Search Gear
 

Review: Euphonix MC Mix

May 1, 2008
share

The Euphonix name has meant luxury large-format digital audio consoles and control surfaces for two decades. Most recently, those have included the System 5-MC (Media Controller) and MC Pro, as used by thousands of major music, film and broadcast studios worldwide. Cut from the same cloth, only this time under the new Artist Series banner, the MC Mix makes luxury affordable by squeezing the same Ethernet-based DAW control technology into a package that will fit in the smallest personal studio, as well as a backpack.

The MC Mix is not merely an eight-fader pack or an expansion to the forthcoming MC Control. It is capable of being a full-fledged, stand-alone control surface, intended to fit between the computer keyboard and display monitor. It features all the necessary controls to conduct a DAW session from start to finish, including transport, mix automation, plug-in editing and programmable soft-key commands.

The MC Mix currently runs on Mac OS 10.4 or later, but Euphonix assured Remix they're working on adding Windows support. It connects via the EuCon protocol, which also transports HUI (Pro Tools|HD, LE and M-Powered) and Mackie Control. All its controls communicate with your DAW or video editor via high-speed Ethernet and not MIDI. EuCon operates on the concept of “application layers,” able to seamlessly switch protocols or application foci at the touch of a button or click of a mouse. By comparison, Digidesign's popular line of controllers is limited strictly to its software, and Mackie's MCU isn't capable of real-time layered function.

HOT COUTURE

Drawn up by industrial designer Matthäus Unger, the silver MC Mix looks and feels totally professional, and just recently won a 2008 Red Dot design award.

The front panel measures just 16.5-by-9.25 inches, yet feels surprisingly uncluttered and spacious. Even more astounding, the unit is only 1.25 inches thick and uses thin-profile 100 mm motorized touch-sensitive ALPS faders of extremely high resolution and snappy action. They feel far smoother than my Mackie MCU, for example, with a zipper-free glidelike faders on the very best analog consoles. Faders that are packed too closely together on small control surfaces annoy me. Thankfully, MC Mix spreads them more than 1.25 inches apart, and like on the company's pro gear, a Euphonix fingertip grip logo adorns each fader — classy.

Every MC Mix button is backlit in a function-distinct color. Two buttons sit next to each fader: Record/Automation and track Select/Assign, which locks the selected track to a dedicated fader and lets you bank through tracks with the remaining faders — perfect for master fader and submix applications. Those two buttons also function as general dialog Yes/No verifications.

The Solo and On buttons above each fader double as MC Mix's transport controls above faders 5 through 8. Depending on the application in use, you can hold down the rewind and fast-forward transport controls for jogging/shuttling.

Eight touch-sensitive, push-button rotary encoders offer direct control over everything from panning and EQ to plug-in editing. Above each knob, a 128-by-64 pixel OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display shows track name/number, parameter name/value, high-res metering for mono-to-5.1 surround sound, automation mode data and more. Dimmable lettering and graphics are crisp and bright in eye pleasing yellow on black background.

The Knob Set buttons on the left side let you quickly assign the rotary encoders to control panning, plug-ins, EQs/dynamics, inputs, aux signal routing and much more. You can choose to control the same parameter across all tracks or assign all knobs to one track for simultaneous editing of multiple parameters at once.

Finally, keys at the four corners of the fader bank hold special tasks. The Flip/Channel key in the upper left toggles the rotary encoders with fader functions and vice versa; it also toggles between Normal mixer overview and Channel knob modes. In the bottom corners, two identical Shift keys access secondary button functions. Pressing both Shift keys simultaneously locks the shift function. In the upper-right corner, the Application key toggles between the two most recently used open applications. If you have many applications open, holding this key down and pressing Bank Forward cycles them. Shift-Application can attach the MC Mix to another computer on your network.

Overall, the build appears rock-solid. It has an impact-resistant plastic front panel and sides, with a bottom/back panel of cold-rolled steel with a snazzy silver Euphonix logo. By removing the plastic end-caps, as many as four MC Mix units (and an MC Control) can snap together to create a larger, integrated control surface. Alternatively, leave the end-caps on and situate the units anywhere. Either way, you can gang multiple units together with an Ethernet cable on each unit going into an Ethernet hub or switcher (found dirt cheap at an electronics store).

At almost five pounds, the unit feels durable and stays in place on a desk. If you use the plastic risers, included to increase height and viewing angle of the unit, their tiny rubber feet can cause the unit to slide with the slightest touch, and the plastic riser arms flexed so much that sometimes the unit swayed back and forth during use. Ultimately, I went without them.

The package also includes an Ethernet cable, a line-lump universal AC power adapter and a disc containing EuControl Artist-series software, Application Sets and a PDF owner's manual.

EXPLORING THE EUCON

Operating at 250 times the speed and eight times the resolution of MIDI (1,024 vs. 128 steps), EuCon is an object-based control protocol Euphonix originally developed for its high-end media consoles, enabling simultaneous control of multiple applications and workstations over an Ethernet cable.

EuCon carries control information for faders, knobs, OLED displays and more between the MC Mix and your computer, automatically detecting whatever application is in the foreground and instantly setting controls to match. When a HUI application such as Pro Tools is in focus, for example, the MC Client application communicates with it using HUI. Switch to Logic Pro, and the MC Client application switches to direct EuCon communication (Logic fully supports EuCon natively). Bring up Final Cut Pro, and the MC Client application switches to Mackie Control protocol. It's all perfectly seamless. The MC Mix can actually work with any application at its most basic level as purely a soft-key controller, but for fader and knob control, the application must be able to support EuCon, HUI or Mackie Control.

The CPU-light EuControl application manages the MC Mix's physical connection to the Mac and is responsible for finding, linking and communicating with any other MC Mixes, MC Controls or workstations on the network (such as a second computer).

Because it's still a young and burgeoning protocol, you might be wondering about industry support, but industry heavyweights such as Apple, Steinberg, Apogee, Cakewalk and MOTU have given EuCon the thumbs-up as being the next-generation control protocol for working with music and video, with expanded support coming. Steinberg Nuendo 4 and Cubase 4 support EuCon, and Apogee Maestro and MOTU Digital Performer support for EuCon is coming shortly.

Even for applications using HUI or Mackie Control, the MC Mix still benefits from EuCon's faster communications speed and higher resolution, making it the most versatile and fluid compact controller out there.

IGNITION. SEQUENCE. START.

My test system was a Power Mac dual 1.8 GHz G5 with 4 GB of RAM and OS 10.4.9 running Pro Tools 7.4, Logic Pro 8 and Nuendo 4. For a network product requiring its own software back end, setup couldn't have been easier. The self-explanatory installer prompts you as to exactly how and when individual pieces of hardware should be connected, turned on, rebooted, etc. It took less than five minutes to get all drivers and EuCon apps installed, and they pretty much configured themselves.

EuControl launches automatically upon starting your Mac and runs in the background. Power up the MC Mix, and a green Euphonix icon appears in the Mac menu bar signaling a successful handshake; click that icon to access EuControl, where you can set the MC Mix so the software tracks which knob set is selected and subsequently displays the appropriate controls onscreen. In other examples, you can also have the DAW software open a plug-in window when the MC Mix is editing that plug-in or select the track when a fader is touched on the MC Mix (the same as pressing the fader select key).

You can also manage how tracks are assigned to the MC Mix's channel strips. By default, tracks are automatically assigned in banks of eight, beginning with the first eight when a project opens. Alternatively, tracks can be assigned automatically in response to the Bank and individual channel Nudge buttons, or you can assign a strip to always display the currently “attentioned” DAW track.

You can save those track preferences as individual layouts, recallable at a later time. That allows you to, for example, save separate layouts for a song's basic tracking/input scheme, drums submix, rhythm section, vocal group and effects returns — greatly maximizing what you can accomplish with only eight faders at once.

PERFORMANCE

I tried MC Mix on Logic Pro and Nuendo; neither required any additional setup. EuCon interfaces directly with the host and integrates at a much deeper level in its native mode than HUI or Mackie Control. Loading up a previously saved session, faders snapped immediately and quietly into place; the first eight tracks names appeared (to a maximum of 10 characters); tracks' solo/mute status lit up; and the rotary encoders defaulted to reflect pan settings. Aux buses, sends, inputs, master faders and more all showed up correctly as well. Nothing seemed awry.

I immediately wondered how plug-in assignments would appear, so I headed to the Knob Set selector section to call up the Inserts view. Some of those knob sets feature submenus. For example, the Inserts knob set shows the names of every plug-in inserted on the track in Channel mode, one plug-in name per knob. Depressing a given knob displays that plug-ins' first eight parameters across all knobs. Plug-ins with more than eight parameters must be paged across or, if you have multiple MC Mix units ganged, they'll cascade across. You can also instantiate plug-ins straight from the MC Mix.

I had no problem navigating even the deepest of my plug-ins, pressing the Back key occasionally and the Top key to return to the top of the Inserts knob set. I really loved how EuCon finds the parameters and maps them out for you. And the OLED display keeps you constantly informed of the currently selected track by highlighting it with a grid of small yellow dots. Back in Normal mode, a vertical level meter shows peak-hold and clip indication to the left of each track name and automation status (read, write or read/write) shows on the right. Simply tapping a fader or knob momentarily replaces a track or parameter with a numeric value for that fader or knob. That's the nondestructive beauty of touch-sensitive encoders.

Using MC Mix in Pro Tools wasn't as fluid, due in part to HUI's known limitations. For example, HUI allows only four objects (such as plug-ins) to be named at once. Euphonix actually works around that and displays eight; however, names appear starting on knob 5, and there was a slight lag in parameter names being displayed for knobs 1 through 4. Paging and banking would often overshoot the first or last track in a session, forcing me to page back to realign the displays. Parameter names were truncated to only four characters (HUI's limitation), resulting in my reverting to the computer screen more than I liked. EuControl also crashed several times under Pro Tools, but never once in Logic or Nuendo. Thankfully, the crashes didn't compromise the session, and the MC Mix came back online within seconds of restarting EuControl.

AIN'T NO SUCKA MC

For the longest time, the Mackie MCU was the only controller that allowed me to juggle between composing in Logic Pro and mixing in Pro Tools|HD with any kind of pro functionality. But its MIDI communication is less than ideal for precise fader moves or reliable metering, and the physical depth of the unit makes it a desk hog. With a MAP price of $999, the MC Mix brings the precision and ergonomics of its granddaddy MC systems to a wider audience. I can't say enough about the ergonomics of this unit and what it does to speed up mixing and editing.

Even though there are only eight knobs, you'd never know it. The MC Mix is the only controller in this price range to feature touch-sensitive rotary encoders and OLED displays, which make all the difference for intuitively interacting with plug-ins. Combing, intelligent native knob-set assignments, view modes from EuCon-supporting applications and smart user-programmable layout recalls, it's far easier, faster and more enjoyable to edit effects and soft synths on the MC Mix than any other compact controller in this class. I would like to see complete user-programmability of controller routings in future EuControl updates, however.

MC Mix marks the first affordable high-speed Ethernet-based controller to hit the personal studio market. JazzMutant's impressive Lemur and Dexter Ethernet touch-screen controllers pack tons of futur-istic tricks up their sleeves, but they also cost considerably more. The bottom line and sales clincher for me is EuCon's ability to control almost any parameter or chain of processes and to flip seamlessly between applications while doing so. That makes the MC Mix a wise investment that can grow with you.

EUPHONIX MC MIX

Pros: High-speed EuCon communications and control protocol. Eight motorized and touch-sensitive 100 mm ALPS faders, rotary encoders and high-resolution OLED displays/meters. “Application layer” operability. Comprehensive controls for session editing, navigation and transport. Compact and beautiful design. Simple plug-and-play. Easily expandable.

Cons: Currently functions only on Mac OS X systems.

Contact: www.euphonix.com/artist

Show Comments

These are my comments.

Reader Poll

Do play more hardware or software synths?


See results without voting »