Mackie Control Universal Pro - ProSoundNetwork.com

Mackie Control Universal Pro

The MCU Pro is a delightful control surface in design, function, feel, and footprint.
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From the realm of DAW controllers, Mackie brings us its expandable Mackie Control Universal Pro (MCU Pro) along with the 8- fader Control Extender Pro (EXT Pro) and the C4 Controller Pro. Together, these components comprise the next-generation controller series from Mackie utilizing USB from the computer to the MCU Pro, with the EXT Pro and the C4 operating through the MCU Pro via standard MIDI cabling.

The MCU Pro provides all the functions you need to control your DAW software, minus the monitor/speaker section of the previous HUI model, since many engineers have dedicated monitor controllers already. The C4 Pro is made specifically for tweaking plug-ins or virtual instruments and integrates with Logic Pro, Logic Express, Reason, SONAR and Mackie's own DAW, Tracktion.

Features

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For the MCU Pro, Mackie opted for a smaller footprint (about 16 inches square, and eight inches wide for the Extender Pro) for this model, targeting the portable market as well as desktop applications. Mackie included nine Penny + Giles 100mm motorized faders (eight plus a master) on the MCU Pro, and eight on the Extender Pro. Directly above each channel path is a Select, Mute and Solo button, each backlit in bright white when operational. Above those is a small, multi-colored signal LED followed by the REC button. Then, topping off each channel strip is the venerable Mackie V-Pot with push-button capability. The meter bridge extends a little over two inches from the desktop, keeping things low profile, while including a two-line, 55- character backlit LCD display that shows track names and parameter settings.

Above the Master Fader section of the MCU Pro are dedicated fader bank, channel, flip and global view buttons. Up top are the V-Pot assignment buttons, offering six choices to assign to the V-Pot. On the top right-hand side of the MCU Pro, 39 buttons address different functions for individual DAW software platforms; Mackie includes five different Lexan overlay templates — for Digidesign Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, MOTU Digital Performer, Cakewalk SONAR, and Mackie Tracktion — made to label specific parameters depending on your DAW of choice. [Additionally, Syntrillium CoolEdit Pro, RML SAWStudio, and Sony Vegas overlays are available direct from Mackie for $10 each, plus $10 or $15 for domestic or international shipping, respectively. — Ed.]

A USB MIDI interface is also included on the back panel for direct connection to a Mac or PC and up to three additional pieces of external MIDI gear, such as more Mackie controllers. On the bottom right-hand side is the zoom control, a scrub wheel, and dedicated "tape-like" transport controls. The Extender Pro features eight channels with all the channel-strip controls but without the MCU Pro's master section.

The C4 Pro is the MIDI controller portion that has four 55 x 2 backlit LCD display screens and 32 dual-function V-Pots with integrated push buttons, arranged in four rows of eight. Each V-Pot is surrounded by LED indicators that display current knob positions. This allows the C4 Pro to simultaneously display and access up to 32 plug-in parameters without switching banks. Another feature provided is a split section, allowing for multiple plug-ins to be mapped at the same time. The C4 Pro can be integrated with the MCU Pro or used as a standalone MIDI controller for mapping plugins or controlling instruments and other devices.

Mackie C4 Controller Pro In Use

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My first use of the MCU Pro and EXT Pro was with my Pro Tools mix rig, utilizing a Mac G5 via the USB connection. Holding down the select buttons on Channels 1 and 2 while powering up the units enters a setup mode where you can choose HUI (Mackie's Human User Interface protocol) emulation. Once we entered the HUI mode, everything mapped accordingly and we threw on the provided Pro Tools overlay template. A reminder: Don't forget to select the HUI controller settings in Pro Tools, too.

First impressions were quite good, partly due to the easy-toread displays. Even though the layout was fairly different from my well-used Digidesign Control 24, it didn't take long to get used to the MCU Pro's layout. The backlit buttons were easy to see and use, and the extra characters of the LED display were a welcomed sight — track names were easy to read. One item that gave me pause was the noisy faders; they tracked well enough, but any low-level monitoring is interrupted with motor noise. With the MCU Pro's limited surface space, accessing certain modes, such as Automation or V-Pot Assignment, requires a few button pushes. However, with a little practice, this soon becomes second nature and a reasonable tradeoff for the benefits of a reduced footprint.

The select buttons for the MCU Pro work differently than those on my Control 24; they are additive (latching) on the 24, canceling (alternately "overriding") on the MCU Pro. Maybe there is a way to change it, but I didn't discover a way to select more than one channel at a time. [According to Mackie, there are ways to select more than one channel at a time. "To select multiple channels while pressing a channel's Select switch, press Select switches on additional channels. To de-select a single channel, press Shift/Add + Select switch on the channel. To select or de-select multiple channels, press Shift/Add + Select switches on additional channels. To select or de-select all channels, press Option/All + any Select switch. To change the Select state of a channel, and change all other channels to the opposite state, press Alt/Fine + any lit Select switch." — Ed.]

The V-Pots are similar to the ones first used on the Mackie d8b digital console, but these have a better feel with a smoother readout on the LED collar, plus the advantages of an integrated push button. I liked the full-sized transport control buttons, but I'm not sure why Mackie chose to put the scrub wheel in the way of your hand reaching them. I did find that you could rest the palm of your hand on the scrub wheel to access the buttons with little trouble.

The C4 Pro is not compatible with Pro Tools, so I enlisted the expertise of Dustin Lefholz, my second engineer/audio guru who connected it to his Apple Logic rig, which also runs on a Mac G5. Getting rolling was no problem; we hooked up the C4 Pro via MIDI thru the MCU Pro with USB, opened Logic 8, and it was up and running. We pulled up a few of my favorite plug-ins that come with Logic, such as the EXS-24 software sampler and Sculpture modeling software.

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Upon opening the plug-ins, they automatically mapped out along the four rows of V-Pots. Even with instruments such as Sculpture or reverbs like Space Designer, their vast amount of parameters were easily accessed via the nudge and bank buttons and modified with the V-Pots, which makes "micro-mixing" almost effortless. Not only did the C4 Pro work great with Logic plug-ins, third-party instruments followed suit with no issues. When setting compression and EQ, I liked to split the rows of the C4 Pro, allowing more control with no wasted space.

Reason users everywhere will revel in the ability to completely control Reason from the C4 Pro. Again, the Lexan overlays provided by Mackie allow them to map what each button in the control section is for, as their functions do change between platforms. Thanks to the C4 Pro, I found programming in Reason to be easier and smoother. I had no problem modifying parameters, dropping into record, and using other transport functions all located just below the V-Pots.

Summary

Mackie MCU Pro and Extender Pro are a delight in many aspects of their design and implementation. In my opinion, the footprint is just right, all buttons function easily, and there is plenty of visual feedback from the multiple LCD displays. One could hardly ask for more given the reasonable price point. Still, I would like to see Mackie offer a version with a higher-quality fader as an option; I'm sure many professional users would spend the extra dough for it.

As far as the C4 Pro is concerned, Dustin and I couldn't find any flaws. Mapping worked great with all kinds of plug-ins and software (other than those within the world of Pro Tools, as explained above). All in all, the C4 will speed up production, allowing users more time to tweak and focus on the sounds themselves rather than clicking around on a screen. The C4 Pro earns our title of "a tweaker's dream controller."

Randy Poole is a Nashville-based engineer/mixer and owner of the Poole Room studio in Franklin, TN.www.thepooleroom.com