Wireless DAW Control Has Arrived
Advertorial By Jim Aikin
If you're a musician with a personal studio, you've probably found yourself in this common situation: you're working by yourself recording vocals, guitar, drums, or (in my case) cello. You know the routine: you hit the Record button, dash across the room, sit down behind the sound baffles, put on your headphones, and pick up your instrument in time to start playing along with the existing tracks. Yes, you can do it, assuming you're physically mobile, but there's always the danger of tripping over something, and if you made any mistakes (hey, it happens to the best of us), you get to do it all over again. And again. Afterward, your tracks (and hard drive) will be cluttered with useless bits of audio in which the only sound is a foot hitting a mic stand. A remote is the obvious answer.
Inexpensive and portable, TranzPort lets you control your DAW from behind you drums, a vocal booth...or anywhere in your studio
Another situation occurs when you're an engineer in a large studio and are sitting in front of the mixing board while working with a computer-based DAW. The computer keyboard and mouse may not be within easy reach, and having a remote that's small enough to keep at your elbow will mean less wasted motion.
The Frontier Design TranzPort is ideal for both situations. Inexpensive and portable, it takes up far less space than most control surfaces. The fact that it's wireless is an added bonus. Currently it interfaces with several of the leading audio applications, including Digidesign Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, Cakewalk Sonar, Apple Logic, Adobe Audition, and MOTU Digital Performer. More manufacturers will be adding TranzPort compatibility in the near future.
Click on these links for more information:
• Don't interrupt the creative flow
• Wireless control for your DAW software
• Simple things you could not have done before....
• Specifics for Cubase Users
• SONAR and TranzPort - what you can do
• More freedom to work your way
Frontier's PDF documentation gives instructions on how to set up TranzPort to work with a specific DAW program. In addition to the usual transport buttons (Stop, Play, Record, Rewind, and Fast Forward), TranzPort provides a number of useful controls for navigating within your project. The Locate controls allow you to instantly jump to any point in the current project. You can drop markers with a single press of the Add Marker button and then navigate among marker locations using Prev and Next. Communication between TranzPort and your DAW is bidirectional, so the current project time-code location is shown in the TranzPort's LCD. As a result, there's no guesswork. The data wheel provides another convenient way to move forward and backward along the project time line.
Moving between tracks is also straightforward, since the track names also appear in the LCD. Dedicated buttons let you solo, mute, and record-arm the selected track, and dedicated LEDs show you the track's status. You can also modify a track's level and pan settings from the remote. Want to hear more bass in your headphones next time you lay down your synth solo? Turn up the bass track, arm the synth track, and hit Record all wirelessly from the TranzPort.
An even deeper level of functionality is found in TranzPort's user-assignable buttons. The method for assigning these, and the possible uses for them, are different for each DAW program.
Below is an example of the TranzPort commands with Digidesign Pro Tools:
After taking a closer look at some of the things you can do with TranzPort, I'll will make specific suggestions about how you may want to assign functions for Cubase or Sonar. Users of other programs will need to consult their owner's manual and do some poking around in dialog boxes, but the basic considerations will be the same. We're looking for assignable commands that will often be needed when you're ready to record and don't want to interrupt the creative flow by stepping over to the computer.
Pro Tools (HUI)
Here are some of the things TranzPort will let you do, even when you're not within arm's reach of your computer:
Play back a just-recorded track to see if you got the perfect take or need to rewind and try again. Solo the take to listen closely, then unsolo the track to hear it in the context of the whole mix.
Perform multiple takes without setting down your instrument by switching to a new track and arming it for recording.
Move around on the timeline with the data wheel to spot-check various parts of the song.
Change track playback levels to set up a better headphone mix, or mute a track that's confusing or distracting you as you try to record.
Work out a harmony part by soloing the track you want to harmonize with.
Turn the metronome on or off as needed.
Punch in and out with a footswitch (only available with some software).
Set loop points and locate to the start of the loop in order to practice a part.
FIG. 1: This Cubase pop-up menu, which appears in the right half of the Device Setup window, shows the complete list of categories from which you can choose when assigning commands to the TranzPort's buttons.
Steinberg's Cubase SX3 is one of the better DAWs to use with TranzPort, as it allows you to set up eight programmable functions: seven in combination with TranzPort's Shift button and one for its footswitch input. An enormous list of possible commands is available, but some are clearly more useful than others in conjunction with a remote.
To see the possibilities, open the Cubase Device Setup window, choose the Mackie Control in the tree on the left (Cubase thinks the TranzPort is a Mackie Control), click in a Category field to choose a command category, and then click in the Command field to see what's available. There are 35 distinct categories, including Zoom, Navigate, and Add Track (see Fig. 1). Some of these categories offer as few as one command, but Preferences and Edit offer more than 60 commands each. The Process Plug-in category lets you choose any of the plug-in effects in your system, which could be a very long list indeed.
Your biggest challenge, then, will be deciding which choices will work best for you. Here are my recommendations:
Let's assume you're sitting across the room from the computer and doing some overdubbing. If you're going to work on various sections of the song in one session, then Nudge->Loop Range Left and Nudge->Loop Range Right may be useful. Combine these with Transport->To Left Locator and you can start playback or recording at any point. You can just as easily locate with TranzPort's data wheel, of course. But if Loop mode is switched on, Cubase will now be set up to let you do a number of takes of a single passage, after which you can shift the loop range left or right and record something else. Since this is a set of three commands, assigning them to F3, F4, and F5 (the TranzPort's Shift-PREV, Shift-ADD, and Shift-NEXT buttons) makes sense.
Work out a harmony part by soloing the track you want to harmonize with.
The Transport command category (see Fig. 2) is a natural place to find useful commands. The basics (Record, Rewind, Insert Marker, etc.) are already covered by TranzPort's buttons without using the Shift key, but Metronome On and Precount On are likely to be useful. Putting these under Shift-Play and Shift-Record provides a reasonable setup. The TranzPort's Footswitch input maps to Mackie User A; you may want to use this to duplicate the function of the Record button by assigning it to Transport->Record. Yes, now your computer recorder can go into Record mode from a footswitch, just like that old cassette deck that's gathering dust in the closet.
FIG. 2: After you choose the Transport category in Figure 1, Cubase makes this huge list of commands available.
Add Track->Audio is another excellent choice for remote recording situations. You may want to put this under Shift-Track>. And while most of the commands in the Devices category aren't of much use with a remote controller, Devices->Time Display lets you toggle the large time display on and off. This merely duplicates the time display on the TranzPort itself, but if you're recording several musicians together, rather than working alone, being able to get the Time Display up on the screen where everyone can see it will be genuinely useful. Since we only have one Shift button left, let's put this under Shift-REC (the REC arm button in the top row, not Shift-Record).
Although TranzPort provides all of the control functionality you need to do basic tracking, Sonar's Key Binding feature provides an easy way to create additional commands that can be accessed remotely. There are fifteen key combinations that can be mapped to commands. Holding down the Shift button and pressing Prev, Add, and Next perform the actions associated with Shift-F1, Shift-F2, and Shift-F3 keys. Holding down the Stop key and pressing Prev, Add, Next, In, Out, Punch, Loop, Track-Left, Track-Right, Rec, Mute, or Solo perform the actions assigned to Ctrl-Shift-F1 thru Ctrl-Shift-F12 in Sonar.
What's more, all of these key bindings are context-sensitive. This means they can do different things, depending on which Sonar window is active. Of course, you probably won't be doing too much remote recording while the MIDI Event List window is open; the Track View is where most of the action will take place.
The documentation that accompanies TranzPort explains how to set up Sonar to respond to the user-assignable keys, which is done in the Key Bindings window (see Fig. 3). To understand the possibilities here, you need to know that whatever you assign in the Global Bindings area will be overridden by the assignments made for individual windows. However, the Global Bindings will still work when the front window does not have a local binding for that key. Thus you can use Shift-F1 to call up the Console View and then, within Console View, use Shift-F1 for some other purpose.
FIG. 3: Up to fifteen commands per window can be assigned in Sonar's Key Binding dialog.
My first suggestion for a key binding is to assign shift-F1 to Insert | Audio Track. If you're planning to do much overdubbing from across the room, inserting new tracks will be essential. Since this is a Global Binding, don't assign Shift-F1 to anything else, at least not in the Track View.
Also in the Global Bindings area, the Loop On/Off command may be useful. Metronome During Playback and Metronome During Record will be good choices in some situations. Enable/Disable Automation Playback is less likely to be useful, but you might find a creative use for it.
Beyond this, I haven't found anything in the Key Bindings window that seems very useful in a remote situation and isn't already covered by the existing TranzPort buttons. You might use View | Video if you're working on a scoring project, or View | Big Time, but there's no reason not to open the Video or Big Time window at the computer before you walk across the room and put on your headphones.
In the Track View bindings, Center View On Now Time could be useful if you find you're getting confused about what you're hearing in the headphones.
Running mic cables and headphone extension is easy - the rest is wireless...
More Freedom to Work Your Way
As music technology becomes more complex, studio ergonomics become more important. Being able to work smoothly and efficiently, without wasted motion, is essential. I'm looking forward to the day when all of my gear will be wireless, and I applaud Frontier Design for taking a useful step in that direction.