Euphonix pretty much wrote the rulebook on large-scale remote controllers with their high-end, digitally-controlled analogue consoles, but with its all-new Artist Series, it´s targeting an entirely different sector of the market. The new range is designed for home users, and is set to compete with hardware such as the Mackie Control Universal Pro.
Comprising the forthcoming MC Control and the MC Mix that we´re looking at here, the Artist Series is a Mac-only modular system that enables you to combine up to four MC Mix units with one MC Control. The MC Mix can be used on its own, too, and that´s what we´re doing here.
The MC Mix is smaller and cheaper than the MC Control (which costs £999), and has eight motorised faders instead of four. It also lacks the more complex features such as the touchscreen and the more extensive transport controls
The most striking thing about the MC Mix is its slim design - it feels far more like a laptop with knobs and faders on it than a hefty control surface. Plus, if table space is at a premium, adding the included risers allows it to sit neatly behind your computer keyboard, with the leads hidden underneath.
When it comes to connectivity, Euphonix has opted for Ethernet rather than a more common format like USB, FireWire or MIDI. It´s not a bad move, although if you´re planning on racking up a few units, you´ll need to extend your connections using an Ethernet hub.
What´s more, the device can only be connected to a Mac, although Euphonix says that you´ll soon be able to add a PC as a second workstation (you´ll still need a Mac on the network as your primary connection point, however).
On power-up, the MC Mix does a Christmas tree routine, neatly demonstrating that every single button on it lights up in one way or another. But it´s also worth pointing out that the faders and rotary controls are touch sensitive, with the knobs also acting as push button switches.
One upside of the MC Mix´s Mac-only support is that Euphonix has been able to fine-tune its performance, and this is best demonstrated by its tight integration with Logic. The underlying system is the company´s EuCon protocol, which enables it to connect to any compatible application. The MC Mix simply remaps its controls dynamically as you switch between programs. You just need to be sure that the associated EuControl application is running (it can be set to auto-launch when you boot up).
The documentation indicates that the MC Mix works with Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Pro Tools (HD/LE and M-Powered), Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro and Digital Performer. An impressive list, but check out the setup PDF to get things working properly.
Because Logic Pro directly supports Euphonix´s own EuCon protocol, the level of integration is greater, and the resolution of the controls (when compared to MIDI-based systems) is also higher. Nuendo and Cubase are also EuCon-aware, but even so, Cubase requires pretty much the latest version and also an additional Adapter from Steinberg´s site.
For non-EuCon-aware apps, the MC Mix supports the Mackie Control (Soundtrack Pro, Final Cut Pro, Live, etc) and HUI (Pro Tools) protocols. Setting up involves activating each program by dragging it into the Euphonix MC part of the System Preferences, and connecting things up in each app´s preferences. For non-EuCon aware apps, performance is dependent on how well those programs support the relevant protocols.
"Because Logic Pro directly supports Euphonix´s own EuCon protocol, the level of integration is greater, and the resolution of the controls is also higher"
On the operational front, the MC Mix is very easy to get to grips with, and will feel familiar to anyone used to other surfaces. Important functions such as inserts, pan, EQ and auxiliaries are easily accessed using the selector keys at the left-hand side, and because both fader and rotary encoders are touch-sensitive, channel selection is automatic.
That said, a manual channel selector is included, and if you want, you can deactivate fader pick-up in the preferences.
Other channel-specific buttons include a record activate button, on (ie, mute), solo and additional on and select switches. The second on switch typically acts as a bypass for whatever you´ve got active (insert, auxiliary, EQ, and so on).
Dig a bit deeper and you discover alternative ways to view your data, including channel mode, which lays out the inserts of one channel across all eight rotary encoders. Alternatively, activating flip mode enables the faders to control plug-in parameters.
However, getting the most out of the MC Mix requires an understanding of the detailed OLED display strip. Beyond the obvious (level meters, track naming, parameter values, and so on), this gives you vital data about what mode you´re in and therefore which parameters are controlled by the faders and knobs. In Logic, you´ll also find that you can even search and launch new plug-ins.
Producing a cross-application control surface is always going to be a bit of a challenge, but with the MC Mix, Euphonix has avoided many of the pitfalls. The fact that the buttons are dual-function, with two easy-access shift buttons at the bottom corners, means there are no confusing sub-menu features to hunt through, it´s also nice to see a controller that´s compact enough to incorporate into a busy desktop.
But as ever with control surfaces, success relies on integration with the host. Over the space of a couple of weeks, we updated the EuCon drivers three times, and this eventually led to good operation in Cubase. We also had success using the Mackie Control protocol, although you have to bear in mind that typically there are fewer available controls than in a EuCon-aware application.
Unsurprisingly, aside from some minor niggles, operation was at its slickest and most extensive in Logic, and we´re certainly looking forward to trying out the MC Control too.