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EUPHONIX MC CONTROL - AudioTechnology

By

October 11, 2008

Kaindl-Hönig Fotostudio+Werbeteam GmbH Salzburg www.kaindl-hoenig.com

Meet the dancing partner of the MC Mix.

Text: Brad Watts

The new Artist series is Euphonix’s first foray into the budget market of control surfaces. The series so far encapsulates two models: The Euphonix MC Mix – reviewed back in Issue 61 by yours truly – and the subject of this review, the MC Control.

At the time of the MC Mix review, we also had the more impressive MC Control in our grasp, but unfortunately the software side of the equation wasn’t quite up to speed. Since then, the bugs have been shaken out and the MC Control now looks to be a formidable control surface.

LESS FADERS MORE CONTROL

In its price bracket, the MC Control offers less than the typical control surface in some regards, housing only four motorised faders. This is ample for most jobs, of course, and indeed, it’s the standard complement of faders supplied on the exceedingly upmarket MC Pro from Euphonix’s professional division. But where the MC Control might appear light-on for faders, it more than makes up for in rotary encoders.

Surrounding a customisable OLED touch-screen, the MC Control offers eight such encoders, all of which simultaneously act as pushbuttons. Euphonix first instigated this technology in the MC Pro a number of years ago, and it remains unique to the budget end of the control surface market in the Artist series. Nothing else offers this style of interaction in the sub $2000 category.

So while the MC Mix is primarily a set of eight faders, with the ability to instance and edit plug-ins, the MC Control adds a great deal more ‘interactive power’ with only four. Situated on the left-hand side of the unit, these 100mm motorised, touch-sensitive faders are augmented with solo and on/mute buttons, record arm/automation buttons and assign/select buttons. Other physical additions on the MC Control include a set of dedicated transport controls and a jog/shuttle wheel – which leads me to my personal gripe that I’ll get out of the way early on…

To me, the Jog shuttle wheel feels a bit cheap under the hand. Sure, it works, and certainly it does what a jog wheel should do, but for some reason I was under the misapprehension that a jog wheel should have a bit of weight about it – something you could give a good spin and it’d keep on whizzing around for at least a few seconds. This one doesn’t… and yes, I know, neither do the jog wheels on similarly priced controllers. Obviously this is a cost issue for all manufacturers, but I would have expected a tad more from a company like Euphonix. This is an entirely subjective opinion, of course – you may find this aspect of the MC Control doesn’t irk you in the same way. Like I mentioned, it does the job required.

Complaints aside, let’s look firstly at some of the other physical attributes of the MC Control, before taking a closer look at the touch-screen.

SLIM PICKINGS

The MC Control is quite slim, far slimmer than any other project studio control surface available, with the exception of the MC Mix of course. The underside of the controller harbours four feet, which raise the unit to a more useful height, although it’s probably more sensible to use the supplied brackets, since these provide much more stability than the built-in feet. With the brackets installed, there’s even room to slip an Apple slim-line keyboard directly underneath and out of the way (so long as your mouse is plugged in elsewhere). This is good thinking on Euphonix’s part.

Constructed from the same chassis as the Mix, the MC Control dovetails nicely with its brother to provide a single physical surface. Up to three MC Mix units can be combined with an MC Control, to provide for up to 36 faders in total, with all units being connected to the host computer via an ethernet switch (hub). The only remaining similarities between the pair are the eight touch-sensitive rotary encoders. In the case of the MC Control, these are situated down each side of the OLED touch-screen.

CONTROL TO THE NINES

Situated on the right-hand side of the MC Control is a ninth encoder labelled ‘Control Room’. This final encoder allows output volume control of your chosen DAW software. Incorporating it into your system is managed by Euphonix’s Studio Monitor Express software, which sets up a re-routing of the DAW audio output, via the Studio Monitor Express application. Monitoring levels can then be simply controlled via this solitary encoder. There’s even the option for setting up alternate sets of monitors and surround monitor systems, depending on the number of outputs your audio interface allows.

Note that no audio actually travels through the MC Control. Other manufacturers take this analogue tack to provide a monitor level control, adding further cost to their products and compromising the monitoring path – not so with Studio Monitor Express. And yes, you could access your DAW output level via a fader, but this leaves a large margin for error, resulting in potential damage to your monitors, your ears, or both. Plus, bouncing files would necessitate returning the DAW to full audio output. The MC Control provides a superior and elegant solution to the problem, entirely alleviating the need for an analogue monitoring control unit. Even monitor dimming and talkback routing can be instigated directly from the touch-screen – very clever.

ORGANIC

Without further ado, let’s look at the possibilities opened up by the MC Control touch-screen. As mentioned, this is a feature unique to Euphonix control surfaces in the sub $2000 control surface category.

The screen covers quite a large section of the control surface, and being OLED (organic light emitting diode), it’s viewable from acute angles and in brightly lit settings. I should point out at this juncture that the MC Control isn’t merely a controller of audio software. Any application on the Macintosh can be driven by it, and the unit arrives with various setups included for accessing applications such as iChat, iTunes and others. Why you’d need a control surface for instant messaging is beyond my feeble imagination but the facility is there if required.

Customising the unit and the displayed touch-screen buttons (referred to as ‘Soft-Keys’) for driving other applications occurs via the EuControl Software. This application is the communication link between the MC Control and the DAW application you intend to manipulate. Customising setups is easy, and you can build your own icons for display on each soft key, or choose from the plethora of images supplied. Choose the text, choose the colour; it’s all extremely configurable, with any graphic changes appearing immediately on the screen. EuControl can also be used to lock any or all of the faders to particular tracks, allowing you to permanently assign a fader to your vocal, for instance, regardless of what other bank changes you make. Incidentally, because the Artist series controllers connect via ethernet and use standard TCP/IP protocols, it’s also possible to control applications on any Mac on your network.

Meanwhile, back at the touch-screen, virtual representations of the eight rotary encoders are displayed right alongside each of the physical encoders themselves. The main and central section of the screen is home to 24 soft-keys, which, as mentioned, can be configured to any of the DAW software’s functions. And if 24 aren’t enough, additional ‘pages’ of soft-keys can be scrolled through via two page scroll buttons. Alongside these are three buttons for choosing between the display of soft-keys, ‘Tracks’ or ‘Setup’. The control room setup screen allows access to any control room style functions established by the Studio Monitor Express software. In this mode, the screen displays clear ‘Talk’, ‘Dim’ and ‘Cut’ buttons. The ‘Tracks’ page meanwhile brings up a set of soft-keys dedicated to the selection of tracks within the DAW software. These will, of course, reflect the names of the tracks within the DAW application. Alongside these are four soft-keys for solo, mute, record-arm and select. Finally, the upper portion of the screen displays track names and level meters for the tracks currently assigned to the four faders. Below the screen are a further 12 physical buttons. These are, somewhat confusingly, also referred to as soft-keys. In the case of Logic Pro – the application I mostly ran with the MC Control – these buttons are used to access functions such as tool selection, but just like the soft-keys on the touch-screen, they can be assigned to any function. As for plug-in selection and control, this follows the same regime as the MC Mix. Plug-ins and sends can be instigated and edited using the eight rotary encoders, and while their parameters are displayed on the touch-screen, the actual plug-in will open in the DAW for additional visual feedback.

THE WIDER AUDIENCE

The big sell on the MC Control is the fact that nothing offers this amount of control and visual feedback in this price bracket. The inclusion of the touch-screen offers far more scope than a surface laden only with physical controls. The other advantage the MC Control has over its rivals is its versatility. The unit provides physical access to an incredibly wide range of applications, including Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro and the usual consortium of DAW applications. Then there’s the option of controlling your email client and word processor if you so desire, and edit the touch-screen to suit your particular needs. Admittedly, there are many audio applications that don’t use the EuCon format but this will surely change as the system becomes more widely accepted, and in the particular case of ProTools, the unit functions happily in HUI mode. The MC Control will also operate under Mackie Control mode, so regardless of the protocol used by your application, the MC Control (and MC Mix) will drive it. The other important aspect is that the unit doesn’t have to be rebooted to change its ‘spots’, unlike so many other control surfaces. You’re free to swap and change at a moment’s notice.

THREE THUMBS UP

I gave the MC Control a run in what I consider to be the big three DAW applications on the Macintosh: Logic Pro, Nuendo/Cubase and ProTools. All three were more than happy running in combination with the MC Control, with my slight preference for integration going to Nuendo and Cubase – the unit just seemed to respond better when driving these applications. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got to finish off my soft-key setup for iTunes…

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