Sound

Indispensable Products – Go Box

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A few years back, I posted the first of what I planned on being an ongoing series called “Indispensable – Great Products We Can’t Live Without.” Fast forward in time and I still haven’t added a second installation to this series (if you can call one item a series)… Well, I’ve got good excuses for how long it has taken me (dozens of shows, a new family member, a new book) but I won’t bore you with the details. The bottom line is, I recently had the pleasure of working with a new toy that made me think, “everyone needs to know about this!”

Team Sound has recently released the Go Box, a wonderful MIDI interface to work with QLab and your other MIDI-capable programs. For those of you who use programs like QLab or SFX, this is a wonderful solution to automating control of your system at the touch of a button. Instead of pressing the space bar hundreds of times for every show, you can simply plug in one of these interfaces and save the stress on your keyboard.

There are currently two different boxes, the Go Box 4 and Go Box 6. Each one is a designed using the highest quality parts to make the Go Box a road-worthy addition to any rig. The buttons are made from arcade-style switches rated for half a million cycles. The boxes are made from powder-coated aluminum, so they are light weight and durable. The USB jacks are equipped with Neutrik locking connectors that, when used in conjunction with a locking USB cable, really stay put so there are no worries of accidentally pulling the cable out (I’m told that they hope to offer 5 meter locking cables very soon through their website). This week, Team Sound released a second edition of the Go Box 6 featuring a new die cast enclosure with fewer seams, two Neutrik USB connectors, and a low-light LED connection / power power indicator on the back of the unit. These addition make an already strong tool even more appealing. A few more details about each unit is included below:

The Go Box 4 features four buttons, and the Go Box 6 has six. Each model works in a similar fashion, with the buttons serving as MIDI remote triggers. There is no driver software required, either, so it is a remarkably simple setup. Each button sends a MIDI signal through the USB on channel 16. The signal is a Note On message with a velocity of 127 when the button is pressed (notes 1-4 on the Go Box 4, and notes 1-6 on the Go Box 6) and a velocity of 0 when the button is released.

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If you are using QLab, you can even download pre-configured QLab 3 workspaces from the Team Sound website here. In the basic workspace for the Go Box 4, Note 1 is “Go,” Note 2 is “Panic All” which stops all cues over a duration determined by the user, Note 3 is “Select previous cue,” and Note 4 is “Select next cue.”

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The Go Box 6 is ideally suited for a redundancy rig. A redundancy rig is a collection of two show control computers running their workspaces simultaneously. Both are connected to output to your system, typically including a manual switch to change output from one unit to another should the need arise. The Go Box 6 features two USB connectors, meaning that each button sends MIDI signals to both computers simultaneously. By using this unit, there is no need for a separate go button for each show control computer.

This summer, I got to help my wife Kate Hopgood set up a new QLab rig for The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, where we are both Artistic Associates. Kate’s preferred setup is to have a tech table in the auditorium networked to the show sound computer running QLab. By using screen sharing, she can sit with the Stage Manager at the remote computer. This gives her the opportunity to make changes as necessary while the SM gets used to calling the show and running QLab, but from the relative comfort of the auditorium. This year, we integrated a Go Box 4 into the system and the Stage Manager loved it. No more accidental bumping of the space bar or worrying about the double click. The best part was the setup, though. The only aspect that had to be changed was making sure the remote computer was running a QLab workspace (pro version) with OSC commands pre-programmed into it. The Go Box was plugged into the USB port of this computer, which then triggered OSC cues to be sent through the Ethernet cable to trigger cues in the show computer’s QLab workspace. Once tech was done, striking the tech table was basically coiling up the network cable and plugging the Go Box into the show computer in the booth!

For those of you looking to simplify your sound or show control setup, I would highly recommend the Go Box.

Full disclaimer – having written a book on QLab 3 show control, I have gotten to know a lot of the Figure 53 gang pretty well. Team Sound is the work of Brooklyn, NY based sound and projections designer Sam Kusnetz, who also happens to work for Figure 53. Neither I, nor Team Sound, are affiliated with Figure 53, LLC. As Sam puts it on the Team Sound website, we’re awfully big fans, though.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM SOUND NYC

*Editorial note: I made a few minor corrections to this post after the first upload.

Indispensable: Great Products We Can’t Live Without

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QLab 3 is developed by Figure 53

QLab 3 Show Control Software

PART I: Audio Control

Welcome to the first of an ongoing series of product reviews I will be running on here. Like the blog itself, it is my intention to cover a wide range of products, both new and old, that have made my work easier. This first installation covers the newest version of QLab* recently released in May 2013.

In a span of roughly 7 years, QLab has evolved from a sound playback program for Mac OS X into an industry standard show control platform featuring a robust package of functions, featuring cue-based sound and video control, MIDI and OSC integration, video and audio effects plug-ins, surface-based video output for projection mapping, and more. Used in applications from Broadway to Britain’s West End, churches, museums, art installations, and more, QLab makes it easy (and affordable) for anyone to put together rich multimedia designs for live performances and installations.

For this review, I would like to talk a bit about the new audio tools available in Version 3. In later installments, we will look at video and show control.

V3 Audio Additions at a Glance

  • Up to 24 Audio Inputs / 48 Audio outputs per Cue.
  • Dynamic Audio Effects: Built-in Audio Unit (AU) capabilities for applying audio effects to individual cues, cue outputs, or even audio device outputs. These effects (EQ, reverb, pitch bend, and more) each have adjustable, real-time parameters, as well.
  • A new Mic Cue, offering up to 24 channels of live audio input for each Mic Cue (also featuring audio effects).
  • Unlimited slicing of Audio Cues, with each slice having an individual loop count for internal vamping possibilities.
  • Easy manipulation of playback rate for speeding up or slowing down the playback of an Audio Cue (with or without a resulting pitch shift).

In short, audio capabilities have improved and you now need a lot less external equipment. With the addition of Audio Effect plug-ins, you can say goodbye to many of the signal processors once needed (EQ, digital delay, compressor/limiter, etc.) In addition, there is a new level of function with slices and playback rate that allows for greater flexibility once you get to tech. Does the director want four bell clangs instead of three? Add a slice. Does the set designer need 10 more seconds for that scene shift? No problem. Just slow down the playback rate a bit.

Obviously, the new features for V3 are a great selling point. One of the other big plusses for this software is the company itself. Figure 53 stands behind its product 100% and has some of the best customer service you are likely to ever come across. It is a small company and you will talk to the programmers on a first-name basis. What’s more is the user-base of fiercely loyal QLab users on the QLab Forum. Go to figure53.com/support and select the Discussion List to either ask a question or look through the archives to see past requests. This has helped me out of a tight spot on more than one occasion (even at 11pm on a Saturday night)!

Cost

Unlike many other show control applications, QLab offers a number of features for FREE. For many of the high-end features you will have to buy a license, but there are a number of options that make this a cost-effective program. The licenses are split into 5 tiers (Basic Audio, Pro Audio, Basic Video, Pro Video, and Pro Bundle) so you can choose to pay for the number of features needed for your project. In addition, there are rental licenses for as low as $3/day, so you can try out the full package at a small cost. Educators should be aware that there are reduced costs for schools, as well.

Requirements

One important thing to know is that QLab is for Macs only. In addition, you will need to be running OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) or greater to utilize QLab 3. The good news is that the licensing activates both QLab 2 and 3, so you could use V2 on your 10.7 or lower Mac.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is that audio control just got a lot more powerful with QLab 3. For those Mac users looking for a cost-effective and user-friendly application for live audio, this program is a Godsend. The free version is likely powerful enough for most small companies, featuring many of the new additions. Notably, the audio effects are missing from the free version, though, so those serious about the full audio capabilities of version 3 should look into licensing.

Part II will look into the video advances in Version 3. Tell a friend between now and then!

* The Fine Print: In the interest of being completely forthcoming, this product is near and dear to my heart, as I recently authored the book QLab 3 Show Control: Projects for Live Performances and Installations. If you are interested in finding out more about the text, follow the “QLab 3 Show Control” link at the top of the screen. I am not an employee of Figure 53, nor have I received any compensation from the company for these reviews. I am a long-time QLab user and have extolled the virtues of the software long before writing the book.