Mix with a mouse. To most people, this phrase sounds like it’s out of some deranged cookbook. To those who have entered the world of computer-based audio production, this phrase represents an obstacle that many have a hard time overcoming. Yeah, those virtual mixing environments look really cool, but when it comes to interacting with them, you might as well tie one hand behind your back.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording
Key Features: Large diaphragm; variable pattern; 2 m -1 G shockmount
Price: $899 list ($599 street).
Contact: CAD at 800-762-9266
+ Easy setup
+ Quality construction
+ Fair price
– Left, right view select buttons too small
The Score: For $999, this is a hard item to pass up. Well done through and through.
Lately, a couple of manufacturers have been responding with tactile control surfaces that mimic something resembling a mixing console. CM Automation’s Motor Mix, one of the newest on the scene, has a list price of $999. It boasts a nice set of features, and may very well be just the thing we’ve been waiting for.
The company has worked with various DAW manufacturers to implement support for Motor Mix. These include Digidesign Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, Emagic Logic Audio, Minnetonka and others.
Motor Mix is designed to control any number of audio tracks, eight at a time. Each channel has a motorized 100mm fader, a continuous rotary pot, dedicated solo and mute buttons, two assignable buttons and a select button. All buttons have an easy-to-see LED inside to indicate status. A two-line, 40-character LCD displays various information, but is most commonly used to represent the track labels and the value of the rotary pots. There is also a ninth rotary selector switch that can be pressed like a button to change status. It couples to a two-digit, red LED seven-segment display.
Along the sides of faders 1 and 8 are a total of 16 buttons (also with LEDs) labeled for various functions, such as opening and closing windows and transport controls. Smaller buttons are used to change the status of the two assignable channel buttons, as well as to change what tracks the Motor Mix channels represent.
The rear panel contains the power toggle switch and an IEC power receptor. MIDI in and out ports are used to connect to the DAW. A screen contrast control is also provided on the rear panel. In addition, there is a 9-pin serial-type connector labeled accessory.
Unlike some of the other eight-channel controllers like the Mackie HUI or Digidesign Pro Control, this thing is a compact little package. Its footprint is only 10.5″ wide by 12.5″ deep. The top half of the unit angles up, making it easy to see and access the controls. In fact, it sort of reminds me of an oversized Lexicon LARC controller.
For the purpose of this review, my objective was to get the Motor Mix up and talking to a Pro Tools rig. The Motor Mix will work with Pro Tools 4.1 and higher. Setup was fairly straightforward. As far as the physical connection goes, a MIDI cable running both in and out of the Motor Mix must be run to the corresponding connections on a MIDI interface on the Pro Tools system.
I then defined the Motor Mix as an object in OMS. The Motor Mix should be turned on before starting a new Pro Tools session. The only catch is that in order to work with Pro Tools, the Motor Mix must be put into a special Pro Tools mode. This is accomplished by holding down two of the front-panel buttons (play and escape) while powering up the unit. This only needs to be done once and does not need to be reset each time the unit is turned on.
Once I fired up a Pro Tools session, I went to the peripheral menu page. As far as Pro Tools is concerned, it sees the Motor Mix as a Mackie HUI. I simply defined a HUI under the MIDI controller #1 option and pointed the Receive From and Send To tabs to the Motor Mix object I defined in OMS. I then hit OK and the little Motor Mix seemed happy.
I didn’t have any tracks created in Pro Tools, so I added 16 tracks and hit enter. As the tracks popped up on the screen, the faders on the Motor Mix jumped to their unity gain value. The LCD screen displayed center panning positions for each of the first eight tracks. An abbreviated (five-character) track name appears in each track position.
Motor Mix easily deals with more than eight tracks by changing the focus of the mixers view. Press the right view arrow and the mixer reflects the status of tracks 2 through 9. Pressing it again moves to 3 through 10, etc. By pressing the bank button one can easily jump the focus of the mixer forward or backward in eight-channel blocks. When the focus is changed, the status of the fader and any other pertinent information, such as track name or mute conditions, is immediate, with no interruption to the audio signal.
In addition, the Pro Tools display screens change to match the focus of Motor Mix’s displays. This eliminates one from having to constantly scroll the Pro Tools windows to get a visual update of the mix and edit screens.
My only wish here is that the right and left View Select buttons on the Motor Mix were bigger. The buttons are quite small and I found myself missing them from time to time. Considering how often they are used, they should be larger.
For the basic functions, things were pretty straightforward and obvious. If I moved a fader on the Motor Mix, the corresponding fader on the mix screen in Pro Tools followed. When running audio on the track, the sound seemed quite responsive to my movements, Even when quickly moving several faders at the same time. Ahh, at last!
Inversely, if I moved a fader on the screen, the appropriate fader on the Motor Mix jumped to life. This, of course, includes any automated moves as well. The faders seemed to follow just slightly behind the movement on the screen on faster movements. I was impressed, however, with how smooth the fader was in transition.
Other motorized faders I have used in response to MIDI data have not fared so well. According to the documentation, CM Automation has included some DSP into the Motor Mix specifically to help smooth fader transitions. Nice Touch!
Each channel has dedicated solo and mute buttons. These function as expected. Pressing the solo button causes the mutes of the other channels to flash on the Motor Mix display. This has already been worth the price of admission.
There are also two other rows of buttons that represent various functions. One row deals with automation and record enabling, while the other deals with bypassing plug-ins, muting auxiliary sends or switching pre and post values. Each row has a set of buttons that quickly lets you set their status.
Panning using the rotary pots was also responsive. I liked the subtle resistance the knobs have, making it easier to control. My only gripe is that these knobs are molded with a protruding position indicator. The problem is that the position of the knob has no bearing on any actual values the knob controls. Actual panning position or aux send level etc. is indicated by graphic segments in the LCD screen. It sometimes felt distracting to have an actual pan value that was dead center yet the knob’s position indicated it was being panned hard left. I got used to this after short while. According to CM Automation, future releases of the Motor Mix will have rotary pots with no positional indication. Good call in my opinion.
The Motor Mix has a lot of its own dedicated buttons for various functions. These buttons line the side of faders 1 and 8 and they can do various things, such as provide confirmation to Pro Tools dialogue windows, save a session, start and stop the transport. Most have multiple functions that can be accessed with a shift key in the lower left corner. I won’t go over all of them, but a couple stand out. When the Windows key is pressed, the LCD screen displays a list of the various Pro Tools screens, and then lets you press the corresponding select button to automatically pop it up on the computer screen.
A DSP button allows one to use the rotary pots to control the individual parameters of plug-ins. There aren’t enough controls to allow control over all the parameters at the same time, so the rotary selector allows you to select predefined groups of functions. The names of the selected functions appear in the LCD screen, and those parameters are highlighted in blue on the Pro Tools DAW display. I found the parameter labels on the LCD screen made it difficult to identify which knob actually controlled the value. I would have found it easier if the labels had been blocked in reverse text, to make the actual parameter values easier to find.
One should note that the labeling of the various buttons may or may not be identical to the DAW screen. In fact, some may not function at all. This is not because anything is wrong with the system but because, as mentioned earlier, the Motor Mix is designed to work with various DAW platforms. Not every manufacturer has the same functionality as Pro Tools.
Overall CM Automation did a pretty good job of making sense labeling the Motor Mix for cross-platform compatibility.
Anytime you can find something that breathes new life and excitement into something you have been involved with for a long time, it is a treasure to behold. Fortunately it doesn’t cost as much as most treasures might. I don’t see how anyone who has invested in a Pro Tools rig could pass this up.
For those who have looked at a Mackie HUI or Digidesign Pro Control, but couldn’t come up with the cash, this is the answer to your prayer. You may even want to buy a couple, as up to four can be configured on a Pro Tools system at one time.
Yeah, it’s small, but all of the functionality is there for most users. The small size is actually a plus in my opinion. There is no doubt in my mind that this little add-on will increase your productivity, and put a smile on your face. That’s what this little box did for me.