Sonic Labs: Dexter Multi-Touch DAW Control
It's a beautiful thing, but does it function too?
Touch Me Now
You may know, I'm a keen JazzMutant watcher. Their fabulous Lemur device offered a way into to the world of esoteric software and device control, with amazing programmability and application potential, but was suited for the more technically minded. However, the latest incarnation of the polyphonic touchscreen technology is the Dexter, which offers dedicated, simplified DAW control. Perhaps this will be the one to bring their technology away from the early-adopters and out into the mainstream.
Although Dexter comes with its own logo, the hardware itself is the same as for the Lemur with all communications to the outside world handled via ethernet. What makes Dexter different is the software it runs. With a completely new firmware, the Dexter is custom designed to control DAW or sequencing software, with a specially written operating system for doing so.
The models are so closely related that we are told people purchasing the Lemur or Dexter should be able to cross-grade via a firmware upgrade to allow booting into either Lemur or Dexter on power-up. The details of the policy are:
- For all Dexter users, the Lemur is going to be included free of charge.
- Lemur users who want to use their hardware as Dexter, will need to upgrade. The upgrade cost is going to be approximately as much as the price difference between the Dexter and the Lemur.
Right now, Dexter supports Apple's Logic Pro 7.2, Cubase 4 (Mac/PC), Nuendo 3 (PC only) and Sonar 5. Eagerly anticipated is Digidesign's Protools which is a must have, but as is often the case with these things, JazzMutant are waiting for Digidesign to releasing the relevant information. But the sooner the team is enlarged, the better.
the E screen
Dexter appears to use MIDI control only to talk to the host software - the Jazz Daemon application translating the ethernet output into the relevant data. This means, that while Lemur can use Logic or Mackie control protocols to access specific functions, such as Undo, Save, Plug-in selection, audio object output assignments, Dexter it appears does not.
I worked with the Dexter over a few weeks to get a feel for how it would enhance ones workflow. My conclusion? Well I think it's pretty darned great, it opens up ways of mixing, that you would not ordinarily access, due to the ingenious management of audio objects, control surface usage and grouping use. Initially, I was a little slow to work around it, but one finds that there are more and more ways to navigate and discover techniques that would difficult to achieve without Dexter. So in short, I like it, it really stretches and opens up working within a DAW environment, BUT - there are a couple of downers..
Firstly, you cannot currently access Virtual Instrument plug-in parameters - this is a big minus point to me. JM say that "we plan to introduce Instrument control capabilities for all DAWs in the next software update."
SIXTY-FOUR objects is the maximum you can access from the Dexter bank switching - it has 8x8 total. Large arrangements can exceed this number quite easily and there is no Dexter based way to access these additional objects. You can still view an object on Dexter if you select the track manually using cursor or mouse from the computer, but this sort of limitation is likely to get a tad annoying. JM say this is also something to be fixed in the next update.
When using the groups - an excellent feature enabling quick grouping of objects, once assigned (there are 8 available) they are not stored, so any session where you power off, will lose those assignments.
But it's not all bad news, JazzMutant are pretty good at posting software updates and I would expect to see some, if not all these issue sorted fairly quickly.
To get a more fullsome view of Dexter, please watch the video...
Pricing is similar to the Lemur with US consumers suffering from the poor exchange rate at around $3,200, â‚¬2699 (euros) with the UK expecting to pay around Â£1800.