uc4

I just can’t hide my affection for the Faderfox line, and one unit in particular: the UC3 was pretty close to perfect. While there are other MIDI controllers with faders, the UC3 stands out by combining a healthy assortment of encoders and faders (plus one crossfader) in an ultra-compact, lightweight package. Nothing comes close to saving space either in your bag or in cramped performance setup situations. Every component feels smooth, solid, and premium, in contrast to rivals that have generally favored low price over quality. And it’s USB class compliant, so drivers aren’t issue.

Well, the UC3 was nearly perfect. While it supports USB, it doesn’t have MIDI in and out capability, so you can’t use it standalone or to connect hardware. And while the encoders are push-buttons, you can’t transmit MIDI control messages using that functionality (they’re only pre-mapped to internal function, selecting groups).

Enter the UC4, the UC3’s successor. It adds MIDI support and push-button control as I’d asked for, plus a bunch of other nice things that I didn’t.

MIDI in and out, works standalone. USB is still there, but – as on the excellent SC4, you can use the UC3 standalone and as a MIDI interface with external hardware. (My SC4 turned out to be invaluable just Saturday evening when I realized I’d forgotten a MIDI connection.) MIDI is provided via minijack ports, and MIDI DIN breakouts are in the box, though… boy, I’d like to see stereo minijack just turn into the new MIDI standard. There are already a few devices that work.

Encoder push buttons are programmable. This is the other big one for me. The encoders on the UC3 were already push-buttons, which made me immediately want to be able to assign them to control software. Done.

Trigger buttons. These are new on the UC4, and each has a corresponding LED. They’re pre-mapped and silkscreened for launching and transport features, and work out of the box accordingly with Ableton Live 8-9, but you could map them to anything you like.

This looks useful, but it comes with one downside – the faders have a shorter throw.

Editable group names.. Now this is a clever idea, and one that oddly I can’t think of on any hardware I’ve used. Too bad I’ve already learned how to memorize group numbers on my UC3!

More precise encoder control. The encoders themselves are the same on the UC4 as the UC3, Faderfox tells CDM, but the controller chip is faster, resulting in more precision.

Remember that the UC4 (like the UC3 before it) also features 14-bit MIDI messages, so you can have more precision than 0-127. This is especially appealing to me when controlling visual software or more complex granular patches, for instance.

Fader snap mode.

Min/max values. More precise than doing this on the software mapping side.

Biopolare display option. Instead of 0 – 127, you can now display -64 / 64 as the range. That seems especially useful given that you might assign to something like pitch, or another parameter with positive and negative values.

Send Program Change commands by key.

Send aftertouch as channel pressure.

In Ableton Live, those triggers become rather useful via mappings. Put together, you have easy control of parameters like track volumes and panning, rack macros, sends, and, via the buttons and LEDs, switches like clip launch/stop, mute, solo, record arm, monitor, and track select. You could also combine two UC4s (or UC3 and UC4, or some other faderbox like the LaunchControl XL from Novation) via scripts.

uc4top

All in all, this is the controller I think the UC3 should have been. Then again, I would miss those longer fader throws – and now might be a good time to get a UC3 on discount (though not from Faderfox, as he’s sold out). I will certainly immediately start saving up for a UC4 to match my UC3 and SC4. “Controllers” and “fanboy”/”fangirl” don’t usually go together, but with Faderfox, I’ll make an exception.

Oh yeah, and if I ever start getting gigs and big festivals, then I’m totally getting a Versus. Or maybe a Peterfox (Faderkirn?) custom controller. I better get my EDM act together and closely study that Zac . I’ve got the laptop and, uh, some talent, though I will need that one track.

A controller will come in handy, too. Have at it.

http://www.faderfox.de/

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  • JoeC

    So with all these devices using stereo minijacks for midi, is it possible to use this idea in a device like my smartphone? Could my smartphone be a sequencer/controller using just the breakout cable?

    • sakul

      Nope. It’s the same midi signals as in the 5 pin cable (actually only 3 pins are used of them). Just another cable really. The iPhone audio socket doesn’t speak midi.

      • wetterberg

        …but presumably could. As you said, it’s just another cable, and it’s two pins and a ground, so the stereo output of a phone could presumably deliver.

        • Um, no. That phone jack is currently sending analog signal, not MIDI serial data. šŸ˜‰ But of course it has been used for CV.

          • wetterberg

            I think we’re misunderstanding each other. I’m speaking generally about phones and these newfangled minijack->midi cables.

        • just passing

          Two hazards I can see… no, three.

          Firstly, and most importantly, there’s the voltage question. MIDI wants TTL voltages, and the voltage swing on a headphone jack is, as I understand it, about 1v pole-to-pole. That means amplification, which means an external battery. I don’t think there’s any way around that.

          Secondly, there’s DAC design. Modern audio DACs don’t output steady voltages, but bitstreams that get filtered into audio. And because ears don’t detect DC, relative level is much more important than absolute level. So there’s no guarantee that squirting out a bufferful of alternating MININTs and MAXINTs, in the right configuration for MIDI bits at the raw level, will actually resolve into the right voltages needed to drive a MIDI port. Even if the DACs were old-school and did output fixed voltages, there’d still be an analogue DC blocker before they were fed into headphones (otherwise there’d be a LOT of people complaining that their iPhones had destroyed their cans).

          Thirdly, there’s bit rate. MIDI needs a baud rate of 31.25kbps; and because that’s outside the standard audio rate, you’d need to set the sample rate to that to get it sent. But the kind of DACs in iPhone-type devices don’t need to be that general; they only really need to deal with 44.1kHz and 48kHz, with 32kHz as an outside possibility.

          So – no, I don’t see that it’s ever going to be possible to send MIDI out of an iPhone headphone socket. Sorry.

          • JoeC

            Thank you so much for this reply ! (even if it did shatter my dreams)

  • JoeC

    So with all these devices using stereo minijacks for midi, is it possible to use this idea in a device like my smartphone? Could my smartphone be a sequencer/controller using just the breakout cable?

    • sakul

      Nope. It’s the same midi signals as in the 5 pin cable (actually only 3 pins are used of them). Just another cable really. The iPhone audio socket doesn’t speak midi.

      • wetterberg

        …but presumably could. As you said, it’s just another cable, and it’s two pins and a ground, so the stereo output of a phone could presumably deliver.

        • Um, no. That phone jack is currently sending analog signal, not MIDI serial data. šŸ˜‰ But of course it has been used for CV.

          Now stop saying things like this, because it gives added fodder to all this lunacy behind MIDI DIN. (i.e. if you use minijack, maybe people won’t know what it’s for… though that’s no excuse for an ENORMOUS CONNECTOR) šŸ™‚

          • wetterberg

            I think we’re misunderstanding each other. I’m speaking generally about phones and these newfangled minijack->midi cables.

  • Peter

    So would this work as a USB midi interface for IOS devices too?

    • Yes – it’s class-compliant. The only trick is, you might need extra power… otherwise, connect a powered hub to the iPad.

      • Peter

        I mean can you send midi data from a ios app out the midi out?

        • faderfox

          yes it’s possible

          • Peter
  • Peter

    So would this work as a USB midi interface for IOS devices too?

    • Yes – it’s class-compliant. The only trick is, you might need extra power… otherwise, connect a powered hub to the iPad.

      • Peter

        I mean can you send midi data from a ios app out the midi out?

        • faderfox

          yes it’s possible

          • Peter
  • Will

    +10 at “Iā€™d like to see stereo minijack just turn into the new MIDI standard.”

    • just passing

      Erk. I can just see the lawsuits now. “I plugged my headphones into my synth and they exploded and now I’m deaf!” Let’s… try to avoid that.

      Having said which, there’s no reason at all why we couldn’t adopt a similarly small format. Say, USB OTG – indeed, a port which autosenses whether it’s been connected to another USB device or a MIDI port – there’s a 192x speed ratio that’d offer a clue šŸ˜‰ – and automatically switches to the right protocol. And then cheap passive OTG-to-MIDI cables could also become a thing.

      And then two devices connected as USB could talk USB to each other, and… basically it could be the bridging from MIDI to USB-MIDI that’s currently missing.

    • itchy

      i agree with that. if we can get the same functionality and have it smaller that would be cool and would make it much easier to implement into devices and could be cool for eurorack stuff crazy midi message modules and such

  • Will

    +10 at “Iā€™d like to see stereo minijack just turn into the new MIDI standard.”

    • itchy

      i agree with that. if we can get the same functionality and have it smaller that would be cool and would make it much easier to implement into devices and could be cool for eurorack stuff crazy midi message modules and such

  • itchy

    would be nice to see faderfox do some eurorack stuff.
    they make some cool little devices.

  • itchy

    would be nice to see faderfox do some eurorack stuff.
    they make some cool little devices.

  • sanbaba

    Bring back the LV3!! >:{

  • sanbaba

    Bring back the LV3!! >:{