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Author Topic: Starting on my own control surface...  (Read 16669 times)

rhyde

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Starting on my own control surface...
« on: September 04, 2015, 08:31:57 PM »

Though I'm still officially in crisis mode at my day job, I've completed various other personal projects I've been working on and I think I'm going to start working on my own personal control surface.  I've all but given up on creating a surface for SAC -- Bob L is so dead-set against control surface that I'm all but guaranteed I won't get any support from him (though I must admit that I was surprised that he's now supporting 3 Mackies after all these years).  Main question before I get started:

I'd prefer to use Ethernet to interface the control surface to the audio software. Will AMP support this transport or am I stuck with MIDI (or some MIDI simulation)?  It would be really nice to avoid all the performance issues associated with MIDI.  I could use USB as a backup plan, but Ethernet would be a whole lot easier to work with.

I've already purchased 32 motorized faders from sparkfun.com.  They look like they are a heck of a lot better quality than the Berhinger units. At $20 each they're not especially cheap, but if I'm going to build my own control surface, I want something better than a relabeled Berhinger unit.

I'm probably going to build a 2-4 channel prototype to make sure the concept works and then extend the design to three banks -- one with 16 channels and two with 8 channels each. My current plan is to allow 4 layers on each bank but this is trivial to change.

Currently, my goal is to have the following per channel:

1) motorized fader.
2) Two rotary encoders -- one will be used for panning, channel assignment, and other functions, the other will control the attenuator/gain.
3) There will be some mechanism (probably a single button) the controls the function of the first rotary encoder. By default it will be pan, but I want the ability to (temporarily) change it's function -- for example I might use it to quickly select the underlying channel associated with this particular hardware channel strip.
4) A "Select" button that associates the channel strip with the EQ/Dynamics/Aux sends/etc. controlled elsewhere on the board (comparable to the SAC "Wide" mixer).
5) A "Mute" button.
6) A "Solo" button.
7) A "Group" button (to be used to associate a given channel with a DCA or Mute group).

There will be a 320x240 color display shared between two adjacent channel strips (providing about 150Wx240H pixels for each channel strip). Beyond the obvious digital scribble strip info, I plan on putting the "VU signal bargraph" here, channel assignment, pan/balance position, and other info.

Above the 32 channels, I plan on putting the functions associated with a single channel strip -- EQ (7 channels parametric), dynamics, aux sends, etc. These functions will be associated with the current channel strip whose "Select" button is active (radio buttons, only one "Select" will be active on the board at a time).

Before I get too crazy into the design (and paint myself into a corner), it would be nice to have some feedback. I don't plan on building more than one of these (for myself, and largely for fun as I intend to be out of the large show business by the time I finish building this), so it's not like I need to make sure this thing is marketable to the world; but it would be nice to do it right. (BTW, it will be too expensive to sell, I'm sure of that; I've already spent nearly $1,000 on parts and I'm nowhere near done with the purchases).

In any case, blue sky ideas welcome.
Cheers,
Randy Hyde


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skuithe

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2015, 09:34:23 PM »

Feeling my pain!!!!
thousands.......
skuithe
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skuithe

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2015, 09:35:27 PM »

really!!!!
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skuithe

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2015, 09:37:54 PM »

More
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admin

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2015, 10:34:26 PM »

Funny you guys should talk about this right now.. I just did a gig today, outdoor deal, a mess of different groups including two that I got roped into playing.  I came away a bit bummed, because we had several issues, and it was not my usual quality sound production.

I was using a Mackie DL1608 running the AMP Host for it, mainly because I didn't want to lug out all my normal AMP rig, and I knew I didn't need more than 15 channels.  We were running on generator power, which isn't normally an issue, until someone plugs in another 20 amps of draw into the same genny, thus popping the circuit breakers.  (Issue #1)

I wasn't running a direct ethernet connection, but using a WIFI link, which was VERY slow to come up and be recognized by both my laptop and an ipad... like 4 minutes.  Very rough when you have audio, but no control.  (Issue #2)

Then, had some issues with feedback.  I was pretty sure it was FOH-related, but it took a while to resolve it: go into each of the 4 vocal mikes, duck that 300hz ring.. nope, not that one.. Next mike.. Oh yeah, there it is.  I had faders, but that didn't help with doing a quick EQ.

I was thinking about this, reasoning what would have made it better.  Sure, if I had an analog console, I could have done some quick EQ cuts across the board to get out of the situation, but surely there is a way to do this almost as good with digital.  I think if I had quick knob access to all EQ bands, that would have made life easier.  How much, hard to tell.  I mean I am pretty quick in maneuvering with AMP! :-)  But stuff like this is what gives people a bad taste of digital.  I really dislike the Behringer/Midas/Yamaha 3-knob-EQ thing.  I like how Allen & Heath gives you separate knobs for each EQ band.  I think that is important.  Yes we do have 7 bands, and I don't know about you guys, but I often am in hack&slash mode, and really need every one of those bands in the moment! :-)

So that's my suggestion to pass on to you guys.  Goodness knows, I've had MANY talks with people about control surfaces.  If things weren't so busy here, I'd look into making them myself.  BTW, I do have a source for motorized faders that is less than $10 each in quantity (100-200).

Randy: to answer your question specifically: I'm definitely open to IP-based controllers.  There isn't any code in there yet, but that can certainly be added.  We could do something as simple as adding "IP Controller" in the list of midi ports, and then giving a blank to enter the address.  OR, you can use the .DLL hook into the GUI.  USB is an inexpensive option, but there needs to be a good way to identify who is what.  If you just passed binary data, we could use the exact same code as we do now for midi, just direct the data to a different port.

I would really hate to see a one-off only come as a result.  I think this has tremendous opportunities if it is done well.

My suggestion would be to look at the A&H GLD as a model for a control surface.  They do a nice job.  They have one rotary encoder that can be Pan, HA Gain, or two user-defined possibilities, selected by another little button on the side.  Having two would be an extra bonus... Could definitely have an aux on one of those (like when using aux-fed subs).  Not sure you need all those selection buttons, as you can accomplish all the assigning stuff with just the selects.

Things to ponder...

Bob
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RBIngraham

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2015, 10:50:33 AM »

Just a few comments...

I also found the Allen and Heath surface to be best.  I don't know the GLD but the iLive is nice because it has what is essentially a complete control surface for one channel all across the top.  It basically shows everything except aux send levels with a knob or button per function.

The nicer Yamaha desks actually have more than 1 bands worth of EQ knobs.  The CL has one knob per function for the EQ, which is nice.

The QL sereries also has what I think it a great tool and that is what they call touch and turn.  It allows you to have one single knob that is control for almost any parameter.  You just touch the virtual knob on the screen you want to adjust and then turn that one knob.  I actually found that pretty useful in demoing the desk.  It was a good compromise between having a ton of knobs and having to step through functions for a series of knobs.  At least I thought so anyway.

I could see something like that being useful down the road with something like AMP and an OS with touch functionality.  Just have a single big knob and touch the parameter you want to adjust and then spin a knob.  That could be pretty cool if done well and it probably wouldn't require anything more fancy than something like a Contour Shuttle Pro perhaps.

For me personally it's really just all about having faders, mutes and solo buttons.  I would love to have something IP based of course.   :)
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mattseymour

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2015, 03:14:29 PM »

I really like that idea. You could have a lot of control with a very cheap controller.
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fdew

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2015, 03:28:25 PM »

Skuithe,  What am I looking at?  Have you built something?
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fdew

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2015, 03:42:41 PM »


I was using a Mackie DL1608 running the AMP Host for it, mainly because I didn't want to lug out all my normal AMP rig, and I knew I didn't need more than 15 channels.
Things to ponder...

Bob

This is significant  If a control surface with 8 knobs and a fader per ch were available it would be big and expensive.  Would any of us buy it?  would you have used it today or would it have been in the van with a cover on it?

When all is well all I need is a Ipad.  When the ship hits the sand I need a 6 ft by 4 ft board.  For me, I think the compromise would be a board with a fader and mute button visually linked to a screen that would serve as the scribble strip and all the other buttons and knobs.  Very similar to what skuithe shows but I would trade a button for the scribble strip  and put a soft scribble strip at the bottom of the screen.

Would I like 2 more buttons and 1 to 8 more knobs  Sure,  Will I pay for it or lift it?  Probably not.

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skuithe

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2015, 11:11:10 PM »

Yes, based, ucapps.de midibox ng....
Several  years of learnig c and c+ for microcontrollers plus pcb design.

SK
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admin

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2015, 02:02:13 AM »

Another idea I had was having a fader, a bit different than what I was previously describing.. What if we had 16 channels represented with a big fader (motorized), and 8 rotary encoders?  The encoders could be "layered" to be 8 auxes, EQ gains, or parts of an EQ strip... That might make access to things a lot faster.  Need to do some quick EQ work?  Switch to the EQ layer.  Need to be a monitor console?  Switch to the Aux bank(s).

Rotary encoders would need a way to identify their location.  I remember seeing some company that made LCD panels that you could put holes into... I think that is what Soundcraft uses in their larger consoles.
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fdew

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #11 on: September 07, 2015, 09:49:44 AM »

Yes, based, ucapps.de midibox ng....
Several  years of learnig c and c+ for microcontrollers plus pcb design.

SK

That looks great.  please tell me/us more.  I see a box with 16 ch and scribble strips  and a integrated screen.  Are you planing on selling these.  Two of those together look very close to my dream AMP control surface.


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fdew

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2015, 05:50:51 PM »

I seem to have killed another thread.  I didn't mean to.  I want a control surface.
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rhyde

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2015, 03:35:12 PM »

Parts are still arriving, but...

Definitely the "wide mixer view" (to use SAC's nomenclature) would have all the important controls associated with each channel strip.

At least six aux sends (matching SAC, haven't gotten that far into AMP to know if this is enough, too few, too many [doubtful], etc.) with pre/post and in/out buttons. Aux returns aren't channel specific and would be mapped to the normal fader strips.

Yes, at least seven sets of EQ knobs (F, B/Q, G) plus some sort of selector for band type. Probably stick an LCD screen to display the graphical form of the combine EQ, but that might be a little crazy (and take up too much space).

Ditto for the dynamics (and delay effects too, when they are ready to go).

I'm using illuminated rotary controllers for all the knobs above (they can change colors using RGB LEDs). Either use this feature to associate a color with particular channels (think the colored bar around the text in SAC's scribble strips) or via function (blue for EQ, green for dynamics, etc.)  Easy to change at any given time.

I've been using an LCD display I found in China for $12 and a few cents. 480x320 18-bit TFT LCD. Because of the cost, I think I'm going to use one of these as the digital scribble strip for a pair of channels. Using an Arduino Mega 2560 I might have *just enough* ummmp left after driving the display to control two motorized faders and deal with the other inputs (two rotary controllers and an handful of buttons) for each channel strip.

I'm probably going to extend it from 32 to 33 or 34 channels. I'd like to be able to use 33 faders as a graphic EQ (like the Yamaha boards) and still have one fader for the master (for emergency feedback eliminating while in EQ mode).

I'm also looking at getting a desktop milling machine (Othermill) for doing custom circuit boards for this thing -- depends on how I want to spend the money (better to have circuit boards made up, but that can get expensive with iterations; the Othermill isn't cheap [$2500] and only works on small items [5"x5"] but is useful for many other things beyond making circuit boards for this project).

If I don't get too lazy, I'll draw up schematics for the thing and post them for anyone else who wants to build one -- once I get the whole thing working. As mentioned in my first post, I'm going to prototype a couple channels first (hand wiring things) just to prove it out. Then I'll get down to the boring work of creating schematics and circuit board layouts for it.

Concerning Ethernet versus USB:
I've avoided the USB route in the past because most SBCs (single board computers) that have USB support on them are USB-serial connections and tend to limit the data transfer rate to some small amount (say 115kbs). However, the Teensy 3.1 controllers I've been using lately work at full USB speeds and don't present the bottlenecks I've found with previous devices I've used. With one of these Teensy boards I could make a *very fast* MIDI device. All that would be necessary is shoe-horning the data I need into the MIDI protocol without being too inefficient.  One thing I would really like to do, now that I have a high-resolution screen to use as the digital scribble strip, is to be able to send icons for guitars, keys, horns, etc., to the digital scribble strip and use those in place of text (much easier to quickly identify during a show). I could build these icons into the firmware, but I really like the idea of being able to download them so that the set of icons isn't fixed. It might be messing trying to support that under MIDI using sysex.

Cheers,
Randy Hyde


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rhyde

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Re: Starting on my own control surface...
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2015, 03:40:59 PM »

Another idea I had was having a fader, a bit different than what I was previously describing.. What if we had 16 channels represented with a big fader (motorized), and 8 rotary encoders?  The encoders could be "layered" to be 8 auxes, EQ gains, or parts of an EQ strip... That might make access to things a lot faster.  Need to do some quick EQ work?  Switch to the EQ layer.  Need to be a monitor console?  Switch to the Aux bank(s).

Rotary encoders would need a way to identify their location.  I remember seeing some company that made LCD panels that you could put holes into... I think that is what Soundcraft uses in their larger consoles.

I'm putting a "select" button on each channel strip. I'll have a set of rotary encoders above the channel strings for EQ, Dynamics, Aux sends, etc. (basically all the stuff associated with a channel strip other than gain, pan, mute, solo, and attenuator). Pressing the select button associates all those guys with the selected channel.

Switching between the functions is how SAC works with the Mackie MCU right now. It's a PITA switching between these all the time. For the cost of some additional rotary encoders (and space on the board) I prefer not overloading these controls.

Sparkfun sells some "ring LEDs" that surround the rotary encoders they sell (similar to the Berlinger encoders, but larger). They're a bit expensive ($11 each) and rather large. I won't use those because I'll have about 480x150 pixels for each channel strip where I can put lots of information for each channel strip (and 480x320 up on the wide mixer area).
Cheers,
Randy Hyde
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