EUPHONIX MC CONTROLLER
Motorised faders and soft knobs for everyone.
Text: Brad Watts
To state the obvious, the analogue mixing console is rapidly becoming a relic of the past. In the wake of its demise, there have been dozens of control surfaces and bespoke DAW work-surfaces. All have carried with them the promise of replacing that tactile contraption known as the mixing console. However, throughout this period, the requirements of a console have changed dramatically. These days, many audio editors work within the confines of a computer terminal – with only a simple computer keyboard, a jog wheel to assist with edits and a modest set of motorised faders as company. More complex solutions inevitably follow the path of recreating the entire mixing console, which may not necessarily be the best recipe for modern media editors.
Euphonix is an authority when it comes to modern mixing console design. Its System 5 controller and DSP system has made an incredible impact at the professional end of the audio industry. In a field where ever-improving computing power and audio engines imply system upgrades will occur with alarming regularity, the System 5 offers a stable mixing platform, regardless of the recording machinery attached. It’s from this standpoint that Euphonix has created the MC DAW controller. The MC has been designed to augment the computer terminal rather than replace it completely. For many editing and production scenarios the MC looks to be precisely what the doctor ordered.
The MC addresses any computer (Mac or PC) connected to the 1Gig Ethernet TCP/IP-based network. Switching between each computer and software platform is made possible by four freely assignable switches on the MC surface, or selection via a list of available network devices on the touchscreen. If your DAW system supports EuCon, Mackie HUI control or Mackie Control over Ethernet, chances are the MC will drive it for you. EuCon is a high-speed TCP/IP protocol originally developed by Euphonix as communication between the System 5 control surface, System 5 software and the Euphonix DSP processors. At the moment, EuCon connectivity is available in Logic Pro, Nuendo and Pyramix, and this connectivity happens by way of software ‘adaptors’, provided by Euphonix. Systems such as ProTools, Final Cut Pro and MOTU’s Digital Performer are accessed with the slower HUI protocol via Ethernet. Euphonix suggests lag times can be noticeable between HUI and EuCon integration, with EuCon offering a rock-solid and immediate feel. I had an afternoon to test-drive the MC with control over four discrete DAWs connected. Of the four, only one used HUI protocol and I wasn’t at all miffed about the response, EuCon connection does feel more robust by comparison.
The MC centralises its work area around a standard qwerty keyboard. At either end of the keyboard area are two identical ‘edit-control’ areas. These areas comprise 16 programmable ‘smart-switches’ (more on these shortly) and either a jog-wheel or a trackball. Switching the trackball to the left-hand edit-control area is simply a case of picking up the trackball and jog-wheel from each area and swapping them over. No tools required.
Now, getting back to these smart-switches. The MC is home to 56 of these switches with 24 buttons situated in mid-position above the keyboard. These buttons house backlit LCDs for displaying a switch’s current function. The miniature displays can be programmed with icons, text, and in the case of the smart-switches above the track-ball and jog-wheel, can be coloured red, green or amber to suit transport-based functions. The remaining smart-switches are an easy-to-read blue. Much of the MC’s versatile programmability relies upon the smart-switch feature, allowing the buttons to reflect any software function immediately.
To the left of the main smart-switch bank are eight smart-switches combined with eight programmable potentiometers. Euphonix like to call these potentiometers soft-knobs… so, against my better judgement, I’ll continue using that description. Soft-knobs are for accessing plug-in parameters and like the backlit smart-switches will change function according to the designated plug-in in use. A solitary ninth soft-knob can be assigned to pick up any parameter selected by the DAW’s cursor, and locked in to that parameter when required.
To the left of the knob area is a monitoring and talkback section. In most cases this section will address the monitor and talkback features of the software under the MC’s control, but, in the case of systems without such monitoring features, Euphonix provides its own Studio Monitor Pro software to offer the same functionality. The software allows dual stereo monitor sets, talkback level and control along with control over main and alternate 5.1 surround monitoring systems.
Moving back to the centre section of the MC you’ll find a large touchscreen for setup and control of the MC’s soft controls and parameters. Setups are saved to the MC’s own internal hard drive. To the right of the touchscreen are four flying faders – the same motorised 100mm faders found in Euphonix’s System 5 control surfaces. These are smooth-as-silk units designed for that professional feel and touch sensitivity. They can be quickly assigned to any of the ‘host’ DAW’s channels for very quick automation moves. This section of the MC can be swapped out for a pair of motorised joysticks if surround controllers are your requirement. Should more faders be on your wish list, the MC can be combined with a System 5/MC frame. This frame will accommodate further banks of eight faders – the exact same fader modules used in the flagship System 5 consoles, combining professional console features such as hi-res EQ displays, track naming and panning graphs, with the more media management controls of the MC.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of the MC control surface is its ability to control a multitude of editing systems. As I mentioned, in my brief encounter with the MC, I had immediate control over sessions in four completely separate systems. In this case Logic Pro, ProTools, Pyramix and Nuendo. Switching between systems was a matter of merely hitting the dedicated System Switch buttons in the upper right hand section of the MC’s surface. What further got my interest was the MC’s ability to control a multitude of applications native to each DAW system’s typical operating system. For example, on the Logic Pro-based system, switching the host G5 over to iTunes quickly altered the MC’s programmable backlit switches over to controls specifically for iTunes. That’s one expensive iTunes controller but that’s some idea of how useful the system could be. Application templates reside in the MC’s drive for control of programs such as SoundForge, Gigasampler and even non-audio specific apps such as Word, Internet Explorer, Final Cut Pro and so forth. Pretty sneaky I think.
I can see the MC quite readily becoming a staple of the sound-to-vision editing community. Sound designers and the like, who traditionally get away with a keyboard and mouse control setup will love the compact and powerful access to their software editors. Then with such exhaustive connectivity with any style of software, and such unique control features I’m sure we’ll see the MC showing its face in many situations previously undreamt of until now. A superbly innovative and professional control surface from the modern day control surface experts.