Hardware – what software really needs

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We can discuss sound quality and differences between analog and digital until we’re all blue in the face but what the somewhat odd title of this post suggests is that software, or rather the tools we use to control the software, is lacking.

In my recent love letter to Maschine I mentioned how brilliantly married the hardware is to the software, it’s like using a regular hardware instrument, only many times more powerful. The computer doesn’t get in the way and I’m not hindered by the mouse or the keyboard. Quite simply, Maschine is a software instrument that I enjoy using because of the hardware. If it wasn’t for the hardware I wouldn’t have used it. I know this because I don’t use almost any of the other powerful virtual instruments I have.

For years I’ve said that the most annoying thing about mixing in the box is to do the most common tasks, such as EQ and compression, not setting up FX or anything like that. You see, on a regular mixing console, what you do is simply reach out your arm and start tweaking the knobs. In your DAW you load a plugin, start pulling those utterly un-ergonomical virtual knobs with your mouse one by one until you have the sound you’re going for. Compare the two methods… I’m not sure anyone would pick the DAW method over the mixing console one as far as workflow goes.

This is why I’ve long begged Avid to have a more modular approach to their controllers and why I think that what we need is not another control surface with eight knobs and eight sliders for volume and pan but dedicated EQ controllers that connects seamlessly with our DAW’s in the same efficient way Maschine does. Why this goes over every developers head is beyond me – hardware is the natural evolution of the music software world.

Softube is trying to solve this with the new Console 1. I don’t know if they got the idea from me or not, but I’ve been telling them this for years. I really wish Console 1 is as intuitive as I hope. It’s ironic that they’ve decided to include an emulation of an SSL channelstrip since SSL is one of the companies that I’ve bugged the most about this. When the Console 1 was introduced at Frankfurt Musikmesse I told a guy at SSL “what did I say?”, his answer was “I know, I know”. He knew they had blew it.

But the companies that are really blowing it are the DAW developers that also make hardware. Yes Avid, I’m talking to you. Just the thought of suggesting ideas to Avid conjures images of brick walls for some reason, but I digress. Again, what they need to do is a more modular approach – let me buy an EQ section, heck, let me buy the Euphonix Channelstrip section! The D-Control is of course an option but hardly practical or even possible for some due to its size and cost. For a while I was looking at the D-Command and while it’s in many ways a nice controller I decided against it. The fact that it still doesn’t deal with the basic problem of EQ and compression in an entirely convincing way for all that money made me pass.

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I just recently got a Traktor Kontrol S4. I’m completely new to both the world of DJ and Traktor but damn! That thing is wicked. I can literally control almost anything in Traktor from it. It has dedicated filter and EQ knobs too. Native Instruments made it, of course. There’s only one other company out there that’s even trying, aside from NI and Softube, and that is Arturia with products like Spark. I don’t know how well integrated it is, haven’t tried it properly, but my hat’s off to them for giving it a shot, regardless of how well it works.

Who will step up? I have to admit, I definitely didn’t think Softube would be the ones. I could see SSL do it, which is why I constantly bug them. Seriously, a Duende controller would be awesome and I know what plugins I would’ve been using. Who else today? Maybe Slate Digital. If you remember, I shot a tease of an EQ controller that unfortunately won’t happen, so it’s obvious it has crossed their minds. Other than them, I have no clue.

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