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Go Deeper with SONAR and Mackie's Control

By Douglas Spotted Eagle
Sundance Media Group studio "A" during the rebuild. New studio was built entirely around the Mackie Control, 3XT expanders, and Cakewalk's SONAR, with monitoring via Mackie 624's, M-Audio SP5-B's, and AMR1210's, built on a custom made OmniRax console housing.
SONAR goes deeper than ever before with the Mackie Control. SONAR users no longer need to mix or run SONAR with a mouse or keyboard. Frustrations of double-clicking envelopes, dropping nodes, working for hours to get the fade, FX send, EQ sweeps absolutely perfect yet natural sounding are now over. (Thank heaven. I never thought a mouse was for mixing anyway.)

Having knobs to play with and a tactile surface simply makes mixing what it used to once be in the analog days. Talk about a perfect hybrid. No noise from pots and faders, but still having faders to touch! Mackies new Control human interface console now has drivers that interface with Cakewalks SONAR application, providing one of the best ever Human Interfaces in the digital environment.

Written by Chris Boucher, these drivers are among the most complete implementation any app has undertaken with the capabilities of the Mackie Control. Musicians in the digital realm now find themselves faced with choices of whether to remain hybrid analog and digital or move to an all-digital platform, as this Control/mixer brings everything to the table that a user might want. Control and Control XT (the expander module that adds 8 additional fader/control sets to the system) use MIDI to connect Control to the computer. Each Control or Control XT requires a separate MIDI I/O, so a typical studio setup of 24 channels of I/O will require three MIDI inputs and three MIDI outputs.

At Sundance Media Group, weve selected the M-Audio 8x8 to provide I/O for the Mackie Control and three additional XTs, bringing our control capability to 32 channels total in our A room. Each Control is capable of managing 128 channels, so additional Controls or XT expanders arent really necessary. However, when working on a mix and the vocal is on track 24 and the kick is on 1, snare on 2, and guitar on 15, its VERY handy to have multiple units that can be grasped immediately, particularly if the user comes from the analog/fingers on world. Im from that world, and the idea of sifting through a menu, even if its a one-button menu to get to additional channels simply doesnt appeal to me.

Configuring the Mackie Control is about as easy as it can get. Even when configuring multiple Controls, setup can take as little as 10 seconds. After installing the MIDI card, plugging the Control and any XTs into individual MIDI I/Os, all that needs to happen is to launch SONAR, and go to the OPTIONS|CONTROL SURFACES menu, click ?ADD and select Mackie Control from the dropdown menu selections. The MIDI Input/Output channels will need to be selected in the control surface selection window. Its a good idea to keep these sequential, particularly in the event of multi-MIDI control devices.

Connect the Control unit to MIDI Input 1/MIDI Output1, connect the Mackie XT unit to MIDI Input 2/MIDI Output 2, etc. In the case of a studio that is running a sound card that offers midi connectivity, no separate midi interface is necessary. The B room at Sundance Media Group has the Delta 1010 audio interfaces for audio I/O, so we use the MIDI ports on the Delta to interface with the Mackie Control in the B room. This can be accomplished with nearly any audio card, as most of them have at least one MIDI I/O. The Mackie Control is far more than just a mixer. Its a total access control surface. EQs, compressors, aux sends/returns, metering, and control of softsynths are just the beginning of what this powerhouse will do.

Assign Control to a MIDI In/Out in this menu
Literally, the Control may be configured to completely eradicate the mouse from the system. (thats the whole idea!) Configuring SONAR to personal needs is as simple as going to the TOOLS|MACKIE CONTROL menu and selecting the options available. The eight custom configurable buttons may be set up to launch windows within SONAR such as the loop explorer, piano roll view, loop construction view, etc. Any window or parameter of SONAR may be launched from these buttons. The two footswitch inputs on the back of the Mackie control may be configured for punch-in's, start/stop of playback, or whatever else might be desired. In a one-person home studio, this is very useful as a footswitch may be run from a control room to a bathroom or bedroom closet, allowing remote control of the recording system.

Other setup menu options allow for controlling jog shuttle speed settings, time display formats, and transport resolution. Zooming in or out on the timeline in SONAR will control the accuracy at which various behaviors in SONAR will operate. Editing a volume change in SONAR while zoomed in deep will provide sample-accurate changes, while working in a less focused view may not be as accurate. Jog shuttling is faster when zoomed out as well, and may be locked to the SONAR grid for maximum accuracy and quantized changes.

To configure multiple Mackie units such as a Control and a couple of XTs, open the OPTIONS|CONTROL SURFACES menu, click ?ADD and select the Mackie Control XT's as seen in the window. Now open the TOOLS|MACKIE CONTROL menu and select the large "CONFIGURE LAYOUT" button found in the bottom right corner. This will launch the configuration system in the Mackie hardware.

On the Control, start by turning the first rotary pot on channel one, so that the Control is acting as the channel number sequence you wish it to control. In our studio, the Control is the last unit to the right on the system, so it's configured to operate tracks 25-32. Now rotate the XT units so that they are controlling the desired groups of eight channels. Press "Configure Layout" on the computer screen to close the configuration utility. That's all there is to it.

Arming a track for recording is fast with the Control. Simply hold the "ARM FOR RECORD" button on the Control and press the rotary pot on the channel you wish to automate, and press play/record on the Control. SONAR will begin playback, and you can do your mix with full automation.

Every knob and button of the Mackie Control may be mapped and controlled in SONAR.
The Control may be configured to arm any parameter of SONAR that is automatable.

This same ability lies within controlling all parameters of most Direct X processing on the system, granting physical access to controls found in WAVES, Cakewalk, Sonic Foundry, Ultrafunk, PSP, and other plugins. For those using softsynths such as the Native Instruments Pro52, B4, Kontakt, etc, you'll find using hardware knobs much more fun to play with than mousing around for that special tweak. Users of the UAD-1 hardware processor from Universal Audio and Mackie will also enjoy having access to real knobs for tweaking parameters, especially in the knob-heavy Nigel guitar processor.

One of the drawbacks of the all-digital studio has long been having to rely on a mouse for mixing, causing frustration, eye and wrist strain, and hours spent trying to make a mouse-created fade sound more human. With the optical/touch sensitive Penney and Giles faders found on the Mackie Control, this is no longer an issue whatsoever. Fades respond and behave exactly as they do in the analog mix, except that there is no pot noise or crackle from the fader sitting in the same place for months. With automation, mixes are recalled at the press of a button. Any tweaks needed for a fade or volume adjustment may be updated using a fader on the control or by using a mouse in the SONAR track view. The Control manages MIDI information in the same manner it operates audio, due to its superior implementation of drivers by Cakewalk. Channel management becomes easier than in the past with analog boards using tape strips, as any name placed in a SONAR scribble strip is immediately seen in the Control display. The lack of need for a tape strip may start a habit of being more consistent with media.

Automating fader moves is a one-button operation. Fades may be manually edited in Sonar's workspace, re-written, or updated with the Mackie Control.

After several weeks of testing, abusing, digging, and working with the Mackie Control, the only drawbacks I found with the Control implementations are in the audio metering. The Control is capable of displaying wonderful audio meters in the display section, displayed as either ladders or numbers. The SONAR driver implementation is such that meters are numerical, and it's extremely difficult to follow moving numbers as opposed to seeing peaks in a ladder-type meter. Hopefully, the metering might be updated to a ladder-style view in a future driver rev. The only other piece missing from SONAR and the Mackie Control combination is the ability to provide a talkback for a typical studio environment.

Mackie provides a talkback on their higher end HUI console, and it would be a much-appreciated addition to the Control. Analog switching between near field and far field monitors would be another appreciated addition, either as a separate control/studio module, or as part of the Control itself.

Otherwise, I think I'm absolutely addicted to mixing without a mouse. After spending more than 20 years behind various analog consoles, it's a pleasant return to the world of using my fingers, mixing with my eyes closed like we did in the old days. So to you old-world-analog artists, engineers, high-end hobbyists, and new studio artists who've never experienced the beauty of feeling sliders under fingers, eyes closed, emotionally and mentally enveloped in sound, it's time to cut the cord and send the mouse back to the hole it belongs in. The hybrid of digital precision and the tactile needs of the analog world have finally converged in the Mackie Control and Cakewalk's SONAR.

Lose the mouse, go deeper with SONAR and the Mackie Control interface surface. You'll be glad you did.

Visit the Cakewalk website for more information and updates for SONAR, including the drivers for the Mackie Control.

Visit Mackie's website for more information on the Mackie Control.

More tutorials and reviews from Douglas Spotted Eagle may be found here on the DMN Forums or on the Sundance Media Group website, home of the shared veg files and other training media. More tutorials similar to this may be found in the Vegas 4.0 Workshop book available from CMP Publishing, authored by Douglas Spotted Eagle.

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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

Related Keywords:SONAR, MACKIE, Control, MIDI, studio, fade, FX, EQ


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