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Review: Euphonix MC Control

11/1/2008

The MC Control is a control surface designed for DAWs and other media-based Mac applications. It utilizes Euphonix's EuCon protocol, which acts as a conduit between the hardware and the software it controls. The MC Control's Ethernet connection gives it significantly faster throughput and higher resolution than control surfaces that rely on MIDI or USB. The system is compatible with any 1.25 GHz Mac G4 or better running Mac OS X 10.4 or later. Currently it does not support Windows.

The MC Control communicates most effectively with EuCon-aware applications such as Apple Logic Pro, Apogee Maestro, and Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo (MOTU Digital Performer should support EuCon soon). It also offers a HUI-emulation mode for use with Digidesign Pro Tools and other compatible software (for more information, see the online bonus material at emusician.com). In addition, it supports any software that responds to the Mackie Control protocol, such as Ableton Live and Propellerhead Reason. The Mac application EuControl, which allows you to configure the control surface, furnishes a soft-key editor for programming commonly used keystrokes for any other application.

Hands on Hardware

FIG. 1: The MC Control is a visionary product that brings customizable touch-screen control to Mac-based sequencers and other media applications.

FIG. 1: The MC Control is a visionary product that brings customizable touch-screen control to Mac-based sequencers and other media applications.

The MC Control is about the same width and twice as deep as a computer keyboard (see Fig. 1). The hardware was specifically designed to fit on the desktop between the keyboard and the monitor — a form factor that puts the MC Control at the user's fingertips at all times.

The MC Control has four fader strips, each with a 100 mm touch-sensitive motorized fader, Solo and On buttons, and dual-purpose Record/Automation and Select/Assign buttons. The faders have a smooth, silky feel, and they're quiet when they move. The fader strips don't have dedicated data knobs; instead, the data-control knobs surrounding the touch-screen area handle functions such as pan.

The touch screen near the center of the control panel is the heart and soul of the product. Its dimensions are 6 × 3.6 inches, and it operates at 800 × 480-pixel resolution. The colors are vibrant, and the text is crisp and clean. The screen displays a great deal of information, however, and some of the data can be a bit tough to read comfortably.

The touch screen is divided into several functional areas. The right and left sides display the position and parameter assigned to each of the eight data knobs. The top area displays information regarding the current application selected, as well as the name and gain level of the four tracks represented by the fader strips. The bottom area shows the labeling for the 12 surface soft-key buttons. Data used in the view modes (more about those later) takes up the lion's share of the touch screen's real estate.

Directly beneath the touch screen are 12 physical soft (reassignable) keys, arrayed in 2 rows of 6 buttons. These keys execute the soft-key commands displayed in the touch screen's bottom section. You can have as many soft-key banks as you like; a pair of navigation buttons scrolls through the banks. Euphonix designed the physical soft-key bank to hold the keystrokes and tools you would use most often, and thus added the tactile controls below the labels so that you could operate the buttons without moving your gaze from your computer monitor.

Eight Velocity-sensitive parameter knobs are adjacent to the touch screen, four on either side. They feel great and have sufficient room between them for easy use. Pressing down on the knobs causes them to act as buttons. You use the parameter knobs primarily to change plug-in settings.

The MC Control has eight navigation buttons. The Bank and Nudge buttons allow you to scroll between tracks. A pair of Page buttons lets you scroll through parameters currently assigned to the parameter knobs. A Mixer button brings up the mixer window in applications that have such windows, which is a nice touch. The Workstation button allows the MC Control to operate applications running on another computer on the same network; you can even use it to send keystroke and mouse commands to a remote computer. In addition, the front panel has two unlabeled Shift buttons, one in each lower corner.

The transport section is located in the lower right-hand corner. The transport buttons are laid out in a curved fashion designed to emulate the positioning of the four fingers of your right hand. Below those are Jog/Shuttle and Zoom buttons, and to the right is the Jog/Shuttle wheel. The data wheel has a ridge around the top and ribbing to grip your finger, but I found it stiff to move and awkward to use. I would have preferred a more standard-issue jog-wheel design.

Soft Highlights

FIG. 2: Tracks view mode lets you control as many as 32 tracks at a time using the MC Control''s touch screen.

FIG. 2: Tracks view mode lets you control as many as 32 tracks at a time using the MC Control''s touch screen.

The MC Control has three views — Tracks, SoftKeys, and Setup — which you select using three virtual buttons near the bottom of the display (see Fig. 2). Tracks view displays up to 32 tracks simultaneously as icons. You can set record, mute, or solo status for each track directly within the Tracks view window, or you can select them to assign them to a fader for further attention.

SoftKeys view displays as many as 24 virtual buttons in the middle of the screen. You can have an unlimited number of soft-key banks organized any way you like. Setup view allows you to regulate the control room and monitor levels in Nuendo or Cubase and lets you control mixer levels in products that use Maestro. In addition, an included application called Studio Monitor Express provides complete control room and monitoring functionality to any Core Audio app (such as Logic Pro) that lacks such capabilities.

EuControl's soft-key editor is the MC Control's coolest aspect (see Fig. 3, below). This feature allows you to edit, create, and configure touch-screen and surface soft-key buttons for any app. You can assign one or more EuCon, HUI, Mackie Control, or navigation commands to each soft key. You can also assign your choice of icons, colors, and fonts to each soft key. You can even use soft keys to change the data wheel's function, and they work with any application.

Plug-in Control

The eight data-control knobs give you hands-on, real-time editing of plug-in parameters. In Logic Pro, for example, you select a plug-in for editing by selecting a track and then pressing the insert's data-control knob. All plug-ins assigned to that track then appear on the knobs, and pressing the appropriate knob opens the plug-in window onscreen and maps the first bank of parameters to the knobs.

FIG. 3: The included EuControl software''s soft-key editor allows you to create assignable buttons that appear on the MC Control''s touch screen.

FIG. 3: The included EuControl software''s soft-key editor allows you to create assignable buttons that appear on the MC Control''s touch screen.

The selected parameter's name, value, and knob position are displayed next to each knob. Any changes are reflected in real time within the DAW's plug-in window. The Page Forward and Page Back buttons scroll between banks of parameters, and the Back button moves you back up the hierarchy to the plug-in selection view again. Once I got used to the system, I found it to be comprehensive and pretty easy to use.

Considering the MC Control's flexible approach to programmability, I would love to be able to custom-map plug-in parameters to the data-control knobs. That would allow me to access my eight favorite parameters at the same time.

Sound and Vision

The MC Control is a visionary product. Though it took me a while to find my sea legs, once I delved into what it was capable of, I really liked it. If Logic Pro were my primary DAW, the MC Control with a pair of MC Mix fader packs would be my control surface of choice. Its minimalist, Star Trek-inspired design has an undeniable wow factor, and its programmability and feature set are powerful. That said, I would still prefer a different type of data wheel and a larger LCD touch screen, but those are quibbles. If you like to tinker with your work flow, and especially if your primary DAW is a EuCon-aware application, then MC Control is a heavyweight contender.

Nick Peck is a composer, Hammond organist, audio engineer, and sound designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. His latest CD, Fire Trucks I Have Known, is available through CD Baby.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

 

GUIDE TO EM METERS

5 Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology

4 Clearly above average; very desirable

3 Good; meets expectations

2 Somewhat disappointing but usable

1 Unacceptably flawed

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