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ups: Great audio/video mixing and editing software, unique peripheral, easy to use.
downs: No live video output (yet), clunky library scanning features.

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StikAx Review
game: Ministry of Sound StikAx
four star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: StikAx
view related website
date posted: 11:30 AM Sun Jan 8th, 2006
last revision: 11:29 AM Sun Jan 8th, 2006

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Click to read.The Ministry of Sound StikAx is a very unique product: It is a peripheral piece of hardware designed for audio and video mixing. It kind of feels like a clarinet without the blow-hole. The StikAx is accompanied by the TrakAx software, which is equally important in the package: Even without the StikAx peripheral, the TrakAx software is good enough to warrant the price tag. Overall, if you have any interest at all in getting into audio and video production this is a good entry-level package. And if you\'re already a badass VJ extraordinaire, then the StikAx could be the next hippest toy to add to your act... in the near future.

The StikAx is a peripheral that feels very much like an instrument for mixing audio and video. It has four keys on the top and four on the bottom. Your left thumb grips the StikAx, and your right thumb rests on a specialized laser light switch. Two smaller buttons are also accessible to your right thumb, making for a total of 11 \"keys\" on the StikAx controller.

Each of these keys can be programmed using the StikAx configuration utility in the TrakAx software. This utility is very easy to manage: Drag audio and video clips from your Media Library (another panel in the TrakAx software) and onto each button. You can configure each button on the StikAx in detail: whether the audio or video file loops, plays fully on a single click, restarts on a click, plays while the button is pressed, etc. These variations facilitate a very wide range of options in audio and video mixing.

Some buttons can be used to manage effects, so these must be budgeted among the samples used. That means that if you want to use six different audio tracks, three different video clips, and two effects, you could fill up every button on the StikAx controller. If that seems like a limitation in the overall amount of media you can load into a StikAx at any one time, then have no fear: There are several ways to get more out of the StikAx.

Each button can host several media clips, so you could stack three audio samples on each button. Piling samples onto buttons tends to work best when you want to provide variations on the same element. For example, putting three variations of a bassline used throughout a composition works pretty well to cycle through on a single button. If you can work out a harmonious arrangement, you could triple the number of audio and video clips in our previously described example: Make it 18 audio tracks, nine video clips, and still only three effects.

If that\'s still not enough to work your mixes, then you could always plug in a second StikAx and get a friend to help out. With two StikAx peripherals on a single computer, the mixing possibilities become truly staggering. The easy expansion ability makes StikAx a potential instrument for whole new kinds of bands, synthesizing what is happening with live video mixing and live audio mixing. The potential here is astonishing, and at the low price tag (about $99 in the US), I truly believe it\'s only a matter of time before folks are really putting these things to good use. As the StikAx becomes more widely available worldwide it will be a boom for live performers of all kinds.

Unfortunately, and this is probably the single most disappointing fact about the StikAx, at the time of writing, the TrakAx software does not allow you the ability to output your live video mix to a second monitor or video output. I\'ve received word from \"the StikAx people\" and they say that the next update, coming in a month or so, will include the ability to output video to a secondary monitor. This will be the final piece of the puzzle for live performance, and, if it is implemented well, expect this review and possibly review score to be altered.

So what can you do with the StikAx now? Well, you can use it to mix audio and video and then save those mixes to your computer. Once you\'ve done the rough cut with your StikAx tool, you can go into the TrakAx software and use a very friendly interface to tweak and modify your mix. The tools in TrakAx bear a resemblance to Sony\'s Vegas Video and Acid, both of which are very popular programs that retail for several hundred dollars each. TrakAx offers virtually the same tool set as these two much more expensive software packages, and this is where the real value of the StikAx system is apparent. The TrakAx software alone is well worth the price.

Once you\'ve edited up your video and/or audio, you can save it out to a standard format for sharing online or putting on a DVD/CD. This makes the StikAx package a great place for beginning video and audio editors to start. It is low-cost and it doesn\'t rope you into highly proprietary results.

The StikAx unit could be very, very cool for live performance. It is a lot of fun. But if you\'re at all familiar with regular audio and video editing, or once you get used to the TrakAx software itself, then you\'ll find the StikAx a bit clunky to use for producing finished mixes. The difference is all in the immediacy-- the limitations of the StikAx peripheral are easily dealt with in a live performance setting, but the precision of the mixing software is much better in a slower-paced editing environment.

There are other small annoyances in the StikAx and TrakAx software. There is a light-sensitive thumb button which I initially thought would be used to give some analog control over effects mixing or intensity. Unfortunately, the light-sensitive button just senses whether or not a beam of light is broken, rendering it simply a fancy on/off switch. I would much prefer a stubby analog joystick, perhaps like on the PSP, which one could use to adjust effects, pan, mix, etc. in an analog fashion. The lack of any kind of analog slider, rocker, or joystick is a bit weird, and adding such features would enhance the instrument qualities of the StikAx.

In the TrakAx software, my biggest annoyance was how the program wanted to scan my entire hard drive looking for audio by default. I could add other drives and directories to the scan, but I never found a way to limit the media scan to disregard certain drives or directories. I keep my media on a separate drive, but TrakAx always had to scan through my Windows files and website archives. More configuration options in the media library management need to be implemented in future software updates.

Fortunately, StikAx seems to be gaining a decent following, and the official sites are lively with updates. The tutorials and help files provided on the website are clear and concise, and feature nicely done videos of the screen as the narrator delivers instructions for accomplishing certain tasks in the program. Many other editing tools come with little to no user-support or how-to guides, so seeing a good amount of these materials on the StikAx website is very encouraging.

Overall, StikAx is a great way for any PC user to get into audio and video editing. Even if you never use the StikAx peripheral, the TrakAx software is a good buy. For folks into VJs and funky laptop music experiments, the StikAx is a real fun toy and might make a good addition to a live combo (especially after the live video output upgrade is released). This is a solid product available at a fair price, and there\'s not much to complain about here. Whether or not StikAx can break out of the \"funky toy\" and into the \"future instrument\" category remains to be seen, but given what\'s on offer right now, the future is bright.

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