Mackie Ultra Automation System Ultramix 34 channel VCA Voltage Controlled Amplifiers

link moultonlabs 

The Mackie Ultramix Automation System is now available at your local pro audio dealer, and it's worth thinking about. If you're running an analog console and 16 or more tracks (and have a Macintosh computer in service), your mixing needs are probably more than rudimentary. Here's a powerful, inexpensive automation system that will do a lot for you with comparatively few problems.

The package will interface with any console, but requires a Macintosh computer (Windows underway), OMS, a MIDI interface and SMPTE/MIDI Time Code to work. Assuming you have all that stuff lying around (and you probably do if you have the above stuff), you can be in the fully automated business pretty easily.

What Is It, Really?

The whole package goes under the name Ultramix Universal Automation System and consists of three elements:
  • the Ultra-34 Universal Automation Interface, a 2 rack-unit VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifiers)/patchbay package that deals with all of the audio stuff;
  • the UltraPilot Automation Control Interface, a really neat little remote fader package on a 20-foot remote cable; and
  • Ultramix Pro Software for the Mac (also coming soon to a Windows computer in your neighborhood), the data-processing, control, timing and display software for the system.
Basically, you patch audio from the console (usually the accessory insert point) to the Ultra-34, and hook up the MIDI I/O coming from your MIDI Interface as well. There are 34 channels of VCAs available, ostensibly for 32 channels and stereo masters. However, you can patch these any way you wish - it might make sense to have several automated effects sends, for instance. Me, I'm thinking of automating the 24 tape channels and having eight undedicated VCAs at the patch bay to use wherever it makes sense for any given job, plus the stereo master outputs. Whatever floats your boat.

The UltraPilot fader pack consists of 16 nice long-throw faders, plus related record-enable and "soft" keys for a bunch of functions. It is also contains tape transport controls using MIDI Machine Control, if you have that implemented (I recommend using it, because once you get into this, you'll really want to just stay on the UltraPilot while ruling the universe). You switch the faders between channels 1-16, 17-32 and eight group masters-plus-master faders. Incidentally, you can control up to four Ultra-34 units (136 channels!) with a single UltraPilot! Egad, as they say in Micotin commercials! The package is tiny, and really kind of cool. It is very tempting to use it away from the console as a substitute fader set, but that will take much practice, I think.

The software display shows all 32 channels and you can also display the groups and master. At the top are bypass options, tape transport and autolocate functions, a time display and buttons for the various operating modes. The displayed faders are a little extra cool because they show two levels: the actual level of the VCA (in solid color) and the level of the fader on the UltraPilot (a transparent, or "glass" fader). There are zoom controls and a metering option which is nice but not particularly vital.

Timing information comes either from the multitrack (in the form of SMPTE) to the MIDI Interface and from there to the computer, or else from a sequencer in the computer.