Audio-engineers love the look of big analog recording-consoles. The idea of having all the buttons and faders within arms reach is very appealing, there are no abstract menus and layers to worry about, the engineer has no obstacles between his ideas and the sound. But some times when I walk into a recording studio, the big mixer in the middle of the room looks almost untouched, instead the engineer seems very busy with the mouse and the keyboard. The problem is that the traditional recording-console is not very good at dealing with modern computerized audio-production; its options are too limited, it cant keep up with the pace of the always evolving digital software and hardware.
Hovewer, there have been many attempts to bridge the gap between the computer and the “hands-on” mixer. The “daw-controller” will act as a large remote-controller for the software, with dedicated buttons for important functions. But for me they often lack good interaction with the computer-screen; when I push a button on the controller, I dont know where it will end up on the screen, and vice-versa. This looking around can easily destroy the organic workflow, so I end up either a) just using the controller like a traditional mixer without looking at the screen or b) going back to the mouse and the keyboard (this is just my personal experience, many might disagree) Besides, the daw-controller can easily become obsolete when the software evolves, and I dont want to spend my money that easily (for example: Command8 and C24 will not be supported after Pro Tools 10)
This christmas I have had time to look around for new gadgets, and I found a new favorite:
Steven Slate Raven MTX
With this touchscreen-controlled daw-remote, you get a much better visual overview of what you are controlling. No translation is necessary between the controller and the software being controlled. Tweaking a plugin-emulator of old gear, its almost like touching the real box. And because you have no physical knobs and faders, you can customize the interface for every task. (for example: when you are editing, you often dont need any faders at all, instead you need full control over the timeline.) The pure screen also means that upgrading is much easier: you just need to change the software.
Maybe its not surprising that the price for this original daw-controller will be high: it is not on the market yet but rumors on forums says it will cost between 16 and 20 thousand dollars. That is less than some of the high-end digital mixers/controllers on the market, but still a lot more than I would like to pay for such functionality. A cheaper alternative is to buy an Ipad with a great app called neyrinck v-control that can remote-control audio software. I wish only that the I-pad screen was a little bit bigger so that it could replace a fullsize mixer, the Ipad can only act as an extension of a different workspace.
While I was dreaming about ways to dig up $20000, like winning in the lottery, or selling my soul to the devil, I noticed a commercial on the television: Windows 8 introduces multi-touchscreen to the mainstream computer: For the first time it is possible to make programs for Windows that support multi-touch on the computer-screen. (so far it has only been possible to touch one spot at a time on computer touchscreens, the same way as you work with the mouse) With a little software-upgrade on the existing DAWS, it would be possible to control them directly from the touchscreen, without running a seperate program/hardware-package like the expensive Raven MTX. In fact, the Windows 8 solution could be even better than the Raven, because with the native solution you are working directly on the daw-software without some external program interpreting it. This is truly a analog relationship between the software and the controller, just as in the classic old days when you were almost touching the audio flowing through the equipment.
For some reasons the software-companies have not taken advantage of the multitouch-possibilities in Windows 8. Only Sonar have released an update with touchscreen support. The big guns like Pro Tools and Nuendo seem to have other priorities (Pro Tools are probably too stressed by the lack of aax-plugin support.. And still they are only 32-bit; ) But perhaps they are just preparing for a big release on the next NAMM-show that will take place in a couple of weeks? Anyway, my bet is that Multitouch will be the biggest change in Daws since the golden era of large consoles. But it might take some years to realize its potential.