortex will act like a momentary CC trigger. It will alternate based on the range that you calibrated. Nifty.

Note: You can, of course, reverse the action by choosing a Max value smaller that the Min value.

And some extras…

Some programming tidbits that I can’t fit anywhere else:

Sending a Midi ProgramChange when selecting a new Patch.

If you press the Patch Select button and then press a Pad button to select a Patch, the Vortex can (and does) send a ProgramChange command. To assign that command:

  • Choose a Patch by pressing the Patch Select button/Pad button combination
  • Press Patch Edit 
  • Press Program Set on the keyboard
  • Choose a Program value by typing the number with the numeric keyboard keys
  • Press Enter. If you only need to address PC 1 to 128 you’re done, otherwise,
  • Optionally, assign a MSB value by pressing the Bank MSB key then
  • Choose the MSB value using the numeric keyboard keys then
  • Press Enter
  • Optionally, assign a MSB value by pressing the Bank LSB key then
  • Choose the LSB value using the numeric keyboard keys then
  • Press Enter

The ProgramChange Midi message will be sent when a new patch is selected. It will not be sent if you select the same patch again (makes sense!)
Note: By Default, selecting a new patch will send PC 0 (zero) down the Midi line. Keep that in mind if something doesn’t work…
I prefer to use Pad assignment to send PC commands, as I only use one or two Patches on the Vortex (because it lacks Patch Exam functionality).
That’s it, I think.

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76 Responses to Alesis Vortex: Functional Description and Midi Programming Guide

  1. Matt says:

    Hi! Thanks for the info, excellent!
    Quick question – When programming the Vortex in Live, the midi mapping seems weird. It saves all mapping for the K1 K2 K3 buttons, but seems to ‘forget’ the ribbon and accel assignments? Any ideas?

    • rt says:

      The only thing I could find was that Ableton itself will forget the mapping if you don’t save the set. Try that.
      Knobs K1-K3 use standard midi CC messages by default, the the ribbon and accel use different assignments that are not standard in Ableton. By “not standard” I mean Ableton does not assign those to default controls.

  2. Matt says:

    Ive saved the set, and when I use midi mapping it works fine, but if i change patch on live then return to the one I just saved, thats when the ribbon and accel stop working, until I assign them again.

  3. RP says:

    Many, many thanks for taking the time to do this. You have no idea. Well, yes you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it for the rest of us. udaman.

  4. Ady says:

    We conducted a number of settings that you restart the vortex, they were totally forgotten. So all stored functions are forgotten at restart. Can someone help me in this regard?

  5. mT says:

    The lack of sysex in the Vortex is inexcusable. Hopefully, before too long we’ll be able to take the tech sheet of the processor and enable a sysex dump from an external PC. Until then, I just use Midiox from With the Vortex connected through USB, and my KORG N364 connected by 5-pin MIDI through a legacy cable to the gameport of my P4 computer (we’re talking old here), any control change made to the Vortex reads out on the computer screen while it is routed out to the KORG. That makes it very easy to keep track of what’s mapped to what. Take the computer out of the signal path and go play – and hope you laid out your programming logically enough that you can remember it.

    • rt says:

      I’m using Midi Monitor ( on the Mac for the same purpose. I’still haven’t heard from Alesis about the SysEx or other dump function.

  6. rt says:

    I have tried to get more information on the internal data. Here’s what I found so far, from hints in the QuickStart Guide:

    To initiate a SysEx device inquiry, send “F7 7E 00 06 01 F7″ to the Vortex using your program of choice (I use SysEx Librarian on a Mac). This hexadecimal string is the general Midi Device Inquiry. You will get a response from the Vortex:
    “F0 7E 00 06 02 00 00 0E 35 00 19 30 31 30 33 01 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F 7F F7″. Ignore the “F0 7E 00 06 02″ (it identifies the string as a Sysex response to a device inquiry). The next part is “00 00 0E” which is the manufacturer ID (“alesis”, of course) followed by “35″. That byte is the ID of the Vortex. The rest is unknown data, but I’m guessing that the “30 31 30 33″, which corresponds to characters 0103, is the firmware version number.
    That’s all I could extract.

    The Quick Start Guide documentation shows a Midi Implementation Chart on page 38. That’s how I found that the Vortex should respond to the Sysex Inquiry. On the same page, one line down, it states that the Vortex can send “Manufacturer” sysex. There might be a way to elicit that string using a certain key/button press. I haven’t found it (yet). (or maybe it’s all that’s contained in the General Inquiry String up there)

    Also, on the same page, at the top, I understand that the Vortex is supposed to recognize incoming Midi communications for Midi Channel, Note Number and Program change(1-24). The first two don’t really make sense, although a short comment is present “Lights pads assigned to note numbers” which makes me believe that sending the right note to the Vortex should light a corresponding Pad. I haven’t been able to make this work, but it would be funny to see (somehow!). The next line mentions that the Vortex is supposed to recognize incoming Program Change when in the range 1-24. That lets me suppose that I could remotely change a Patch number (to load it as the active patch). I have not been able to change the Patch using this. Maybe it doesn’t work. Someone else wants to try?

    Finally, there is an error on that page: on the “Note-Off Velocity” line, the documentation states “No”, but I can confirm that the Vortex does indeed send the Note-Off Velocity.

    • rt says:

      Updated: The new firmware (1.20) let’s you change patch content from a connected computer. Please read my complete post.

  7. Marco says:

    Hallo, I have a question…I wanna buy the Alesis Vortex to connect it via CME Widi, wireless midi, to my Korg PA3X arranger. Will it function, so I can control the paerformance and tone changes directly form Vortex while on stage?
    And does it has a transpose function? I can not find the button on it on pictures…
    Thanks in advance!

    • rt says:

      The Vortex has dedicated Program Change buttons that will send the proper commands to your PA3X. I think that tje PA3X responds to a combination of Program Change and Control Change to select sounds. The dedicated buttons on the Vortex are not very good though. They often send more than one PC command and can only go through PC sequentially (although keeping your finger on a button will eventually start counting by 10). But the “drum” pads can be programmed to send Program Change commands for direct access. That’s what I use. Also, my wireless unit is programmable and I can use it to generate program changes on any key. But yeah, it will let you control quite a bit of stuff from the stage.
      The Vortex does have “transpose” keys, right next to the Touch Strip, above the 3 keyboard assign buttons. They shift the whole keyboard one octave up or down at a time, from -3 to +4. The keyboard can also be split in two.

  8. Roger Morton says:

    Excellent user guide, I could’nt get me head around the Quick Start Guide by Alesis, it presumed too much prior knowledge…

    Quick Question…

    Can you use an expression pedal with the Vortex?

    If so, any recommendations on one?

    Many thanks


  9. etienne says:

    Hi! Is it possible to save vst instruments in the vortex and play after without computer?

  10. Vic Germani says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for taking the time to do this. The Vortex isn’t the best but it’s not bad for the price!

    Do you have any idea if the pitch bend wheel can be programmed to reverse it’s current polarity? I feel like pushing it away from the keyboard is up and I want to the pitch to go up. Right now, pushing it in that direction bends the pitch down. I know I can get used to it but just seems more intuitive to me reversed.

    Thanks again for all your hard work!

    • rt says:

      The Pitch Wheel cannot be programmed. Nothing can be modified. You will have to use an external processor to reverse the Midi commands. It could be programmed into a micro-processor easily. It could also be done on a computer with readily available software.

      You could also use use the Ribbon Controller as a Pitch Wheel. It is programmable and its action can be reversed.

    • rt says:

      Updated: The new firmware (1.20) will let you do this!

  11. Tuan Nguyen says:

    On my Alesis Vortex, if I hold “sustain’ button , then press and hold the A key (A2), the program change message is sent randomly. Do you have the same problem with your controller?

    • rt says:

      No. Mine does not have that behaviour. I wonder how that’s possible!

    • Libuli says:

      Hi! I have the same problem when using my behringer midi pedal fcb1010 and connecting vortex to its midi in and then merging the midi messages from the pedal and vortex to my korg midi in via the pedals midi out. When I press the pedal(program change) and press sustain or use the pitch wheel, the program change message takes the program change number from the sustain or pitch wheel midi messages. I will try to use different midi channels somehow, it may solve the problem.

      • rt says:

        The FCB1010 doesn’t really merge MIDI messages well. It merges MIDI feeds but doesn’t do intelligent merge. Since Pitch Bend and AfterTouch come out of the Vortex using Running Status (other commands do that too), the FCB1010 is not programmed to re-insert missing information in the MIDI stream. Using different channels might help but I would have to test it.
        I would personally not plug the Vortex into a MIDI equipment chain because it’s impossible to de-activate Running Status.

        • Tuomas Ilpala says:

          Thanks for that info :)

          I was wondering if MIDI-solutions products could help me out here. What is your opinion, does their midi merger do merging “intelligently”?

          Then I was also wondering if I could use their midi filter so that I would filter everything “not wanted” from a certain midi channel. For example program change values above 40 and all the necessary control change messages.

          What do you think?

          Thanks beforehand!

          • rt says:

            I haven’t tested the Event Processor Plus but I think that it would do all that you need. Send them a line.

  12. Jim says:

    This was so helpful. The ribbon button control section especially. My Yamaha CS6x has a ribbon and mod wheel that both can be used in some voices. Being able to use the ribbon buttons on the fly for different cc’s is great for wavetable sounds. I still wish Alesis would have included midi song select function since they included a start button.

  13. Alex says:

    I’m new to the world of MIDI so this might be a dumb question:
    What are the practical applications of the Patch Select function? I’m currently using my Vortex to control Ableton and the MIDIvampI synth.

    • rt says:

      Hi Alex,
      Since you can change the assignment of pretty much every button and control on the Vortex, it can be practical to have more than one “series” of assignments. the “series”, on the Vortex, are called “patches”. The Vortex can store 24 different patches. Since it’s impossible to review patch content, most users only program one (maybe two). So the “patch select” function is quite useless in real applications.
      Since you’re also using Ableton, you can reassign the incoming midi signal to whatever you want inside the software, effectively making patch selection redundent.
      I just use one patch now, and use my own midi-processor to dynamically change Midi commands on the fly.


  14. Alex says:

    It was a dumb question. What I meant to say was program select, not patch select. What are the practical applications of the program select function?

    • rt says:

      Not a dumb question at all.
      The “program UP/Down” buttons are actually quite useless with Ableton Live since it does not natively respond to Program Change Midi commands, sent by these buttons. Same goes if you assign Program Change commands to pads. If you work on a Mac, you could purchase MainStage, which works well will Program Change (and with the Vortex in general). I use MainStage as a sound generator for audio tracks in Ableton because of some Ableton limitations (notably what is explained above) and because I prefer some of the sound banks available in MS. Also, for $30, it’s definitely worth it!

  15. Vito says:

    Hi ,
    All the info you provided is great. Its been very helpful. I am currently using the vortex with 2 synths at the same time via midi thru,in and out. It works great. Is there any way to reverse the keyboard zones. Only one of my synths has the thru function. I have a korg m50 and a Roland phantom. I would like to switch the keyboard on the low keyboard zone to hi, and vice versa. Is this possible.

  16. Rio says:

    Hi! Really thanks for this post!
    I’ve just bought the Vortex and learning Mainstage. You pointed the use of RealGuitar, so I would like to use RealStrat and RealLPC whith it, and I can assign a different sound (mute string, chunk…) to a midi note on RealStrat/RealLPC. I don’t want to use my left hand for pressing the keyboard and change the sound to ‘mute string’ while playing chords whith the right hand, so I really was thinking: there is a way to send a midi note with any of the buttons on the Vortex’s neck? I’d like to assign a midi note event to a button, like sustain, ribbon, ribbon mode button… Do you know a way to obtain the result that I want changing anything on RealLPC or Mainstage?
    Thank you very much for your time (and your knowledge)

    • rt says:

      I just published a post that explains a few methods to send the proper code to RealGuitar. This would also let you change the Vortex behavior vis-à-vis Mainstage (or any other software)

  17. Dave says:

    Thank you Robert. This is very helpful. Alesis should be ashamed of their manual. I would love to use Vyzex Vortex. I downloaded the firmware update but the Alesis website will not allow me to download the Vyzex software. I am so mad. I use mainstage on my Mac so it is good to know that will work well.

    I had wondered if I could use both the usb and midi connections at the same time to trigger both soft synths and some of my hardware. Since the Vortex came this afternoon I was able to test that and Yes it does work. I also had wondered if my Macbook would power the Vortex and that also works.

    Your manual is a god send. I am so grateful. It has been a while since I have had to work very hard with a piece of gear and the Vortex takes some work especially without a decent manual. Now I have a chance to actually get the acc to work. I am wanting to use it for volume control. Perhaps some time I will find a DIY article on building my own expression pedal. The Vortex took the whole years fun money. Well you know money has been hard to come by so I only get $10 per month for fun. After all every once in a while a want has to be satisfied, not always just needs.

    Again thank you so much. I am most grateful. Pray that Alesis fixes the link or what the heck ever is keeping me from getting the Vyrex Vortex software.

    • rt says:

      Hello Dave,

      If the download doesn’t work, try with a different serial number. The format is regexp =/^BN[A-Z0-9]{4}1413[A-Z0-9]{5}$/, which means BN followed by a combination of 4 letters or numbers, followed by 1413, followed by a combination of 5 letters or numbers, like BN1208141312345. I tried a few and they worked. There is also a guy in the Alesis support forum offering a Dropbox link (probably temporary) for Mac OSX users:

      I also had wondered if my Macbook would power the Vortex and that also works.

      It can also be powered by an iPad. I also tested it with an iPhone, using an IK Multimedia “iRig Midi” device, on the Vortex’s own battery power.

      I am wanting to use it for volume control. Perhaps some time I will find a DIY article on building my own expression pedal.

      You can use the Slider (S1) for Volume Control. It is programmed as CC 7 “General Volume” by default. The Ribbon Controller can also be used for Volume Control. I use it by programming Riboon Modes Button 3 to send CC 7.
      There are many good DIY articles for building your own Midi Volume Control. I usually use micro-controllers for that. I will soon post an article about building a wireless Volume Control.
      You could also use next year’s “Fun Money” to buy a Behringer FCB1010 pedal board and really expand the Vortex’s versatily, especially with MainStage. I will have a Post on this soon.


  18. Dave says:

    Would love to go wireless. I can solder etc and have a nice soldering station. But do not have any circuit or that kind of electrical knowledge. I can wire a house too but that electronics stuff leaves me woozy. I am hoping to eventually find a kit or a good diagram and parts list so I can go wireless just because it would be fun. Former pro player but health issues have forced me to retire to mostly poverty. No complaints, I am still alive and kicking. I may sell some of my keyboard gear to finance other keyboard gear. Former drummer but now play keys and mangle my time at an acoustic guitar!

    Your articles are very nice. I am grateful to have found them. I got an email from Alesis and I have the software now. I will try and update the firmware etc. If it does not work using the mac I will run up windows and use that. You have done what Alesis should have done.

    I do want make one of the ribbon presets do volume. The volume slider looks pretty wimpy and I could wear it out in no time. But eventually an expression control would be the best solution. But since I am back to being a music hacker things have to come when they can be worked in to no budget!

  19. Dave says:

    Hi Robert

    Very cool. Looking forward to that. Been kinda lost lately maybe this will help me move forward.

  20. Dave says:

    Hi Robert

    Just updated the Vortex using my Macbook. Worked perfectly. Not sure why it did not work for you on the Mac.


  21. Bill says:

    Thanks for the tremendous effort you put into this AWESOME document. I purchased the Vortex on an impulse and received it about 2:30 this afternoon. I’m the proud owner of a Korg original Oasys Card (and yes I have to keep a dedicated industrial grade Window’s 98 PC with no network interface). It’s still one of the most awesome tools in my rack and really requires an excellent controller keyboard to get the most out of it. I’d honestly given up an a “Keytar” for control. When I opened the box I went through the packing material twice looking for the MIDI implementation. I was very disappointed when none was to be found in the box or on the Alesis Website. Finding your documented efforts made my day. I felt as if I’d been rescued :) Thanks again.

  22. Joseph says:

    Hello Robert,
    My issue is the sound. I downloaded the firmware, I change the USB cable, used different kinds of ports, I downloaded the free SoniDVI and the software works all the knobs are working, even the piano image when I press the keys can hear the sound. All the lights lit like the P23 showed on the display. What am I missing here. Please advise its been a week now and I just found your well organized website. I did not get any response yet from Alesis I am getting disappointed already.
    Please advise. thanks

    • rt says:

      What OS are you using? If on a Mac, you can test in GarageBand also. If on a PC, you have to find out if the Midi signal gets in. Do a search on Google for Midiox. Once we get confirmation that Midi is getting in, we can configure the software.

  23. Joseph says:

    Hello Good Morning,
    First of all you are a big help to people like myself, help you can not get from companies whom you invested your hard earned money. I will tell you now, I can feel the personal touch you expressed to every questions delivered to you.
    1) My OS is windows 7 cause windows 8.1 did not work in Sonivox DVI
    2) I forgot to mention to you that I installed the Vyzex software a patch editor that comes with the vortex, as I thought that the Vortex needs it to run.
    Thank you,

    • Joseph says:

      Hello Again Robert,
      I already downloaded the MIDIOX.

      • rt says:

        Since you already have MidiOx, can you tell me if Midi commands coming from the Vortex are shown? And since you have Vizex, does it communicate with the Vortex?

  24. Joseph says:

    Hi Robert,
    In the midiox the windows says no output device REC and SYX highlighted and the MAP KYB LOG is not. In the lower left it says No Output device.
    In Vyzex – auto sense could not find the Vyzex Vortex


    • rt says:

      Since you wrote that you tried a different USB cable, this looks more like a hardware problem. First, look into Windows Device Manager. Is there a yellow question mark next to one of the USB devices? That would mean a Vortex problem, especially if you already have other usb devices that work.
      If windows sees the Vortex and recognizes it, there might be a driver already installed that interferes with the Vortex. It would be a good second step to try the Vortex on another computer, to definitely rule out hardware problem

  25. Joseph says:

    When I checked the one you told me about the USB it was not there, I saw it on the sound, video and game controller section, nothing on the USB port.


  26. Joseph says:

    I tried to use my old computer with Win 7 everything is in place except that patch says loading to vyzex is not going to happen I gave a good 45 minutes and nothing is happening just say loading seems they can not communicate. the sample contents and vyzex looks like not talking to each other. whew!


  27. Dave says:

    Do you have a regular midi interface? If so try that. Just a thought.



  28. Dave says:

    another thought, does the usb power the Vortex? If it does and they do not communicate I would suspect the Vortex has some other problem….Especially if you can try it with a midi interface and it does not work as well.



  29. Joseph says:

    Hello Dave,
    Thank you for the concern, I do not have any midi interface.
    Yes, the USB give power and one thing I noticed is when I press the keys the blue lights located in the neck blinks at the same time. so there is a connection except for I guess the factory patches is not loading to Vyzex. Tried the troubleshooting sometimes the patch is initiating and stayed there and one time is loading but also stayed like not responding.
    Also I noticed that the folders of every sample patches is like an empty folder.
    Thank you, hope have an idea regarding this issue.

  30. Dave says:

    I do not know about the lights blinking. Mine does it too, not sure why. I put tape over the lights so as not to blind some one else…Besides it makes me look like some kind of Christmas tree ornament.

    The empty folder is normal, you have to create your own and since it does not know what you have….

    I think Robert has hit it. I would contact Alesis and tell them you have a defective unit. Or go back to the place you purchased it and ask for a replacement unit…

    Wish I had better thoughts but… Of course the Vortex has no sounds of it’s own, it is just a controller. But if your computer will not talk to it you can’t trigger any sounds anyway. Time to get a warranty replacement!



  31. Dave says:

    I assume you were not able to get the firmware installed and so the vyzex would never work without that update… do you have something with sounds in it that you can trigger? Or do you have a DAW with software instruments? Might try it there and see if it works. Just trying to think of any way to get something from it because then we could work with it. But it does sound like it is a hardware issue with the Vortex at this point.



  32. Joseph says:

    Hello Dave,
    The Sonivox DVI that comes is installed and the piano image with keys in it works. every keys I pressed there has sound. the knobs works too and the patches are visible too. but as usual there is no sound when it comes to vortex,.

  33. Dave says:


    The Vortex has no sounds! It is only a controller. You can push keys till you die and it will not make any musical sounds, just the sound of you pounding the keys….If you are expecting the Vortex to MAKE sounds you will forever be disappointed….


  34. Joseph says:

    I know it is only a controller and not a player. it is not like a guitar that you plug and play. Since this is my first time to use a hardware such a this, that is why I considered myself in the innocent stage. I will let you know just in case I found a solution from other helpful people like yourself and Robert, so it will be added to the knowledge base of this website for future users. I believe it is more on software issue than a hardware.
    Thank you so much and God Bless.

  35. Dave says:

    sorry your previous email said the vortex had no sound. What other programs are you trying to use with the Vortex? If the vortex is hooking up to the Vyzex then it should work with most anything… But midiox says it see nothing. I am using my Vortex against a Mac but I also have Windows 7 using fusion and it works for me there as well. Do you know anyone with a midi interface? What state or country are you in? Just trying to see if I know some one who might be able to look at it directly or have you bring and test it against a working midi setup…



  36. Dave says:

    did you get the firmware update to work?


    • Joseph says:

      I installed the software yesterday. Someone from Sonivox asked for a certain driver which I do not have. I emailed him maybe I will get an email back tomorrow. I will let you know.

  37. paul fearn says:

    How hard is this keyboard to get to grip with. And the manual is very poor.
    Do you know how I can get I think cc2 to work on the ribbon. For eg im playing through a korg tr and when you pull down towards myself the joystick it changes the sound ie adds feedback or plays an effect. I could do this with a roland ax1by sliding the ribbon it would tap or play the desired change but I cannot get this to work on the vortex.

    Also thanks for your site it has helped me no end

  38. Kelly says:

    I don’t know if I’m just an inept reader or if I’m just too inexperienced with MIDI to understand how to.. understand. Agh! So I’m in a fun pop-rock band and we decided to purchase the Vortex for many reasons- the most important being the ability to change MIDI voices on stage from the instrument itself. With each song using a mixture of synth leads, synth pads, organs, what have you, it’s just too much of a hassle switching the voice on my laptop each time. Well I’ve had this bad boy for a couple of months now and STILL can’t figure out how to control this from the controller itself. I think I read in this thread you can do it from the drum pad buttons? Oh man, I sure hope so because I’m starting to lose my cool over here. I’m literally losing my cool, I can’t look cool with a keytar if I have no idea how to control the darn thing! As watered down and layman’s termsy as possible, HOW IN THE HECK DO I CHANGE THE MIDI VOICES FROM MY CONTROLLER?!?!?! I gave up on Ableton, it made me a very scary person. I’ve been gifted Logic Express 9 though I of course have no clue what the hell I’m doing in that program, either. Oh man. I need a mentor for this stuff, I feel so stupid at this point.

  39. paul fearn says:

    Thanks bud its helped me lot. But still struggling to get the damn thing to do what I want.. good job im only using it for a few numbers..just want to say im very dispointed that the manual is very poor shame on you alesis snd their online support is equally poor.
    Ive tried to get it to pull a sound with the pad and am struggling..also trying to get the ribbon controller to work the same function as the korg joystick for eg if I pull the joystick back it will make the sound feedback I cannot get this to work on the vortex. Think it us cc2. Would anyone be able to advise.. sorry if im being thick.

    • dave says:


      Use the Vyzex Vortex software to adjust your cc numbers for the pads sliders ribbon etc. You have to remember to send the patch you adjust back to the Vortex once you have made adjustments and you will see a small reminder of the at the top of the left hand Vyzex column if memory serves me correctly. Find out what cc number the Korg joystick work on and then use vyzex to change it on the Vortex t match that. Then send the patch back to the Vortex and it should work. I also suggest you make a back up of the full factory settings so you can always go back if need be and then a copy of your customized setup.

      Good luck,


  40. Stuart says:

    Thanks for all of this great information. I have recently bought the black wireless Vortex and I’m trying to work it out. I have my Vortex plugged into a sound module (JV1010) and I’m trying to work out how to quickly switch between different instruments. At first I thought that I could only have 22 different instruments set up (relating to the 22 patches available on the Vortex). However more reading makes me think I can actually do 22 x 8 (8 being the 8 pads available). Is this correct? Theoretically, if I played 22 different songs, could I set up a patch for each song, and each song could have 8 different instruments assigned to each of the 8 pads? I’m trying to get my head around how this all works.

    • rt says:

      Your calculations are right. 22 patches with 8 assignable pads each. That’s a lot of different instruments to remember!

  41. Krishna says:

    im experiencing a problem with a alesis vortex connecting with my laptop running win 8 pro. i tried connecting using the microsoft usb sound drivers , but it aint working hope u can help me get through this :)

  42. Sam says:

    I want to assign program change to Ribbon Controllers 2 and 3, I have my preferred patches setup next to each other and i want to browse through them using my left hand on the neck without using the program changes. is that possible?


    • rt says:

      You can’t do it directly. The ribbon buttons only change the behavior of the ribbon controller. They don’t send a midi command by themselves. You will have to use the pads to send Program Changes (or use a footswitch, like I do)

  43. Gideon Rainey says:

    Hello, thanks for this guide. It has been very helpful.

    I need to assign the function of the Accelerometer to be controlled by the slider. How might I be able to accomplish that?


    • rt says:

      Unfortunately, you can’t modify the Accelerometer behavior using a control on the Vortex. You will be able to do it if you send a command to your computer that would load a Patch (on the Vortex) that has the right Accel assigment. You might want to use something like this on a Mac:

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