Introduction to my Slate Media Technology Raven MTi2 Touch Controller Review:
Back when computer touchscreen technology became common, I was, frankly, a skeptic. There was just something so wrong about touching the sacred computer monitor, smudging it up with my dirty, dirty fingers. I had no expectation that I could ever become accustomed to the idea of fingers on glass as a way to manipulate cursors, click, drag, cut, paste, edit, etc. etc.
Late in the game, I got my first tablet. Let’s just say that after some initial trepidation and much worry about how to handle the gunk that would inevitably accumulate, my reservations disappeared to the point I am currently typing while wearing a wrist brace to help with the iPad-induced carpal tunnel pain. There’s no enthusiasm like that of a convert, is there?
One of the apps that caught my eye for the tablet converted it to a control surface for a computer-based digital audio workstation. Having already seen the light, I was blinded by this revelation. After bumping into things for a few days, reality set in as I discovered it was just as hard and limiting to adapt the app control surface as it was with any other control surface. It seemed that, unless there was very close support for your specific controller already built-in to your DAW, there was an uphill climb to enforce some sort of mutual cooperation. Inevitably the compromises outweighed the convenience.
Slate Media’s original concept was that, since DAWs now existed in computers, there needs to be a way to get the function of a hardware mixer into the computer as well. None of this clicking and dragging of virtual faders, though. Manual manipulation of multiple faders, parameters, plug-ins and more had to happen. Touchscreen technology was the obvious answer.
Unlike hardware control surfaces, which leave mating tasks to the DAWs themselves, Slate added software to their control surfaces to ensure compatibility. With the MTi2, they may have accomplished the task, for the OS X platform anyway. The bad news is that configuration is still a pain. The good news is that something approaching full control can happen.
Setup and Usability
Okay, it’s not easy to set up the MTi2. Though connection is simple — plug-and-play USB and HDMI video — configuration can be another matter. Even users who love the MTi2 mention that it’s among the most difficult pieces to configure. When Slate states unequivocally that this controller supports specific DAWs, complex setup should not be an issue. The fact that it doesn’t means a serious vote of no confidence on the Setup/Usability score.
However, with persistence, the Slate device can be configured, and though some bugs and crashes occur occasionally, the MTi2 is a game changer once finally in action. Well, it’s a game changer for those who have never had multiple faders under touch control before. The MTi2 doesn’t re-create the experience of a hardware mixer. There’s still not tactile response, the feel of controls moving, but that’s not a huge thing to work around. For someone used to clicking and dragging, it’s revolutionary.
As mentioned, the MTi2 comes with the Raven Toolbar and Raven Batch Commander software as well as the core Raven 3.0 control software, which serves as the interpreter between the 27-inch touchscreen console and your software DAW. The Toolbar holds all your most common controls along the bottom edge of the console. This toolbar is configurable, so you can place what you need where you want it. That’s a very useful toolbar there, in terms of streamlining the way you work. Don’t like the way it’s laid out? Change it. Like a Mongolian barbeque restaurant — if you’re not happy with it, you’ve only yourself to blame.
The Batch Command System has the potential for some serious time savings in repeated, complex tasks. The software ships with some generic routines, but permits you to record your own click sequences for playback later, a macro recording system that you can build to your needs. Be warned, there’s a learning curve involved here and it sounds steep when users chime in. I didn’t have enough time to get into creating my own batch commands, but I could see some astonishing potential.
The main attraction of the MTi2 is of course the 27-inch touchscreen. It’s not just a touchscreen though, it’s a multitouch screen, up to 10 points. So two engineers could have two hands each on the console simultaneously controlling 10 different points on the screen. In theory anyway. We got laughing a bit too much on jokes for “Audio Twister” to scientifically evaluate whether we were controlling precisely ten different things. It’s clear though that you’ll probably lose track of things you’re controlling before the MTi2 does.
The screen has a different feel to it than, say, an iPad. The console ships with a cleaning spray/glide solution that approximates more familiar touchscreen feel. Regular cleaning methods aren’t recommended. Otherwise, the console seems up to the task at hand. Slate does mention in its FAQs that the console design supports affordable in-field repairs. It’s too early for user feedback on this.
While the MTi2 is one of the most affordable large touchscreen technologies, it’s still going to set a user back by ten bills, so it’s not surprising, given its price and recent release that there aren’t a plethora of user reviews yet. Of those posted, the Slate only scores 3.4 stars out of 5 and I have to agree that’s reasonable, given the difficulty involved with setup.
The raves are there too, for those who persisted through the setup challenges, and those comments are inspiring. However, don’t get the impression that your satisfaction is guaranteed if you simply persist. The 1 star review was honest yet gracious, and therefore credible. Coupling the MTi2 with Logic didn’t work well for this user despite efforts to survive the setup stages. The gracious suggestion was simply that perhaps the MTi2 was better suited for the Pro Tools platform.
This is not going to be the control surface solution for everyone. For an old school hardware mixer, the MTi2 is neat, but nothing revolutionary. To the engineer who learned on computer based DAWs, mixing with a mouse, the MTi2 is freedom in touchscreen form. Depends where you’re coming from as much as where you’re going.
The Slate Media Technology Raven MTi2 Touch Controller is tough to configure, but a breeze to use. Bring some patience to the table and you’ll be rewarded. Instant gratification junkies should probably look elsewhere now.