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.

6 responses to Hardware – what software really needs

  1. Chris Shaw says:

    There are solutions out there but most are incomplete. I use a Novation Nocturn controller for my plug-ins. 8 knobs, 8 buttons and one cross-fader. The initial setup is a bit daunting. You have to wrap the plugins that ou want to control then assign the controllers to the plugin parameters. Originally wrapping the plugins would make your session incompatible with other systems but they’ve since worked that out (at least for RTAS). It also supports multiple pages as well so it’s pretty flexible. I use it constantly and I can reach over to it without looking at it while using any of my EQ or compressor plugins.
    Unfortunately Novation hasn’t updated Automap to support AAX – they’ve been promising for months now – so when PT 11 drops next month I’ll be without my favorite plugin controller.. If AAX support doesn’t happen I’ll have to use my Artist MC Mix for plugins which is really impractical…

    I think Softtube should step up and license Automap or develop something similar to enable Console 1 to work with other plugins (via a wrapper of some sort). Then they’d give Avid a serious run for their money..

  2. Kmacattack says:

    I totally agree. These manufactures need to realize there is a huge market out there for products that control our software. All the current solutions are a pain in the ass to setup and most of the time dont even work as advertised. I think Presonus shot themselves in the foot when they release StudioOneV2 and the StudioLive boards dont control the software. They could have made a killing with that feature. Maybe instead of all the talk about one plug in format how about 1 control protocol that actually works. Werd..

  3. Stefan says:

    Totally agree! Been attempting to make my own for some time.
    How hard can it be for a manufacturer to make a console controller (the sony dmx100 is a great example btw…eq dynamics and sends)
    Steinberg came close with their C121
    Avid need to make their protocol more open. I managed (in Logic) to assign a Behringer bcr2000 to be active for all eq bands and compressors as soon as a channel was selected and it was such a pleasure to use…sadly im a PT guy!
    Too many controllers require you to look and think too much to use them..misses the whole point!

  4. Nando says:

    I’d love to see a retina display with (about 16) knobs build thru the display.. That way you could easily change the layout each time.. Don’t know if it’s possible to make some holes in a screen and still let it work..

  5. Jan says:

    I’m thinking about an sexy approach for controlling nearly every plugin in a sexy way for years. A Mouse is not. Encoders are stepped and do not reproduce the way a potentiometer works at all. So for the “knob” section you need endless potentiometers with a high res LED ring. To manage switch functionality you better take touch sensitive versions.

    The next problem (as I remember correctly) is that the resolution of the plugin parameters is set globally, not individually in each (VST/AU) plugin. So if you want this behaviour of a potentiometer, where turning it just a bit makes a big difference.

    You see that it takes a lot to overcome the barrier between software and g
    Hardware with analogue feel.

    Next: Touchscreens. The holy grail in Controllers many people think.
    Sure you can realize a lot of new controller environments with some code, but the whole touchscreen hysteria has two major negative problems:
    1. No tactile feedback 2. No physical feel that lets you turn your head between you touchscreen and your display just du make sure that you hit the right virtual button.

    Problem one means that the haptic feedback of a clicking switch is missing. Or the physical resistance of a fader you try to move. All this is replaced by fingerprints on a glass surface.

    Problem two is solved in an elegant way in Slates Raven Console.
    They even didn’t try to mirror parameters to a dedicated surface, they made the all screen the controller. Nice, but the physical factor is missing.

    I’m dreaming of a nice controller, perhaps a TFT with holes for the endless Potentiometers. And the screen shows a adapted version of the currently opened plugin.

    Any other ideas, gents?

  6. Chris says:

    Automap and the Novation controllers do allow you to scale the resolution of each knob on each parameter – whatever that’s worth.

    I always envisioned an iPad/iPad mini sized screen with 4 knobs on each side (perhaps two more on top) and a row or two of buttons underneath with a pair of buttons dedicated to switching pages. When you call up a plugin its GUI appears on the screen. The controller then draw thin lines fron the controller knobs to the hardware knobs on the sides of the screen so you can easily tell which knobs control which parameters. By using the page buttons on the bottom you can call up different knob/button sets for the plugin.
    All of the parameter assignments can be changed by the user. Butons on the plugin can either be controlled by hardware or the touch screen.

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