Are you tired of tweaking synthesizer parameters by wadingthrough multiple menus on a tiny display? Do you cringe at thethought of mixing with a mouse and onscreen faders? The Knobby MIDIcontroller ($199) from Encore Electronics may be just the tool foryou.
At first glance, Knobby looks like nothing more than a10-by-5-inch metal box topped with five buttons and eight knobs.However, inside that nondescript box is a powerful MIDI controller.Connect Knobby to your computer's MIDI interface, and you canprogram each of its knobs to send out virtually any type of ControlChange, NRPN, RPN, or System Exclusive message. Unfortunately,Pitch Bend, Aftertouch, and Program Change messages don't lendthemselves to this kind of adjustment and are not included.
By utilizing the four Group buttons, you can create as many as120 knob parameter assignments (called definitions)separated into 15 groups (15 groups multiplied by 8 knobs equals120 knob definitions). The Scene button either sends out allcurrent knob values at once or serves as a MIDI panic button,depending on how long you hold it down.
The hardware is bundled with KnobbyEd software (Win95/NT/ME; the manufacturer states that a Mac version should beavailable by the time this goes to press). KnobbyEd letsyou create Libraries of knob definitions for hardware and softwaredevices. Knobby ships with 84 Libraries covering a large selectionof MIDI devices. Additional Libraries can be downloaded from theEncore Electronics Web site. Assigning knob definitions is easy:simply drag and drop definitions from the list of Libraries ontothe virtual knobs. Libraries can contain more than Knobby's limitof 120 definitions, so you can't drag and drop an entire Library.You can, however, save a Knobby configuration once you have set itup.
You can create your own definitions from scratch. Assigning MIDIcontrollers to knobs is a simple matter of choosing a channel,controller number, and minimum and maximum value limits. RPNs arejust as simple. NRPNs can be more difficult unless you know how todeal with MSBs and LSBs (Most- and Least-Significant Bits).KnobbyEd gives you a lot of flexibility with SystemExclusive, but if you don't comprehend the SysEx data provided inyour synthesizer manual, you'll want to ensure that EncoreElectronics provides a Library for your instrument.
I first tried Knobby with my antiquated Roland JX-8P. To mysurprise, Encore Electronics provides a Library for thisinstrument, so I dragged-and-dropped my way to a new Knobbyconfiguration. The JX-8P Library was pretty complete, although itwas missing a few parameters (LFO bend depth and MIDImessage-filtering settings). I also tried controlling the ConsoleView in Cakewalk's Pro Audio. It worked wonderfully. Ionly had to configure Knobby to send my choice of MIDI controllermessages and then set up the Pro Audio Console View torespond to those messages. No more mixing with the mouse.
In terms of performance, Knobby provides smooth operation. Theknobs respond to the slightest touch and switching between groupsis instantaneous; no loading time is required. But I did experiencea little trouble remembering each knob definition within eachgroup. Operation is easier if you program each group to handlerelated parameters (such as all oscillator functions in one groupand all LFO functions in another), but a small LCD beneath eachknob would be helpful. The company says that it is working on thatfeature for a future version of Knobby. Encore Electronics'Slidemate has exactly the same feature set as Knobby and isdesigned for anyone who prefers using faders to knobs.
Knobby provides fewer knobs than the Keyfax Software/HardwarePhatBoy MIDI controller; however, Knobby is more programmable andcosts less. If you need more knobs, you can connect multiple unitstogether. The controller also has a small footprint and restsnicely on top of most synth keyboards. Knobby is a no-nonsense,versatile MIDI controller that won't dig too deeply into yourpersonal-studio budget.