How to solve the infamous Windows 10 MIDI device renaming issue

Today I struggled with a silly but annoying problem with my home studio and coming up with a solution didn’t prove that simple. So I thought adding one more page on the interweb with all the keywords I was searching for, couldn’t do all that bad. Hopefully I will help some googler like me solving the problem. Hence…

The problem

Every now and then Windows try to be smart where there is absolutely no need. One notable mention is USB device mapping (and naming). I admit I didn’t took that much time to dig into the logic of things here, since I’m just trying to write some music on Sunday, so let me explain in short.

You open up a project in your DAW only to discover you MIDI controller changed its name to something like 2 - Badass Controller and you must reassign your device mapping (left alone all your channels inputs)

This behavior is not new, dating back to Windows XP at least.

To me it happened on Windows 10 / Cubase, after I changed my studio desk layout and rewired all devices through a high-speed USB hub. My Novation Impulse 61, previously labeled Impulse, suddenly became 2 - Impulse.

Sorry for the Italian captions. You can see that as soon as I plugged my keyboard to another USB port, the name was changed.

Cubase started complain about missing device as soon as I opened a project. I was supposed to select the new device and remap my channel inputs to it.

This is very inconvenient and — for some reason I frankly don’t give a damn today — don’t happen with my other M-Audio Keystation 49e controller.

When you attach an USB device to a new port, Windows assumes it is another device altogether, even if of the exact same type of the one you just disconnected. I suppose there is a point here, so you can be sure to tell equal devices from each other.

Sadly the connection is permanent. Connect you keyboard, mouse, USB storage, etc. to a USB port and Windows will create a new device in its registry, tied to that very port.

You mostly don’t see it happening, but for the aforementioned uncertain reasons, sometimes this distinction is made clear in the device naming and downstream software can be fooled. DAWs, which need explicit signals routing, seem to be pretty pedantic about this.

When Windows decides your device must get a new number, there is little you can do — beside trying all your USB ports until you’ll get the right one (i.e. the first you plugged your device into). No way to force your naming on them, you are stuck with this.

Now, this may not be an option, like in my case, and anyway try working with a laptop back and forth between your studio and the stage and you’ll quickly get neurotic.

The solution

I found a lot of insane workarounds involving MIDI mapping software, loopers and other middleware to create “virtual” devices to map into your DAW. But I frankly found them overly complicated (there is a point in them only if you really change your ports on a daily bases).

I just wanted Windows to forget about the old connections and start the numbering anew. After playing with the registry editor without making head or tail of this thing, I was finally nudged towards a clean solution by this post on the Reaper forum.

This little freebie by NirSoft is one of those tools you expect to be included in every OS right out of the box. It allows you to list — and manage! — all USB devices Windows encountered, even in the past.

You can easily spot two Impulse keyboards in the list. One is attached, the other is not.

So without further ado, here is the procedure to fix everything:

  • Download USBDeview from the official page (mind to get 32 or 64 bits depending on your OS version).
  • Unplug the devices that is causing the problem (in my case it was the Impulse but I decided to also clean the records for the Keystation so I unplugged both).
  • Start USBDeview by executing the .exe file in the archive. (Pro tip: running it as Administrator you won’t be bothered by lots of confirmation popups for each device you want to get rid of).
  • Identify all the records pertaining to the devices Windows must forget. (Pro tip: clicking on the Description column will order them by name, making things easier).
  • Shift-click and select all the occurrences of the device, then right-click and select Uninstall selected device. You may be prompted some confirmations depending on your privileges. Say yes in case.
  • When the list has been cleaned up by all offenders, close the tool and restart your PC!
  • After a fresh bootstrap, plug you devices back in the port that’s most convenient for you (the new one) et voilà! Rien ne va plus, les jeux sont faits and other out of place french expressions that sounds apt for celebration!

Conclusions

The caveat here is that once you choose a new USB port, it is implied that it will stay that one. This must be the case in most home studios.

If you need to change your USB ports frequently, this solution (although quick and easy) can soon become a PITB. For those cases, you may want to use MIDI translators and loopers to fake a device through which your signals are routed to the DAW, no matter which USB port they come from. There are guides and threads on this topic, that goes well beyond the scope of this small how-to (and my musical Sunday).

But if you are like me, just trying to have a tidy studio desk, with tidy cable connections and tidy software signals routing (because hey, those numbers are not even pleasant to the eyes!), I hope this can save your day.

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