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Author Topic: Digidesign D-Show Profile Mix Rack System  (Read 46389 times)

Bennett Prescott

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Digidesign D-Show Profile Mix Rack System
« on: September 25, 2008, 11:50:28 pm »

I managed to trick Robert Scovill at Digidesign into letting me Road Test the moderately new Venue D-Show Profile Mix Rack System (  http://www.digidesign.com/index.cfm?navid=437&itemid=616 2). For those of you not familiar, the Profile surface is a more compact version of Digidesign's already popular full-size D-Show surface. The Profile Mix Rack is a more budget conscious version with no digital snake, the system is made up of the control surface and one rack of "brains", with all the I/O on the back.

I've already seen a few full size Venue D-Shows "in the wild", but I hit Digidesign's website to see exactly what you lose when you step down to the smaller surface. As far as I can tell, you lose some metering (the Profile has no meter bridge, smaller channel input meters and compressor gain reduction meters, and no gate action metering on every channel, only selected channels). You also lose a little bit of control (aux outputs in banks of 8, no mouse on the surface, only one row of channel encoders), and the ability to strap on sidecars to add on more faders, but aside from those considerations there's nothing I can see that you can do on the full size D-Show that you can't do on the D-Show Profile.

For a more picturesque idea of the difference between the full size desk and the Profile, here are some stolen photos from Digidesign's website:
Venue D-Show:  http://akmedia.digidesign.com/products/images/dshow-expanded -large_17130.jpg
Venue D-Show Profile:  http://akmedia.digidesign.com/global/images/pr/VENUE/D-Show_ Profile/D-ShowProfile_Top.JPG (this image is quite large)

The profile surface is very neatly put together. There are 24 input faders on the surface, 16 to the left of the masters and 8 to the right. Each input fader has above it Mute, PFL, and Select buttons, a channel label, encoder (the function of which is easily selectable globally), 6-segment input meter, 3-segment gain reduction meter, and assignment indicators for L/R, Mono, and all 8 buses.
The master section consists of 8 faders, each with Mute, AFL, and Select switches, a label, and an encoder. These 8 can be "bank switched" between aux masters (1-8 and 9-16), Personal Qs (whatever those are), Matrixes, Groups, and VCAs. To their right is the main output fader.
The rest of the surface is taken up with controls for the four bands of fully parametric EQ, nicely fleshed out dynamics controls, and various indicators and buttons that you can check out in the enormous photo I linked to above. Suffice it to say there's plenty of capability for fader flip, very nice metering for all the dynamics and plugins, snapshots, and 8 10-segment switchable bar meters for groups, auxes, etc as well as main output meters.

All those things you can find out about on the product's web page, though, so let's get to the important stuff. I'm going to break this up into separate posts to make it a little more readable, plus some of this I've written while at the show and other parts I'll be writing while at the show this weekend.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Getting The D-Show On The Road
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2008, 12:02:30 am »

The show I picked this console up for us the Eastern States Exposition, held annually in West Springfield, MA. On a big day there are over 150,000 people on the grounds (like this past saturday), but even a slow day usually breaks 50K. Regional providers SPL Systems and SCL Sound, headed by LABsters Bill Forbes and Scott LaRochelle, respectively, provide all the gear for both major stages and one minor stage for three weeks of solid shows. Both large stages are sponsored by Comcast, the Arena stage seats around 6,500 and the Court of Honor stage seats about 1,800.

The console got to start out its time on the Court of Honor stage, with Yours Truly at the help. The first weekend my monitor engineer, Keith Lussier, and I set up for Malo (latin rock) and Micky Dolenz (of the Monkees) with backing band of unknown origin (who were nonetheless excellent).

Naturally, the time that I was hoping to have to spare Friday morning for the first show at noon with Malo evaporated. With no stage plot to speak of and no band, we were left sitting on our thumbs until both arrived circa 11 a.m. By the time we'd gotten our plan together and set the stage, miced and line checked, it was about 5 minutes to show time. A good dose of adrenaline got my fat ass out to FOH, where I prepared to gain an intimate knowledge of the Profile surface in 5 minutes or less.

[Edit: One thing I forgot to add here is that the preamp gain pot has a "guess" function if you push it down. Hold it in while the source makes a reasonable noise, and it guesses your preamp gain. I used it on a few things that I wanted to get "in the mix" and move on from (most of the kit) since I was in a hurry, and it seemed to work well. Nifty idea, and it works on the encoders above each channel fader, too, so you can "guess" a lot of channels quickly to rough out your gains and then perfect them later]
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Actually Mixing On The Thing
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2008, 12:24:21 am »

I have always found the Digidesign Venue surfaces a little intimidating, although Sheldon Radford has certainly given me more than a basic introduction at one trade show or another, I always felt a little alienated by the funny knobs, two-color layout, and control screen. The console's recording studio heritage was always nagging at me a little, and while the team at Digidesign has certainly given much thought to making this a live sound piece, that has always tugged at the back of my mind. Now was the time to get past all that and make some noise, however.

Fortunately, the Profile turns out to be very easy to get a basic mix up and going on. Select a channel, your assignment buttons are right up on the top left next to your preamp section, there's plenty of metering to get you on your way, and you can worry about those DCAs later. The whole console bank-switches between 1-24 and 25-48 with a simple button push (and there's two more banks available, but this baby wasn't loaded up that high). Another button push can put all your channel gains on the encoder above each channel, which also makes it easy to quickly get a lot of channels up and running. Keith was providing phantom from stage, so I didn't have to worry about it, not that it would have been a big deal. Malo's first set ran about 35 minutes, and I was all over the console for the whole time. By the end of my baptism by fire, however, I felt fairly comfortable with basic console operation... I wasn't running plugins or effects yet, but the EQ is easy to use and powerful, and the stock dynamics do not disappoint. While I probably could have gotten my mix together faster on an analog control surface with a more traditional layout, I certainly had enough knobs and buttons to get the control I needed to make what was coming out of the mains inoffensive.

One of the things that makes the Profile so pleasant to work with is, and I can't believe I haven't mentioned it yet, the LCD screen that attaches right to the surface! One screen shows you essentially everything you need to know about your entire console, with full metering for every input and output at the bottom, plus a completely comprehensive selected channel display taking up the rest of the screen. With a click of the mouse of a push of a button on the surface, you can zoom in to view EQ, dynamics, or mess around with your plugins (I'll get to those later, they're a ton of fun).

So you can get an idea of what I'm talking about, here are a few photos. Clockwise from the top left that's the whole system, the back of the mix rack, a closer shot of the surface and screen, and a shot of the main screen during a show.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/1.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/5.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/29.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/17.jpg

A word about sound quality, since everyone is going to ask: The console sounds good. It's got a very "big dollar analog console" sound to it... a little bit of character that I would say is kind of like a Midas XL2 being driven a little hard. I certainly had no impression at any point that the console was getting in my way, sound quality wise, and once I had a few shows under my belt I was making pretty decent mixes come together.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Things I've Liked A Lot So Far
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2008, 12:51:17 am »

Now that I've gotten the basics out of the way, there are a few features of this little desk that I think really shine.

First of all, the onboard parametric EQ and dynamics are excellent. Very powerful, very easy to get what I want out of them.

Secondly, the on-board meters are really fantastic. They both hold peaks and offer normal meter ballistics, it is very easy to glance across the console and get an idea of what your desk is doing. Additionally, the console is great about letting you know when you're on the verge of or actually clipping something, somewhere. Channels in the bank you're currently viewing have their entire input meter blink red, channels in the hidden layer have their very own "hidden bank clip" light so it's easy to track down channels that are getting out of hand. There's even a menu option to define where you want that threshold to be, I set it at -3 but it was at -6 dBFS. While I certainly had channels indicate clipping several times, I never heard any audible clipping. I don't know if that means I clipped the pre and it just handled it well, or what, but no complaints here.

It is obvious that the desk is designed to get out of your way as much as possible. It goes out of its way to keep important controls up on faders or pots so you can get in, tweak whatever, get out, and keep mixing the whole time. There was only one time I ever felt caught on the wrong bank, and that was when I had to work with an MC mic on channel 40 (layer 2) while balancing a talent mic on channel 23 (layer 1). It worked out OK.

I would also like to add that, while the labels above each channel are only 6 characters, the desk has a very good shorten-o-matic built in if the channel name you've specified runs longer than that. I had no problem getting most of my labels into 6 characters, but you can have the full channel label come up on the screen ("DRUMKIT") and the LCD above the channel will display it intelligently ("DRMKIT" or something, anyway it was pretty slick).

The DCA and mute group assignments take a little getting used to, had I been a good boy and read the manual I would probably have been a little more on top of them, but 5 minutes of dicking around between shows got me up to speed, and once you know how it's very easy to assign your channels however you need to.

I haven't played with snapshots at all (yet), so I can't speak to how easy that is to use yet. I've been saving the whole desk into a file after each show. Soundco owner Bill Forbes has used the snapshots, however, and he found them easy to use, as evidenced here in this not staged at all photo:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/23.jpg

Scott had a little more trouble, however:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/25.jpg

Last, but certainly not least, are plugins.

Let me preface this by saying that when I first heard that Digidesign was making a live sound desk and they were going to let you use plugins on it, I thought "Oh, great, more flashy toys to make recording studio guys think they can mix bands live".

Now that I've used them, and especially Digidesign's implementation, I think they're a hell of a good time. The desk has plenty of onboard EQ and dynamics if you don't want to touch them, but mine at least came loaded with some real nice toys that I dug right into once I'd gotten more comfortable on the console (four shows later or so). They're easy to use, sound cool, look cool, have their own set of metering so you can see exactly what's affecting each channel, and are easy to pop in and out and assign. While you can easily get stuck in a whole world of plugin sound, no matter what else you do get the Smack! compressor and put it all over your lead vocal. That honey of a audio machine is the fucking bomb, I want to wake up to it in the morning, I want to have children with it, I want to grow old and die with it.

Unfortunately, while the dynamics and EQ plugins are all pretty cool and pretending I've got a Fairchild 670 on my playback inputs is great, the effects plugins just didn't get me hot and bothered. They're effects, they sound fine, the control is a little limited and I found myself fighting them a little. I'm sure there are some great FX you can buy aftermarket and load in, but the ones I played with that the console came with were underwhelming.

Other little things that were nice is a full 31-band EQ on faders that you can assign to aux mixes, mains, whatever. Easy to get to, easy to use, easy to zero.
A parametric on the main outs would be, y'know, kind of nice... but I couldn't find one.

FX returns are also just a button away on the left-most bank of faders. Button, adjust or mute or whatever, button, back to mixing. Not bad, especially considering that's where my kit resides normally so I usually just left the FX up on that set of faders since I was tweaking their levels more than the kit (which was on my DCAs as well).

A word about reliability, while I'm thinking about it.
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/7.jpg
Both the surface and the mix rack have redundant PSUs built in. It is unclear to me how easy one would be to replace in the event of an actual failure, but there are certainly enough points of redundancy. Killing one supply in both the console and the mix rack had no effects, although a nice little warning popped up on the LCD screen to let me know I was running half-full.
Since I was pretty sure I'd heard it could do it, I killed both supplies in the surface. Nothing changed, audio continued uninterrupted. Turning the supplies back on brings the surface back up, it came up quickly enough and restored my mix the way it was. I should have timed it, but I certainly didn't feel like it took forever... I would guess 30 seconds?
I'm happy with that.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Evan Kirkendall

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Re: Digidesign D-Show Profile Mix Rack System
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2008, 01:07:30 am »

Thanks for the review Bennett. Ive never gotten a chance to mix on the Profile, but I do love the D-show! It pretty much puts the 5D to shame! The only thing I didnt like about the D-Show was the lack of a tap tempo, but it looks like they have finally sorted that out.

http://i39.photobucket.com/albums/e194/HarfordSound/ATLsixflags1.jpg

It's a great sounding board, and you can really mix without relying on the screen!



Evan
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Bennett Prescott

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Things I Haven't Liked That Much So Far
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2008, 01:26:36 am »

The control surface is what it is, it's compact and digital, and definitely geared around one engineer at a time. While I think it is commendable in how well the workflow is streamlined, there is definitely a learning curve and definitely less ability to get from point A to point B instantaneously. Then again, I would say that 95% of the time, even if you have to switch layers to get there, it probably takes about as much time as having to step from one end of a big analog desk to the other, so I'm really not going to complain about that... I really didn't feel that the desk was holding me back except once or twice when we had to get a lot of new inputs up and running quickly.

While the big knobby knobs are neat and identifiably "Digidesign" and all... you can't goddamn see past them! Here's an example. You tell me exactly what I have the gain set at on ANY of my EQ bands:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/13.jpg
So it would be nice if they were, you know, smaller. I've got the desk at a totally normal height, and half the time I just bring a channel up on the screen since I don't want to crane my neck around or lean WAY (no, like really) over the console just to see a little light.

Speaking of "bringing a channel up on the screen", while I feel I could accomplish basic mixing tasks just on the surface, I definitely feel the interface can be a bit screen, keyboard, and mouse heavy sometimes. While there's a nice drawer in the roadcase for the keyboard, and the mouse and screen attach nicely to the surface, I wish I didn't have to spend so much time with my hand on the mouse. I mean, you've pretty much got to use them for plugins, which is kind of unavoidable... but there's also no real other way to adjust routing, save the state of the console, dim your littlites, etc. Maybe I'll post from the show later when I find some more things that annoy me in this vein. Long story short, if I had one of these babies, I'd definitely want to be sure I had an extra screen, keyboard, and mouse too.

While the console has a very nice section in the options menu to dim all the LEDs and the Littlites, so at night you don't have to wear sunglasses...
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/41.jpg
During the day, even at maximum brightness, the LEDs (and especially the channel label strips) wash out too easily. So does the fairly generic analog flat panel that was provided with the console. This isn't such a big deal on, say, and analog console... but when EVERY control is soft and your ability to determine what that control even DOES depends on an LED, I think they should have a retina-splitting mode. At the very least the channel scribble strips should NEVER wash out. I mean, yeah, most of the shows I mix happen in the evening or indoors, but not all, and besides I've got to soundcheck with the sun high in the sky most of the time too!

This is around 1 p.m. on a sunny day, with the desk under a tent. Early in the morning when the sun is coming through the front of the tent the console is damn near unusable.
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/13.jpg

Speaking of channel scribble strips and sort of washing out... when you adjust a fader, the label above it indicates its position in dB. That's great and all, but it indicates it right over the channel label, and it stays there for a second or two as well. Bump a few faders in a hurry and then you have to wait to find out exactly which one you want to adjust some more. The display is two lines, the top line only ever tells you what the whole bank of faders is doing... that could get lost for all I can while I'm pushing faders so that I can still see what the heck I'm adjusting.

If they can do it for the graphic EQ on the faders, why not the rest of the time?
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/56.jpg

The biggest annoyance for me was, however, the debacle that occurred when I tried to stereo link two channels. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, I don't know, but it took me forever to figure out how to do what I finally did get. First I tried holding the two select buttons. No good. Various "pan" options seem to pertain only to routing to groups and auxes. Multi selecting both channels presents no additional options, nor does hiding under the desk, popping up, and then quickly pressing both select buttons in order to surprise it.
This would be less of a big deal if you didn't have to stereo gang channels to use stereo EQ and dynamics on them.
So finally I discovered if you press the big red button labeled "config mode" at the top of the surface, use the keyboard and mouse to "shift-select" both channels, and then right click one, there's a menu option for "make selected mono strips stereo". Overjoyed, I selected it in the middle of a show since the mix was going fine and I was trying to gang my playback inputs.
The console promptly dropped all audio for about two seconds. And they were a long two seconds, let me assure you.
Lesson learned, things that happen in Config mode should STAY in Config mode, but holy shit... stereo linking channels? Drops all audio? Who thought that was acceptable? I mean, yeah, you have to go into config mode to change the configuration of your plugins rack, too... but that just drops the plugin processing for a second or two, not ALL AUDIO FROM THE CONSOLE.
So I was kind of surprised by that.

A smaller complaint: When bank switching, if the console encounters any resistance whatsoever on any fader, it leaves that fader there and changes it in the mix accordingly. That means if you're like me and you like to lean on the desk a little, when bank switching from a bank you're hardly using to one that Really Matters (like, say, lead vox), if one of those faders hits your hand on the way up you'd better move fast to get it back to where it's supposed to be because your vocalist just dropped out of the mix. Even worse, I did it one time switching back to my percussion layer and messed up my whole kit. Kind of a pain to have to redo that mid-song.
How about making it fight, even a little? All I need is enough time to get my hand out of the way, I move it as soon as the fader hits it but by then it's too late.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Next Steps
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2008, 01:39:29 am »

I spent all weekend the first weekend on the desk (Fri-Sun, 4 shows a day, two alternating band) and by the end I was VERY comfortable with all aspects of operating the Profile. I'd even had some cameramen show up and it was easy to route the main outs to another two available outputs to feed them.

During the week the main stage shuts down and Bill and Scott come over to my house and hold down the fort. They did that all week with Bill at FOH, but I'll bug him to jump in here and tell you how he felt.

Friday morning the second weekend, though, they stole that lovely console from me and trucked it over to the big stage since Jason Aldean's guy had requested it and Bill's aging PM4K was... well, buzzing. Bill had all week to get comfortable with the Digidesign surface, and lo and behold it didn't buzz over there, so it spent all weekend there instead of with me (I had another toy, don't you fear).

More about that later, hopefully Bill and Scott will add more after this, but I'm about typed out so I'll throw up some show pics and GTFO.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/94.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/170.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/140.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/150.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/153.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/160.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/162.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/168.jpg
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Next Steps
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2008, 02:27:24 am »

Something I've noticed: The interface doesn't always respond as quickly as I'd like, or really at all. Usually it's fine, but every once in a while (more than once a show), I'll hit a select button on a channel I want to adjust and midway through my changes realize that the console never changed over to the new channel, so I've been screwing up my perfectly good settings somewhere else. I have had to learn to not just tap buttons, but to push them for half a second or so before moving on. This isn't limited to channel select buttons, if I'm in the dynamics section and try and jump between plugin, gate, and comp it doesn't follow my button press 100% of the time. I can't recall if layers follow always or not, but the screen definitely lags behind where I am on the console sometimes as well.

An undo feature would be nice.

Something else I've noticed, and this isn't unique to this console: I'm a little bit of a neurotic type-a neatophile (OK, a lot bit), so when I move a fader or adjust a knob and a little display tells me I've moved it by 3.2dB, I have to readjust it so that I've only moved it by 3dB. I will then try and have all my faders be at "meaningful" decibel positions, 5, 3, 6, 10, 0, something like that. I do this on an analog desk too, but there I'm not being told to a tenth of a decibel exactly where my controls are! If that wasn't bad enough, the console has a little too low a threshold for "the user has stopped adjusting the control, ignore their input and change the display back to the channel name (or whatever)". When you're really trying for that last .1 dB, this is infuriating. Yes, it's meaningless. Yes, I'm mixing with my eyes. Yes, it drives me up a wall. At least make it so I can make really fine adjustments and have them show up, the desk is so good at determining when I've just brushed a fader, it should notice when I'm still tweaking around with it.

Additionally, as fine as the user interface is on this desk, there is still definitely an eye-ear-brain disconnect. Not so much on the screen, as the screen display is excellent, but on the surface, definitely. There's no "muscle memory" for changing a control by a certain amount, I always have to look at the LEDs or, usually, the screen. I have not yet been able to get that second nature "I turn this control this much to get this result" kind of control into me that I'm so used to on an analog desk. I don't know why, I don't know if there's a fix, or if the fix needs to be me taking some fancy new drug, but I spend a lot more time watching a screen and tweaking a control than I ought to.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Robert Scovill

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Re: Things I Haven't Liked That Much So Far
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2008, 12:21:28 pm »

 "I wish I didn't have to spend so much time with my hand on the mouse. I mean, you've pretty much got to use them for plugins, which is kind of unavoidable..."

Hey Bennett --
On this issue, just wanted to make sure you understand that you don't HAVE to use the mouse/ball to operate plug ins. You can operate every plug in I can think of with the on-board encoders. Just select your input and plug in and if it is an EQ for example, just press the "Plug-in" button near the EQ encoders and those knobs will now take control of the plug in. Same goes for gates and compressors - just press the plug in button near the dynamics encoders when adjusting a dynamics plug in and those knobs now take control of the plug in. For effects, you used the knobs above the output faders. For example, select an reverb processor like ReVibe etc. and press the "insert mode" button near those encoders. Now you can get to every parameter and adjust it via the knobs complete with parameter name and value. It's very fast and very intuitive once you do it a few times. I find that I hardly EVER use the track ball with plug ins accept for accessing drop down menus for routing.

Thanks man!
Robert Scovill
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Bennett Prescott

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Re: Things I Haven't Liked That Much So Far
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2008, 12:58:17 pm »

Hey Scovill,

You don't have to use the mouse to adjust, true, but it's not always clear which control does what on the dedicated dynamics controls, especially with the more esoteric plugins, at least it hasn't been for me. Since you've got to have the screen up anyway to see what the plugin is doing, and have to have the mouse and keyboard in to select and route plugins, it has almost always been much faster and easier to just use the keyboard and mouse.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes
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