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C-Mexx MIR (MIDI Interactive Remote)

June 1, 2002
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For every one of my students who ever cried out in frustration, “Why, oh, why do we have to learn hexadecimal numbers?” I have the best answer yet: the MIR. The MIR is the MIDI Interactive Remote from C-Mexx, and it's a handy little gizmo that uses MIDI messages to control everything from sound modules to effects to computers. Although its ingenious editing application tries hard to smooth the way for the hexadeciphobes out there, you'll be a lot happier and more productive if you are at least conversant with base 16.

The C-Mexx MIR is a hand-size device with three rotary encoders (aka knobs) and seven buttons, all of which can be assigned various control functions, such as navigating menus, or MIDI messages of any type (see Fig. 1). If you're looking at the picture of the unit and wondering why you see only five of seven buttons, it's because you're not counting the two knobs labeled Enc 1 and Enc 2, which also act as buttons.

I tested the C-Mexx MIR with a couple of available accessories, and I was easily able to get it to control soft synths and digital audio workstations (DAWs). It should be no more difficult to get it to work its magic on hardware boxes, from samplers to mixers. MIDI-controlled lighting would be another perfect match for the MIR — in fact, C-Mexx makes a DMX adapter called Starlight ($545) that expands those possibilities. A wireless adapter is also in the works.

WE HAVE LIFTOFF

The C-Mexx MIR comes with virtually no hard documentation, but it's one of those devices that barely needs it. A 10-foot cable attaches to the MIR through a 15-pin D-sub connector at one end and breaks out into MIDI I/O and power at the other. The power line connects to a wall-wart power adapter. I wish C-Mexx had used female MIDI connectors, because some users will want to place the MIR more than ten feet from their MIDI interfaces, and female-to-male MIDI cables are hard to come by. A new module with female connectors should be available by the time your read this. To the manufacturer's credit, though, the connectors are not the cheap molded type but rather serious screw-apart Neutrik connectors that could easily be replaced with female plugs.

The add-on Live Paq ($195) supplies a pair of momentary footswitches and a variable (volume-style) footpedal. It comes with absolutely no documentation, but again, if you can't figure out that the ¼inch plugs go in the ¼inch jacks, you really shouldn't be playing with electricity. I will confess, however, to being irked at the manufacturer for the entire four and a half seconds it took me to realize that the Live Paq cable assembly was designed to replace the original MIR cable, not connect to it. Female MIDI connectors are even more badly missed with the Live Paq because the cable assembly leaves only a foot of separation between the footswitches and the MIDI interface. I had to put the footswitches on my desk until I dug out some female-to-male ¼-inch cables.

The Live Base ($75) is a simple but useful cradle for the MIR that attaches to a mic stand. It doesn't hold the MIR very securely, though a bit of Velcro would fix that. According to the manufacturer, Velcro is now included. The Live Base rotates so that you can set the MIR almost upright or lay it down flat. Left-handers might wish that it allowed the MIR to extend to the left of the mic stand, but that is not possible.

With the hookup taken care of in less than two minutes, it was time to install the software. Because it is a standard MIDI device, the C-Mexx MIR requires no drivers. It does, however, come with an editor, MIR Edit. (As of this writing, only a Windows version is available — you'll need Windows 95, 98, ME, or XP — but a Mac version is in late development.) MIR Edit gives you almost infinite flexibility in programming the MIR's MIDI outputs. I installed the editor from the included CD and then downloaded an update from the manufacturer's Web site. The installation process went smoothly, but note that the editor requires multiclient MIDI-interface drivers to run concurrently with a host application such as a soft synth or a DAW. This meant that on one machine, I had to close the editor before opening a host program. I could easily have worked around that by using a virtual MIDI router such as Hubi's Loopback.

ESCAPE VELOCITY

I fired up one of the factory presets, a set of transport controls for Cakewalk Sonar. Following the excellent step-by-step directions in the online manual (finally, some documentation!), I created a set of “key bindings” in Sonar that would respond to the MIR preset. Presto! I was remotely controlling start, stop, and record; setting and recalling from/to markers; and even using the knobs to scroll back and forth by measure. Any one of the many programs that has similar MIDI message control capability would be as smoothly managed by the MIR.

Turning the knob to the right moved Sonar to an earlier point in time, which seemed backward to me; I opened MIR Edit to remedy that (see Fig. 2). This is where reading hexadecimal comes in handy. Even though MIR Edit has a window that translates the hexadecimal code into plain-language descriptions of the MIDI messages, and even though you can select a new value from a cascading menu of MIDI messages, the Edit window is in hex. Because of that, if you want to change something, you'll be much happier knowing what you're looking at. For novices, the online manual includes a good introduction to MIDI messages and their hexadecimal representations.

I reversed the knob's turn-right and turn-left assignments, saved the updated preset, and uploaded the new version to the MIR. (The upload process is essentially the same as a SysEx bulk dump from MIR Edit to the MIR.) The knob then behaved the way I wanted it to.

Of course, that whetted my appetite for more power, so I set about creating some additional banks of Sonar controls. First, I assigned a new set of MIDI note messages to the MIR's buttons and knobs, and then I created some additional key bindings in Sonar that allowed me to arm the track for recording, punch in and out, set autopunch locators, and undo a recording. I was able to accomplish all of that from across the room, safely away from my computer's noisy fan.

Next, I created a MIR bank consisting of volume and pan controls for 16 Sonar mixer channels. I used the MIR's first encoder to scroll through the controls and the second encoder to adjust the control's value. That let me move away from my computer keyboard and settle into my monitors' sweet spot for optimum listening.

I set the center button to allow me to switch between the control banks I had created. The MIR stores banks in nonvolatile RAM, and I had a difficult time eating up even a fraction of the available space. With some forethought and a little programming time, I was able to bypass my computer keyboard almost completely.

IN ORBIT

Up to this point, everything I needed to know in order to program the MIR was well laid out in the online manual. Unfortunately, some powerful and important aspects of MIR Edit are not so well documented. For example, Mappings allow you to apply various curves to the encoder data. Two logarithmic scales — as well as sine, cosine, square, and linear curves — are available, and you can offset the curve horizontally or reverse it horizontally or vertically.

One of the MIR's attractive qualities is its big, bright display, and you can set up Alias Tables that can be used to display user-friendly names for the various parameters you are tweaking with the MIR. Icons are also available, though some of them are less useful than others. The documentation for Mappings, Alias Tables, and Icons will leave many users bewildered, as it jumps into programming details without giving adequate background on what they do and how they are useful. However, I have recently learned that new documentation, covering these and other features, will be available soon.

The Live Paq would certainly be a useful addition in a live setting, but it was an asset in my studio, as well. I was able to spread my controls out between my desk area and my keyboard area, which saved me a lot of rolling back and forth. Be aware, however, that the Live Paq adds only one new control assignment. Switch 1 duplicates the function of the MIR's center button, and the continuous pedal replaces (and therefore disables) the “analog” pot. Only Switch 2 carries a new independent assignment.

MIR Edit has the kind of depth that will allow motivated users to do some amazing things — from reconfiguring devices with System Exclusive dumps to playing MIDI files stored within MIR's memory — with the little controller, and I expect to see a healthy subculture of MIR bank swapping in time. In fact, new presets for various types of gear appeared on the company's Web site while I was writing this review. Moreover, C-Mexx says several companies — including Cakewalk, Native Instruments, and Steinberg — have recently signed on to implement the MIR protocol. In addition, the recently announced advanced tutorials should go a long way toward making up for the manual's shortcomings.

If you think the MIR might be useful to you, check out MIR Simulator, a fully functioning software demo that is available from www.mircontrol.com. Intended as a way to test your banks prior to uploading them to the MIR or to work on your banks when your MIR is not connected, it's being offered as a great teaser to introduce you to the system's myriad possibilities. A word of warning, though: if you use MIR Simulator as I did to control your DAW's mixer, try not to think too hard about the fact that you're using a software emulation of a hardware control device to control a software emulation of a hardware mixer. It'll only make your head hurt.


Brian Smithers is a musician, an engineer, an educator, and a writer in Orlando, Florida. He teaches at Full Sail Real World Education in Winter Park.

MIR Specifications

Buttons (5) buttons; (2) encoders also act as buttons
Knobs (2) rotary encoders; (1) “analog” pot
Connectors DB15 multipin; 10' breakout cable with MIDI In and Out (male) and power
Power 7.5V
Display 2 × 16-pixel LCD
Dimensions 6.0" (W) × 4.5" (H) 5 1.5" (D)
Weight 0.4 lb.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

C-Mexx
MIR
MIDI control surface
$399

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.5
DOCUMENTATION 3.0
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Simple to use. Powerful programming possibilities. Adaptable to virtually any MIDI device or program. Accessories available for live use and lighting applications.

CONS: Documentation is weak on the most powerful aspects of the editor. Library of available banks is limited.

Manufacturer

C-Mexx/X-Vision Audio US (distributor)
tel. (330) 747-3862
e-mail info@xvisionaudio.com
Web www.xvisionaudio.com

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