THE VIEW >Transport's LCD shows track name, volume, panning, level meters and a time clock in its standard mode. Big Meter mode switches to a high-res stereo meter.
Whether recording a solo project or tracking preproduction elements for a band, home recordists often need to be isolated from the control room (okay, the bedroom) in a vocal booth (bathroom) or a recording room (den). Working in such remote locations, you lose the interactive and tactile control over your DAW that a keyboard, mouse and monitor provide. We've all set sizable prerolls on the computer and made a mad dash into another room hoping to catch the first beat. The inelegant work-around involves using a MIDI controller with keys mapped to simple transport messages for the DAW. But this provides neither bidirectional communication nor visual feedback for song location, track information or recording levels. Enter the Frontier Design Group TranzPort, the truly remote DAW remote control.
Designed by the same people who helped Tascam with its FW-1884 DAW control surface, TranzPort is the world's first wireless DAW controller. Weighing in at about one pound and dimensionally a little squatter than a VHS tape, it uses a proprietary two-way interfacing technology that can control a computer-based DAW from anywhere in the studio. Frontier is very active in adding new features to the TranzPort's drivers and expanding its DAW support-a great sign of a company standing behind its product-so it's best to check the Website for the latest driver updates. Of course, a dual-platform installation CD ships with the unit and contains all drivers, supporting DAW files and documentation, and a USB receiver interface is also included.
After installation and setup, a small TranzPort Manager icon appears in the Windows Task Bar (or Status Bar in Mac OS X). Here you set the TranzPort control mode to TranzPort Native or HUI/Pro Tools. Though TranzPort supports the basic functions of all major DAWs in the HUI or Mackie modes, only Cakewalk Sonar, Adobe Audition, MOTU Digital Performer 4, Apple Logic Pro 7 and Cubase SX 3/Nuendo 3 currently have native support. With native support, TranzPort can extend its control functionality with specialized plug-ins that you install for the appropriate DAW and program to your taste. I tested the latest plug-ins from the Frontier site for Logic in Mac OS X and Nuendo in Windows XP. TranzPort also works with Propellerhead Reason 3.0.3, providing basic transport and track navigation, as well as full metering and track-name information, patch selection for each of the modules, loop on/off, timeline scrolling, custom-mapping for onscreen buttons and more. Go to the Frontier Design Website to look up the latest custom DAW plug-ins.
TranzPort receives power from four AA batteries (included), not a power supply. One caveat, though, is that TranzPort has no power switch. It automatically powers on whenever the batteries are installed and will remain on until the batteries are removed. After 15 minutes of inactivity or no communication from the computer (and the time can be changed from one to 60 minutes), TranzPort goes into a low-power sleep mode which the company claims uses so little power that the batteries will last for five years. Pressing any button wakes up the unit. Under typical conditions of continuous backlit and nonbacklit use, each set of batteries should last between 50 to 100 hours.
With batteries installed, the unit sends out its first signal to the bridge. Steadily glowing Link LEDs on the TranzPort and TranzBridge indicate that a successful two-way radio communication is established. Operating on a special portion of the popular 2.4GHz frequency band that will not interfere with other consumer devices (such as cordless phones), TranzPort can penetrate walls and other obstacles. Though the specs rate maximum communication distance at more than 33 feet, I found the range to be practically limited to 25 to 30 feet in a metal-stud commercial structure.
TranzPort's appearance and operation is immediately familiar. Comfortably located across the bottom is a standard transport section (rewind, fast-forward, stop, play, record), with a large jog wheel and 13 function buttons above it (track up and down, track record-arm, mute, solo, punch, loop, marker add and so on). There is also a large 2-by-20-character backlit LCD at the top. There are seven indicator LEDs, including a handy Any Solo LED that helps you unearth soloed tracks, other than the one currently selected. In addition to Track mode, TranzPort is also capable of showing Bus/Master channel information.
Although the silkscreened functions on each button are for those most commonly used in a typical session, holding down Shift gives each button a new function. For example, Shift+Solo disables solo for all tracks; Shift+Undo acts as a redo; and pressing Shift while turning the data wheel acts as a volume fader for the current track. In Cubase and Nuendo, Shift+Stop+data wheel adjusts panning. TranzPort also allows as many as 14 user-definable commands to be executed using Shift and Stop simultaneously. In Nuendo, for example, you assign such custom key bindings in the Device Setup window, where there are literally hundreds of functions, making TranzPort extremely adaptable to different needs. The footswitch mounted on the right side of the unit is also user definable.
The LCD contrast and backlighting are adjustable, but can be bit dim for some situations. By default, the LCD shows the name of the currently selected track in the top left, with track volume and panning indicated to the right. On the bottom line is a stereo level meter and time clock that shows SMPTE timecode or bars/beats. No reference values are shown in the level meters, however, a thin vertical bar indicates full-scale signal, momentarily turning into a box symbol to indicate clipping. Pressing Shift+Rec toggles the TranzPort display into Big Meter mode, turning the entire display into a stereo meter with fine calibration referenced to dBfs-particularly useful when setting up input levels prior to recording.
THE OTHER ROOM
To put TranzPort through its paces, I used it with a vocalist/guitarist who, as the saying goes, knows enough about DAWs and recording engineering to be dangerous. She took it to a booth located about 20 feet away from the DAW, with a large recording room and two sets of iso walls between them. After a quick TranzPort interface primer, her mission was to navigate and record two guitar parts, a lead vocal and harmonies on top of a basic beat in Logic.
Strangely, when trying to wake Tranzport from sleep mode, the remote and TranzBridge did not successfully link. After much button pushing, the only solution was to reseat one of the batteries. After that, everything was dandy. Fortunately, that was an isolated incident that I was unable to duplicate.
The vocalist "test subject" instantly felt empowered by controlling sessions remotely. Arming tracks and recording a couple of scratch takes was completely intuitive. Adding song markers and cycle loops and setting punch-record boundaries couldn't have been easier, though surfing through a slew of those anonymous markings in a dense track could get confusing when you're using only the Prev and Next toggles to browse. If it weren't too difficult to implement for each DAW, having a simple name-entry function using the LCD and data wheel when adding markers would be helpful. After recording several new overdubs, navigating the growing track list was a breeze, with track names showing up on the LCD. The jog wheel and transport functions performed flawlessly, without any signal drop-outs whatsoever. Having the timecode always displayed onscreen allowed for pin-point cueing-a revelation for anyone working in the booth.
Big Meter mode, with its wide horizontal precision, proved extremely useful in catching overs, though you do have to be staring at the LCD intently during a performance to catch indications of peaks and clipping. Not that I'd ever trust software metering (which TranzPort displays) more than hardware converter meters, but it would be cool to have a bright, Mackie-style LED beside the LCD that beacons your attention to any long-term clipping so you don't waste performance energy on a ruined take.
Although I have a fairly elaborate headphone submixer setup for monitoring in the booth, TranzPort allowed my friend to dig deep by soloing and muting the individual vocal and guitar tracks/takes, which would have been virtually impossible under a grouped submix scenario. Likewise, she was able to do some simple mixing by adjusting track volume levels and panning while recording. That can also allow drummers to experiment with different grooves they've laid down and audition between them on playback without leaving the throne.
FREE AT LAST
The highly recommended TranzPort is one of those "what-if" products that somebody finally created. The low priced, reliable unit looks and feels totally professional and offers a host of intelligent features in a simple, ergonomic fashion. Frontier presents what's necessary to slap down tracks quickly, but also adds extended functionality and user-programmable, one-touch commands. Completely electronic producers will like how, in a crowded MIDI studio, roaming the room with TranzPort brings all the gear together and makes the mad dash a thing of the past.
FRONTIER DESIGN GROUP
TRANZPORT > $249
Pros: Wireless control of your DAW to a
maximum of 30 feet away. Large backlit
LCD shows status and high-resolution level metering. Jog/Shuttle wheel. Native and Mackie/HUI support for nearly every major application. Programmable.
Cons: No power switch.
Mac: Mac OS 10.2.8 or later; available
USB port; compatible DAW host (including Reason 3.0.3)
PC: Windows 2000/XP; available USB port; compatible DAW host (including Reason 3.0.3)