Software Soundfont MIDI For Windows

These instructions are written for MS-Windows users that do not have a Creative Labs' SBLive! or Audigy soundcard. These cards utilize soundfonts to greatly improve the MIDI sounds of most instruments. One of the most frequent complaint about MIDI playback is the  mediocre MIDI sound from most soundcards. This is especially true for MIDI guitar music. These instructions explain how soundfonts can be used using freely available software with any soundcard. If you use a notation program that uses MIDI for playback (TablEdit, PowerTab, Guitar-Pro, etc.), I believe you will be very impressed with the improvement in the sound of your guitar music.

Below are three samples of of the same song. All samples recorded to wav format from TablEdit.

SoundBlaster Live! using LK-Nylon soundfont
Onboard RealTek AC97 midi synthesizer (Nylon Guitar)
Software Midi Synthesizer using LK-Nylon soundfont to onboard RealTek AC97 audio out

Simple MIDI Explanation

Your soundcard actually has several devices, most commonly, three audio-in devices (mic, line-in and CD-in), an audio-out device and a midi synthesizer device. When a music program begins playback, it starts sending a series of midi events to the midi device on your soundcard. The builtin MIDI synthesizer converts the midi events to musical sounds that are sent to the audio-out device and finally to your speakers.

Midi Playback

Since most soundcards do not support soundfonts, the resulting sound of the instruments are generally less than desired. To utilize soundfonts on these soundcards, the path from the music program to the soundcard must be be replaced with a software midi device and soundfont synthesizer. There are two free MS-Windows programs (LoopBe1 and SyFonOne) you can download to provide the midi device-soundfont synthesizer. More on these programs a bit later.

When both programs are installed and running, the music program setup is modified to send the midi events to the software midi device (LoopBe1). This program merely passes the midi events to the synthesizer (SyFonOne), which in turn converts the midi events to musical notes using soundfonts. The music is sent directly to the soundcard audio-out device and then to the speakers. This totally bypasses the onboard midi synthesizer.

Software Midi Device

Ideally, it would be preferable that the midi device-synthesizer be contained in a single program, but I have been unable to locate one. You might be asking "Does the music sync with the playback cursor in the music program."? This of course is dependent on the speed of your PC, but on faster PCs and notebooks, you will notice the music syncs very closely to the playback cursor of your music program.


Install The Software MIDI Device (LoopBe1)   [Top]

The installation of the Software MIDI device is very easy.

  1. Download LoopBe1 and save it in your download folder or on your desktop.
  2. Locate the downloaded file and open it.
  3. It is a standard Windows installation file, so proceed as you would for any program you install.
  4. If you receive a message that is it not an approved Windows driver, click [Continue] to finish the install. This may take a few minutes.
  5. When the installation is complete, there should be a small LoopBe1 icon in the task bar as shown in the image to the right.
  6. On Windows 98, ME and XP, you may have to reboot your PC for the device to be recognized. 
If for any reason you exit LoopBe1, there is an item in the Program Files list of your Start bar. Locate the LoopeBe1 Internal MIDI Port item, then select LoopeBe1 Monitor.
LoopBe1 Icon

Install and Configure the MIDI Synthesizer (SyFonOne)   [Top]

Install the soundfont synthesizer:
  1. Download SyFonOne and save it in your download folder or on your desktop.
  2. Locate the downloaded file and open it.
  3. It is a standard Windows installation file, so proceed as you would for any program you install.
  4. At the end of the installation, you are asked if you want to run SyFonOne. Check mark Launch SyFonOne to run the program, then click [Finish].
  5. There should be a small SyFonOne icon in the task bar as shown in the image to the right, and the program opens to start the configuration.
SyFonOne Icon

Configure SyFonOne

A window to select a soundfont bank is opened the first time the program is run.  A sample sounfont bank is included with the installation file and provides reasonable midi sounds. I recommend downloading the 8MBGMSCustom (Bank). See the description on the Soundfonts page for more information. This soundfont bank can always be downloaded at a later time and selected in program Options.

NOTE: you will also need SFPack to uncompress the downloaded soundfont bank.
Select Soundfont Bank
Click for larger view
After the soundfont bank is selected, a small Hints window is displayed.  It basically informs you that the program is not initialized for receiving MIDI events when first opened. The SyFonOne icon in the Taskbar indicates whether the program is initialized to accept MIDI events. SyFonOne Hints Window
Click for larger view
When the Hints window is closed, the main SyFonOne window is displayed. In normal operation, this window never needs to be visible. The four buttons at the top perform the following actions:
  1. [Close] - minimizes the window to the Taskbar.
  2. [Options] - Opens the options window that will be discussed a bit later.
  3. [Play] - This is a toggle button. when it reads Play, the program will not recognize any MIDI events. Clicking the button changes it to read Sleep. In Sleep mode the program accepts MIDI events and outputs the music to your soundcard.
  4. [EXIT] - terminates SyFonOne and removes the icon from the Taskbar.
The Playback volume sliders enable you to adjust the volume of the MIDI music. You can increase the volume up to 300% of normal .

You need to set some options, so click [Options] for the next step.
SyFonOne Main Window
Click for larger view
The Options window is used to set the MIDI input port (device) and the audio-out port (device).  Make the following settings:
  1. In the upper left portion of the window, highlight LoopBe Internal MIDI in the Select MIDI input port list. You may have more than one item in the list, so ensure the proper item is selected.
  2. In the center right portion of the window, select your soundcard audio-out port (device) in the Select standard audio out port list. If you view the larger view of the image, you will notice I had three devices and selected the onboard audio-out device (RealTek AC97 Audio). If there is only one item in the list, then ensure it is selected.
  3. The final step is to perform a test of the audio setting. Click [Test] and a 3 second continuous beep will sound. If you hear any pops, cracks, etc., change the Number of buffers and/or Samples/buffer size and repeat the test until no pops or cracks are heard. I recommend changing the Number of buffers first before modifying the Samples/buffer size.
  4. If you still hear pops and cracks after changing the settings in step 3, then your PC may not be fast enough to utilize this MIDI synthesizer.
  5. Click [Ok] to redisplay the main SyFonOne window.
SyFonOne Options Window
Click for larger view
For MIDI events to be received by SyFonOne it must be initialized. Click [Play] to toggle the button to read [Sleep]. You are now set to start playing MIDI events using soundfonts in the SyFonOne synthesizer. SyFonOne Main Window At Sleep
Click for larger view

Configure and Playback from Your Music Program   [Top]

Before playing any music from your music program, the MIDI out device must be set. TablEdit is used in these instructions, but the procedure is similar for all music programs.
  1. From the MIDI menu, select MIDI Setup...
  2. In the Midi out selection box, select LoopBe Internal MIDI.
  3. Close the window, then load a tab. When you start the playback, the sound you hear will now be created by SyFonOne using soundfonts.
Depending on the soundfont bank you have set in SyFonOne Options, your playback should be greatly improved.
Midi Setup
Click for larger view

Problems and Shortcomings   [Top]

As you might expect, software MIDI synthesizing is not perfect and not as fast as the MIDI synthesizer on your soundcard. Below are some of the problems I have encountered.
  1. In TablEdit, the dead note effect at times does not playback correctly. Most times, the percussive sound of dead notes are sounded as if the effect was not applied.
  2. If the song is very fast or has a large number of instruments, the playback at times is choppy as if some notes are missing. This would probably also be true on slower PCs.
  3. If you notice pops, cracks, etc during playback, refer to the configuration of SyFonOne and adjust the number of buffers and/or the buffer size.
  4. If there is no sound, display the SyFonOne window by double-clicking on it's icon in the Taskbar and click [Play]. This button must read [Sleep] for SyFoneOne to interpret MIDI events and send them to the soundcard audio-out device.
These are relatively minor problems when you consider the improvement in the sound of your MIDI playback.