FIG. 1: The Command|8 control surface features 100 mm motorized faders, rotary encoders, transport controls, and a battery of special-purpose buttons and LEDs.
Digidesign's new, USB-based Command|8 combines an 8-channel MIDI control surface, a MIDI interface, and a stereo monitor. Command|8 requires Pro Tools 6.4 and works with all compatible hardware systems, including Pro Tools Mix, HD, HD Accel, Mbox, 001, 002, and 002 Rack. Version 6.4 TDM and LE software for both OS X and Windows XP are included, which is a nice freebie for those who haven't already upgraded.
Command|8 is a direct descendent of the previous Digidesign — Focusrite controller products Control|24 and Digi 002. Its eight channels offer a window into eight Pro Tools tracks at a time. From within Pro Tools, Command|8 offers three modes: Home View, in which the eight channels are used for standard volume and panning; Console View, in which the rotary knobs are used to control sends and inserts; and Channel View, in which all the controls are used to edit parameters for a single plug-in on the selected channel. Transport and zoom controls, some Pro Tools command- and keystroke-equivalent buttons, and a stereo analog monitoring system are also part of the design. A 1-in/2-out MIDI interface is thrown in for good measure.
Each of Command|8's identical channels includes a touch-sensitive, 100 mm motorized fader; mute and solo buttons; a multipurpose Channel Select button; and a rotary encoder (often called a 360-degree knob). The encoder is surrounded by a ring of LEDs that mark its current position. A 5-segment LED ladder for level metering is at the top of each channel strip (see Fig. 1).
The faders feel smooth, without any spurious chatter. In the default Home View, the Channel Select button highlights the channel's currently assigned track in Pro Tools. When the record-arm (Rec) button is pressed, the Channel Select button then toggles arming of the current track for recording. In Console view (in which sends or inserts are displayed), pressing Channel Select will bring up the channel's send or insert information for editing.
One of the coolest features of MIDI controllers is being able to edit plug-in parameters directly from the control surface. Command|8 does not disappoint in that area. The plug-in editing process is slick and intuitive. Selecting a plug-in for editing takes three keystrokes: press the Insert button, then the Channel Select button for the track, and then the Channel Select button under the name of the desired plug-in. Dedicated EQ and dynamics buttons narrow the selections to plug-ins of those types. Once a plug-in is selected, the first eight parameters are displayed, which can then be edited with the corresponding rotary encoders. On/off parameters are toggled with the Channel Select buttons. If more than eight parameters are available, Page Back and Page Forward buttons access the additional parameters. A Master Bypass button allows you to optionally bypass the plug-in during editing. A single keystroke exits plug-in editing, returning Command|8 to its default mode.
Beam Me Up
Command|8's transport control puts commonly used navigation commands at your fingertips. Standard tape-transport controls (return to zero, rewind, fast forward, stop, play, and record) are laid out in a row of large, oval buttons. Loop Play, Record Toggle, Quick Punch, and Memory Location Window buttons are located just above. To the left of those buttons are buttons to bring the mix, edit, and currently selected plug-in windows to the foreground.
Large buttons labeled with arrows help with primary system navigation. Above those are Bank, Nudge, and Zoom toggle switches. The Bank and Nudge switches shift the focus of Command|8's faders by one or eight Pro Tools tracks, respectively. The Zoom switch changes the function of the navigation buttons to horizontal and vertical track zooming.
The transport section includes a Flip switch, which swaps the functions of the rotary encoders and the faders. There is also a Master Fader switch, which focuses the Command|8's faders on all masters used in your Pro Tools session. The Flip switch is particularly handy for creating plug-in automation using the faders.
Command|8 has dedicated buttons for the computer's Enter and Undo functions as well as for the modifier keys Shift, Option/Alt, and Ctrl/Cmd. While they don't obviate the need for a dedicated computer keyboard, they do enhance productivity.
Now Hear This
Like its predecessors, Command|8 includes a -rudimentary analog monitoring system. It offers two sets of stereo inputs and one pair of stereo outputs on the rear panel, all using +4/10 dB, TRS-balanced ¼-inch jacks. There's also a ¼-inch headphone output with level control on the front panel. The output section includes a Master Level knob, Mute button, Main External source switch, and a Mono button, which is useful for catching potential phase problems in a stereo mix. Although it's bare bones, the system delivers the basics for someone working completely “in the box.”
FIG. 2: The Command|8 rear panel includes audio and MIDI I/O jacks as well as USB and footswitch input jacks.
Command|8's rear panel is a bit sparse (see Fig. 2). It includes audio-monitor inputs and outputs and a USB port. Like the Digi 002, Command|8 includes a MIDI interface with one input and two output ports. A socket to connect the heavy-duty external power supply and a ¼-inch jack for a punch-in pedal complete the rear panel.
Mixing It Up
Some people prefer mixing with a mouse, and some don't. I fall firmly in the latter category, craving the feel of hardware faders and knobs to create complex automated mixes. For that, Command|8 delivers the goods. Setting up and configuring the unit is easy; I simply plugged in the USB and power cables, specified the Command|8 in the Pro Tools peripherals dialog, and started mixing, without ever cracking the manual. I have berated Digidesign in past reviews for releasing buggy hardware and software, but the Command|8 worked perfectly-right out of the box. The faders are smooth and responsive and don't have any of the fader chatter that I've experienced with other controllers. Digidesign based the Command|8's ergonomics and layout on the 002 and Control|24; if you have used either of those products, you'll feel right at home.
Command|8 has a standalone mode, in which it functions as a generic programmable MIDI controller. Eight custom MIDI maps can be stored in the unit, allowing you to configure the faders, knobs, and some of the buttons to generate MIDI continuous controller messages. I was able to quickly and easily teach Reason to respond to Command|8, but I could get only the faders, mute and solo buttons, and pan knobs to work. Unfortunately, I could not get the transport controls to work, because they are hardwired to send standard MIDI Machine Control messages. It would be nice to be able to configure the transport controls to transmit continuous controller values.
Command|8's standalone mode is useful as a secondary mode of operation, but I would not recommend it as a replacement for products such as the Mackie Control Universal. It is designed to be used primarily with Pro Tools, and standalone mode is an afterthought. That mode would be more useful if third-party manufacturers included Command|8 MIDI configurations with their software. If you mainly use Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase, or Cakewalk Sonar with Pro Tools hardware, you'll do better with competing MIDI controllers.
All That Glitters …
Command|8 is also missing other features. There is no shuttle mode, even though the large navigation buttons would work well for that purpose. You cannot select automation modes, which is a shame because Command|8's raison d'etre is automation-based mixing. The monitoring system could use a dim button, a talkback section, and a set of aux outputs. Unlike some other MIDI controllers, you cannot connect multiple Command|8s together, nor has Digidesign announced additional fader pack expansions. You can, however, use one Command|8 in conjunction with a Control|24, Pro-Control, or Digi 002.
Command|8 is a good fit for existing owners of Pro Tools systems who have a limited budget and desktop space. But the Command|8's greatest competition comes from within Digidesign — for about $1,000 more, the Digi 002 delivers all the same capabilities, as well as an excellent-sounding 96/24 Pro Tools LE system complete with standalone digital mixer. On the other hand, if you have a TDM system, have a 001 or an Mbox, primarily work within Pro Tools, and are looking for faders, then Command|8 fits the bill.
Digidesign has delivered a solid and worthy -performer in Command|8. Its layout, feature set, and ease of use greatly improve the efficiency and fun of working within Pro Tools. If Pro Tools is your primary work environment and you don't already have a Control|24, Pro-Control, or Digi 002, check out Command|8. You'll wonder how you ever got by when using a mouse.
Nick Peck creates sound for film and games, teaches Pro Tools, funks it up on the Hammond organ in the wee hours, and is about to become an expert in diaper changing. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIDI control surface
OVERALL RATING (1 THROUGH 5): 3.5
PROS: Clean, intuitive layout. Easy to set up and use. Seamless integration with Pro Tools. Smooth, responsive touch-sensitive faders.
CONS: No shuttle mode. No automation mode selection. Can't connect multiple Command|8s together. No talkback section in monitoring system. No readily available configurations for non — Pro Tools software.
Audio Outputs (2) +4 dBu / -10 dBu ¼" TRS jacks Audio Outputs (2) +4 dBu / -10 dBu ¼" TRS jacks Audio Inputs (2) main: +4 dBu / -10 dBu ¼" TRS jacks
(2) ext source: +4 dBu / -10 dBu ¼" TRS jacks Additional Ports (1) MIDI In, (2) MIDI Out, (1) USB, (1) footswitch Power external power supply (U.S., Japan, EU, UK) Dimensions 16.375" (W) × 4.75" (H) × 17.12" (D) Weight 11.3 lbs.