Repurposing a Hardware Crossfader as a Stereo Controller

Just wanted to share a nifty routing trick which i have in use in my current analog gear setup.

By plugging cables into this cheap DAK 2800-PC DJ Crossfader the “wrong” way, i can change the intended purpose of the device.

THE WAY IT WAS
Normally, the crossfader allows you to fade between two complete stereo mixes.
A includes the L and R channels of Turntable A, whereas B includes the L and R of Turntable B. The A level slider affects both the L and R of A; likewise for the B level control.
The balance between the two mixes is altered with the crossfader control; hard left is A only, hard right is B only, center is an equal blend between them.
The level controls can be used to control the overall level of each mix individually. Definitely useful for certain purposes, such as for blending two stereo tracks together.

THE WAY IT IS NOW
The output from an analog fx chain feeds into the crossfader like this:
L goes into the L input of the A side of the crossfader.
R goes into the R input of the B side of the crossfader.
The other inputs are left empty.
So now, when i the crossfader is used, it acts as a panner for a single stereo track. Hard left is…. hard left. Hard right is hard right. Center is the typical LR Balance, with things placed as you’d expect.
The A and B level sliders can now be used as L and R level controls; the A slider set the gain of the left channel, B alters the right side.

In my case, the repurposed crossfader is extremely useful for the particular analog chain it dwells within, which happens to include a tape player that when patched in tends to send out an imperfect stereo field. So i can use the analog stereo controller to fine-tune the L and R balance of anything running though that chain, as well as set the perfect input levels for importing cassette material. Yay.

Using hardware is also nice for running a pass of “fader riding”, recording the resulting output. It’s like using a gain fader VST plugin, but different in two ways: one, it uses analog resolution for the gain changes, meaning the actual amplitude adjustments are theoretically smoother than possible with “in the box” digital value quantization (though the signal is converted back to digital on the way back into the DAW, so the benefits are debatable); and two, you can’t draw in this automation with breakpoints on a screen—you have to actually do it in real time, which results in a purely human feel (imprinting your personal touch onto the character of the results) and adds in a feeling of exciting unpredictability, as every take will not be identical (increasing the chance of “happy accidents”). There’s likely to be more of a feedback compressor-like response to the volume automation, as opposed to a lookahead compressor, as your human ears react in response to the material in real time, rather than by looking at their graphics which makes it easy attenuate the exact peaks as or before they occur, rather than slightly afterwards. There’s also going to be a degree of noise (amount depending on the gear) added to the signal, which, unless it is overt, actually tends to be more beneficial than detrimental, as it serves handily as a bed of background dithering for any subsequent digital conversion.

Trick Enhancer: By using LR-to-MS encoding when i send the signal out from the DAW and decoding back from MS-to-LR on the way back in, my analog effects chain can be used as MS instead of LR and the repurposed crossfader thing acts instead as an analog Mid Side Balancer. The crossfade control adjusts the balance between Mid and Side content, the A volume slider controls the Mid level, and the B slider controls the Side level. Super nifty capabilities to have in the hardware domain.

There’s just something alluring about grabbing and moving real knobs and sliders around with one’s hands, rather than moving virtual pixels around on a screen…

But how much does implementing something like this cost? I’m seeing the DAK 2800-PC online for anywhere from $10 to $40. I got mine at a thrift store for like five bucks. So…. not more than a typical affordable or on-sale VST plugin. Considering it’s an actual, physical object you can touch and lick for the rest of your life, i call that a great deal. As a bonus, you can rest smug in the knowledge that what you have isn’t something that can be bit-torrented by entitled noobs who rabidly seek out the latest software to pirate. Don’t forget the cables though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s