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Get in Touch with MACKIE's C4

By Douglas Spotted Eagle

 I have a nephew who is a Marine, who specializes in explosives. During a recent conversation, I was talking to him about C4 and how the Marines utilize it. He explained to me that C4 "wasn't about blowing things up, but that it's about removing obstacles that stand in the way of achieving a goal." I guess that's one way to look at it, but when Mackie sent me their new C4 expansion module, the whole concept of removing obstacles became very clear to me.

One thing I've always hated about computer music applications and tools is the inability to 'touch' the synths and other facets of the application. I'm from the old school of studio where we always knew just how far to turn knobs to make things work right. Without knobs, it seems like it's not quite real. But the Mackie C4 changes all that. Of course, Mackie has a long history of bringing the virtual into the real world, starting with the Mackie HUI back in 1998. I'd submit in a very real way, Mackie has made it possible for musicians to get "in touch" with their Inner Soft Synth.

While Mackie may have designed this as a means of offering analog control of soft synths in various applications, it may also be used as an access to plugins for the various applications as well. If you have Cakewalk Sonar 4, you need only download the update to have access to this great new interface device. If you're working with Sonar or Logic, you've already likely got all you need to start working with this interface that allows you to "touch" the virtual instruments and processing plugins via the famous Mackie V-pot technology.

Offering 32 encoder knobs, this can be used to access as many as 32 different parameters of a soft synth without having to switch fader banks, or scroll through various menus. I tested the C4 with Cakewalk's new Sonar 4 application, and found it a great tool. Of course, I merely was adding this to my arsenal of Mackie interface devices, and it fits right into my console setup, having the exact same footprint as the Mackie Control Universal XT's. I had a custom console manufactured by the folks at OmniRax build me a custom console designed for three Mackie Control Universal XT's and a Mackie Control Universal in anticipation of the C4 device, and I'm glad I did. This is one tricked out setup with my Mackie mixing tools and my Big Knob.

Setup was nearly immediate with this device, but in talking with the engineers at Cakewalk, my system requirements suggested I change some parameters to compensate for latency. (this was a universal issue with my system that the implementation of the Mackie allowed me to track down more easily)

The C4 is connected to the computer via MIDI ports in the same manner as the Mackie Control Universal  devices. The back panel is fairly clean, offering a MIDI In/Out, power connection, and on/off switch. Of course, even though the back panel is just the same as the Mackie Control Universal, you can operate this knob-tweakers dream without the control as well.

The encoder knobs are laid out in 4 rows of 8 knobs, all programmable via your host application. Beneath the channel/knob strips are a series of function knobs that allow users to control the encoder knob parameters and what they are accessing. Each knob offers an LCD panel to provide feedback as to what parameter and value is being set. The beauty is, you can set up the C4 to offer the exact knob/slider placement that the software instrument or plug in displays, so you're not hunting to identify which knob goes where. It's essentially mapped out for you. These 'scribble strips' are one of the major advantages of the C4, allowing users to see exactly what they're controlling. One thing that is clear, this is a powerful add-on for the supported DAWs, and one that any user of supported DAWs should seriously consider if speeding up workflow or reducing mousing around is important. Moreover, the C4 provides greater finite control of parameters, at least for me, because it's difficult to be perfectly accurate with a mouse when I'm working fast. Turning a knob with my fingers is more instinctive than moving the mouse around and trying to stay on the mousepad. Running softsynths with lots of knobs like the Arturia Minimoog, or controlling the Native Instruments Prophet becomes a lot easier with this relatively inexpensive add-on.

I was a little disappointed when I opened the box and found no owners manual, excepting a startup guide. Mackie's startup guide basically consists of instructions for connecting the device via MIDI, and the standard electrical warnings and listings. On checking Mackie's website, they provide links to the various manufacturer pages on how to connect the device and set it up in various DAW's. According to Mackie, the reason they don't provide a novel in the box is due to the fact that implementation is manufacturer-specific, and therefore it's the manufacturer who needs to provide documentation about their app with the C4.Currently supported DAW's are Sonar 4 and Logic 7, but Mackie's website indicates that other applications will be supported soon. A search on Google turned up a rumor that MOTU's Performer will soon be a supported application. Personally, I'd love to see this supported by Sony Vegas, so that all the many video and audio parameters could be controlled easily with the C4. Vegas already supports the Mackie Control Universal, so I hope to see the C4 supported by Sony sometime soon.

Another facet of the C4 that's great, is that you don't need any other device to operate it. With a USB MIDI device such as the Mackie Spike or a Cardbus device like the Echo Layla  , it's easy and quick to connect the C4 to a laptop, providing for an instantly powerful recording studio in any location. The versatile V-pots may be used as either parameter controllers or as fader/pan controls.

The C4 does use AC power, but since the device ships with a universal powersupply that only needs the wall end changed out, the device may be used anywhere in the world. I was able to use the C4 during a recent trip to Singapore, and only needed a different plug rather than carrying a unique power supply. Further demonstrating Mackie's clear vision of how to keep customers satisfied, they've made the device easy to update via firmware updates. Shortly after receiving my C4 unit, Mackie released their 1.02 update. Updating the system was as easy as updating any software application.

Overall, this new gizmo from Mackie is a keeper. For around a thousand bucks, it's a valuable tool, looks great, and will satisfy any knob freak's wildest desire. It lives up to it's name, although I'm not entirely sure how the name C4 came about. Perhaps Mackie had a discussion with a Marine demolition expert, because this device certainly goes a long way in "removing obstacles that stand in the way of achieving a goal."

Happy Editing,


Visit the Cakewalk website for more information and updates for SONAR, including the drivers for the Mackie C4.
Visit Mackie's website for more information on the Mackie C4.

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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

Related Keywords:MACKIE C4 , soft synth,


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