Fast FactsApplications: Studio, broadcast, post production
Key Features: Windows, Mac; dedicated function buttons; jog/shuttle wheel; USB; battery operable.
Contact: Frontier Design Group at 603-448-6283, www.frontierdesign.com. Back in 1995 computer based recording was already on its way to world domination. It was at this time that engineers Barry Braksick and Charlie Hitchcock came to the realization that one of the keys to the optimization of computer recording was interface tools. Although the software design and computer speed are crucial, if the producers, musicians and engineers can’t successfully get multichannel audio in and out of computers, the jig is up. In January of the following year, Braksick and Hitchcock formed Frontier Design Group with the goal of providing high-quality, high-value digital audio tools to help their customers be more creative and productive. They quickly acquired the reputation for developing gear that provides solid, reliable performance and they soon began to expand their line with more tools to complement digital audio systems. The company is best known for its low-cost format converters and PCI audio cards and for helping TASCAM design its FW-1884 DAW control surface. My first introduction to Frontier Designs was when I reviewed their Apache digital patchbay a few years back. I’ve been a fan ever since.
I was introduced to the TranzPort at the NAMM show last winter and was immediately intrigued. This beautifully designed little box includes about two dozen buttons, a two-line LCD screen, a 1/4″ foot switch jack and a big wheel. The TranzPort gives the user the ability to control their DAW from anywhere in the studio. And when I say control I don’t just mean start, stop and punch-in and out, I mean really control. The TranzPort allows the remote operation of all transport functions, mutes, solos, markers, looping and more. Its compatibility list includes Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Nuendo, Sonar, Cubase and Logic.
The TranzPort weighs in at approximately 1 pound and measures approximately 7 inches x 5.5 inches x 2 inches. The list price is $249 and it can be “had” on the street for a mere $199. The box is compatible with both Mac (OS 10.2.8 or higher) and Windows (Windows 2000 or Windows XP). It uses high-frequency RF technology so no wires or line-of-sight is required and it has dedicated buttons for most basic functions, including transport controls, marker/locate buttons, track control (level, pan, solo, mute, record arm), etc. The box is powered by four AA batteries and has a small lightweight design. The 1/4-inch footswitch jack mounted on the side allows a footswitch to be used to punch in and out. An optional microphone stand mount, custom padded carrying bag, and standard footswitch are available from Frontier Design’s on-line store.
The TranzPort operates on a 2.4 GHz frequency band that allows operational distances of well over 30 feet. It uses 2.4GHz radio signals for communication, not infrared light (and not Bluetooth, either), which means it can go through walls, and claims a typical range of better than 30 feet. Data flows in both ways, so the unit will display things such as timecode numbers and track names. The box appears as a MIDI input/output device within DAW applications. Its control mode can be changed to specify which types of MIDI messages it will send and receive depending on the DAW software that is being used.
It includes a data wheel as well as dedicated buttons for: rewind, forward, stop, play, record, channel left/right, record-arm, mute, solo, undo, in, out, punch, loop, shift, preview, add, next, battery check and backlight. There are LED Indicators for the following functions: record-arm, mute, solo, any-solo, punch, loop, record, link status, LCD display backlight. The TranzPort includes the TranzPort remote unit, Tranzceiver USB interface, four AA batteries and a CD-ROM. The TranzPort does not have an on/off switch since it uses very little power when it goes into sleep mode. The manual claims that the power draw is so small that a new set of alkaline batteries would last for several years if the TranzPort was left in sleep mode.
I initially put the TranzPort to work running Nuendo 3 on my Windows XP based Sony Vaio and it worked like a charm. The instructions are well-written and the driver installation was a breeze. Next I took the TranzPort to my studio and got it up and running on my Pro Tools HD equipped Mac G5. Again, the installation was a breeze and I was up and running wire-free in a matter of minutes.
The more I use it, the more I like it. The TranzPort simply makes studio life easier. In the control room it makes work more relaxing allowing the engineer to break free from the chain that typically keeps him bound to the computer. My favorite use for the TranzPort is taking it into the studio so I can actually engineer and play at the same time. I love the fact that when I’m working alone, I can take the remote into the studio and simultaneously be a musician and an engineer. When you are sitting in front of the drum kit ready to rock, the last thing you want to have to do is go into the control room to hit play and record.
Frontier Designs claims that with the backlight off, the TranzPort will provide about 100 hours of active use with one set of alkaline batteries. With the backlight on, that time is obviously reduced. I’m curious to see how much use I will get from a set of AA batteries. I don’t use the TranzPort all the time but I do use it regularly and have for over two months now and I’m amazingly still on my first set of batteries.
After extensive use, my only complaint with the TranzPort is that its key commands vary depending on the software that it is controlling. Switching back and forth between Nuendo and ProTools takes a bit of getting used to at first. I realize that this problem is because of the DAW’s software, not the TranzPort’s but perhaps some sort of template that could easily be switched on the TranzPort’s faceplate would solve the problem.
The TranzPort is the perfect solution for anyone who needs a simple hardware transport controller. Its remote capabilities make it much more useful than a simple desktop controller and it has the exact right key features required for general control and overdubbing, without being too complicated or expensive.
Anytime I can drastically improve the performance of my studio and only spend 200 bucks, I’m game. This is definitely the case with the Frontier Designs TranzPort wireless DAW controller.