INTO THE ETHER
Dexter connects to your computer via Ethernet, either directly or as part of a network. I installed the software, plugged it in, told Sonar 7 the control surface existed, and was tweaking parameters in minutes—simple. Currently, Dexter has templates for Cubase 4 (Mac/Windows), Logic 7.2 (requires installing a small applet), and Nuendo/ Sonar on Windows. The company is sketchy about when, and which, additional programs will be supported.
For now, users of other programs are better off with Jazzmutant’s Lemur controller, which is based on the same multitouch technology and costs less, but is more complex to customize for your needs. While Dexter users can download the free dual-mode software that allows booting into Lemur or Dexter mode, curiously, Lemur owners must fork over $400 for this option—not exactly a way to reward early adopters. Still, it proves that Jazzmutant continues to develop the product line.
Jazzmutant gets huge props for making Dexter so easy to figure out. Everything is obvious, whether you’re adjusting EQ, choosing different banks of faders, seeing an entire channel’s parameters at a glance, tweaking effects, or taking advantage of the amazing surround mixing capabilities. The manual could be clearer—I wasn’t always certain which button would get me where I wanted to go—but this isn’t problematic, as a few minutes spent playing with Dexter reveals all.
The 800 x 600 touch screen is gorgeous, and you can manipulate as many controls as your fingers can reach simultaneously. The touch action is predictable, and the housing is a confidence-inspiring metal case. The name strip pulls track names from your DAW, so you always know where you are. Although not all parameters are represented—for example, in Sonar you still need to set aux send pre/post individually—it doesn’t take long to learn Dexter well enough to fly on it.
Although some have said that Dexter can’t control soft synths, that’s not quite true. Sonar allows inserting soft synths as if they were effects, and Dexter “sees” the instrument parameters. But if you use Sonar’s “insert” command for soft synths, Dexter doesn’t see the instrument. One great addition, though, would be a touch-sensitive keyboard mode where sliding along notes could generate controller or aftertouch messages. Granted, Dexter isn’t meant to be a keyboard—but this technology seems well-suited to making a keyboard that’s more expressive than the standard mechanical type.
Overall, Dexter is exceptionally ergonomic. But there are some warning flags: The limited DAW support, coupled with no HUI or Mackie emulation, limits the potential market—which could impact future levels of support. Of course, the dual-mode option lets you create a customized Lemur surface, but one reason Dexter exists is because many people found Lemur daunting.
Then there’s the expense. This must have cost a ton to develop, and I’d bet a multitouch screen isn’t cheap. For the same price, you could get the Euphonix Artist Series controllers (and have enough left over for a couple nice mics); some might actually prefer the hands-on feel of motorized faders—although they make noise, and Dexter is totally silent. Dexter is easier to install and shows more at a glance, but Euphonix uses the EuCon protocol, which has some distinct advantages when using multiple programs . . . actually, they’re quite different products, even though they ostensibly handle similar functionality.
If I had a spare $3K, I’d spring for Dexter in a heartbeat because I use Sonar so much, as well as Cubase. And frankly, Dexter is a work of art where just turning it on is inspiring. Bottom line: Jazzmutant has come up with a groundbreaking product—but it’s priced accordingly.
PRODUCT TYPE: Control surface for DAW control—or hang it on your wall and call it art.
TARGET MARKET: Those who want not only a controller, but are willing to spend big bucks for awe-inspiring industrial design.
STRENGTHS: Gorgeous, inspiring interface. Superb ergonomics. Easy installation. Controls effects as well as mix, pan, aux, etc. Ethernet doesn’t tie up FireWire/USB/MIDI ports.
LIMITATIONS: Supports only a few DAWs, with no HUI or Mackie Control emulation. Limited ability to program soft synths. Costly.
LIST PRICE: $3,399