November 20, 2006

Novation ReMOTE ZeRO SL Initial Impressions...

by Chris Randall

We got our Remote Zero SLs today, and I thought I'd throw up some random thoughts about the installation and usage. To wit:

INSTALLATION: One thing I've noticed in my years is that high-end gear Just Works. The cheaper a unit is, the more hoops you have to jump through to get it to do what it is supposed to do. For instance, my Lynx AES16/Apogee Rosetta combo just worked out of the box. I installed the driver, and that was that. The combination was over $2500. This RemoteSL was, what, $299? Inversely proportional indeed. It took me about three hours, a download, two installs, and two reboots to get the transport buttons to do anything in Nuendo. The high end Nuendo controllers (like the ID and the Euphonix) just plug in and go, but this was a real dog-n-pony show. In its defense, Adam told me that it worked fine with Live without installing anything, but I didn't try that, so I can't vouch for it.

QUALITY: It's a big hunk of plastic. The endless encoder knobs and buttons feel firm, can't complain about that. The 60mm faders are essentially useless, except maybe in a live situation. There's these stupid little plastic leaning things that you have to screw on the bottom to get it to lean at a viewable angle. My unit came with neither the screws nor a USB cable, so I had to use my imagination. No external power supply is included. If you just want to control a piece of hardware, you're gonna have to either buy a wall wart or fill it with batteries. In use with a computer, it is buss-powered. The transport buttons are pretty whack; no tactile features whatsoever, so you have to look at them. I'm so used to my keyboard setup for Nuendo that I don't think I'll get much use out of the transport buttons, anyways.

IN USE: Since none of the buttons are labeled, you kind of have to figure out what goes where. However, once I read through the manual and puzzled around, I got the hang of it. The Automap feature is pretty spiffy. You just start up Nuendo, and presto, it's a Nuendo controller. It does all the normal hardware control shit you'd expect. The one thing it _doesn't_ do in Nuendo (and I assume Cubase) is allow you to control insert and send effects. You can control the sends per channel, but that's it. To do anything deep in the channel controls requires such a ludicrous amount of button pressing it's not worth the effort. So, in short, for high level control, it's pretty slick. For deep mixing, it is so much more complicated to use this than to just mouse around that it is literally not worth the effort.

Controlling VSTi parameters is really nice, in a weird sort of way, especially if the box knows about the VSTi (like V-Station, for instance.) You can get some pretty hefty control going there. That's where this unit really shines, I think. For a simple mixing surface, you're better off spending the money for Mackie Control or one of the more sophisticated offerings.

I can see this unit being really quite good for controlling, say, Live, in a live setting. But for home studio use as a mixing surface, I'd say skip it. It's a jack of all trades, master of none kind of affair.

EDIT: Okay, I just set up a Nuendo project for old-school house music group mute arranging, and had a fucking blast. That's what this unit is for. If you play live, using some variation on group mute arranging, you're gonna be in heaven with this box. It makes me want to book a Micronaut show. For this alone, it is well worth the money. But as I said, as a mixing surface, it leaves a _lot_ to be desired.



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Nov.20.2006 @ 5:18 PM
Thanks for the CR breakdown. I don't want to sound like an idiot, but what is group mute arranging. I think I mostly understand what you mean, but hearing it straight from you would be nice.

Thanks, J


Nov.20.2006 @ 5:50 PM
Chris Randall
When you have all your parts on groups, running all the time (looping, essentially) and you mute and unmute the groups to arrange the song. So, you'd have the foot on its own group, the rest of the drums on another, bass, pads, etc.; you would automate your mutes and unmutes and such, and you'd have a song. Almost all of my first three albums were done this way. The funny thing is you put up the tape a couple years later, and every sound runs continuously from end to end for X minutes. So there's no _song_ as such on the tape. Just 23 tracks of rhythmically similar parts.

This method of arranging _was_ incredibly common for house and hip hop back in the day; nowadays, hip hop is done more like pop, where everything is edited out proper in PT. A good example of group mute arranging would be Eric B. & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend." You can hear them missing the mutes occasionally; it's quasi-funny, but it gives the track its charm. A much better example would be L.L. Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out." It's plain as day there that the breakdowns are on groups.

The kind of house music made in the late 80s and early 90s doesn't really exist any more, so there's no current parallel. However, having seen Underworld live several times, I'm fairly convinced this is how they perform. I know the Orb does/did, for certain.



Nov.20.2006 @ 6:15 PM
i co-sign this comment, "'s a jack of all trades, master of none kind of affair." i had the Remote SL37 for about three weeks and decided to return it. its a fine controller at its price point and i can see many people really digging on it but aside from potentially using in live situations or just wanting some all-in-one moderately priced devise i found each area to be marginal...well except the Automap is really nice.



Nov.20.2006 @ 6:45 PM
Chris you pretty well nailed it. I've had an SL25 for about 6 months now and it does have some issues with "usability", like you said. I use Ableton and the Automap (with V2 upgrade) is finally great. It really is great for plug-ins, but I'd still rather lay out the templates myself. I'm always paging around for shit w/ the Automap. Live 6's new "racks" look like a great candidate for SL use.


Nov.20.2006 @ 7:03 PM
i've had an sl25 since launch, and my usage of it echoes your sentiments exactly - it's an irreplacable part of my live rig, but in the studio it's rarely used.

"It's a jack of all trades, master of none kind of affair."

did you honestly expect more for the price? i was expecting a much lower build quality...


Nov.20.2006 @ 7:10 PM
The slider caps resemble breath mints.

Nov.20.2006 @ 8:13 PM
Thanks for the great explanation. That was pretty much what I thought you were talking about. I heard that on the beastie boys cut, you gotta fight for your right, that the recording engineer played the mute buttons on the console with something crazy like 24 loops goin all at the same time. I usually use the ole trigger finger for that. Its lots of fun.

Nov.20.2006 @ 8:14 PM
Anyone have any comments on install/behavior in OSX?

I've been giving some thought to how I might do "live dub" and the group mutes thing is the best I've come up with, but if I cant control plugins very well then this wont work for me.


Nov.20.2006 @ 8:33 PM
Hi CR,
I agree, it's not a bad machine. I have one of the first units (SL25) and the LCD is a little faulty and cheapy looking.

Check out this example of a transition tune we do live. I use the SL25 to trigger some stuff and play around with the arpegg setting in LIVE link []">link []


Nov.20.2006 @ 10:13 PM
I am sure that a lot of people still do "mute arranging", as all the new MPCs have a dedicated "Track Mute" mode in which the pads mute or unmute sequenced tracks. Track mute has it's own button, it isn't buried as an obscure feature in some sub-menu somewhere - you can jump into track mute mode with one touch - So I would say it is probably still in pretty good use with the MPC hip hop crowd.

But speaking of the Novation Remote, is this thing truly supposed to be a generic controller, or is it more designed for DAW software or something? It seems to me for the laptop musician crowd who want to play life, something like the new Akai MPD24 controller (which I am going to buy if I don't hear any bad reviews in the next 2 weeks), or maybe the M audio Trigger Finger would be better suited.


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