Smart AV Tango DAW Interface Review

May 21, 2010 4:38 PM, By Brandon Hickey



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In addition to the role that the touchscreen plays in controlling the software mixer, full access to additional software functionality is granted through the Edit Panel. This section is completely customizable and lets you build panels of buttons to perform various functions. Each panel is a grid of rectangular buttons, eight high and eight wide. With DAWs such as Nuendo and Logic, all you have to do is pick an available soft-key, choose the function from a well-organized list, name the button and you’re set.

Each of the soft-keys can be programmed to work with the hardware scroll wheel. The same is true for any of the physical buttons on the desk. So, for example, it’s possible to set a button-plus-scroll-wheel combo to zoom in or out. In addition to pre-programmed transport buttons, a handful of open-ended hardware buttons are available in the Transport section. This is also the case in the automation-enable section. With all of these conveniently accessible, customizable controls, if you are comfortable with the Tango, you could conceivably operate a DAW without any need for an actual QWERTY keyboard. In the short amount of time I’ve spent with the Tango, I see the potential for this to be a realistic option. A mouse, however, remains necessary for some tasks, so a mouse pad is provided on the controller surface.

Using Tango’s Version 2.4 Netsmart software, the networked relationship of the unit to the software is automatically established. However, occasional hiccups occurred when switching between DAWs or when the host machine went to sleep and stopped sending messages to Tango.

While testing Tango across a number of platforms, the benefits experienced were largely DAW-specific. Smart AV must work within the limitations imposed by the control surface protocols associated with each app. For example, with Pro Tools, a plug-in already inserted on a channel can be accessed and manipulated, but only eight parameters can be controlled and no plug-ins can be instantiated from Tango itself. With Logic, only the stock EQ and dynamics plug-ins can be instantiated, but all plug-ins can be controlled to the fullest extent of their parameters. Similar limitations arose when dealing with sends. Again, these are not faults of Tango, but merely a shortcoming of these DAWs’ control surface languages. With Nuendo or Pyramix, full insert assign and control functionality are available. Sends work just as they are supposed to and integration is much slicker than with other DAWs.

I spent the most time working with Logic and found that Tango seemed to work particularly well with that platform. Once I created Edit Panel buttons for some of my standard operations and programmed some of the transport buttons for additional zoom functions, it was really easy to get lost in a mix. I can’t imagine a solution for mapping tracks to faders that’s more intuitive than the MonARC. Popping in EQs and compressors and tweaking settings was simple and natural. Using the automation-enable buttons and sweeping my finger across the MonARC, multiple tracks could change to write status instantly. The faders wrote smooth, accurate volume rides, even with multiple faders moving in a Write status. This is not always the case when it comes to hardware controllers.

Navigating through tracks, making edits and creating fades became simple with a combination of soft-keys and the scroll wheel. Once I got comfortable mapping these controls in Logic where you just pull the command from a list, I ventured back to Pro Tools. Here, programming is a breeze if you know your keyboard shortcuts. This led to some convenient sound effects editing. Creating sync points, trimming regions and drawing fades could all be easily performed with the proper keyboard combinations. Navigating through a movie clip using the scroll wheel was very convenient. And when it came time to snap a region to the insertion cursor, having the mouse right on hand was perfect.

Tango is well thought out. Anything that could make the use of each DAW more convenient was considered and implemented to the fullest extent available through existing machine control protocols. And it seems Smart AV is making an ongoing effort to improve the support for each specific piece of software. The company is working with DAW developers to improve their control surface protocols. In addition, Smart AV listens to user feedback and suggestions. At present, Tango is impressive-looking and enjoyable to use. There are some glitches in operation, however. Also, some users might be turned off by the high price tag for a control surface with no analog circuits. There are no mic pre’s, no analog monitoring section, no summing amps—it’s only a software controller. That said, Tango is one of the more practical software controllers I’ve come across, particularly when paired with the right piece of software.

Brandon Hickey is an independent engineer and film audio consultant.

Click on the Product Summary box to view the Smart AV Tango product page.

Click on the Product Summary box to view the Smart AV Tango product page.

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