Big Knob Controllers

First discussion post here. Hope I’m doing things right…

I wanted to make a thread to discuss controllers with big high resolution rotary encoder knobs.

The ones I know of:

The Griffin Powermate. For a few years now, I’ve been using the Griffin Powermate. These are really affordable single-knob controllers made out of aluminum with an LED backlight. In additional to having a really smooth turn, the thing also had a button. You can parse the Griffin without too much sweat using the HIDAPI library, and it works on OSX and Linux. It doesn’t look Griffin is making these anymore, which is a real shame. The product page I used to check up on for stock updates is now 404’d: https://griffintechnology.com/powermate-usb-classic-aluminum

The Monome Arc. I don’t have one of these (yet), but from what I’ve seen it’s a pretty solid design. There are probably people who can speak more to this than I can right now.

There’s also the NOB, which I recently discovered: https://www.nobcontrol.com/. Not as expensive as the Arc, but still expensive. Decent form factor, but it’s no griffin. The big issue with it seems to be that it just turns into a mouse device, which is unhelpful when trying to use it as a musical interface.

Finally, there are a handful of USB knob controllers advertised as volume controllers I’ve seen around on Amazon. While I do like the form factors of some of them, and they are quite affordable, I have yet to figure out how to hack them to be used in a musical setting. They seem to be hardwired to send volume messages to the OS. Maybe replace the board with a teensy or arduino?

That’s all I got for now.

1 Like

I have one of these and I suspect it could be made to be musically useful:

3 Likes

It sounds like you’re describing DAW controllers, but for outboard and monitoring the Mackie Big Knobs are great for signal distribution. https://mackie.com/products/big-knob-series — I like the passive one (smallest of the three) a bunch.

2 Likes

I’ve got one of those on my desk at work (I added support for it to our engineering software).

For the curious, it’s not a knob but a tilt and rotational axis controller. Its bigger brother is used as a prop on The Expanse as the piloting controller for the Roci :laughing:

I thought about writing an app to generate MIDI CCs from it, but I’m not sure how useful I’d personally find that, nor whether I’d want to support it etc.

5 Likes

I have The Nob. I regret it. The switches, the need to integrate it with an additional pointing device, the awkward form factor, it just doesn’t click for me.
I’d pay premium for Arc resolution in a tons-of-encoders, 14-bit midi supporting (heck, while we’re dreaming, OSC too) controller. Faders at that res would also be great. To me it’s THE missing link for live digital synthesis performance and recording. It would bring back the spontaneity and feeling of true “playing” of synths like Zebra and Bazille and make enough detailed selection and control of video possible in software like VDMX that I’d revisit a couple of abandoned live cinema projects.

Addendum: just saw that there is now software for the Nob that may make it more useful, though certainly not at the level of an Arc or a high-res version of a midi fighter twister or some such.

1 Like

Shuttle Xpress

4 Likes

Does the Shuttle Express wheel have that kind of resolution though? I was under the impression it was more in the range used for transport control.

2 Likes

You mentioned the Midifighter Twister, does that not offer all items you listed apart from OSC? Or is there still a significant difference between the resolution of the Twister and an Arc (ignoring the extra precision you get from a larger diameter knob)?

1 Like

I have a Faderfox UC4. 8 14-bit encoders and awesome build quality. It also has faders, but I don’t think they’re 14-bit.

http://faderfox.de/uc4.html

1 Like

ShuttleXpress is similar to Powermate mentioned above. The central jog wheel functions like a rotary controller: it does not have any inherent data resolution. it sends only left/right movement data but you can program the value range & resolution in eg. MaxMSP. Resolution can be altered real-time by taking into account the movement speed. Below are some info grabbed from a website:

The ShuttleXpress features a central jog wheel, which has a finger depression, and which turns 360 degrees. Around this jog wheel is a rubberized, spring-loaded shuttle ring, which has a total of 15 positions: 1 in the center, and 7 to each side. You can program the action associated with each independently. Five buttons run around the top circumference of the device in positions that naturally lie under your five fingers. The three middle buttons have depressions so you can locate them more easily, and you can program each button separately… [as for] the jog wheel, you can only set it to scroll at the same speed, since it’s designed to rotate 360 degrees, and you can program only right and left movements with it.

and yes, usually it’s used as a transport & jog wheel in audio/video editing.

I have the same - great build. Encoders are 14-bit but super low res per turn :(.
They do have acceleration though, which the only box I’ve found with more than 90 steps per turn (midi fighter twister) lacks and which you really need for 14-bit.

Arc is much higher res than the twister.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at these sorts of controllers: midi res is not the same as controller res, especially when it comes to encoders. There are encoders that support 14-bit but only 20-30 ticks per turn, meaning you are either going to be skipping so many values in acceleration mode that it might as well be in 7-bit, or you’re going to be doing a hundred turns to change that waveshaper/filter/whatever ever so slightly.

2 Likes

Are there specs somewhere (or a tear down) with the Twister encoder resolution listed?

Haven’t found any. Just my own experience/testing.

The more recent Audient interfaces (ID4, 14 & 44) have a feature they call Scroll Control. The main knob controls whatever on screen parameter the mouse pointer is hovering over.

I haven’t used it a huge amount yet, but it seems to work well.

1 Like

i have an arc but honestly the thing I’d rather have is a bunch of high-res potentiometers. for me, the only thing that encoders really offer over pain old knobs is pagination, but I’ve found just having all yr knobs right there to be far more useful than switching between pages of stuff.

I have an 24 knob midi controller from nakedboards and it’s been the best thing I’ve used for parameter mapping, my only gripe is midi resultion. I wonder what’s inside of it though, maybe it could be hacked to send osc or 14-bit ?

also curious how our UK friends feel about this thread title

14 Likes

Hey gang -

TL:DR up front: What are some good, currently supported + available alternatives to the 'nOb’ controller, Griffin Powermate or Novation Nocturn ‘speed dial’?

As best I can tell most of these are outdated/no longer supported, and the Nocturn is a bit more than I need. (fingers crossed I’m wrong on this though!)


Longer form: as I’m getting into my thirties and rounding a decade of squinting at Ableton + Max patches for hours on end, I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to think about ergonomics, and the way I physically interact with my virtual composition environment.

In performance and the studio, i use a whole range of MIDI controllers, but the thing I’m realizing is that often when I (and I assume many of us) compose, it’s less of a ‘static system’ with 1 to 1 mappings of controller to function, but more of a rapid prototyping of plugging things in, tweaking, changing, etc (often with Max, Reaktor/Blocks, etc etc).

Because of this, it occurs to me that MIDI controllers don’t help too much because of the constant time spent mapping/unmapping, but perhaps something like a giant, easily assignable wheel that could tweak when I hover the mouse over parameters could both make the whole process a bit more fun/fast, and take a bit of eye/wrist/finger strain off the whole thing too.

As best I can tell, the nOb does exactly what I’m thinking of, but not sure how active the folks making it are these days. Griffen Powermate + Palette etc seem in the same ball park, but im seeing hit or miss things about their cross platform performance (and use with VST plugins, etc).

Is there an obvious answer I’m missing, or even some sort of fun Arduino project I could throw together? Would be super curious + grateful to hear everyone’s take.

thx a bundle! :control_knobs:

–edit: somehow I completely missed this thread while searching earlier - many thx moderators who placed here/hello from 2020, thread!

This seems kind of nice:

https://teenage.engineering/products/orthoremote

3 Likes

(edit: what would it take to turn an ARC into 4 “nOb” equivalents? Or even just 4 high-res midi encoders?- for those of us who don’t use Ableton / Max maybe not possible?)

I haven’t heard anything about nOb no longer being supported.
It does look like they’re out of stock though there is a message to check back “in one or two weeks” on their site.
I have one but come to think of it I haven’t brought it out since got a new computer (now on Catalina) and started moving stuff around. WiIl report back once I get a chance to try.
FWIW, nOb was a bit of a let down - felt great, wonderful to have the resolution when hovering over parameters and such, but the hardware/software integration just didn’t click for me.
I’d hoped to use it exactly as you describe - basically, a hi-res encoder that would magically work for whatever the mouse hovered over. Perhaps I didn’t work with it enough to make it feel natural.

1 Like