Note (December 29, 2021): For those with Windows 10, please see Improving MIDI Playback in Windows 10 and Firefox.
For those that might remember, my old computer system had a melt-down of sorts and I had to get a new one. This new system has Windows 7 Pro/SP1 64-bit and has a Realtek ALC892 Audio chipset in it. Regular MP3s and other digital music formats sound fine on it but MIDI files sounded like crap for the most part compared to my old system. I do still have the Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro that was in my old system; however, I just never felt like going through the effort of trying to get it to work in this system due to its age and probably limited support in Windows 7 64-bit. Anyway, I knew the problem wasn’t so much the audio chipset (well, yes, it does have an impact) but the lack luster MIDI instrument samples that ship with Windows 7 which the included “Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth” uses. I also looked at the Sound Control Panel Applet and noticed that there was no option to set a default MIDI playback device like Windows XP had (which I still find rather odd.)
So, I went searching on the internet and found an article aptly titled: How to Make Midi Files Sound Better on Windows, which led me to CoolSoft’s VirtualMIDISynth. So I thought I would try it out and, what do you know, it works great! I was even able to load the SoundFont that my Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro was using.
Anyway, since my website uses Windows Media Player to play its MIDI files with, I did need to use this software to change MIDI Mapper’s Default MIDI Out Device from Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth to CoolSoft VirtualMIDISynth:
Then, I loaded up the Soundfont my old card was using in the Soundfonts tab:
While it doesn’t sound exactly like it did before (due to the differences in audio hardware and drivers), it is now much closer because it is using better base sound samples to work with. MIDI files can sound much different simply by changing the Soundfonts used. I tried a few of the ones linked to at those sites and some of them aren’t too bad. Short of getting a new sound card that puts more emphasis on how MIDI sounds, this is a good compromise, and it’s free! LOL 🙂
Oh, for those using Firefox, the amount of memory that the associated plugin-container.exe process uses while playing a MIDI file will roughly match the size of the Soundfont(s) selected as it has to load them into memory. So, a 256MB Soundfont will cause it to use that much memory.
For those like me that also use Winamp, since the default device has now been changed for all of Windows, it will start playing MIDI files using the improved instrument sounds as well. However, you can directly change the MIDI playback device by going into Winamp’s Preferences -> Plug-ins -> Input -> Nullsoft MIDI Player -> Devices Tab and select the second midiOut / Microsoft MIDI Mapper choice (this is the one that came with Winamp v5.63):
Note: If you change the default MIDI Mapper device back to Microsoft GS Wavetable Synth in the VirtualMIDISynth Configurator then Winamp will show two entries for midiOut / Microsoft GS Wavetable. In this scenario, pick the second one. Why it doesn’t list VirtualMIDISynth specifically I do not know. I may send feedback to Coolsoft and/or Winamp about it.
Just for the heck of it, I swapped out Winamp’s current MIDI plug-in with a really old one that supported auto-loading Soundfonts. Its device listing is somewhat different and lists VirtualMIDISynth by name:
I tried the auto-load Soundfont option that this plug-in has for MIDI files that use a specific Soundfont; however, it didn’t work. Pretty sure that option only works with Sound Blasters (this did work in my old system).
Anyway, I’m still playing with different Soundfonts to get the best sound. Now I need to install a virtual MIDI keyboard so I can play specific instruments. Hope this information helps someone out there. 🙂