Research & Development: Creating the Slate Pro Audio RAVEN MTX

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The RAVENS are landing.

When Slate Pro Audio’s RAVEN MTX multitouch production console started appearing at trade shows, the WOW factor was through the roof. People saw something they had never experienced before, or even dared to seriously consider.

On exhibit: A giant touch screen display featuring a powerful multitouch mixer (the RAVEN MIXER) that can control all major DAW’s, along with a flexible and user-customizable, multifunction toolbar. A full-featured analog monitoring section with multiple speaker outs and input sources, smart phone connectivity, USB, multiple headphone send and cue options, and a lot more were part of the package.

The Raven MTX from Slate Pro Audio is now arriving at select studios.

The Raven MTX from Slate Pro Audio is now arriving at select studios.

The result is a console vastly different from any other control surface out there. And now that they’re becoming available, early-adopting pros are installing RAVENS into their studios and going to work with them.

As captivating as the RAVEN is, its beauty is not just skin-deep. SonicScoop found out just how intensive its story — and philosophy — is when we talked to Slate Pro Audio’s VP of Creative Operations Alex Oana, the Co-Designer and Product Manager for RAVEN.

Working together with Steven Slate and the company’s dedicated team, Oana experienced first-hand the inspiration, intensive problem-solving, and hard work required for this hyper-ambitious fantasy to became an audio reality. Here’s the way it went down:

Starting from the 10,000-ft. view, how does Slate decide what new products – hardware and/or software – to develop?

Most of the time product development at Slate begins with Steven asking himself, “What do I need?”

In the case of the RAVEN he had been working on a monitor controller he wanted for his studio when we met.  I suggested to Steven that a studio hardware product like that should be built around the DAW.   Steven kept saying, “Let’s make it bigger, like a console” and I kept throwing in features like integrated USB, iPhone dock and laptop reference speakers which led to him hiring me!

The nonsensical Raven X1 came first.

The nonsensical Raven X1 came first. (click to enlarge)

We took our non-multitouch RAVEN X1, a huge confusing console that made no sense, to NAMM 2012.

Out of frustration I said to Steven, “We claim to be innovative, but this [Raven X1] isn’t innovative at all.  What would be innovative is if we made the Raven a giant touch screen so you can touch your DAW directly.”

Three things separate Steven Slate from other developers:

1) He can’t let a good idea go,

2) He won’t rest until he sees an idea through, and

3) It has to be perfect.

My little multitouch idea that I had been dreaming of since I first started working with Pro Tools in the late 1990s started our journey along the “bleeding edge.”  After 18 months of blood sweat and tears we know first-hand what that term truly means.

From there, what made the RAVEN a priority for Slate to develop?

DAWs are amazing.  As advanced and miraculous DAWs are, there’s been no intuitive way to interact with them.  Before RAVEN, working with a DAW was like trying to play a guitar with a trackball.

We looked around and it just seemed like everybody who should be making multitouch hardware and software was just sleeping.  We really wanted the RAVEN for ourselves because using a keyboard and mouse to create music sucks and it’s not healthy.  My elbow, wrist and hands were killing me!

When we debuted the prototype RAVEN at AES 2012 we knew one of two things would happen – we’d be the laughingstock or people would flip out.  Luckily people flipped out.

Steven said that Slate wanted to “respect the console heritage” in creating the RAVEN. What does that mean from an ergonomic, creative and sonic standpoint?

An early 1970's Helios provided ergonomic inspiration. (click to enlarge)

An early 1970’s Helios provided ergonomic inspiration. (click to enlarge)

Think of a wraparound Helios console from the 1970s.  It was designed to place every control the engineer would need within easy reach.  As studio tools expanded the consoles got bigger, racks of outboard sprung up behind and to the sides, making it impossible for the engineer to work in the sweet spot.

Now all those tools, minus the microphones and converters, exist inside your computer and DAW.  The RAVEN makes accessing these infinite tools intuitive and direct, like it was when you could reach out and touch your console and your outboard gear.

At Slate we firmly believe in the virtues of virtual.  Virtual replications of console, tape, and stereo bus compressors….   All sounding great, vastly more affordable, instantly recallable, and facilitating collaboration.

What was the initial vision for RAVEN – what did you see as the big creative/technical opportunities that would result from a multitouch production console for Pro Tools?

It seems so simple:  to touch what you see.  Doesn’t that just make sense?  That’s where it started.  Talented software engineers and graphic designers create gorgeous, infinitely adaptable, virtual landscapes within the pixels of the computer display.  Steven and I just wanted a way to reach into that world.

The first concept sketch of the RAVEN MTX. (click to enlarge)

The first concept sketch of the RAVEN MTX. (click to enlarge)

The RAVEN is compatible with every major DAW and will initially ship with Pro Tools control – Logic and others soon to follow.  No matter what DAW you use, you’ve been handicapped trying to access all its features by dragging a mouse pointer from one place on the screen to another.

Right out of the gate, RAVEN’s multitouch mixer and user-customizable controls are simultaneously familiar and innovative.  Yet we are at the dawn of what is possible in multitouch interaction with software.  I have so many ideas I want to do – ideas that will make working with audio, and other creative fields for that matter, more intuitive and fun.

Now think again about this gorgeous virtual world I talked about.  Most of those graphic user interface (GUI) design methodologies are based on physical, analog hardware ergonomics.  We will make the transition to a virtual mindset – create new ways of interacting with our software, sculpting sound with our hands…  Sky’s the limit.

Conversely, what did you identify as the most significant challenges you would face in realizing that vision?

It’s crazy that Apple OSX, made by the same people who popularized handheld multitouch hardware, is not inherently multitouch.

We are using every trick in the book – and many new ones invented by our programing team – to create a seamless multitouch experience.

Please describe the major stages of the design process ­­– what had to happen in order for the RAVEN to move from concept to prototype to finished product?

Finding the right collaborators
Trial and error
Overwhelming public reaction
A kick ass team
Creative solutions
A market hungry for innovation

Of all those stages, which proved the most complex to complete? Why?

The first concept rendering of the RAVEN MTX. (click to enlarge)

The first concept rendering of the RAVEN MTX. (click to enlarge)

Oddly enough, the digitally-controlled analog circuitry and the physical console itself were by far the most difficult.  Building prototypes, making revisions, building more prototypes…  hardware is hard.  Software just seems easier and more fun to develop.

All aspects of the RAVEN were thoroughly researched.  For instance, getting the right glide for the touch glass required a lot of trial and error.

Did you have any difficulties in making RAVEN interface cleanly with Pro Tools itself?

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  • Bob M

    Wow, a digital console that makes manual and visual sense!

  • Aristedes Philip DuVal


  • 4prongpitchfork

    I’d like to see/hear it in a real studio setting designed for it. Given the height, angle, sight line to monitors/window parameters/limitations, I’m sure a studio designer would have sonic considerations different from standard console installations. I’d be interested in seeing how a pro studio designer would approach/integrate a new equipment paradigm such as this.