Developer Notes

Jonatan Liljedahl (Kymatica AB)


iOS MIDI timestamps

The importance of timestamping

It’s important to make use of the timestamping when receiving and sending MIDI, otherwise you’ll get ugly timing jitter that ruins the music.

AUv3 plugins

AUv3 plugins allows the use of timestamping in sample time for each render cycle, allowing sample perfect timing.

MIDI from AUv3 plugin to host

plugin side

AUv3 plugins have the possibility to send MIDI to the host, via an MIDIOutputEventBlock property. As the headers say, the host can set this block and the plug-in can call it in its renderBlock to provide to the host the MIDI data associated with the current render cycle.

For the host to see your MIDI output(s), implement MIDIOutputNames and return an array of names for each MIDI output. A typical plugin only needs one.

- (NSArray<NSString*>)MIDIOutputNames {
    return @[@"Out1"];

Cache the MIDIOutputEventBlock in your allocateRenderResourcesAndReturnError:

- (BOOL)allocateRenderResourcesAndReturnError:(NSError **)outError {
    if (![super allocateRenderResourcesAndReturnError:outError]) {
        return NO;

    if (@available(iOS 11.0, *)) {
        _midiOutput = self.MIDIOutputEventBlock;
    // ...

    return YES;

You can now send one or more MIDI events from your internalRenderBlock like this, where frameOffset is the sample offset within the current buffer for the event.

if(THIS->_midiOutput) {
    unsigned char data[] = {0x90,60,100};
    THIS->_midiOutput( timestamp->mSampleTime + frameOffset, 0, 3, data );

host side

The timestamp you get from an AUv3 in the MIDIOutputEventBlock should be an absolute sample time just like the mSampleTime passed in to your main render callback. Plugins not following this convention won’t work correctly!

In the host, you might rather want to know at which frame in the current buffer the event is timestamped. To convert an absolute sample time to frame offset within the current buffer, you must subtract the mSampleTime associated with the current render cycle from it. In your main render callback, save the inTimeStamp->mSampleTime somewhere, and use it when converting the timestamp in your MIDIOutputEventBlock. Also make sure to clip it in case the AUv3 is sending events with invalid timestamps, outside the bounds of the current cycle. So save inNumberFrames as well for this purpose.

In your render callback:

THIS->_currentTimeStamp = *inTimeStamp;
THIS->_currentBufferSize = inNumberFrames;

In the MIDIOutputEventBlock:

AUEventSampleTime now = 
UInt32 offsetFrames =
    (UInt32)(eventSampleTime >= now ? eventSampleTime-now : 0);
if(offsetFrames >= _currentBufferSize)
    offsetFrames = 0;

The offsetFrames should then be stored together with the event for later use.

Note that the MIDIOutputEventBlock will be called from the audio thread just like your render callback, so follow the rules of realtime safety! (No obj-c, swift, blocking, locks, memory allocations or file I/O).

MIDI from host to AUv3 plugin

host side

Then, when sending MIDI to an AUv3, you use this relative frame offset (which is in the range 0 to _currentBufferSize) and add AUEventSampleTimeImmediate to it:

    + offsetFrames, cable, length, data);

If you rather would store the original events absolute sample time, and subtract the current sample time when sending to an AUv3, that is absolutely fine as well.

As the headers say about the timestamp in AUScheduleMIDIEventBlock:

The sample time (timestamp->mSampleTime) at which the MIDI event is to occur. When scheduling events during the render cycle (e.g. via a render observer) this time can be AUEventSampleTimeImmediate plus an optional buffer offset, in which case the event is scheduled at that position in the current render cycle.

However, as far as my tests have shown, it does not work to send absolute sample time in this case, even if the documentation implies that. So just use AUScheduleMIDIEventBlock + offsetFrames and make sure to schedule events from the audio thread, otherwise the timestamp can’t be associated with the current render cycle.

plugin side

An AU instrument or music effect plugin can receive the MIDI in its renderBlock by iterating the linked list passed in the realtimeEventListHead parameter. Here’s an example function to handle incoming MIDI note events:

static void HandleMIDIEvents(__unsafe_unretained MyAudioPluginAudioUnit *THIS, const AURenderEvent *ev, Float64 mSampleTime) {
    while (ev) {
        if(ev->head.eventType == AURenderEventMIDI) {
            AUMIDIEvent *m = (AUMIDIEvent*)ev;
            uint8_t status = m->data[0] & 0xf0;
            int offset = ev->head.eventSampleTime - mSampleTime;
            if(status==0x80 || (status==0x90 && m->data[2]==0)) { // note-off or note-on with 0 velocity
                // Handle note-offs here
            } else if(status==0x90) { // note-on
                // Handle note-ons here
                // use `offset` to know at which sample in the current buffer the note should occur on
        ev = ev->;

It’s called from within your render block like this:

- (AUInternalRenderBlock)internalRenderBlock {
    // Capture in locals to avoid Obj-C member lookups. If "self" is captured in render, we're doing it wrong.
    __unsafe_unretained MyAudioPluginAudioUnit *THIS = self;

    return ^AUAudioUnitStatus(AudioUnitRenderActionFlags *actionFlags, const AudioTimeStamp *timestamp, AVAudioFrameCount frameCount, NSInteger outputBusNumber, AudioBufferList *outputData, const AURenderEvent *realtimeEventListHead, AURenderPullInputBlock pullInputBlock) {
        // Do event handling and signal processing here.
        HandleMIDIEvents(THIS, realtimeEventListHead, timestamp->mSampleTime);
        // ...

Inter-App Audio nodes

IAA also allows sample time (frame offset) timestamps when sending MIDI to an IAA node, allowing sample perfect timing. Not all IAA synths does this, however, so make sure to test with one known to do it right.

Unfortunately IAA has no concept of MIDI outputs, so receiving MIDI from an IAA app needs to be done via CoreMIDI virtual endpoints.

Sending MIDI to an IAA node

When sending MIDI to an IAA node, pass the frame offset for the event in the call to MusicDeviceMIDIEvent. Unfortunately this function is fixed to 3 byte messages, so you might need some logic to find out the correct size of the event you’re going to send. Also here, we clip the offset to keep it within the bounds of the current buffer size.

MyEvent *ev = ... // this is some struct holding your event
UInt32 t = (UInt32)MIN(_currentBufferSize,MAX(0,ev->frameOffset));
if(ev->length > 0 && ev->data[0] == 0xf0)
    MusicDeviceSysEx(weakSelf->_audioUnit, ev->data, ev->length);
else if(ev->length==3)
    MusicDeviceMIDIEvent(weakSelf->_audioUnit, ev->data[0], ev->data[1], ev->data[2], t);
else if(ev->length==2)
    MusicDeviceMIDIEvent(weakSelf->_audioUnit, ev->data[0], ev->data[1], 0, t);
else if(ev->length==1)
    MusicDeviceMIDIEvent(weakSelf->_audioUnit, ev->data[0], 0, 0, t);

Note that you should call this from your audio thread, otherwise the timestamp can’t be associated with the current render cycle.

Receving MIDI in the IAA node

To receive MIDI in your IAA node app, hook up the MIDI reception callbacks:

AudioOutputUnitMIDICallbacks cb;
cb.userData = (__bridge void * _Nullable)(myUserData);
cb.MIDIEventProc = IAAMIDICallback;
cb.MIDISysExProc = IAASysExCallback;
AudioUnitSetProperty (mainAudioUnit,

In the callback, you’ll be passed the frame offset for this event.

static void IAAMIDICallback(void *userData, UInt32 status, UInt32 inData1, UInt32 inData2, UInt32 inOffsetSampleFrame) {
    // do stuff here

Use the frame offset to produce sound at the correct samples in the current buffer cycle.

The SysEx callback has no timestamping, so we’ll just ignore that for now.

Note that these callbacks will be called from the audio thread, so follow the rules of realtime safety! (No obj-c, swift, blocking, locks, memory allocations or file I/O).


CoreMIDI uses host ticks instead of sample time. Converting between them can be really messy, especially since the CoreMIDI scheduler delivers the events “on time”, which is already too late if one wants to act upon the event in the current render cycle!

For virtual inputs, you can set kMIDIPropertyAdvanceScheduleTimeMuSec to a non-zero value to get events ahead of time, at the moment they are sent. However, it only works on virtual inputs, so it can’t be used when listening directly on CoreMIDI sources such as virtual outputs from other apps or hardware MIDI inputs. Also, since multiple sources could send to the same virtual input, you can’t guarantee that the events are received in chronological order. Thus, you need a realtime-safe priority queue to store and sort the events, etc.


Sometimes you might receive multiple MIDI events in the same data array, and you need to split them up into separate events. For example, AUv3 midi output can contain multiple events in the same byte buffer. Here’s a simple and fast function to do just that:

void SplitMIDIEvents(MyMIDISource *src, MyMIDIPacket *ev) {
    if(ev->length==0) return;
    const UInt8 *data = ev->data;
    if(*data == 0xF0) {
        src->_recvfuncptr(src, ev);
    const UInt8 *end = &ev->data[ev->length];
    const UInt8 *p = data+1;
    while(1) {
        if((*p & 0x80) || p==end) {
            AUMMIDIPacket ev2 = {
                .timestamp = ev->timestamp,
                .length = p-data,
                .data = data,
            src->_recvfuncptr(src, &ev2);
            if(p==end) break;
            data = p;

Where MyMIDISource is a struct or object containing a function pointer (_recvfuncptr) for handling individual MIDI events, and MyMIDIPacket is a struct that simply contains a timestamp, a length and a byte array for MIDI data.