Connecting a digital piano, an iPad, an audio mixer and headphones

I recently bought a Yamaha P-115 Digital Piano (which I love) in an attempt to teach myself to play piano. Its piano sounds are amazing and the graded-hammer-action on the keys really do feel like an acoustic piano.

I quickly discovered there are some really great apps available on iOS for learning piano and the majority of them allow you to connect your iOS device to your digital piano via its MIDI port. This means the app can check which keys you’re playing and help guide you though your piano lessons.

A great example of this is Simply Piano by JoyTunes.

Simply Piano on the App Store   Simply Piano on Google Play

Learning to play with the help of an app is all well and good but to anyone in the house, having to listen to someone bashing away on a piano with some cheesy backing music or the app chatting away, can be pretty annoying.

I’ve read reports of people actually wearing two pairs of headphones – one in-ear and one over-ear so they can hear the app and their digital piano at the same time!

I’ve come up with a solution that allows me to play the piano, listen to its amazing natural sounds and listen to training app on my tablet at the same time – all through a single set of headphones – and without disturbing anyone*.

I’ll go through the kit I’ve used and how I’ve configured it.

* Apparently the sound of me hitting the piano keys still reverberates through the floor and my foot tapping to keep time still annoys the rest of my household.

Here’s a list of the kit I’m using

I must stress here that I’m using an iPad Pro, so some of the information here is iPad specific. If you’re using an Android tablet it should be the same except for the need for an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

Yamaha P-115 Digital Piano
Any keyboard or digital piano with a USB MIDI interface will work here. Most use the larger USB-B connector, but some use the mini and micro USB connectors. Be careful with these as they can be easily dislodged.

If your piano has more traditional 5-pin DIN connectors, you’ll need a MIDI to USB adapter like the iRig Midi 2 UNiversal MIDI Interface.

Male USB-B to male USB-A cable.
If your keyboard or digital piano has a different connector, you’ll need a different cable. Whatever you get, it must have a standard male USB-A connector on one end. This plugs into the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter
This connects to your iOS device through its lightning connector and allows you to plug in a cable with a USB-A connector. It also has a lightning socket so you can charge your iOS device at the same time. You’ll need a second lightning cable to do this.

This is expensive for what it is and there are cheaper alternatives out there. However these cheap versions are very poorly made, have bad internal connections and fall apart. I’ve tried some of them and ended up throwing them away after a couple of days.

Worse case, they could damage your Apple device or invalidate your warranty.
Don’t scrimp here – go and buy the right tool for the job.

Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm stereo audio cable
You’ll need one of these to take the audio from your iOS device to the audio mixer. An angled connector is also a good option and can keep the cables a bit tidier.

 

Male 6.35mm (¼”) to male 3.5mm stereo audio cable
This will connect the headphone output of your keyboard to the audio mixer. If your keyboard has a smaller 3.5mm headphone socket, then you’ll need another 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo audio cable (like the one above).

If you’re really lucky and your keyboard has an AUX output, then definitely use that instead. My Yamaha P-115 has a pair or mono 6.35mm AUX sockets on the back, so I use a cable with 2 x male mono 6.35mm to a single stereo male 3.5mm connector.

Simple stereo audio mixer
This is the key part of your setup. This is where the audio from your iOS device and your keyboard is mixed and sent to your headphones.

You’ll need a mixer that allows at least 2 x stereo audio inputs and a headphone output. This particular one has 3 x 3.5mm stereo inputs and a 3.5mm headphone output – which is perfect for what we need. It can be powered either by a couple of AA batteries (!) or via a micro USB cable.

Hooking it all up

Here’s how it all fits together

Configuring audio levels

I tend to set the audio on my iOS device to a maximum of 50% using it’s volume buttons. This reduces the strength of the signal to the mixer.

If you’re using the headphone output of the keyboard, you should set its volume to 50% for the same reason. If you’re using the AUX output on your keyboard, this will be delivered at an industry-standard level so you don’t have to worry about the output volume.

The mixer has input volume and gain settings for each channel and an output volume. I’ll assume your iOS device is using channel 1 and the keyboard is channel 2.

Here’s how I set mine up:

  1. Make sure everything is connected-up but turned off
  2. On the mixer:
    • Set the channel balance dials to zero i.e. equal left/right balance
    • Set all the channel volume sliders to zero
    • Set all the gain and AUX dials to 50%
    • Set the output (master) volume slider to 100%
  3. Turn on your iOS device
    • Set the volume on your iOS device and keyboard to 50%
  4. Turn on your keyboard
    • Set your keyboard volume to 50% (or zero if you’re using AUX output)
  5. Turn on the mixer
  6. Put on your headphones
  7. Set some audio playing on your one of your piano apps on your your iOS device
  8. Slide the volume slider of channel 1 (iOS device) up until it’s at a level you like.
  9. Play a few notes and chords on your keyboard while sliding the volume of channel 2 (keyboard) up.

Find a mix of channels 1 and 2 where you can hear the iOS device and your piano notes clearly. I like the piano channel (2) slightly louder so I can hear myself clearly while playing along with backing tracks.

Getting rid of the hiss, hum and crackle

You will hear some hiss, hum and crackle through your headphones.

Before fiddling with the mixer, try changing how your cables are laying and what they’re near i.e. power cables, chargers, adapters, speakers etc. Moving the cables can change the contact between plug and socket and 3.5mm jacks are particularly prone to bad connections.

To reduce any residual hiss, hum and buzzing, use the gain dials of both channels to find the sweet spot where it disappears. Adjust one channel at a time.

Each channel’s gain dial controls the input volume into that channel. Each channel’s volume slider controls the output volume of that channel.  The master slider controls the overall output volume of the mixer to the headphones.

Increased gain will increase the output volume of that channel, so you may need to adjust the channel’s volume slider down slightly to stop things getting too loud.

Once you’ve set one channel, the second channel is much easier. Just turn the gain dial until the hiss disappears completely. Again, tweak the volume slightly as the gain affects the volume.

In this particular mixer, the channels are not completely isolated and insulated from one another. This means changing the gain and volume of one channel can cause hiss and hum in the other. After a couple of minutes of slightly changing gains and volumes, you’ll soon have a nice clean mix.

I’ve included a diagram of roughly how my mixer looks for my setup of a Yamaha P-115 and iPad Pro.

48 thoughts on “Connecting a digital piano, an iPad, an audio mixer and headphones”

  1. You saved my P-115. So simple, yet, I couldn’t find much guidance until I found this page. Thank you. Still wondering why YAMAHA does not provide two-way MIDI connection on the P-115 whereas it does it very well on the PSR series. Now I can use Yousician again…

    Reply
    • Behringer Q502USB Xenyx MixerHi Aaron, I’m glad you found the article useful.

      Since writing it, I’ve updated my mini-mixer to a slightly more advanced one which has a USB audio input. This accepts the digital audio from my iPad which eliminates the noisy iPad headphone connector and helps with the input levels as it’s essentially line out from the iPad.

      The high-quality controls, the DAC, the professional connectors and the internal mixing circuitry is also much better which I find results in a much purer and more “predictable” sound.

      The mixer I’m using is the Behringer Q502USB Xenyx.

      It does mean I have to introduce a powered USB hub into the mix though. Depending on the power and capabilities of the hub, you might find you can eliminate the Apple USB Camera Adapter as the hub is…

      1. powering the iPad
      2. passing MIDI data from the iPad to the piano and vice-versa
      3. passing digital audio from the iPad to the mixer

      Your mileage may vary here.

      Reply
      • Hello I am a musician for my church and I purchased the behringer your referring to. Instead of using an iPad I have decided to use my phone. Can you provide the instructions to how to connect keyboard and iPhone. Thank you so much !

        Reply
        • Hi Lauren,

          Read through the comments on this article. You’ll find all the information you need about connecting your iPhone to the Behringer mixer.

          TL;DR: Use the official Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter and a USB-A to USB-B cable.

          Reply
      • Hi, thanks very much for this idea. One question: if the USB port in the Behringer is used to connect to the Ipad, how do you get the Midi signal from the piano to the mixer?

        Reply
          • Thanks so much for your prompt and kind response – my mistake, as this was clear in your other comments (sorry). One last point I would be grateful for your thoughts on: the set up would be Piano (USB out) to USB Hub; USB Hub to Ipad; USB Hub to Mixer as per your diagram to Marcus. The question is how to listen to the mix from the mixer. I see we can take headphones from the mixer, which is great. But what about if we want to listen to the ipad and piano mixed together but without headphones. Can we take the mix from the mixer and plug it in to the “Line In” on the piano, so as to listen to it through the piano’s speakers, or does that create a dangerous loop (if so, I suppose the mixer would have to be connected to external speakers instead)? Sorry I’m such a newbie.

          • I suspect if you connected the output from the mixer to the input on your digital piano, you’d create a feedback loop and there’s a chance it could damage your piano. Either way, it’ll certainly hurt your ears!

            To have the iPad/piano mix sent to speakers, you’ll need to connect the output of the mixer to the input of an amplifier with speakers connected.

  2. Wow, this is involved. Just using the ipad headphone output without the mixer gives the exact same quiet training effect (you hear the piano and the instruction/music). The only downside is that the sound is what the iPad generates out of the Midi signal, so it sounds slightly different, but with much less clutter and fewer cables. Nice solution but I am sticking with the simpler setup (right half of your drawing). Thanks for sharing and explaining everything.

    Reply
    • I agree, a much simpler setup would be to just plug your keyboard into the lightning port of your iThing and plug in some headphones (assuming you still have a headphone socket). This will work if whatever app you’re using also generates sounds in response to the MIDI signals received from your keyboard – that your are happy to hear – and this is the key point.

      Listening to app-generated keyboard sounds isn’t what this article is about.

      This article is specifically about physically mixing the sound generated by your app i.e. backing music or sound effects with the actual sounds from by your digital piano. If you’ve invested good money in an weighted 88 key digital piano which sounds amazing, then you’ll want to hear those sounds rather than the keyboard sounds from your iThing.

      I personally use both setups. At home with my Yamaha P-115, I use a mixer. When I’m away from home I use a lightweight portable MIDI controller which is powered from my iThing and I listen to the app sounds.

      Reply
  3. Sorry I might have missed it but the iPad Pro doesn’t have a headphone jack and the lightning port is used for the camera adapter. How did you connect the iPad to the mixer?

    Reply
    • Hi Preston,

      You’re right, this article was written before Apple dropped the headphone socket from iPad Pro’s.

      I addressed this in a reply to Aaron in October 2018.

      TL;DR; Use a powered USB hub and a cheap digital mixer (like the Behringer I mentioned). Route everything through the hub. You then plug your headphones into the mixer.

      Reply
  4. Adrian, first off: thank you (!) for taking the time to do this. Alas, I’m still a little lost with the new iPad changes and would love it if you can help me out with a little step by step.

    Here’s what I’ve got
    – A Roland FP-30 with aux and USD outputs
    – the newest iPad with only a lightning output
    – Simply Piano app (which needs to hear the piano notes to say correct/incorrect)
    – headphones

    The goal here is obviously to hear everything through the headphones so no one else in the apartment has to listen to me play and I can hear at full volume on my headphones.

    Is the following correct?

    – route output sound of iPad via lightning adaptor/aux cable to mixer
    – output of piano sound via USB to mixer
    – headphones into mixer

    But how does to the iPad app “hear” the piano? And can you recommend a USB hub so I can order one online that will work for this setup? Sorry I’m new to all of this. I can’t believe no one else has addressed this issue online and I’d be very grateful if you could help me out! I’m sure I’m not the only newbie trying to get technical and figure this out. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Marcus,

      Thanks for your message.

      Yes, you’re right in your statements, although it’s important to understand that your digital piano isn’t actually sending sounds to your iPad to “hear”, it’s actually sending MIDI data i.e. a coded digital message saying which key was pressed and how hard. This is how Simply Piano knows that you’ve pressed the right key at the right time.

      Here’s a connection diagram:

      USB Digital Piano, iPad, Mixer connections

      It’s important to find a powered USB hub that will work with your iPad, mixer and digital piano. I have this mixer: Behringer Xenyx Q502USB USB Audio Mixer and this USB hub: AUKEY USB 3.0 Hub.

      The hub is particularly good (for me) as it’s USB 3, has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet port (which works on a MacBook Pro) and a high-capacity charge-only port (the green one) which is great for fast-charging an iPad. Don’t connect anything to this port if you want to transfer data though, otherwise nothing will happen! 🙂

      Reply
      • Hi Adrian. Not sure if you’re still answering questions here but I’ll try. First of all, thanks for the great article. Love it!

        A few questions:

        1- Does a USB 2.0 hub with the ipad connected via lightning to usb cable (no need for the expensive USB 3.0 adapter) works in this configuration, or is too slow for the task?

        2 – Your Aukey USB hub has a side port. Is that like an output or something, or is a normal port? I don’t exactly know if the mixer has to go into that port, or any port of the hub is fine. Not sure if this demands some kind of hierarchy or if you can connect the ipad, the keyboard and the mixer in any port/order.

        Thank you very much!
        Pedro

        Reply
        • Hi Pedro, thanks for your message and I’m glad you liked the article. To answer your questions:

          1. I’ve not tried the non-apple lightning to USB adapter but USB 3 is not a requirement here. USB 2 will work just fine.

          2. The side USB port on the Aukey hub is where you connect the “host” computer. The hub comes with a USB-A to USB-A cable for this very purpose. A USB hub effectively expands the number of ports the host has. In this case you’d connect your iPad via an adapter to this hub’s side port. Your digital piano and digital mixer would connect to the ports on the top of the hub.

          Incidentally, this particular version of the hub is no longer available via Amazon as this one has an additional ethernet port on the side. Any of Aukey’s other USB hubs would work fine though. Including this one: https://amzn.to/3bo2Rw3

          Reply
          • And you’re still adding to this article. Fantastic! This is what I call real public service! Thanks a bunch, Adrian!

            1 – There’s another thing intriguing me here. Regarding the same hub configuration, and assuming there’s no need for more connections (please correct me if I’m wrong) how can we get two separate channels (keyboard and Ipad) in the mixer and how does the hub/mixer distinguish them? (Or am I totally wrong and I’m missing something here!)

            Thank you very much!
            Pedro

          • Hi Pedro,

            To connect the keyboard and iPad to a digital mixer refer to the diagram I did for Marcus on 20th August last year.

            The hub requires no configuration as it acts as a USB port expander to whatever’s plugged into its “USB in” port. The iPad’s audio and MIDI data is pushed into the Hub. The keyboard is connected to one of the hub’s “output” ports via a USB-A to USB-B cable. The iPad “listens” to MIDI data sent to it over the hub. This is how the iPad receives the MIDI data from the keyboard when you press a key.

            The keyboard’s analogue audio is connected to an input on the mixer. The mixer combines the analogue audio from the keyboard with the digital audio from the iPad and sends it to its “main mix”. This can be output to speakers or another audio device (if you like), or monitored with headphones plugged into the mixer.

            Incidentally, the Behringer mixer also sends the main mix out over USB so if you have a computer connected to the hub, you can record everything digitally or use it as an audio source in a video or a Skype/Zoom call. If you plug a microphone to the Behringer mixer, you can also mix your voice into it.

            FYI: every device you plug into the hub is allocated a unique ID by the host which is how it can differentiate between different devices. Each device announces itself when its plugged in and tells the host what it can do i.e. the mixer will tell the iPad that can receive and reply with audio data, whereas the keyboard will explain that it can receive and reply with MIDI data. Incidentally, some keyboards can also receive and send USB audio data too – which is useful.

            I hope this explains things.

  5. Hi Adrian,
    Thanks a lot for your article.

    I’m using ipad pro with usb-c connection, can I just connect this ipad to P115 by USB-A to USB-C then use AirPods to get both sounds from Simply Piano and my P115?

    Is there any special set up with above system to really get SimplyPiano “hears” P125?
    Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Hi QTran,

      Sorry for not replying to your message sooner.

      I would avoid using Bluetooth headphones with a digital piano as they have built-in latency which means you’ll not hear the notes at the same time as you press the piano keys. Stick to wired headphones.

      The setup I describe here is exactly what I used for SimplyPiano which allows it to “hear” the piano via MIDI data and also mix it’s output with your piano’s native sounds so you get the best of both worlds.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for your post. I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how to listen to my keyboard and iPad/iPhone at the same time through headphones. I have a Roland FP30 that connects to my IOS devices through Bluetooth. How would that impact the setup? Is a powered hub still needed or would you recommend a different setup all together?

    Reply
    • Hi Eric. If you’re using MIDI over Bluetooth, then there shouldn’t be a problem. You’d still need to run the audio out of your iPad and your FP30 into a mixer.

      Depending on the model of your iPad, you’d use either the headphone socket or the USB port (lightning or USUB-C).

      If you’re going by the headphone socket, a simple analogue audio mixer will do. If via USB audio, then you’d need a digital mixer with a USB port like the Behringer Xenyx Q502USB.

      Reply
  7. Thanks for your answer on April 20. For some reason I forgot the basic analogue connection between keyboard/mixer. It’s all very elucidating now.

    I have a last question: how do you control the ipad’s volume that goes into the.mixer, since we only have a line established for the keyboard? It’s on the Ipad itself?

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to share your expertise and help people finding great audio solutions.

    Cheers,
    Pedro

    Reply
  8. Hi, Adrian! I love this concept and I think I bought all the correct equipment but I can’t get Flowkey to ‘hear’ the midi portion. I have a Yamaha P140 and am wondering if this Midi Cable converter isn’t compatible (but it fits and Flowkey ‘detects’ it): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07JBJ9V11/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s03?ie=UTF8&psc=1 I’m using a different mixer https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M68UK38/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Thank you for any help you can provide!

    Reply
  9. Nevermind! I got it to work. I just read that for the AUX cables, IN goes to OUT and OUT goes to IN and that worked! Thank you, Adrian.

    Reply
    • Hi Tony. With an inexpensive headphone mixer, the amplified headphone “out” could be connected to the input of your amp instead of headphones. You’d have to control the headphone volume on the mixer so it doesn’t overload or get clipped by the amp.

      A better solution would be to go for a dedicated mixer like the Behringer shown in one of my other comments. You can then take a more controlled “line” output and feed it into your amp. The headphone socket on this mixer is really just for monitoring the mix.

      Reply
  10. Hi Adrian
    Thank you for your article!! I believe I ordered the correct stuff but I must be missing something cause I don’t think the piano sound is mixing with the iPad sound.
    This is what I have:
    1- piano connected via usb to the usb hub. I bought the AUKEY USB 3.0 Hub 4 Port Ultra… https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07FPFKL4X?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share as the one you suggested was not longer available
    2- the hub is also connected to the Apple Lightning adapter to my iPad Pro ( my iPad has headphone jack by the way)
    3- the hub is connected to the mixer, the Behringer mixer as per your notes above.
    So far the piano app recognises the key strokes ok and I don’t hear the iPad at all unless I connect the headphone to the iPad jack. This fine however the piano volume has to be completely low or else everyone will hear it. So I guess it’s the piano sound that is not going through the mixer ? I tried connecting the headphones to the mixer instead of directly to the iPad as per your diagram above 20 August last year but when doing so nothing happens I don’t hear the iPad nor the piano via the headphones. Can you hopefully be so kind and help me out please?

    Reply
    • Hi Monica

      There are some digital pianos that will output a digital audio stream over USB but it sounds like yours doesn’t do that so you’ll have to use an analogue audio out from the keyboard to a pair of inputs on the mixer.

      You can either use the keyboard’s “line out” or if it doesn’t have a line out, you can use the headphone out instead.

      If your iPad has a headphone socket, you’ll need to take the output from there and connect it to an input on the mixer.

      You will then hear the piano and iPad audio mixed together.

      Reply
  11. Hi! My name is Gonzalo and leave in Brazil. This article is saving my life!!! I need some help though as I couldn’t understand perfectly well what to buy and how to set it.
    I have a Korg SP170s with a 5pin out Midi and an iphone xs with no jack for headphones.
    Could you please help me with the set up I should use?thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Hi Gonzalo,

      You might want to look at the iRig Midi 2.

      I’ve never used it as my keyboards are all USB, but I know it’s used by many iOS users successfully.

      You should be able to plug the iRig MIDI 2 into your powered USB hub (connected to your phone) and get audio data from the iPhone to the mixer, MIDI data from the iPhone to your keyboard and MIDI data from the keyboard back to the iPhone.

      I can’t guarantee this will work, but here’s a link to the iRig MIDI 2: https://amzn.to/2V5KkyH

      Reply
  12. Hi Adrian,

    Thanks a lot for the article. I followed the steps and got it all working perfectly!

    I bought the Hart mixer as I did not read the comments and missed the update regards Behringer Q502USB Xenyx. I am now planning to connect the mixer to speakers and I wonder if you have any recommendations for this. I am not sure if any speaker would work well or if i should go for something piano specific. Also, it would be good to know the Hart mixer would limit the audio experience when using speakers.

    Many thanks,
    Rafa

    Reply
    • Hi Rafa,

      The Hart mixer is really just for headphones and doesn’t put out a proper line-level output.

      It _will_ work, but you’ll need to tweak the output levels to make sure you’re not clipping the signal to your speaker amp. Also the outputs are all spindly 3.5mm stereo jacks which are prone to noise and cracking.

      I’m sure you already know, but the mixer won’t drive passive speakers. You’ll need some sort of amplifier to drive speakers.

      You will get much better results with the Behringer Q502USB Xenyx amp (or something similar).

      Reply
      • Thanks Adrian for getting back. I think I will go for the Behringer and will try to resell the Hart mixer. I use an normal android phone and a Yamaha NP-12 that has a “usb to host” and a “phones/output”. Do you know if I would need other cables than the ones you described in your article? Also if you have any recommended medium to high quality speakers it would be great to know.

        Your help is greatly appreciated.

        Reply
  13. Hi Adrian,

    I’m so impressed with your knowledge and how generous you’ve been with your time responding to all these questions. Kudos to you!

    I think I read through all the comments but I apologize in advance if you already covered this…

    My issue is the quality of the audio output for my Yamaha P115 electric piano during a zoom phone call. (my mom is giving virtual lessons to my daughter because of covid)

    Most of the time, my mom (wearing a nice pair of headphones) can hear all of the keys being played, but sometimes there is a delay of a few notes. Regardless, the audio from the piano on her end sounds pretty crappy.

    We’ve tried adjusting the internal zoom audio settings and we’ve tried connecting the piano to one of my powered speakers first – then to the mixer, (Samson USB Mixpad MXP 124FX)

    Everything sounds great on main mix in my headphones, live audio from the piano itself, and perfect coming through the powered speaker at our house. The only issue with the sound quality and consistent keying (playing all the notes) is on the receiver’s end. 🙁

    Do you by any chance have a simple fix to this? I feel like I’ve got all the right equipment but am missing something silly or something just out of my limited audio knowledge range.

    I’ve tried calling Yamaha directly 3 times this week. Each time it’s been a 45 minute hold… 🙂 I found your article and thought I’d take a shot at connecting with you.

    Thank you and have a great day!

    Marcello

    Reply
    • Hi Marcello,

      Firstly, update Zoom to the latest version. Right now it’s v5.20 (42634.0805)

      Go into Preferences, then Audio settings and do the following:

      • Disable “Automatically adjust microphone volume”.
      • Change “Suppress background noise” to “Low”.

      Click on “Advanced” and change “Echo Cancellation” to “Auto”

      That should make your piano sound much better during Zoom calls.

      Reply
    • Hi Ann. I don’t know if it would work on an Android device as I don’t have one. However, I do know this type of connectivity does work on a PC and a Mac computer.

      Reply
  14. Hi Adrian, impressive to see that this article is almost 3 years old and still relevant today:)
    I am curious if in the meantime, some solution emerged avoiding the external mixer.
    I would like to connect my USB-B piano output with iPhone (no headphone) running the Ireal pro – and all sending to headhones (eventually bluetooth one, is the BT still that bad these days?)
    Thank you very much
    T.

    Reply
  15. Adrian,

    Assuming this will also work with a Yamaha P515. I’m going to try it out. Thanks for all of the information. This is exactly what I was looking for!

    Reply

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