I own the brilliant Hotkey Matrix from DNA Music Labs and early in the new year Brian Daly told me he had produced a new version of the Hotkey Matrix, with a new layout and new features. The plan is that all the new units from now on would be V3 but that with a couple of hours work I could upgrade my controller to be the latest version. Would I be up for it?
In case you haven't come across the Hotkey Matrix, you can check out my review or here is a feature summary...
- 144 keys mapped to specific Pro Tools commands and functions
- Commercial grade hardware; keys rated at over 50 million presses
- USB bus powered
- Works with Mac OS and Windows 7
- Compatible with all versions of Pro Tools 12
- Shortcuts cover major areas of Pro Tools functionality, including:
- windows and layout
- file menu functions
- track and playlist
- MIDI composition
- Dimensions: 14.17 × 7.79 × 1.49 inches
- One year warranty
New Features in V3
A handful of commands have been dropped to make room for some new ones. It's now easy to add any menu command with the new software to the centre 12 labels. Some of the interesting updates are...
- Mute clip command
- Nudge audio in region commands
- Change clip gain +/- 1
- Change clip gain +/- 3 (new command)
These all have had a "separate at selection" command added. This makes them effectively act on selections, not just clips. For example, you make a selection, then you can mute it with one command. With a clip selected, the "separate at selection" has no effect, so the command acts just on the clip and saves a step.
- New custom track 1
- New custom track 2
Both of these use the "track hack" to give you a track configured the way you like it. As of Pro Tools 2018, you can create a (custom) Track Preset directly from the Track menu. The “Track Hack” is no longer needed. The New custom track commands on the Hotkey Matrix support presets made with either method.
- Move clip up/down
This will cut and paste the selection to track above or below
- Locators A and B
These are modelled on an old-school tape locator. You set location with upper key and recall with the lower key and also puts an "A" or "B" marker label.
- Select 1 bar
- Select 2 bars
These are more relevant when working on music as you don't have to have the Grid on, just drop your cursor, select 2 bars and you will get a nice loop.
Hotkey Matrix Version 3 Brings User Customisation
Prior to V3, the Hotkey Matrix did not officially support user customisation of the interface, ie reprogramming the buttons to do different things. The hardware has always supported some user programming, which some users, especially those on Windows, have taken advantage of. A key design feature with the Hotkey Matrix is that it comes completely pre-programmed with 144 keys, each assigned to a single Pro Tools command or function. After the initial setup, no software is required to operate the Hotkey Matrix, it is truly a hardware-based interface to Pro Tools and Mac users do not require access to a PC for the setup.
User interface customisation in this context can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's great to be able to tweak and optimise a user interface for your particular workflow. On the other, presenting a user interface as a complete and well thought out implementation can actually be easier for the user. Brian has worked hard to find that happy medium. There are two approaches to customization supported.
Cherry Tools Designer is a Windows utility that serves multiple uses with the Hotkey Matrix, including customisation at the hardware level. There are five main uses for Designer.
- Initial setup for the Windows version of the Hotkey Matrix.
- Updating versions
- Converting a Mac version to a PC version and vice versa
- Loading the correct firmware for users of QWERTZ or AZERTY keyboard layouts.
- Customisation of the key commands on each key, to optimise the layout for your own workflow.
The main function of Designer is to load a "configuration" of key level programming into the firmware of the keyboard. The configuration can be loaded from a file on the Windows computer. Once it is loaded into the Designer interface, each key can be programmed to hold up to 10 ascii keystrokes. Once the programming is set, the entire configuration is loaded back into the firmware and the Designer software has done its job.
If you are comfortable with the concepts of simple keyboard shortcut and macro programming, you can extend the utility of the Hotkey Matrix significantly. Since the programming is stored in the firmware, you can use Designer to customise the keyboard for use on Mac systems as well as the Designer software is only needed for the programming, not the operation.
How To Complete the V2 to V3 DIY Upgrade
The Hotkey Matrix is actually a Cherry point of sale 144 button keypad which Brian has programmed to be a Pro Tools controller. To undertake the DIY upgrade I needed to do the following...
- A firmware update to the Cherry keyboard
- Change the labels on all 144 buttons
- Install and setup the V3 software
1. Update The Firmware On My Hotkey Matrix Cherry Keyboard
The first challenge was that the Cherry Tools Designer application, needed to update the keyboard's firmware, is a Windows-only app, which, in a Mac-only household, would mean I would need to find a Windows computer I could install the Cherry Tools Designer app on to do the Firmware upgrade.
I have Parallels on my Mac Pro running Windows XP so that I can use QuickBooks to handle my accounts. I tried installing the Cherry Tools Designer app on that, but not unsurprisingly the app couldn't see the Cherry keyboard.
The next attempt was to borrow an Apple MacBook Pro running Windows 7 Professional using Bootcamp rather than a virtual machine like Parallels but the Cherry Tools Designer application still couldn't see the Cherry keyboard. I checked in the Windows control panel and it was displaying the presence of the Cherry keyboard. I also tried updating the keyboard driver but Windows said I had the latest version, but still no success.
Because the computer could see the Cherry keyboard to find the keyboard. I investigated the Designer app's settings a little further. In the Edit pages, I found that the Designer app was reporting that it couldn’t identify which Cherry keyboard was attached and gave me options to set it manually. After a couple of attempts, to get the app to accept the appropriate setting manually for the particular Cherry keyboard that DNA Music Labs use for the Hotkey Matrix, finally, I got the Cherry Tools Designer to see the Cherry keyboard and I was good to go. I was then able to load the new Firmware from DNA Music Labs and complete the first phase of the DIY upgrade.
As I discovered, using Designer with a virtual PC program like Parallels can be hit or miss. Brian tells me he has had mixed results with Parallels. He knows at least one user who uses it successfully with Oracle’s free Virtualbox software and Windows 10. What Brian does, is to use is a cheap laptop for programming in Designer. It does not require a powerful computer, pretty much any old Windows PC will do.
Since many Mac users don’t have access to or don’t want to bother with, a Windows PC, Brian created the HKM Customizer utility as a way to bring simple customization to the Hotkey Matrix, using only the Mac.
2. Change The Labels On My Hotkey Matrix
Some of the shortcuts were dropped in version 3, some were moved and some were added, In addition, Brian told the opportunity to tweak the design to give them a more contemporary look as well as easier to read.
This meant I had to carefully take off each keyboard cap, with a special tool, remove the old label and insert the new one. In the image above you can see the old label on the left and the new label on the right, with a partly used strip of labels on the far right. You can below how a section of the Hotkey Matrix looks before and after...
3. Install And Setup The V3 Software For Mac Users
For Mac users, V3 comes with a new HKM Customizer app, which does the initial changes to the com.avid.ProTools.plist file for the new layout. Brian warned me about a caveat about the setup because it uses GUI scripting. In particular, it has a sequence that will open up the System Preferences on the Mac, so you can authorize the App to use the Apple Interface Accessibility features, which a lot of macro type apps also do. I followed the on-screen prompts carefully as advised by Brian especially as there are also a few steps where it appeared as if nothing was happening, I just needed to be patient and wait for the next prompt.
The new Hotkey Matrix app also functions as a "customizer" app for the 12 user-configurable buttons in the middle of the Hotkey Matrix. These are set, by default, to view and close the expanded sends. The 12 keys, each with a little "U" in the lower right corner, can be set to almost any Pro Tools menu commands, including those that already have a default position on the Hotkey Matrix. It can’t assign commands that are not from the main menus but you can move an existing key command already on the Hotkey Matrix to one of these 12 user programmable keys. Alternatively you can 'set the key to no command (empty)' and then be able to program that key to trigger a macro you have set up in another app like Keyboard Maestro, which can cover functions that are not in the main menus or already have shortcuts assigned to them.
We will cover this functionality in much more detail in a forthcoming tutorial.
What About Windows Users?
Windows Users use the Cherry Tools Designer to do everything, including reprogramming keys etc. There are full detailed instructions in the new Hotkey Matrix manual that comes with the version 3.1 installation files.
Because I have a number of custom functions, for which there aren't any pre-printed labels, I need to make some custom button labels. Brian has already thought of this and produced a custom button label template, which you can open in Adobe Illustrator or any other vector drawing app and then be able to edit the layers.
So there you have it, it was a little tricker than first thought because I didn't have access to a proper Windows computer, but I have shown it is possible to do it with an Apple computer running Windows.
I am looking forward to being able to trigger my only custom macros and shortcuts that I have created in Keyboard Maestro. But in the meantime, the Hotkey Matrix continues to justify a space on my desk, unlike any other controller.
Hotkey Matrix Resources
Any Hotkey Matrix owner can download the latest software and documentation for Version 3.1 from the DNA Music Labs website.
If you are a Version 2 owner, you can buy the DIY Upgrade for $40 worldwide including posting out the new labels. Just email DNA Music Labs.
If you would rather not do it all yourself and you live in the US you can ship your unit to DNA Music Labs, and they will complete the update for $80, including return shipping, with an estimated 1-week turnaround. if you are interested email DNA Music Labs.