MIDI and '32 Voices'... What are these voices?

I see a lot of advertising for ‘32 voices’ with sound equipment. Mainly sound racks, keyboards, and samplers. Do the 32 voices really mean MIDI notes? What are these voices exactly?

You’re right: 32 voices refers to the number of independent MIDI note signals that can be sustained by the device at one time. (If you play a 33rd note while 32 notes are already sounding, the first one played will cut off.) It is also referred to as “32-note polyphony.” These notes may be all the same or all different sounds, and distributed in any way among the 16 MIDI channels.

I see, that makes sense.

The important question is how do I get them out of my head?

As an aside, some MIDI instruments (such as my Roland SoundCanvas) describe their polyphony in “partials.” A simple voice such as a sine wave take one partial per note; a complex voice such as a piano may reserve two partials per note.

OK. As cosmic retribution for my inane last post, I’ve now had Kylie Minogues Can’t Get You Out of My Head stuck in my head for the last 20 minutes.

Some sound modules use the term “voices” to describe multitimbrality- the number of different sounds it can play simultaneously.

I wonder why they call it voices? I mean, it’s just notes or sounds being played.

The word “sounds” may be confused with the scope and variety of the available instruments, perhaps. A keyboard may have 128 instruments but can only play one instrument at a time (for up to 16 notes, perhaps). Other keyboards are multi-timbral and can play different instrument sounds simultaneously.

The words “tones” and “notes” as used in keyboard lingo may once have been confusing for patrons of the old-fashioned organ systems which produced sound mechanically, especially the popular Hammond model with the multi-bar tone wheel. On that instrument, you could have … I can’t remember, seven or eight simultaneous tones playing every time you depressed a single key. This is just speculation, of course.

“Voices” seems like an adequate analogy (to a choir) that it would be easily grasped.