A stock first generation Electribe can transmit and receive only a few MIDI Continuous Control (CC) messages. The knobs and buttons on the control panel generate NRPN messages instead and the same applies to controlling an Elecetribe with an external controller or DAW. So what’s wrong with NRPN?
Well, nothing and everything. NRPN enables a much larger domain of different controller numbers, thus you can have different Electribes communicating on the same MIDI channel simultaneously. Besides, the resolution of controller parameter values is a lot higher (14-bit compared to 7-bit for CC values) making the transitions much smoother. However, it is irrelevant in the context of the 1st gen Electribes – as they do not employ this double-byte scheme the value range is still from 0 to 127.
On the other hand there are a lot of disadvantages. Configuring MIDI controllers and DAWs to speak and understand NRPN is often a pain as everything is focused on CC. NRPN requires 3 three-byte messages to transmit a single parameter change, totalling 9 bytes as opposed to one CC message and 3 bytes. The speed of MIDI transmission protocol translates to roughly one 3-byte message per millisecond, so any turn of a knob results in either a noticeable lag or audible stepping. Sure, CC is not perfect as well but still a lot better.
The worst artifact of NRPN comes from several NRPN messages colliding with each other. While MIDi devices can generally handle mixed flow of simultaneous CC messages adequately they usually get confused or fail completely when multibyte messages start arriving from different controllers (“turning knobs with both hands”). The sole disadvantage is that, as CC messages eat up almost all of the “namespace” of available CC controller numbers each Electribe device has to use a separate MIDI channel (one out of 16 on a MIDI network).
Electribe Shaman Firmware update 1.0.3 adds the capability to receive MIDI CC messages in addition to (original) MIDI NRPN. Technically both can even come in parallel, but as already noted, this could be dangerous and lead to broken (incomplete) NRPN messages so this “mixed flow” is not recommended. The list of MIDI CC messages introduced by Shaman Firmware (as well as how they map to original NRPN messages) follows (H = Hex).