In this review Pro Tools Expert Editor Mike Thornton takes a look at the JL Cooper MCS5 USB Media Control Station and sees what it can do with Pro Tools and how it can help streamline some of his workflows.
The MCS5 from JL Cooper is compact hardware controller with Transport buttons, jog wheel, and two banks of 8 assignable buttons. For me real desktop space is important and it is very compact even comparing it to my Avid Pro Tools Dock.
Bundled Application Keysets
For me the power of this unit is in the MCS5 software that comes bundled with it, and the range of features to enable you to control almost anything. You can have a dedicated keyset for each application and the MCS5 comes with a selection of keysets for a range of applications including Final Cut Pro, Final Cut X, Nuendo and Pro Tools.
The app has two windows, the view of the unit, where you can select controls to edit and also gives you a visual feedback of what the unit is displaying, and then the powerhouse in the software is the Inspector window. Behind the different tabs is the powerhouse of this software and hardware combination.
- Built In - With the Pro Tools keyset enabled you can see that JL Cooper have set up a huge range of Pro Tools commands that you can configure to any of the buttons on the MCS5.
- Keystrokes - This is the tab from which you can configure buttons to respond to keystrokes and keyboard shortcuts. You can even create multi step macros if you need to, so pressing a button triggers a sequence of key commands.
- Mouse - Controls on the MCS5 can emulate the Mac mouse including mouse clicks and moves.
- MIDI - This is where you can make the MCS5 appear like a MIDI device.
- Emulation - This enables the MCS5 to emulate specific MIDI based control surfaces. For Pro Tools with the latest update just released, the HUI protocol is the key one here as it enable the jog and shuttle wheels to function better than trying to use other options like keyboard commands and the built in commands. The wheel can be either a jog wheel by selecting the left button or a Shuttle wheel by selecting the right button.
But I have to say that although the Jog with Pro Tools is much better than it was with the older software, it still isn’t as good as the Pro Tools Dock, but that may be the limit of the HUI protocol rather than an issue with the MCS5 itself. The Pro Tools Dock is using Eucon of course and so the integration is very tight.
My Own Settings
In using the MCS5 I have tweaked some of the settings from the latest Pro Tools Keyset. For example because I am an HDX user I can get sound when I use the rewind and fast forward buttons by enabling them as 4x speed options in the Built In tab instead of either keyboard or conventional options.
I have also programmed the top four buttons on the first bank to help me with a repetitive process when preparing to mix the podcast, to open the Strip Silence window, click the Strip button, Open the Fades window and then press Enter, so in four button presses I can do a repetitive process in producing the weekly podcast.
Underneath I have buttons to Import Audio and Session Data, again both parts of the podcast workflow, then a button to get activate the Smart Tool and finally a button to enable the Export Selected As Files option in the Clip List.
On the second bank I have some of edit tools and two buttons to nudge the clip gain up and down.
What Do I Think Of The MCS5?
- It is compact, it doesn't move around the desk too much but sometime I prefer to hold the top when pressing the assignable buttons.
- The power of this little unit is in the software configurability. I have only touched the surface with my tweaks, there is so much more it can do.
- I love that because it is a hardware unit it has tactile feedback, I know the button has been pressed.
- On the downside, the number of characters on the display is limiting. I would love to see an updated version with a new screen that can display more characters.
- The manual needs to be updated to reflect the current PT keyset, now it is using the HUI emulation.
- It's a shame that the jog wheel isn’t as good as the Pro Tools Dock. On the MCS5 you have to spin it very fast to get it to play close to real time. If it was possible to change the law of the jog wheel that would help a lot.
Response From JL Cooper
Chuck from JL Cooper has been in touch and in answer to my comment "The manual needs to be updated to reflect the current PT keyset, now it is using the HUI emulation" Chuck says...
That’s already been done. We were trying to get Mike the update as soon as possible, so the manual revision came a few days later.
In response to my comment "It's a shame that the jog wheel isn’t as good as the Pro Tools Dock. On the MCS5 you have to spin it very fast to get it to play close to real time. If it was possible to change the law of the jog wheel that would help a lot" Chuck says....
We're emulating the HUI jog wheel and HUI’s wheel resolution might not be the same as the MCS5’s. Also, playback speed is dependent on the zoom level. When you are zoomed way in, you have to really spin the wheel to hear any playback at all. If you zoom way out, you can achieve something close to real time playback.
The MCS5’s HUI emulation currently just converts the wheel messages to HUI messages without adjusting the value in any way. Based on Mike’s comments, we will consider an update to multiply the wheel value by some number (perhaps user adjustable) before sending it to Pro Tools, so we will soon have addressed two of his three of his concerns. We can’t add display characters to this model without a complete redesign.
Finally our sincere thanks to Mike for his efforts with this review!
Update - JL Cooper MCS5 v:2.3.4 Software Released
Chuck has been true to his word and his team have produced an update to the MCS5 software and released v2.3.4 to add user adjustable jog speed with Pro Tools.
We have the user adjustable speed working in the MCS5 software with a curve, so the faster you turn the wheel, the larger the speed multiplier gets. It’s user adjustable with a slider. It's quite an improvement! With the speed control and the velocity curve, it’s now possible to get the wheel to output its maximum value and you can get the precise feel you want when jogging.
Overall it is a very compact and yet very powerful controller and thanks to our friends at Aspen Media for providing the review unit.