German manufacturer Radikal Technologies entered the pro audio scene in the year 2000 with the appropriately named SAC-2K controller (the SAC part stands for Software Assigned Controller). While the product was well received, the controller was a bit rough around the edges, sharing the typical shortcomings of other MIDI-based controllers of the day: jittery fader motors, sluggish response, limited data resolution and the like.
Product PointsApplications: Post production, recording studio, multimedia, broadcasting
Features: Multiplatform audio software controller; nine touch-sensitive motorized faders; 12 rotary encoders with pushbutton function and 31-segment LED rings; 67 lighted buttons; jog wheel; USB and MIDI functionality
Contact: Radikal Technologies at 201-836-5116 Web Site. A lot has changed in the intervening years as Radikal Technologies frequently refined and fine-tuned the 2K firmware and operating software for the better. The SAC-2K was ultimately phased out and reborn as the SAC-2.2 ($1,649), a second-generation controller with USB support and an impressive set of features.
The Radikal Technologies SAC-2.2 is a dedicated hardware unit for controlling a variety of audio software applications. The main area of the control surface features nine widely spaced 100mm motorized faders Ð eight for individual channel control and the ninth is a dedicated master fader.
Above each of the touch-sensitive channel faders are a corresponding solo/mute button, channel select button and rotary/push button encoder. A button in the upper left corner of the control surface globally selects the desired function of the dual-purpose solo/mute switches.
The eight channel faders are bisected by two rows of 10 buttons whose functions vary depending upon the software application being controlled. For most applications, the buttons function as labeled: 10 for selection of dedicated mixer parameters such as pan, send/insert and EQ select; six for track category selection; and the lower set of four buttons are for track group selection.
These last four buttons select which group of tracks the eight faders currently represent. Track groups can be selected in groups of eight (1 – 8, 9 – 16 etc.) or by moving up and down the track list one channel at a time (1 – 8, 2 – 9 etc.).
Each of the SAC-2.2’s total of 12 rotary encoders is encircled by a 31-segment LED display that provides visual confirmation of the encoder’s position. A six-inch long LED window sits above each group of four rotary encoders. These 2 x 40 character windows are used to display a variety of parameter and channel data, depending on the current state and function of the controller. When idle or simply adjusting fader positions, the windows default to displaying the name of the audio channels/tracks currently represented on the eight faders. A large eight-digit SMPTE timecode display is located just above the transport section. The transport section comprises play, record, stop, rewind and forward buttons plus a continuously variable scrub/shuttle wheel.
Additional controls include dedicated marker buttons, channel strip buttons and software navigation/numeric entry buttons. All buttons on the SAC-2.2 controller are backlit for quick visual confirmation of settings.
The SAC-2.2 controller boasts an impressive list of compatible software applications. According to the manufacturer, the controller supports more programs than any other controller on the market. Supported applications include the usual suspects like Digidesign Pro Tools, Steinberg Nuendo and Cubase, Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer, Cakewalk Sonar and Emagic Logic.
The controller also supports a range of software synthesizers, samplers and virtual instruments/editors including Creamware Pulsar synths, Propellerheads Reason, Native Instruments Pro 5, Steinberg Model E and TC Works Mercury-1. See Radikal Technologies’ website for the most up-to-date list.
Radikal Technologies lists two SAC-2.2 expansion modules, though neither is currently shipping. The first is the long-awaited SAC-8X eight-fader channel expansion unit ($1,649) and the second is the SAC-MS monitor section. The latter provides a control room monitoring section complete with five switchable source inputs, headphone amp, talkback circuit and even an RIAA phono preamp.
Installing the SAC-2.2 controller was a breeze: I ran a USB cable from the SAC controller to the computer, installed the USB driver, and selected the controller in my audio software app of choice. For this review, I primarily used Steinberg Nuendo and Digidesign Pro Tools, though I also successfully used the controller with TC Works Mercury-1 virtual analog synth and Propellerheads Reason.
It had been more than two years since I had last used a Radikal SAC-2K. The release of the SAC-2.2 control surface and its latest firmware release (v3.03) represent significant work by Radikal Technologies’ development team. The performance improvement of the SAC-2.2 over the original release of the 2K is immediately noticeable.
Radikal also deserves praise for releasing free firmware that updates the older 2K models to SAC-2.2 functionality. That is something you don’t see everyday!
Speaking of firmware updates, in early 2003 Radikal released version 3.03, which added some very cool features to the SAC-2.2’s capabilities.
The most significant new feature added is the ability to use the SAC-2.2 to control several different programs running simultaneously, switching between applications in real time. The correct SAC-2.2 operating mode and parameter settings are automatically updated while switching between the programs.
A free software application available from Radikal called SAC-Route sends a virtual instance of the SAC-2.2 driver to an external MIDI interface, allowing the control of different programs on different computers. Since this is handled through MIDI, it does not matter if the other computers are Mac or PC. Radikal has announced plans for an additional application called MIDIFusion that will provide similar functionality across an existing computer network.
Fader movement and response in general on the SAC-2.2 controller was very good. Occasionally, controller-to-software response was a bit sluggish while recording automation, but usually upon playback I found that everything recorded as I had intended. This very well may have been a computer display/redraw problem, though I was using a very fast computer and display card.
The only other problems I ran into were mental or software-based: Radikal is very much at the mercy of how the controller is implemented within the individual audio applications. For the most part, controls functioned as labeled and the level of implementation within the respective audio programs I was using was very good. But a few inconsistencies between the two programs had me occasionally changing settings I did not intend to change. Live and hopefully learn.
Radikal Technologies added some other significant goodies to the SAC-2.2 controller’s operation. In addition to the obvious overall performance improvement of USB-based control, the USB connection also allows the SAC’s MIDI ports to function as a built-in MIDI interface. This is a nice bonus for me since I could run my minimal MIDI setup right into the controller instead of using a long cable to the computer, which is rackmounted in a separate room.
Similarly, the SAC-2.2 controller acts as a USB hub Ð instead of eating up a USB input on the computer, the SAC-2.2 actually adds four more USB inputs, all with easy access from my control room desk.
Radikal Technologies also improved the controller’s operational options, allowing user adjustment of fader and rotary encoder response parameters such as scaling, minimum/maximum values and timeout.
After using the Radikal Technologies SAC-2.2 for several months, I am still learning new functions and uses for this versatile controller. While the level of software implementation varied from application to application, response of the SAC-2.2’s faders, encoders and transport controls was always very good.
No controller I have used can completely replace having to reach for the old keyboard and mouse, but I bet those guys were worrying about their job security since the SAC-2.2 was doing most of their work.