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Connecting Yamaha Digital Pianos to a USB-C iPad (or other devices)

Print | posted on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 1:47 AM

Connecting an USB-C iPad to a Yamaha digital piano is simple… As long as you ignore everything Yamaha tell you in it's Smart Device Connection Manual. :)

TL;DR: Forget/ditch the Apple Multiport Adaptors and use a USB-C Hub.

There are three key elements that are needed for a "all in one" solution:
    • Data (MIDI to/from the instrument)
    • Audio (iPad audio is played back thru the speakers of the instrument)
    • Power (to charge the iPad).
       Strictly speaking power is optional, but in reality if the iPad lives on the music rest, then it's a requirement.

With the first two, you can leverage Yamaha's own Smart Pianist app - the functionality of which varies depending on the instrument series you use (P, Arius, CLP, CVP, CSP). And a multitude of virtual instruments, instructional apps, sheet music apps, MIDI apps and so on. If you are using a real computer, then obviously DAWs, Main Stage etc are also in play.

Ironically the flagship instrument has the least Smart Pianist capability but then again it's mostly onboard the instrument. Honestly, Smart Pianist isn't that great unless you have the CSP series or P-515. It's the 3rd Party apps that are really useful. I use forScore, Symphony Pro and Spectrasonics Keyscape the most.

One thing to note, with some CLP and older Arius models, you may need to update the firmware to enable the instrument as a Audio Interface (play audio back from the iPad via the instrument speakers). Often a store will sell you a instrument without the latest firmware. An CLP-725 will have from the factory no functioning audio interface until you run the firmware update. One time in the Netherlands, the piano store staff didn't know the capability existed, and we had to return with my cable set and iPad to test it in store, at which point the sales dude was like, "hey, that's great, never knew it could do that". It worked on an YDP-164 but not the CLP-725.

One can attempt to use Wireless LAN adaptors, and Bluetooth adaptors, but they are all suboptimal and mixing two connections will lead to lag, latency and audio breakup. If the instrument doesn't have on board Audio and Data (MIDI) wireless or Bluetooth support, I wouldn't bother.

Most instruments still only offer the ability to connect a Bluetooth device to the instrument in order to play it's audio via the instrument speakers. Big whoop!!  Bluetooth does not always mean Bluetooth MIDI support. Yamaha are slow in this respect, but it's also worth noting that Bluetooth MIDI is terrible for professional applications. At any rate, don't buy an instrument based on it's Bluetooth support, and the key phrase should be "Bluetooth audio and MIDI".

So all good. A cable you say! Easy.

Except if you also want to power the iPad. Which is a pretty reasonable requirement. Lest the thing runs out of power during a gig. :)

In the past, when iPads used Lightning connectors things were far more straightforward.
This is clearly still the target and fully tested scenario by the vendor and the most used by customers. This makes total sense as for ages the iPad used Lightning, and Lightning is a good connector despite what the EU may legislate!

There's a reason the Smart Device Connection Manual gets put in a separate downloadable PDF rather than the instrument's instruction manual, and the Smart Pianist application is updated immediately after you install it from the AppStore. You will find older versions of the manual that don’t even mention USB-C and none of the diagrams show a power lead connected! I’m pretty sure they never tested these scenarios with power and certainly not with power cycles.

At any rate, you'd hook up a Apple Camera Connection kit which basically has power pass thru and a USB-A port. Into that USB-A port you connect a USB-A to USB-B lead (aka printer cable) and the USB-B end goes into the USB to Host port on the instrument. USB-B being the industry standard for USB MIDI. All good. A reliable connection that survives power cycles of the instrument and the iPad. If you don't want the fugly Apple connector and it's two cables on the music rest then a simple Lightning extension cable takes care of that.

This scenario (with the exception of the extension cable) is detailed in the Smart Device Connection Manual. In the latest version, it says to use a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter or USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter. Older versions include a note saying replace Camera Connection kit with a Multiport Adaptor.

And this is where things start to go downhill.

These Apple adaptors do work, but they will almost always cause problems, especially on the CLP and CVP instruments. Once you get it working it likely will not continue to work when you power cycle the instrument. Or it may work three times, but not the fourth. It gets even worse if you wish to hide the adaptor by using a USB-C extension cable. It needs to be the correct extension cable (at least 10Gbps) and it matters which way around the connection is made at the USB-C end (because USB-A is directional)  It is not a reliable connection, and therefore it is not a connection.

The simplest solution for Data and Audio is to connect a straight USB-C to USB-B cable from the iPad to the Instrument. This works GREAT. But there's no power.

For power as well, we must use a USB-C Hub, that has both a Power Delivery port (for the incoming power) and a USB-A or C port for the cable to the instrument. Usually they have other ports as well (HDMI, etc). Most of these on the market also have a very short cable, so a USB-C extension (capable of power delivery) is also needed to hide all this gubbins.


And YES, it does matter which way around the two USB-C connectors connect!! This is the Hub's male plug to the extension cable's female socket. This is because the "legacy device" - the USB-A end of the instrument is directional. Don't try to rationalise it, just know that it's how it is! :) if the connection doesn't work at first, turn the USB-C connector around. I gaff up the side of the connectors so I know which way they need to connect in the future.


To recap what's needed:

  • a USB-C hub which supports power delivery, and includes at least one USB-A port and an incoming power USB-C port.
  • (optional) a high quality, 10Gbps or higher power delivery capable USB-C extension cable. 2m is a good length to gaff down the back of the instrument legs into some power apparatus concealment (which is where the hub also goes)
  • a USB-C power source and cable
  • a USB-B to USB-A cable (USB to Host MIDI) aka a printer cable. You can also use a USB-B to USB-C here
  1. The USB-C cable goes from the power source into the Power Delivery port on the hub.
  2. The USB-B cable goes from the instrument's USB to Host port to a USB-A (or C) port on the hub.
  3. The hub's built in USB-C lead goes into the USB-C extension lead.
  4. The other end of the extension lead connects to the iPad.

Rinse and repeat for connection to a computer such as a MacBook or Mac Mini, although of course with these, they can be powered via another port, so the use of the Apple Digital Multiport adaptor is viable. One can even hook up a USB switch at the "legacy" end of the chain (the USB-B port of the instrument) to switch between the iPad and computer. However if you are in for this sort of thing, you are much better off with a professional MIDI switch solution. Aside anything else, you know you'll be adding another five instruments soon enough! :)

Hopefully in the future, the instrument vendors will:

  • Update and correct their documentation.
    Although they are right to be cautious because at present there is no such thing as a "certified USB-C extension" and they have enough trouble making lists of supported video adaptors, doing so for USB-C hubs would be very risky. Nonetheless they should at least accommodate the requirement to have power at the same time as data and audio.
  • Improve support for current "standards" - and implement alternative USB to Host ports alongside USB-B. Basically put USB-C into the instruments.
  • Make it standard to include proper Bluetooth and wireless on board for those that wish to go cable free. The bandwidth is there, it's merely the implementations that suck.
  • A step change in instrument connectivity all up.
    Nobody wants this box of tricks with fragile connectors that have little resilience and need gaffered to a brick. The one thing (only thing :)) all sound engineers agree on is adaptors and shitty computer connectors are turdtastic. We need proper robust connectors - there is a reason USB used a DIN socket. But we won't get them so this bullet is just a fantasy!
  • A general industry move away from printing logos on connectors :)

For reference, the specific cables and hub I'm using are:

  • Anker USB C Hub, 341 USB-C Hub (7-in-1) with 4K HDMI, 100W Power Delivery, USB-C and 2 USB-A 5 Gbps Data Ports, microSD and SD Card Reader
  • Ruxely Right Angle USB C Extension Cable 2M,90 Degree Type C 3.1 Gen2 10Gbps Female to Male Extender Cord,4K 60Hz L-Shaped USBC Thunderbolt 3
  • Apple 20W USB-C Power Adapter and USB-C Charge Cable (that came with the 2022 iPad Pro)

Testing and validation using the following:

  • iPad Pro (circa 2018) with Lightning port
  • 2022 iPad Pro with USB-C
  • 2009 MacBook with USB-C
  • 2022 MacBook with USB-C
  • Mac Mini
  • Dell Precision 7530
  • Yamaha P-515
  • Yamaha Arius YDP-164
  • Yamaha Clavinova CLP-745
  • Yamaha Clavinova CVP-809