Reason SSL Mixer Hardware Controller

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Hi there-

I've been kicking around an idea for designing a hardware controller for Reason's SSL mixer or some time now. The reason behind the drive is better outlined in a previous post.

To recap, I really love using Reason and have been using it since the early pre-Record days, and I really love mixing with my hands and ears--not so much with my eyes. To try to match this incongruence, I purchased a Tascam DM3200 several years ago. It has reasonable pre's, and flying faders, and in general was okay, but its own menu-diving and layout wasn't intuitive. I had to keep switching back to logical mode to push the right buttons to pull up compression, or EQ, or whatever. It was great that Reason saw 32 inputs and 32 outputs with it acting as an interface, and I still use it for that (though it appears it's officially discontinued).

What I really wanted was one knob per function for the SSL mixer. The main goal is to never have to open up the Mixer window in Reason again. If I can mix a full album without opening the Mixer window, I will have considered this a success.

For my day job I run a company that designs hardware products for industrial use, and have done my own share of hardware designs (including schematic, PCB board layout, prototype assembly, firmware, and RF (including BLE, WiFi, and LPWAN technologies). So I have the scars earned in releasing hardware into the world! This is no small effort, but it sounds fun, and can be made as small or large as desired, so I've decided to delve in and prototype this idea.

I have the block diagram done, the components chosen, and the ICs identified to manage LEDs, OLEDs, and the flying faders. Also the master section to handle USB Midi input/output, and the power supply. I've also become a Rewire developer with Propellerheads, so have the documentation necessary to begin the first prototypes.

Here is the feature list I plan on building:

Per channel:
- Every knob, button, LED, and display on the SSL mixer would be represented in physical hardware. This includes LED-backed buttons such as Input-invert, or comp-on.
- Every button is actually a button, including LED backlighting when enabled. (TBD whether or not the buttons will be capacitive touch or mechanical)
- Every physical knob controls its counterpart in the SSL mixer. Knobs expected to be potentiometers with stops, rather than rotary encoders (except for the Pan knob).
- Every LED mirrors SSL LEDs, including comp/gate levels and fader level bar graphs
- Channel insert names, and the four insert knob and four input button labels will be small OLED displays, which will show the actual named labels for that channel.
- Every pan knob is a rotary encoder with red/green led ring around it.
- Every fader is an ALPS flying fader.
- Every channel level is an actual 2x32 LED bargraph display
- Below every fader is another OLED that displays channel name/color/output submix information closely representing the existing channel information below the fader of each channel.
- Seq/Rack buttons per channel, to quickly jump to that section on-screen when necessary.

Master section:
- A real, physical, mixbus compressor meter, driven by Rewire
- OLED displays for master FX send labels, master insert labels, insert preset names, and FX return names.
- Shift channels left/right one at a time, or 8 at a time, MackieHUI style.

Maybes:
- Leave a blank area in master section to set a Panorama P1 on and connect it in to act as the transport and instrument/RE controller. (TBD, worth it to make a punched-out blank panel and disassemble a P1 and install it into the control surface?) If not, include basic transport bar, song position, click enable/undo/redo/etc.
- Make each section modular, so that it can be removed/replaced as Props continues to update sections in the mixer, like they did with delay comp recently.

Explicitly not included:
- Reimplementing what Panorama does so well, which is having a general purpose RE/instrument control surface that maps pretty well to existing and future REs. This project is specifically for the SSL mixer, nothing else.

Unknowns:
- As of the writing of this post, Rewire doesn't support channel color as part of the information sent from computer to control surface. Support ticket already opened with Prop's dev team.
- How many simultaneous channels Rewire can support before lag becomes noticeable. With USB 2.0, is it possible to theoretically make a 64 channel control surface with responsive level LEDs, compressor levels, etc if cost were no object?
- Are potentiometers acceptable vs rotary encoders on each knob (hypothesis: yes, because you're using your ears--not your eyes--to mix. Something sounds weird? Twist the offending knob. Sounds better? Great. Sounds worse? Hit the "undo" button. Don't pay as much attention to the line on the knob. In fact, source knobs with no lines on them at all to set the point home.)


Sooo, I've decided to make this SSL Mixer control surface for myself--the number of channels being mainly driven by my available budget (but at the moment, thinking 16 channels and a master section), and floating the idea out there to get feedback from the Reason community. Is this something any of you would be interested in as well? I'm not sure I'd want to make this a purchasable product (though I suppose it's possible if it really resonated with people and the cost/price/market size were appropriate). Might be open to just publishing the schematics/gerbers and BOM parts list, or perhaps as a kit (though there are a ton of SMT parts, and it's not very friendly to kitting, though a steady hand should be able to hand-assemble it if I keep part sizes at 0603 or higher).

- Allison

Chris_ocon
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Post 23 Aug 2017

After spending the last week researching the pros and cons of all the flying fader controllers out there (they're all lame IMO) I have to say this sounds perfect and I would definitely be interested in one or a kit to build it!!

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friday
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Post 23 Aug 2017

That would be a Dream come true!!!

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Chris_ocon wrote:After spending the last week researching the pros and cons of all the flying fader controllers out there (they're all lame IMO) I have to say this sounds perfect and I would definitely be interested in one or a kit to build it!!
Agreed! Some get kinda close but nothing really commits to the Reason mixer 100% (which, for business reasons is a very risky thing).

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Ahornberg
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Post 23 Aug 2017

amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
Chris_ocon wrote:After spending the last week researching the pros and cons of all the flying fader controllers out there (they're all lame IMO) I have to say this sounds perfect and I would definitely be interested in one or a kit to build it!!
Agreed! Some get kinda close but nothing really commits to the Reason mixer 100% (which, for business reasons is a very risky thing).
I also use the mouse on my solution (Console 1 in MIDI mode) for inserts and sends and for selecting the channel to work on.

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Ahornberg wrote:
amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
Agreed! Some get kinda close but nothing really commits to the Reason mixer 100% (which, for business reasons is a very risky thing).
I also use the mouse on my solution (Console 1 in MIDI mode) for inserts and sends and for selecting the channel to work on.
How do you like the Console 1? Seems like it's the closest so far. I didn't know it still requires a mouse for inserts/sends.

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Ahornberg
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Post 23 Aug 2017

amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
[...] What I really wanted was one knob per function for the SSL mixer. The main goal is to never have to open up the Mixer window in Reason again. If I can mix a full album without opening the Mixer window, I will have considered this a success.
You are commiting to a high goal.
amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
For my day job I run a company that designs hardware products for industrial use, and have done my own share of hardware designs [...]
Maybe you can start producing a small series of controllers.

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selig
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Post 23 Aug 2017

I've dreamed of this (as a hardware/SSL guy since the 1980s) for so long - even drew up a proposal years ago and posted it on the old PUF. As a long time Pro Tools Icon and SSL Duality user (both of which control software), I'd love to offer any assistance I can towards making this dream a reality! I'll also likely become an instant customer, even knowing this thing will not come cheap if done correctly.

I probably have far too many ideas, but would love to chat if you're interested!


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Ahornberg
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Post 23 Aug 2017

amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
Ahornberg wrote:
I also use the mouse on my solution (Console 1 in MIDI mode) for inserts and sends and for selecting the channel to work on.
How do you like the Console 1? Seems like it's the closest so far. I didn't know it still requires a mouse for inserts/sends.
It works great and I love it. Here's the thread explaining my RemoteMap for Console 1 viewtopic.php?f=12&t=7493177

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Ahornberg wrote: You are commiting to a high goal.
I couldn't agree more. But it's a labor of love for me. Have always enjoyed creating tools to help me work better or differently.

Ahornberg wrote:Maybe you can start producing a small series of controllers.
Perhaps, though I think the existing ones are doing a good job--given the limitations they have to deal with (like keeping the doors open by making at least break-even). I'm not even close to convinced that making a Reason-specific controller would be economically feasible. Hobby side project, yes, full business, no idea. :)

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Ahornberg wrote:
amcjen wrote:
23 Aug 2017
How do you like the Console 1? Seems like it's the closest so far. I didn't know it still requires a mouse for inserts/sends.
It works great and I love it. Here's the thread explaining my RemoteMap for Console 1 viewtopic.php?f=12&t=7493177

Thank you! Will have a deeper look for sure.

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

selig wrote:I've dreamed of this (as a hardware/SSL guy since the 1980s) for so long - even drew up a proposal years ago and posted it on the old PUF. As a Pro Tools Icon and Duality user (both of which control software), I'd love to offer any assistance I can towards making this dream a reality! I'll also likely by an instant customer, even knowing this thing will not come cheap if done correctly.
Thanks! I've been a big fan of your REs for a long time, so it's great to hear you may find this beneficial. Very glad this idea is resonating with some people.

If you have that proposal still available, it would be great to see it. Lots of eyeballs and brains on this could be a good way to make sure that at least everything was considered (even if not everything is possible due to technical or cost constraints).

And you're right--costs for this thing could get high quickly. I don't know where it will land, but I'm willing to bet that at tiny bespoke volumes, ~$50 per channel probably isn't too far off base. Everything in hardware profitability is based on volumes unfortunately.
selig wrote: I probably have far too many ideas, but would love to chat if you're interested!
Happy to! The thing I'm missing most right now are physical dimensions of an actual SSL channel strip, to make it as close to the feel of the real thing as possible. My limited google-fu has come up short.

Since you're an experienced SSL guy, do you have access to that info (or even better, an SSL to make some
measurements?


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selig
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Post 23 Aug 2017

SSL dimensions wouldn't make total sense because the channel strips also include track busses (x32), small fader section, only 5 sends (one stereo, 4 mono), etc.

But each channel is 1.625 (41.275mm) inches wide. Fader sections are level and only include the fader. Above that is the scribble strip (reason puts it below the fader, but for hardware you'll want it above the fader so you can read it when working the faders!). Then comes the channel, sloping upwards at a 12° angle.

The main channel knobs are around 11mm in diameter, the pan knob around 15mm (estimating from a photo).

The approach I wanted to take was not quite the same as yours - I wanted to take the cheaper approach (Sony DMX-100 style) which is to have a center channel strip (same as Pro Tools ICON consoles). So you only have one dynamics/EQ section, but you can replicate the meters/sends/faders/pan/mute/solo per channel. You can work very quickly with this setup, and it will save you tons if you decide to go this route. Plus it means you can really deck out the dynamics/EQ section with LED rings on every control (important when first loading a song, and of course when switching channels.

Here what I came up with, built as a modular system so you could use just a center channel (everything you need in one place), add faders in banks of 8, or add a hardware I/O section (thinking Props Balance with this drawing).
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Ahornberg
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Wow !!! :thumbs_up:

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FlowerSoldier
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Image

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tt_lab
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Post 23 Aug 2017

FlowerSoldier wrote:
23 Aug 2017
Image
What he sais... that looks fantastic!!!

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

selig wrote:SSL dimensions wouldn't make total sense because the channel strips also include track busses (x32), small fader section, only 5 sends (one stereo, 4 mono), etc.
Totally makes sense, I recalled the lack of the small fader and the buss switches up top in the Reason world.
selig wrote: But each channel is 1.625 (41.275mm) inches wide. Fader sections are level and only include the fader. Above that is the scribble strip (reason puts it below the fader, but for hardware you'll want it above the fader so you can read it when working the faders!). Then comes the channel, sloping upwards at a 12° angle.

The main channel knobs are around 11mm in diameter, the pan knob around 15mm (estimating from a photo).

The approach I wanted to take was not quite the same as yours - I wanted to take the cheaper approach (Sony DMX-100 style) which is to have a center channel strip (same as Pro Tools ICON consoles). So you only have one dynamics/EQ section, but you can replicate the meters/sends/faders/pan/mute/solo per channel. You can work very quickly with this setup, and it will save you tons if you decide to go this route. Plus it means you can really deck out the dynamics/EQ section with LED rings on every control (important when first loading a song, and of course when switching channels.

Here what I came up with, built as a modular system so you could use just a center channel (everything you need in one place), add faders in banks of 8, or add a hardware I/O section (thinking Props Balance with this drawing).
This is really nice! I'm on the fence about a center channelstrip that is accessible after touch-selecting a channel via its fader, but it's hard to argue it would be *much* cheaper to make.

I also was considering a master/8 channel master section and then banks of 8 faders for expansion (stealing this idea from Mackie). We were close on that thought!

I hadn't considered the touch swipe to scroll across the channel banks, but it's a great idea (though 2D capacitive multitouch can get tricky/$$$), but damn if that wouldn't be intuitive as hell.

So, though I have my own perspective on what this controller would be, I'm up for collaborating here to spec out a design that a lot of people would like, as long as it still stands up to "I can mix in Reason without using a screen"! That's my only non-negotiable. :). Tweaking REs, synth knobs, etc don't count. Just mixing. :)

And I will say that design by committee can get extremely tricky, but happy to merge the designs and see what we come up with!

I'm on a business trip in SF today, but will be back tonight and will take a closer look at your mock-ups Selig.

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selig
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting you go the route I did, just putting my thoughts out there for you to consider - if something makes sense to you, you're welcome to take it and run with it! If not, I'm not expecting you to have the same vision I had - plus, this design was years ago, and could probably use some updating anyway.

I'm more than happy to help with YOUR ideas rather than to try to impose mine. I just wanted to be clear I'm not trying to hijack your concept on any level.

BUT, I REALLY want something like this, as I've experienced a huge speed increase when mixing with hardware/software, and there's nothing available for Reason at the moment that even comes close to what you're suggesting!


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sublunar
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Post 23 Aug 2017

This would be absolutely awesome. Convince Propellerhead to use your design to make the "successor" to the balance interface!

Oh wait, you didn't say this was going to be an interface, just a controller. Hmm. I guess that would complicate things.

The only thing that doesn't make sense to me at this point is how this would handle the unlimited channels of the software or the buses for that matter. I assume you'd have a way to select the channels that I'm either missing or which you didn't mention. Either way this is a cool idea.

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selig
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Post 23 Aug 2017

sublunar wrote:This would be absolutely awesome. Convince Propellerhead to use your design to make the "successor" to the balance interface!

Oh wait, you didn't say this was going to be an interface, just a controller. Hmm. I guess that would complicate things.

The only thing that doesn't make sense to me at this point is how this would handle the unlimited channels of the software or the buses for that matter. I assume you'd have a way to select the channels that I'm either missing or which you didn't mention. Either way this is a cool idea.
I actually have a "Balance 2" mockup I ran across when searching for the console/controller earlier today.

BTW, I noticed some of the labels were not included and some were cut off (where you see an "Plus" on the control). Maybe fonts are missing - this was drawn years ago, fwiw…

Also, I didn't include the module that supports the hardware I/O - I'll post later when I get back to my home computer just for grins.

Another option I didn't mockup is a meter bridge like the original SSL - but you can put a monitor closer to the controller if there's no meter bridge, so maybe best for it to be an option anyway. So many ideas, so little time…
;)


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MarkTarlton
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Post 23 Aug 2017

I would sell my control 24 if this came to life! :)

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

Wow, didn't realize there was such an interest in something like this! Encouraging :)

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

selig wrote:Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting you go the route I did, just putting my thoughts out there for you to consider - if something makes sense to you, you're welcome to take it and run with it! If not, I'm not expecting you to have the same vision I had - plus, this design was years ago, and could probably use some updating anyway.

I'm more than happy to help with YOUR ideas rather than to try to impose mine. I just wanted to be clear I'm not trying to hijack your concept on any level.

BUT, I REALLY want something like this, as I've experienced a huge speed increase when mixing with hardware/software, and there's nothing available for Reason at the moment that even comes close to what you're suggesting!


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Oh no problems! I didn't take it as such. The best ideas will bubble to the top and ideally a really good control surface will emerge. :)

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

sublunar wrote:This would be absolutely awesome. Convince Propellerhead to use your design to make the "successor" to the balance interface!

Oh wait, you didn't say this was going to be an interface, just a controller. Hmm. I guess that would complicate things.

The only thing that doesn't make sense to me at this point is how this would handle the unlimited channels of the software or the buses for that matter. I assume you'd have a way to select the channels that I'm either missing or which you didn't mention. Either way this is a cool idea.
Right--no interface, though that would be interesting. Just seems like interfaces are such a bloodbath right now, hard to make a better one than those that exist today, (unless another interface were licensed or something).

And regarding the handling of unlimited channels would be done by banks (or the awesome swipe idea Selig had). So you have, say, 16 hardware channels and they represent the first 16 Reason channels. Swipe across the touchscreen and it reassigns the later reason channels to your 16 hardware channels. (or the old school way is to press a "next bank" button).

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amcjen
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Post 23 Aug 2017

selig wrote: Another option I didn't mockup is a meter bridge like the original SSL - but you can put a monitor closer to the controller if there's no meter bridge, so maybe best for it to be an option anyway. So many ideas, so little time ;)
Hmm, I really like meter bridges, but that's because I've never had meters at the fader before like Reason does. Seems kinda nice to have them there instead.

Interesting to consider the various efforts to stick closely to the Reason layout vs straying a bit for real-world use (like putting the channel name above the fader, not below!)

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