A while ago I visited Avid/Digidesign to get a proper D-Command ES demo. I’ve fiddled with them a little, but if I’m going to spend the dough I’ll want an experienced user showing me around. I got to spend some time with it and even though I had no way near as much time to write a proper review of it I figured I should at least share my experience with you.
I’m not sure what the major reason is for people to buy a D-Command, but the main reason why I’ve been looking at it as an option is for the more common tasks such as basic EQ and compression. My biggest gripe with all the low- and mid-end solutions I’ve tried is that they have no good solution for the tasks you do most of the time. A perfect example for this is that pretty much every EQ maps differently to say a Mackie controller or an 003. Controllers such as the D-Command have a dedicated section for this and in theory the low pass filter is always on the low pass filter knob.
I was also interested to see how well it would do on the editing side of things (even if I didn’t expect it to be as quick as a mouse) and of course the rest of the integration with Pro Tools.
To start with, I was satisfied with the way it handled plug-ins and general Pro Tools tasks. I think I would work very fast on up to three plug-ins at the same time with only a couple of days of experience. Both the dynamics and EQ sections seemed good, and the way one could use a third plug-in on the faders made it look like a great option for mixing. Unfortunately, not all plug-ins are mapped to the D-Command, so one couldn’t expect every single plug-in to work flawless with the dynamics and EQ sections. Still, it appears to me to be miles ahead of the lower end options available.
Dynamics and EQ sections… And a little more.
I am however concerned with how much I would be using it for editing. While it most certainly could be used for editing, I believe that even with practice it wouldn’t be really close to what a mouse and screen would be. I have from time to time tried to replace the mouse with a control surface but there’s no doubt that when I need to work fast and accurate I always reach for the mouse. I think that this would be the case even with a D-Command.
There’s a problem with this, actually it’s both a problem and a benefit, for a D-Command setup to really work you still need the keyboard and the mouse, therefore you’ll probably want to separate between recording, editing and mixing. This could be a benefit if you want to make records the traditional way, that is record and edit then mix. We discussed this at the demo, and I think that this approach can most certainly lead to musical mixes, possibly even to a different type of mix which has kind of grew out from the DAW environment. This second way of mixing is kind of mixing as you go. You record a track, you edit and EQ it a little, you record a second track and do the same thing, maybe go back and change a little on the first track and so on. When everything is recorded you pretty much have a full mix. While I’m not sure if I prefer one way over the other (I use both approaches) I’m concerned that the D-Command wouldn’t come to it’s full right in the latter approach.
As a mixing tool, however, it seems to be right on the money. Besides what I’ve already mentioned, one thing I really like about the D-Command is Custom faders. The possibilities to group tracks for instance, makes even a small eight fader setup a good mixing tool. I was a little underwhelmed by the soft keys however. In this day and age I would most certainly want to be able to assign macros to soft keys which unfortunately is currently not possible on any Digidesign interface as far as I know. Hopefully this is something that could be remedied in a software update.
At the moment I don’t see the D-Command as a spot on investment for me. If I was doing more traditional mixing it would be another thing but right now I’m afraid it wouldn’t be used to its full potential. I will however keep it on the list a while longer because I still need much better functionality than what I currently have at my disposal.
Feel free to share your on ICON experiences if you like.
Many thanks to Anders who always helps me out with things like this.