Kenton's Spin Doctor ($199) is a compact MIDI control surface that's designed to work with virtually any type of MIDI gear, including synths, effects processors, sequencers, virtual instruments, and more. For Kenton, the Spin Doctor represents a lower-priced alternative to its Control Freak line.
Unlike many control surfaces, (including two of the three Control Freak models), the Spin Doctor is based around knobs rather than sliders. It has 16 programmable rubber knobs, an edit button, a function key, a data entry knob, and a scrolling 4-character LED display. Rear-panel connections include a 9 VDC power input for the unit's external power supply, and MIDI In and Out ports. A printed manual is included in the box.
Setup was easy. After plugging in the power supply, I patched the MIDI In and Out to the proper connections on my computer's MIDI interface, and I was ready to roll.
The Spin Doctor comes loaded with six generic factory profiles. (Profiles are preprogrammed patches that configure the Spin Doctor to control particular MIDI parameters and specific pieces of MIDI gear.) Program 0 sets up the unit to control volumes on MIDI channels 1 through 16, program 1 gives you pans on channels 1 through 16, and the other four preloaded profiles let you control various banks of 16 MIDI continuous controllers.
You can do some editing and customizing of profiles using the controls on the unit itself, including changing continuous controller assignments. But to get the most from the Spin Doctor, you'll want to use it with one of the free software editors (for Mac or PC) that are available for download at the company's Web site, www.kentonuk.com. (There you can also download profiles for a variety of MIDI devices and check to see if there are profiles for the gear you use.)
The PC editor, called Virtual Spin Doctor, is based on a visual representation of the unit and is quite intuitive. To assign a parameter, you click on a virtual knob and select from a pull-down menu. A full range of MIDI commands, including SysEx, nonregistered parameter numbers (NRPNs), MIDI channel, range, and so on are available for editing. You can also label the virtual knobs to keep yourself organized.
The Mac editor, called Control Freak Studio Edition Editor, is actually a generic Control Freak editor that's also compatible with the Spin Doctor. It has the same functionality as the PC editor but isn't as pretty or intuitive. It supports Mac OS 9 but not OS X, and, regrettably, requires that you use OMS. (According to Kenton, an OS X compatible version of the editor should be available by the time this issue goes to press.)
After installing the software and struggling with its spare documentation, I succeeded in loading a profile for Digidesign Pro Tools. When I began turning the Spin Doctor's knobs, however, nothing seemed to happen. I soon realized that I had to cross the “null” point of the onscreen fader (meaning that my hardware knob value had to catch up with that of the corresponding virtual fader) before a knob would become active. After that, however, I was up and running and using the Spin Doctor's knobs to control 16 Pro Tools tracks.
I also tested the Spin Doctor with Propellerhead Reason, using Control Freak Studio Edition Editor to load profiles for the Subtractor synth and the NN-19 sampler. After tweaking Reason's MIDI preferences a bit, I was happily adjusting filter frequencies, amplitude envelopes, and other parameters in real time.
It should be noted that you can also load profiles, which come in the form of standard MIDI files, directly from a sequencer or editor-librarian into the Spin Doctor without having to use the software editor.
The solidly built Kenton Spin Doctor offers extensive control at a reasonable price. Yes, I wish the Mac software editor had better documentation and a more intuitive interface, but overall I was impressed with the Spin Doctor's design and performance. If you could use a Doctor in your house, I encourage you to take this one for a spin.