Pan and other controls

Good real-world UI, bad software UI

Hi all,

I’m a newbie to n-Track.
I run live sound for a few places, and have done some multitrack recording using my Behringer DDX3216 desk and an RME 9652 ADAT interface.
Not having the cash for Cubase or other big-name packages, I initially tried Mixcraft, but I quickly found that although that was very user-friendly, it just didn’t have enough features.
And Reaper looked like it’d be nice when it was done, but that point was too far in the future.
So that narrowed things down to n-Track.
I had a go with it, and it seems like a great tool.

But there are some things with the UI which are unnecessarily bad.
And I’m not talking about how it’s laid out or anything like that - I’m simply talking about the basics of how widgets work.

Let’s look at panning.
Sure, I can use MIDI controls to change the pan accurately from outside the box, and I can zoom in with the pan control to do cross-panning.
But suppose I just want to put an instrument somewhere and leave it there - what does the mixer give me?
Answer - a fader that’s about 10 pixels wide.
But suppose I resize the fader window - does this get bigger?
Answer - no, you lose.
Accurate panning?
No way, dude.

Now let’s look at the built-in effects.
What is the main control method for all these?
Answer - rotary knobs.
Now in the real world, a rotary knob is a superb user interface, because our hands and wrists are designed to rotate smoothly and accurately.
For a software UI though, there is nothing worse.
And I mean literally nothing worse - there is no control method more inaccurate and more painful to use than trying to move a software rotary knob with a mouse. The only way it could be made worse would be if the window moved randomly around the screen while you were trying to click on it!

My point is that although the UI might not be intuitive, this doesn’t really matter too much if it lets you do what you need.
The problem is that the bad design of widgets makes it really difficult to do basic tasks like changing the Q of a parametric EQ or panning - all the little things that you do all the time.
An unintuitive UI is like a brick wall - it’s an obstacle, but once you’re past it then there’s nothing stopping you.
But the basic widget design in n-Track is like 10 kilos of lead attached to your ankle - you can still move around wherever you want, but each step is an unnecessary effort.

I see that v6 is in development.
Please, please, look at this for next time. It’s just not necessary to have such basic UI mistakes getting in the way.

After giving focus to a slider or knob (another point of contention) try using the arrow keys on the keyboard and/or the wheel on the mouse if yours has one. Many of the knobs and sliders respond to those in a much more fine way (though some may seem to respond backwards from what might be expected). Relying on dragging with the mouse is indeed a pain, and in some cases makes almost no sense. Unfortunately, some don’t respond at all or they respond in slightly different ways.

n-Tracks is filled with key combinations that aren’t too obvious.

In addition to using the arrow keys and mouse wheel, most of the knobs in n-Track can be adjusted more finely by first left-clicking on the knob and holding down the mouse key and moving the cursor radially out from the knob a couple of inches and dragging in a circle around the knob. If you like to drag up and down instead of in a circle, just right-click on the know and select “Up/down mode”. This doesn’t work for faders, though.

Also, many of the controls in ver 5, particularly the pan control can be adjusted by clicking on the value and typing in what you want. I use that feature a lot now.

Yep, click on that rotary contro and use the left/right keys or up/down keys to adjust in single to mutiple increments.

Top tips there - thanks for the help, folks!