SonicLab: Faderport - Pocket Rocket Mix Control
Somewhere 'twixt mouse and mixer
Automating a mix just using a mouse or worse still, a track-pad, is not my idea of creative heaven, mind you, neither is lugging around a giant control surface, sweeping the debris off my desk (what yours not a mess then?) and then generally only using one fader at a time and the stop and play buttons...
When I first saw the Presonus Faderport, it was love at first sight. This diminutive, single (motorized) fader desktop device looked like it was built for me. So I was pretty pleased when it arrived at the office for testing.
However it's not all cuddles and warm feelings, the first thing I noticed being the inclusion of a PSU wall wart. Not enough power over USB to throw the fader up and down? Evidently not. How come the Frontier Designs Alphatrack can do it then? Presonus told us that their fader is way more pricey (9 times) and has a higher resolution so therefore requires the additional power - okay, fair enough, but perhaps I guess I should hook this little critter up and see how it goes...
Good news - XP SP2 and OS X require no additional drivers/software to get this going. At least on the Intel Mac with Logic Pro installed, the Faderport was up and running in no time, but I suspect that the Mackie HUI protocol will not suit all flavours and software types - for instance Sony Vegas - video editing software we use on the PC under XP was not able to see it (Mackie Control required), and I know that Logic Express will not dance to the HUI tune. There is talk of additional drivers that will presumably convert the protocol into Mackie or Logic Control formats to give you more compatibility, Presonus say they are "in development".
Compatibilities aside, in my setup it integrated very well. I found that for grabbing a fader (ok THE fader) and quickly writing automation data, it was the bees knees, and made the mix/automation process much more intuitive and speedy. Just to be able to switch from READ to TOUCH or WRITE mode on fader meant I was recording fader moves much more instinctively.
The dedicated rotary Pan knob did seem a little under-utilized, I don't find pan automation to be one of my regular production chops - I'd love to have seen it double as a scroll knob (for moving the playback point around) or as a send for effect automation , but perhaps this is unrealistic at this price.
However, there are a few issues that I found slightly irritating. The transport control, while play and stop and record were all fine, the REW and FFWD controls were not. Being of the latching variety, ie: you press it and turn it on until you turn it off again. Small movements in either direction were nigh on impossible - by the time you've hit the desired direction, then stop, you've generally overshot, better IMHO to make the buttons momentary for a DAW so that it moves only whilst your finger is on the button. But perhaps that's just one of my peculiarities... Note - Presonus say that this is due to HUI and Logic, in Cubase for example, the buttons are NOT latching and will behave in the way I would like.
I also had problems with the Marker functions, namely that prev/next marker buttons threw up the goto marker dialog in Logic rather than just going to the prev/next and I couldn't create markers either - I think this maybe a HUI protocol issue though.
Another issue that is still to be addressed by a firmware update is the foot-switch input (on the rear panel). This currently does nothing other than provide a place to store your headphone adapter, I guess it should drop you into record at the very least - c'mon guys sort it out!
While many people are happy to wait for these tweaks and drivers to arrive, it's perhaps not the soundest way to instill brand confidence by releasing product that's not totally working.
I know this seems like a catalogue of stuff that doesn't work, and perhaps seen as a slating, but you'd be wrong. Truth is that the Faderport works really well in the core areas (presuming you don't want it specifically for the things that don't work yet), namely zipping about within a mix, and writing fader or pan automation. It's not going to totally replace the mouse, but it does enough to warrant a precious USB slot. I found it to be extremely useful and would certainly recommend it to someone with a similar setup to me (Intel Mac/ Logic Pro).