The Lab4Music Sipario is a hardware advanced MIDI router. Suprisingly, something that there is a gaping hole for in the market, sure you can do all kinds of brilliant things with MIDI in software, but a hardware only solution is a rarity.
What is Sipario?
It's a stand-alone MIDI router, which has 2 MIDI inputs and output, plus a USB host port. Designed to let you set up to 8 zones of splits, layers or routings.
All is controlled via a colour touchscreen, rotary encoder and single button.
There is also a large backlit FUN button which can be programmed to increment or decrement preset memory locations, or to page through presets - it would be good to be able to program this FUN button to do more, such as cycle through specific presets etc.
With 2 MIDI inputs, 2 outs and a USB source/destination, you can connect up three MIDI devices (or more if you use MIDI through).
There are 40 Scene Memories which have 30 preset memories in each, each preset memory has up to 8 programmable zones with a comprehensive set of routing and filtering possibilities.
Each zone (M1-M8) allows for key range, velocity trigger point, input channel, input source (in1, in2, USB) output port, output channel, zone volume, program change (prg, LSB, MSB), controller mapping/filtering for up to 5 controllers, sustain input controller mapping, pitch bend and aftertouch filtering, MIDI transport control value send (start, continue, stop), transpose (+/- 60 semitones)
As you can see, quite a lot of possibilities. What does this mean practically?
Well for instance you could set up to 8 splits or layers from a master keyboard input with output routing to the two MIDI outputs and the USB output, or multiple keyboard or controller (up to 3) inputs routed via the 8 zones as you wish. It's actually immensely powerful and flexible as a routing system and can control a large amount of hardware if you have MIDI through on any of those devices.
It's easy to use, and highly configurable - indeed coming back out to one of the 40 Scene memories, you can also send out up to 5 program changes on recall, so you could use the Scene as an entire setlist of up to 30 presets, or each Scene as a song, with sections within.
So for live use, you could create a master control unit which routes, channelizes and splits/layers for each setup.
You can set the Sipario to treat the USB B connector (flat one) to hook in a USB keyboard (it will power this if you have a reasonable power source for the USB A type connector), or switching to computer mode in USB settings, to connect to the host computer - you will need a special cable for this (flat to flat). The only downside to this is that you only get a single MIDI port when connected this way - hardware routings inside the Sipario will feed this port.
Which brings me to a criticism, many USB MIDI devices have multiple Ports - control layer, keyboard layer or even hardware MIDI ports. Sipario cannot discern between these ports. Would be great if it could address these (USB-1, USB-2 etc).
Do You Need it?
Sipario is an extremely useful piece of MIDI hardware, the level of control and routing is very powerful. However, it's use is primarily for the player, someone who needs to create a complex MIDI control system without the use of computer or iPad or whatever.
I can't think of any other unit that does the same thing apart from perhaps the yet to be released Bome Box.
The Sipario is a specialised peice of hardware from a small manufacturer, and as a result does not benefit from economy of scale, it's priced at €318 (via Thomann) which equates to around £266 or around $300. Which is not unreasonable, but perhaps makes it less of a no brainer, should you need what it can do for you. Certainly for live work though it is very useful indeed.