Review: Zivix PUC+ for Bluetooth Midi Wireless

I’ve been a fan off wireless MIDI for a while. I built a few prototypes and I still use some of the devices I made. I might have found a replacement: Zivix just came out (fall 2015) with a wireless Midi transmitter, called the puc+ (puc plus), that is using Bluetooth LE (BLE) to exchange Midi information between any Midi device and a computer (Mac) or iPhone/iPad. This review is for the puc+. Zivix made a previous version called “puc” a couple of years ago (after a successful Indiegogo campaign). It was using a Wifi dedicated network connection. The new device is definitely more useful.

(By the way, you might have found this page doing a google search on puc+, puc plus or puc. Product names with special characters (+) are not search engine friendly…)

 PUC+ top

Requirements for the puc+

Before delving into the details of the hardware and software, here are the hardware requirements for the puc+.

  • iOS 8.2 and above
  • an iOS device capable of Bluetooth LE connections (iPhone 4s and up, iPad 3 and up)
  • or a Mac running Yosemite (10.10) and up and capable of Bluetooth LE (newer (2012+) models).
  • NO PC or Android device

For this series of tests (2015/11/10), I’m using a puc+ with firmware version 4.08 and the iOS and Mac app version 1.0.15. The application was prompting me to upgrade to a new firmware version, but the update process is incompatible with my version of iOS (9.1; apparently Apple’s fault. 9.2 should be OK). After successfully downloading and installing the Mac application, I was able to upgrade my firmware from 4.047 to 4.08.

Physical Description

The puc+ is a 7.6 cm (just under 3 inches) round “hockey puck shaped” unit that weighs 117 grams (about 4.1 ounces) with batteries. There’s one “power” button on top, with a “wifi” network symbol (leftover from the previous version?) that doubles as a status light. There’s a Midi 5-pin DIN female connector for standard Midi connections. Opposite the Midi connector, a micro USB connector serves multiple purposes (more on that later).

The underside of the puc+ is a battery cover with identification markings. In fact, you would have to look at the underside to see if the unit is a puc+ or the old version, the puc (Wifi). Don’t loose that cover if you have multiple units! By the way, the serial number is on a little piece of paper inside the battery compartment. It was floating around in my unit. I could have lost it easily. I pressed its sticky side safely inside the battery compartment.

The puc+ can be powered with two AA batteries or a micro USB connector. The manufacturer claims 7 hours of continuous use for a fresh set of batteries. You might want to use rechargeable batteries and anyway keep a fresh set of batteries if you are going to use the puc+ in a live environment.

Configuring the puc+

As of this writing, the puc+ comes with a multilingual brochure (copyright 2015 Zivix LLC). The little brochure mentions going to the Apple app store and downloading the iOS puc+ app. To find it, you will have to do a search on “zivix”, as a search on puc+ will lead you to the old puc Wifi app (special characters in product names don’t work…). Install the puc+ application then follow the instructions in the brochure.

The Mac app is at this address. It is exactly the same as the iOS app and does the same things.

The brochure does not give details about the application except for the initial connection to the puc+. It might make sense as the app might change more often than the brochure, but the application itself does not have a good help system (always referring to the internet, and even then very limited) and many parameters are not explained at all. The web site has no information about the app (actually, the web site, mipuc.com, needs an update. Some of the information is outdated and is for the puc Wifi (FAQ). Some links do not work).

To use the application, you have to first turn on the puc+ by pressing the on/off button. It will flash (probably green, with new batteries, red with old/depleted ones). Then the network indicator will cycle. Open the application.

puc+ app main screen

Click on picture for a larger version. The puc+ application showing the IN/OUT toggle switch. Touch “select a puc+” to get the next screen for pairing.

Time to choose a puc+. On a mac, you first have to go to the Audio/Midi Setup application to connect, as explained in the brochure.

Choosing a puc+

Choosing a puc+. Top left of Main screen.

The network indicator will then be solid blue. The application will receive the current list of parameters from the device. They are accessed by clicking on the top right of the application screen (the three-lines symbol).

Parameters. The first section is what you want to look at.

Parameters accessed from top right corner. The first section is what you want to look at. The next three sections go to the internet…

Parameters in a subscreen. Why not use the main screen?

Parameters in a subscreen. This is where you reset the puc+ and change the time-out (2 hours is way too long). (What are the “advanced” settings?)

Get (some) help by pressing the ? Not available in sub-screens.

Get (some) help by pressing the “?”
Not available in sub-screens.

You will have to use the app to reset the puc+, change the Midi 5-pin port IN/OUT direction and various other parameters.

NOTE: If you set the puc+ as a Midi OUT device (using the app), meaning that you plan to use the puc+ to send information from an iOS device or a Mac to your Midi instrument , the setting will stay in the device even after a power off/on. You might conclude that your puc+ is suddenly non-functional, as happened to me, when you power it on again and expect Midi data to flow from your instrument to your iOS device or Mac. You will have to access it from the application to set the parameters the way you want then.

Note: The network LEDs should flash, yellow/green and blue, when a Midi command passes through the unit in either direction.

Connecting a Midi instrument to the PUC+

The PUC+ can be connected to a Midi instrument using a standard Midi 5-pin connector or a USB connector.

Connecting an instrument using the Midi 5-Pin connector

puc+ 5-pin DIN connector

puc+ standard MIDI 5-pin DIN connector

I have tested the puc+ with a few instruments: An Alesis Vortex, an old Casio Privia 555 piano, an Akai MPK261 keyboard, a Behringer FCB1010 pedal board, and a geriatric Yamaha 480 synth. Each one was recognized and could transmit Midi data through the puc+ using standard 5-Pin Midi cables. Keep in mind that you will have to use two units for a duplex Midi connection. That’s OK, since for most applications the important part is to be able to get Midi commands from the instrument to other Midi devices. I tried it with an iConnectMIDI4+ and it’s Midi ports could send and receive from the puc+. Connected to my Alyseum AL-88C multi-port Midi node, the Midi port transmitted and received Midi data as expected.

So, the Midi port behaved correctly on all the 5-pin Midi devices that I tried. The puc+ will be most useful if used to transmit Midi data from an instrument to a computer (Mac or iOS device), but sending Midi data the opposite way, from an iOS device or a computer, could be useful to activate sound on a remote synth for example.

Note: The puc+ does not provide 5 Volts on its output port. So you cannot power another Midi device from it, like a MidiSolutions device. My Arduino experiment would not work either. You also cannot power the puc+ from another Midi device that provides 5 Volts (between pin 2 and 4). You definitely have to use batteries (or power from the USB port).

Connecting an instrument using the micro USB connector

On the opposite side of the puc+, across from the Midi 5-pin DIN connector, a small micro-USB connector serves similar (and different) purposes.

puc+ USB micro connector

puc+ USB micro connector

The micro USB connector can be used to provide power to the puc+. It will save batteries but of course, you must have a powered USB connector at the other end of the USB cable, which will limit the wireless capabilities of the puc+. However, it could be useful for a remote station (maybe multiple instruments) transmitting Midi to a base/DAW station.

The puc+ comes with a special USB cable with 3 heads. One head is the micro USB that plugs into the puc+, one head (female micro USB) receives power from a source (computer or hub) when connected to a standard micro-USB cable and one head is a standard USB type A female connector, as found on a USB hub or a computer. This third head is where your USB equipped instrument will be plugged, using a Type A to Type B, or Type A to micro USB cable. The puc+ is designed to provide up to 300 milli-Ampères of current at 5 Volts to the instrument on the USB connector. That comes in handy when plugging a Midi instrument that can be powered by its Midi connector.

For example, I plugged my M-Audio Oxygen 49 keyboard, that is USB only, and the puc+ provided power and midi connection to it. It even acted transparently to a SysEx dump initiated from the keyboard. I tried the same thing with my Korg nanoPAD and Korg nanoKontrol and they worked fine. The Alesis Vortex also performed as expected when using its USB connection. My Akai MPK261 keyboard would not work. Although the lights came on, no Midi data came through. I know that it’s not because the MPK261 draws too much power, as I can use it with an iPad and a camera connection kit (which severely limits, by design, the available power to an instrument). My Ableton Push did not respond at all, even when powered byt its pwer supply. I guess there’s a limit to how transparent the puc+ can be to Midi Through traffic.

The USB connection is bi-directional. So your instrument can send and receive Midi commands concurrently. It is then very similar to plugging the instrument directly into a USB port on the computer. When I connected my Korg nanoKONTROL to Ableton Live, bidirectional communication was working fine, and Live was sending remote codes to the Korg.

I also tested a direct connection from a computer to the puc+ using a standard micro-USB cable. Although the puc+ received power, no Midi data could be exchanged between the computer and the puc+. Hence, the puc+ seems to be functioning as a USB host, and not as a USB device.

As an extra test, I connected the puc+ to my iConnectMIDI4+ Midi interface using the iConnect Host connector in the back. The puc+ then was able to send and receive Midi through the iConnect. This means that I coud be using a laptop as my main DAW by connecting it via bluetooth to the puc+ and exchange Midi commands with a full network of Midi devices!

Finally, I plugged the puc+ into an M-Audio Uno midi dongle and was able to transform a Behringer FCB1010 and even an old Yamaha 480 into a bidirectional Midi device. I even tried a no-name dongle and it worked fine.

Keep in mind that anything that you plug into the micro-USB connector might draw power from the puc+, affecting its battery life.

Range

I tested the puc+ in my studio (5 x 9 meters, 18 x 28 feet) and there were no dead spots or noticeable latency. I went to the main floor (one floor down, wood floor and wood ceiling) and it stayed connected. I went to the building basement (two floors down, wood floors, up to 15 meters (45 feet)away, through 2 walls) and I only lost bluetooth connection in the the most remote corner. I have plenty of stray radio waves in the studio, Bluetooth, wifi and others, and the connection was always solid. So far, I haven’t heard a stuck note, although very rapid note sequences accompanied by a lot of Midi Aftertouch and Pitch Bend eventually saturated the link. This can happen to any Midi link, though, and might not be the puc+ fault.

The typical application for this device, sending Midi from an instrument to a synth, either in a studio or a fair size stage, should work smoothly and reliably.

Conclusion

If you intend to use the puc+ with a simple Midi instrument with a 5-pin DIN connector (standard MIDI), everything will work fine. I was not able to measure latency (midi delay) but the manufacturer claims <15 milliseconds. I could not hear any delay when playing on my keyboards. It works great with my Alesis Vortex keytar! It works on both iOS and Mac OS X. I don’t know how it would fare with a drum kit that requires perfect timing and very low latency.

The only disadvantage with the 5-pin connection is actually a limit of Midi itself: one cable for data IN and a separate cable for data OUT. So think about your requirements and focus on getting Midi from your instrument to the rest of your Midi circuit. You can of course reverse Midi flow through the device, or use a Midi dongle (as I did above) but Zivix should have provided two Midi connectors…

The USB connection is hit and miss. It will provide power to simple instruments, from the batteries or an external USB source, and will transfer Midi data bidirectionally. Fancy instruments that require some kind of handshake over the Midi/USB protocol might not work at all, like my Akai MPK261 keyboard or my Ableton Push. That’s OK as they are big instruments that are likely to be plugged in and stationary anyway.

New versions of the firmware are coming out regularly (this is a very new device as of this writing) and hopefully the puc+ will become even more versatile.

The communications I had with the Zivix support team were excellent and very quick, a lot easier than dealing with some of the big players out there.

The puc+ costs 99USD (129$ in Canada…) and I find it rather expensive for what it does. As more and more instruments integrate Bluetooth LE, the puc+ might become redundant (…only in a few years!). But for now, this is the easiest way to make Midi wireless in an Apple environment.

Recommendation: Buy it and keep it in your Midi toolkit. It will definitely improve your keytar freedom and can replace a Midi cable anytime.

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4 Responses to Review: Zivix PUC+ for Bluetooth Midi Wireless

  1. dave says:

    Sounds ok. But to expensive for me. Guess me and the keytar will have to stay tethered with a cord, dang. Had hoped some day to go wireless but it ain’t happening.

  2. Paul Schrier says:

    Robert,
    Have you tried the Quicco Sound mi.1 wireless BlueTooth LE MIDI interface?
    It supports bidirectional 5-pin DIN MIDI at less than half the price of the PUC+. I’d be interested to hear your opinions of that device. I’m also interested in getting your details on the Alesis Vortex SysEx data format and implementation.
    Thanks,
    Paul

    • rt says:

      The Quicco mi.1 is powered from the midi port itself, so it won’t work with midi equipment that doesn’t adhere to midi specifications, which is most equipment, unfortunately. It doesn’t have batteries and cannot be plugged into an external power supply. Won’t work with the Alesis Vortex (it’s even in their list). Support seems to be a problem, as the web site is mostly in Japanese. No manual, no real specs. This will surely change in the future (self-financing campaign ended not long ago), so I’ll wait a bit before testing it.

  3. Ox says:

    I have the PUC wifi version. Noticed random latency from my yamaha sy22 and iphone. Tried different combinations with other keyboards, ipad, ipad mini, korg module, iGrand, galileo organ; still random latency.

    Contacted zivix email technical help yesterday – no response.

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