Mackie Real Time OS Version 2.0: SOFTWARE UPGRADE FOR THE DIGITAL 8*BUS CONSOLE

Jul 1, 1999 12:00 PM, George Petersen

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Mackie Designs has been shipping hundreds of its $9,995 Digital 8*Bus (D8B) Consoles for more than a year. Now the Mackie D8B has a new look, but owners of existing D8Bs are unlikely to suffer buyer's remorse-Real Time OS V. 2.0 is a software upgrade, and, best of all, users can download the new software for free from www.mackie.com.

Based on the proprietary Mackie console operating system, OS V. 2.0 retains its logical and intuitive look, so anyone familiar with Windows or Mac OS can figure it out in minutes. And although the D8B mixer can be used by itself, adding an inexpensive S-VGA monitor (up to 21 inches), keyboard and mouse really opens up the possibilities of the console.

OS V. 2.0 adds more than 25 features and updates another dozen or so functions. However, many of the updates, such as mouse speed adjustment and fader touch-a feature that allows for modifying a mix in Auto Touch mode by moving a fader on-the-fly-are really features that were lacking in earlier incarnations, rather than new breakthroughs. Nevertheless, OS V. 2.0 offers a number of truly new, powerful features that bring the console up to the next level of performance.

MIX EDITOR Among the most important new features of OS V. 2.0 is the Graphic Automation Editor, which provides a workstation-style interface screen for observing and graphically tweaking all automation parameters over time, with frame-accurate control. Provided on a resizeable window, the Mix Editor (I really like the name of this feature!) works in conjunction with the Event List Editor, so changes on either screen are updated instantaneously on the other. Automation changes are shown in a manner that's simple to understand and actually fun to use.

Within the Mix Editor, the automation moves (fades, gain changes, mutes, etc.) for each track/bus/aux are displayed as a simple timeline, with all points where moves are made indicated with small markers. The screen visually indicates the relative levels of each channel, and making changes is as simple as clicking on the display line and pulling it up, down or out to move a mute point, lengthen/shorten a fade or adjust gain. Pull-down menus can display editable foreground data vs. background data (such as pan, EQ, dynamics, auxes, etc.), which is ideal for comparing front-back against left-right pans in surround mode. Zoom controls allow the user to magnify any area or track for creating more precise moves.

In addition, the Mix Editor offers the capability to edit individual EQ parameters dynamically (gain, frequency, Q) or dynamics data (gain/attack/release/threshold/ratio/etc.) as quickly and easily as tweaking a fader move. Here, the menu's ease of operation really encourages the user to try various parameter changes for creative effect. Very cool.

NEW FAT CHANNEL The most visually striking aspect of the OS V. 2.0 software is the greatly improved Fat Channel display, which graphically shows the data for any one console channel in a large, easy-to-access, appealing display on your monitor. The overall look of the Fat Channel is intentionally analog in appearance, and it makes changes in EQ, auxes, main fader, bus/tape routing assignments, pan, phase, compression, gating, solo and muting all instantly accessible and fast.

Navigating within the console from the Fat Channel is done simply by clicking on any of the buttons along the bottom of the Screen display to bring up the Setup, Snapshot, Locator (transport), Surround, Event List, Mix Editor or hardware card menu overlays instantly. And if you have too many menus active at one time and need to get back to a clean Fat Channel display, a useful Close All button handles the task. But more often than not, most operations can be handled with only a couple of active windows, perhaps for transport control or surround panning, and all the menus can be moved (and sometimes resized) to fit your particular needs at any time.

The mixer channel assigned to the Fat Channel can be assigned via the (hardware) select buttons above the fader on the mixer surface, or selected with a simple mouse click. And as with the Mix Editor display, the visual appeal of the Fat Channel actually encourages the user to experiment.

One of the things I found lacking in the early Mackie D8B software was that there was only one EQ. Within the Fat Channel, OS 2.0 provides a palette of four equalizers: British H/P combines a highpass filter, two parametric mid bands and high shelving; British EQ offers low shelving, two parametric mid bands and high shelving; 4-Band Parametric has four parametric bands with traditional overlapping as found in analog EQs; and 20/20 EQ features four parametric bands with full 20 to 20k Hz overlapping. Any number of EQ presets can be saved and recalled for later use, and the selected EQ curve is shown on an X-Y gain vs. frequency color display. Changes can be entered via tweaking the analog-appearing onscreen "knobs," by typing in numerical values, or via mouse clicks.

The EQ sounds very good-smooth and musical-and all EQ parameters can be adjusted in real time, without glitching or artifacts. But the hippest thing about the EQ is its Morph function, where the EQ can automatically fade from one preset to another with the touch of a button. The morph time is adjustable from 0.1 to 10.1 seconds, for smooth transitions or on the beat changes; this is another feature that brings up numerous creative or technical possibilities, ranging from a simple tone-shaping change on an instrument or voice as a solo, bridge or chorus comes up, to neat tricks like adding a gradual bass boost during a fade out, to compensate for Fletcher-Munson effects as volume decreases with the fade.

It's impossible to open the Fat Channel display without noticing the two large, vintage-looking meter displays that indicate compressor action or input/output/gain reduction (switchable) action of the noise gate. (Though VU-looking in appearance, the meters don't have true-VU ballistics but instead display an averaging response.) Here again the compressor and gate parameters are easily adjustable and include two memory settings (and bypass) for quick A/B comparisons.

AND THE REST With all the new features and functions offered in the OS V. 2.0 software, it would take a book to detail them all; in fact, the manual addendum (available for download from Mackie's Web site in PDF format) is 60 pages long. However, numerous functions are worth mentioning here. For one, Mackie is now offering a new PDI*8 digital interface card that provides eight channels of AES/EBU I/O; clicking on the card setup from the Fat Channel display brings up a window that allows users to customize the I/O. For example, real-time sample rate conversion can be rendered on any input pair, or Apogee UV-22[superscript]TM output encoding can be applied, or Pro or Consumer status bits can be selected. Setup is fast and painless.

Other new touches in OS V. 2.0 include a choice of latching or one-at-a-time (radio button-style) operation for solo selection, solo isolate for making certain channels continue even when another channel is soloed (a similar feature is also offered for the surround buses), the ability to cascade or remotely access multiple D8B consoles via Ethernet, and a global record safe command sent via MIDI Machine Control.

As with any software-based product, the Mackie D8B continues to evolve, and it's not completed yet. For example, a wider selection of dynamics presets would be nice, while some hardware items-such as a SMPTE sync card for post applications-are yet to materialize. Currently, synching the D8B to SMPTE requres using an external SMPTE-to-MIDI Time Code converter, but in the meantime, OS V.2.0 offers a host of new features and updated functions. Best of all, this software update is free for the download. With that in mind, I'd have to give this upgrade a "10" on the price/performance scale. Definitely.

Mackie Designs, 16220 Wood-Red Road, NE, Woodinville, WA 98072; 425/487-4333; fax 425/487-4337; www.mackie.com.






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